Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Hog Days of Summer

Back when a small operator could still make money at it, we raised pigs. Pigs are cool—intelligent, entertaining, and often sociable. And the coolest pig on our block was a boar named Arnold. Those of you who are of an age to remember the TV show Green Acres, or who’ve run across it on Nickelodeon, will recognize the name. On the show, Arnold was their house pig. Our Arnold would have been happy to be a house pig, if he hadn’t been bigger than the house. We bought Arnold from someone who thought he was the pick of the litter, and treated him accordingly. Arnold loved people. He especially loved people who scratched behind his ears. Considering that Arnold weighed half a ton, stood over three feet tall at the shoulders, and wasn’t shy about asking for attention, the people who didn’t scratch Arnold were a brave minority. After the first time my fingertips cracked, I figured out that scratching Arnold with my bare hand was not the best idea. His tough, scaly hide and wiry hair ground away the thickest calluses. I kept a short, pointy stick handy to take along when I headed into Arnold’s realm. Scratching Arnold was as satisfying as petting a purring cat. He would tip his nose skyward, half close his eyes and grunt in utter pleasure. Through a combination of personality and persistence, Arnold convinced the management that he could be trusted to roam the lot around the barns, cordoned off from the sows by two sturdy fences during those times when his services were not required. It was there that he encountered his nemesis. At the time, my dad was roping on a sorrel gelding he called Doc, which he had obtained, oddly enough, from the local physician, Doc West. After many extended negotiating sessions, Doc the horse had been persuaded to tolerate people. He rarely even curled his lip and cocked a hind leg when we walked in the barn anymore. But there was no way he was putting up with a pig in his pasture. Doc made no secret of his antipathy. He stalked Arnold, sneaking around the corner of the granary and launching covert attacks on the unsuspecting hog. Arnold was quick for a big pig, though, and his thick hide protected him from nipping teeth. Not that you could tell by the way he shrieked in protest. With a contrariness that would make a Siamese proud, Arnold set out to irritate Doc at every opportunity. He’d sidle up just close enough to invade the horse’s space, delighted when Doc obliged by shaking his head, pinning his ears, stomping his feet. Bonus points if he could make the horse squeal his displeasure. The two of them whiled away hours irritating each other. One hot summer afternoon, Arnold made the fateful decision to take a nap in shade. Unfortunately, the patch of shade he chose was under the chore pick-up. Unaware of the snoozing pig, our hired man jumped in and roared away…right over Arnold. He was never the same pig after that. We weren’t sure if the greater insult was to his body or his dignity, although he showed no sign of physical damage. His sunny disposition turned surly. He no longer greeted us at the gate with a porcine grin, eager for scratches. I guess I can’t blame him. I’d have trust issues too, if someone up and ran me over in the middle of a really good nap.


Being Beth said...

Poor Arnold. Sounds like he got a case of bitter pig personality disorder. I always find it interesting how animals jockey for clout and territory amongst themselves. As always, I enjoyed this post. Happy Thursday!

Bill Kirton said...

Being an urban dweller, posts such as yours seem very fresh. This one did remind me of a year we spent in France, living in a house way out in the country. Our nearest neighbours were peasant farmers (that's not a pejorative term in French) and each year in March they bought a piglet. They raise and fatten it through the year until March comes round, whereupon it's slaughtered, butchered and provides delicious pâtés, rillettes and all the wonderful cuts of pork that taste so good. They grew very fond of the pig in the course of the year and it was clearly distressing for them to have to take it off to be slaughtered. They were amused by our (townie) interest in it all and, while we were there, for our benefit began naming the pigs. In the course of our stay, Arthur was followed by Bébert and, since then, there have been Castor, Denis and God know what others.
The slaughtering and butchering were done at the farm and were part of a sort of ritual. It all implied a richness of life and experience that we're denied in our gardens and streets and traffic.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

We raise our livestock in numbers that discourages naming them individually, other than the horses. Amongst the exceptions were Arnold, a Longhorn steer we called Chicken Coop, my first cow which I named Spotty Blue, and a pair of twin heifers that are currently part of our herd. Our English farm exchange worker had to bottle feed them, and named them after her aunts, Marge and Val.

Deb Vlock said...

Kari, you've transported me to Montana! What a great post! I hope Arnold was allowed to live out his days in peace and comfort. You didn't eat him for breakfast, did you??

Vacuum Queen said...

Poor Arnold! I've been enjoying your posts here tonight...I've surfed through some older ones. I asked my husband tonight if he knows you (he's from Havre) and he said, "no, but she probably knows me."
What a dork. He doesn't really mean it - he just has to try to convince me that he wasn't a gomer in high school. Although, I DO keep meeting people who tell me that they knew Dr. Elliott from Havre and his family, etc. Even though there's a big sky, you're still from such a small world out there.

laughingwolf said...

superb tale, kari lynn

will be back for more :) said...

Arnold sounds like a dear, I'm not going to ask what happened to him in the end.....I'd like to eat my bacon with a clear conscience.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I can promise all of you that Arnold never ended up on our breakfast or dinner table. Boar meat has a much stronger taste than other pork, too much testosterone I guess. I was still in grade school and don't recall exactly, but I assume at some point Arnold did go to market. A belligerent boar was simply too difficult to keep around until he died of old age.

Anonymous said...

Arnold sounds like a hoot. I once had a pig that, after his buddies went to the county fair, was so desperate for companionship he bonded with our horses. They seemed to tolerate him.

Anonymous said...

Like all my cousins, I called my grandmother "Mammy." We all called our grandfather "Spot." Don't ask me why but it's what they wanted. Anyway, Mammy and Spot raised hogs on their little farm in Pine Ridge - a wide spot in the road between Hartsville and McBee, South Carolina.

Mammy always brought the runt of each new litter of pigs into the house. She swore that the runt would never survive otherwise. Mammy would make it a little pen in a box. She'd feed that wee piglet with a bottle and crow over it like a proud parent. I was Mammy's "namesake" and we lived next door. I visited her many times every day and when a piglet was in residence, I got to hold the bottle and feed it.

Without fail, I'd name and befriend the little piglet. Each time, my heart would be broken when it outgrew the box. That's when Mammy would take the little piglet out to the pen to join the brothers and sisters who'd been reared together and watched over by the Mama pig instead of Mammy and her namesake.

For days afterward, I'd visit piglet until he grew enough to be indistinguishable from his round, tubbie little bretheren. Once, as I stood there watching the newest former box resident happily fight over the feeding trough beside his family, I asked Mammy the question that had troubled me for so long.

"Mammy, how can you bear to bring Piglet out here, knowing he'll eat himself big enough to be taken off and slaughtered?"

Mammy hid her smile behind the frail hand that was so strong in so many ways. She adjusted the red and white checked bonnet she wore that day before she looked me in the eye and answered. "It's his purpose. That's what he 'as borned to do."

I often remember Mammy's words when I sit down at a keyboard. I might be at work writing an appellate brief that I hope will convince the Court that the trial Judge was wrong and that client deserves a different decision. Or I might be at home, writing a romance novel about new beginnings and second chances that I hope will keep a reader turning pages until the last one.

I may not get that call from the Appellate Clerk telling me the Court's Opinion will be posted that day and the lower Court was reversed. I may never get the call from an agent or editor telling me that one of my books will finally be published by one of the bigs and sold at bookstores around the world. In the long run, it really doesn't matter.

The next day, at work and at home, I'll open my keyboard and start writing anyway. Because Mammy, as usual, was right. That piglet's purpose was to be fed as a runt so he could grow big enough to be sold for slaughter. That money supported her family and she knew that every time she gathered up a new runt.

I guess my purpose is found everytime I open my keyboard, knowing that one day, whether it's just self-published as an e-book and sold as a CreateSpace paperback on Amazon, I might get a comment from a reader (as I did) that she couldn't put it down.

Everything and everyone has a purpose. The trick isn't just finding it. It's understanding and accepting fulfilling that purpose is enough even if it never makes me as rich as Midas.

Wendy said...

Great post! I love this story. We had a rooster named Charlie who was really mean and tried to spur people all the time. I wonder if he ever got run over by a chore pick-up.

~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...

Poor Arnold!