by Randall Beaird
I always wanted a pig. They were the epitome of weird. Always asking, begging, and demanding, usually for food, hogs have high marks in the personality department. I never could talk dad into a pig; now was my chance to live out a dented childhood dream.
Around 1996, a 16×16 pigpen rose from the prairie–Caddo Mills. After scouring the paper for ads, I slid out to a large hog operation on a Saturday. The owner’s high school son fired up his pig lover side; now, over 100 squealers watched his every move. The novelty of it all drove me to spontaneous pig herder syndrome. I could only fit two squealers in my trunk-the truck would come later. Oh, they calmed right down on their cardboard, hardly moving a muscle, when we shut the door, and certain smell soon signaled everything still worked. Hunkered down behind the wheel, I drove on, pretending I was doing facial exercises my grandmother taught me.
Grasping at names for my pig herd mothers, I fired out words of welcome and encouragement for their new life away from their desperate relatives. Little did I know how close the apple would fall on my farm.
Ten miles from home, Ginger and Lucy won the name contest. My heart danced; I had my herd. Upon arriving home, I stared at my pigs. Yes, they were as weird as I was hoping. With a certain affinity for not being picky, I learned quickly, Ginger and Lucy didn’t care if they stood in their water or feed trough. In fact, they preferred it. There was some kind of connection–maybe a simple posture to portray the water was theirs. “I’m standing in it; don’t even think of dragging this away from me,” and “I’m stomping my food into smaller portions, so back off!” Peering into their lovely brown drinking water, and down at their high protein pig ration, mixed uniformly in the dirt, my smile began a reluctant retreat.
Two weeks later I drove back out to the definition of hunger; this place is in the dictionary. My third herd mama was waiting patiently to be rescued from the dinner olympics. If you wanted to chew your food here, you could forget it. On all sides, in all shades of desperation, feeding time was a race against your neighbor’s tongue.
With a gentle heave into the trunk, we hit the road with weeknight zeal with dawn’s alarm tapping my ear. I told Julie her name, and caught her up on Ginger and Lucy. She was grunting more than the other two, so I eased into “good girl” banter to lighten things up.
My vehicle’s fervor to be parked at the house found me on the roadside for speeding. As the policeman eased up to the window I was urging Julie to grunt. He heard me talking, wondered, and told me the damage,”56 in a 45.” Maybe he could smell her I thought. I began, “I’m sorry. I was in a hurry to get home because I have this pig in my trunk. She WAS making noise. Can you smell her?”
He was smiling, but not convinced. I gave him a quick history of my pig rancher dream, emphasizing my concern for Julie’s health, as shown by way of eager speed. Julie was probably giggling, but oh so quietly. Pork chop dinners began to dance onto the menu. I said, “Here, I’ll let you see her,” as I began to push the door open. He shook his head, laughed and with a wave of his hand said, “You drive carefully.” I eased back onto the road, happy to be traveling with such a handy pig. I forgave the untimely silence and hoisted Julie into the pen to join her cousins.
After peeling out around the pen and some serious sniffing, they quickly learned I pulled all the strings. Their world lay in a bucket of grub; now it was in my hand.
….and a couple of months later…..
After two months of gargantuan appetites and odors, I traded in my pig rancher dream for another less endearing. The labor department stomped out the novelty of raising pigs. I fell asleep counting days until my pigs were part of someone else’s farm.
Looking back, I should have secured their feed trough to the pen. I wouldn’t have had to pole-vault into the middle of the pen to retrieve it and then high jump out in an attempt to avoid being trampled. A certain regulation torpedoed my plan for their auction block trot. Pigs fed slop have to be off casseroles, and on grain rations, for several weeks before they walk the stage. Pig feeding time slid into the twilight zone.
I forgot their names and started seeing visions of crispy bacon. With no hotline number to call, I knew my pigs were in serious trouble. In a whisper, I called the packing plant. The ultimate betrayal/breakfast was sliding around the corner. I pulled some strings for a transfer next door for Julie, while reservations for two were made at the frosty locker.
Feeling sorry for the duo, I kept their feed trough stocked buffet style for three days. With a borrowed trailer and great neighbor, we prepared the suspicious cargo for transport. John stood ready at the trailer gates, backed snugly up to the pen, while I moved into herder position bobbing like a cow dog. Neither my outstretched arms nor the trail of grain into the trailer caught their eye. After the three-day buffet, they were not inspired.
At arms length, I roped one of the 225 pounders for a gentle walk up the ramp. I’d never skied on mud before. John rang the bell, and it was “Welcome To The Main Event!” I went in for a half-nelson that turned into a white knuckle bear hug. The problem was you couldn’t tell who was hugging who; a ham and bicep tortilla rolled up and down the ramp. My days at linebacker and third base came to help; there was tackling and catching mud splatters. After about five minutes of cheek to cheek, I finally wrestled one into the trailer.
Pig #2 was twice as hard. They pulled a tag-team to combat my flying tackles. Dropping them off at the packing plant, I was too tired to be too sad. I can’t remember being so worn to the nub or smelling so detestable. On the other hand, bacon and pork chops have never been so scrumptious and delectable.