Pig rancher dream/reality

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.

Snow days

by Randall Beaird

It was Christmas vacation 1979. My cousin’s church youth group from Lufkin was making the long haul to Durango, Colorado. Purgatory Ski Resort played host to an East Texas avalanche of teenagers.

I never was shy when it came to sports. I played middle linebacker, third base and made myself learn a half-gainer off the high-dive.  Then, on summer vacation in 1983, at a Lake Conroe pool, I had just mastered the tricky deuce.

“Hey Mom! Watch this!”

I spun a little too far–ended up being a two and a half, and I landed on my right ear. One cotton patch later, over the hole in my eardrum, I gave that one up.

I’ll never forget that first moment of exhilaration on snow skis. By the end of the second day my falls were less spectacular, but the conditions were turning poor–the packed snow becoming more like ice. The trails were turning to crusty gray sheets, but over by the timber, the virgin like snow whispered my name.

It was the place to be, but the wipeouts could be extra painful.  I had one that was worth it–I shared on the bus as we were leaving for the day, 18“I was rippin’ down the mountain, right next to the trees! But, I caught an edge and tumbled head-first into a jagged pine.”(I showed them my cracked-in-half goggles.) “But everything was okay! It was alright! I WAS ALRIGHT! And right there, at the bottom of that same tree, right before I pulled myself up, I found THESE! (I pull out the pair of sunglasses I found trunk-side.) “I put these on and kept on going! Sure, they’re missing an arm, but THEY GOT ME HOME!”

After years of skis, last year I ventured onto a snowboard. I will never go back. The board is so much harder to learn; the falls are brutal and I can’t remember being so exhausted. Those first trips down the mountain took forever, but on a snowboard, it‘s you and and the mountain. Just like surfing, it’s you and the wave. On skis, it’s like you’re on top of two bickering penguins.

This year, during my ski trip to Monarch Mountain, while waiting for my family to arrive, I took a day off from snowboarding and rented a snowmobile. It was pretty similar to riding a jet-ski, but the rocky cliffs had my number.

Follow-the-leader is the key on a snowmobile tour. The leader knows the terrain, the hidden rocks and cliffs. I should have been extra careful after the leader shattered his windshield in a snowdrift. But after three hours of staying in his tracks, I decided to make a loopty-loop at the top of this little slope to meet the group at the bottom.

I learned little slopes can be saddled with fifteen foot cliffs, as I sailed out into the clear mountain air. It was pretty for a few feet, until gravity raised it’s hand and slapped me down. Upon impact, my snowmobile was nose-down with a rag doll flying over the windshield. The major pain was coming, but I was bleeding before I hit the ground. Before flipping over the windshield, I gave it a little kiss. For several weeks I sported a gray, plexi-glass splinter in my lip, a testimony to follow-the-leader and my folly.  (I was lucky to only owe $100 for the damage to the snowmobile.)

I hit the windshield so fast I don’t remember it, but landing on my knee, bent sideways like it was, and the way it popped, that part put me on the plane home. I saw an operation coming as I limped off the plane.

I was shocked to hear, “mild sprain” or strain, I don’t remember which. All I heard was mild. With the anti-inflammatories and the thoughts of twenty family members at the Colorado lodge, I was back on the plane by day’s end. My first ticket was $208, my second $360, but when the family gets together, it’s worth every penny.

All I wanted

by Randall Beaird

My cousin Joe worked for the Highway Department. A few years back they were “shooting sealcoat” early one morning, a process of spraying oil on the road before dropping rock on it. The oil has an enamel base making it very sticky.

An older man parked his truck across from a marina and didn’t hear Joe shouting to stay clear of the hot and sticky oil. He took two steps across the black molasses and was stuck, wobbling back and forth. By the time Joe and his crew reached the man he had stepped out of his shoes and was pasted to his knees trying to crawl to freedom.

He was screaming, “What kind of darn stuff is this anyway!” Joe said, “He was like a fly on flypaper.” The more they struggled to free him, the more stuck he became. It was soon clear something was going to have to give. Joe heard something rip and thought it was the man’s overalls coming apart at the knees. If only the old man was so lucky. Everyone soon saw the overalls coming apart at the straps and he was coming on out! Was he ever–the frantic situation turned to sheer desperation as the man screamed out, “I aint got any drawers on!”

Before they knew it the guy was standing beside the road with nothing on but a T-shirt. Joe and his crew were trying hard not to laugh, and definitely not to stare, but the smiles were thick chiclets across the board.

Shaken and frustrated, the man walked back to his truck hollering, “ALL I WANTED WAS A DADBURN NEWSPAPER!” Well, Joe bought him a paper and sent him home wearing only his Tshirt.

Think of the story he told his wife showing up wearing that. We’ve all had one of those all I wanted was a newspaper mornings. My worst was a rooster dancing on my head before breakfast. But, being pasted onto hot oil is hard to beat.

Shirley the lawnmower

by Randall Beaird

Shirley, nephew David, Johnnyboy

Shirley, nephew David, Johnnyboy

There are lawnmowers, and there is Shirley. A few years ago (1996)my little farm (Jacksonville) had a little grass. Around April it was growing muscles and nursing a forest. I flashed lawnmower specials from the mail and waved my fist from the backdoor. There was a little choking going on. Maybe the grass, maybe the weeds or baby trees–I couldn’t tell who, but someone was winning.

The battle was ten feet high when I pulled into the Tri-County Livestock Auction to buy my secret weapon. Shirley was the last goat sold and at sixteen dollars, I knew her eight teeth would send anything green to its knees.

She was a beauty when it comes to mowers, but she was still a baby, only about two weeks old. I put her in the pen after a disastrous attempt at giving her a bottle. She was probably hungry, definitely wild-eyed and nervous; I would try again later I thought.

I was so proud of Shirley’s new pen, so pleased to have my mower, and so surprised to see Shirley gone. I turned around for two seconds, and the cattle panel pen was empty. I raced around the perimeter beating back the jungle,only to spot her bouncing up the hill. There was an hour of daylight to catch Shirley, or something faster would.

With hands in the air, I tiptoed after her. She spotted me and took off like a deer. I’m fast, but never was a great hopper. Nephews are great for catching goats, and I was off for reinforcements.

Shirley, David and Johnnyboy

Shirley, David and Johnnyboy

Upon returning, we found Shirley and eased her into a corner. With only barbed wire to stop her, I asked Matthew, Jake and David to stand guard as I inched closer. I knew my frightened mower would bolt; if only I was close enough for a saving dive.

How far I dove, I don’t know, but my body was stretched flat for a while as Shirley shot from the corner. The subsequent crash, I do know, left me breathless as I bounced off the turf. I couldn’t breathe but had a leg. I had Shirley, and a nice portion of whiplash to go.

I could have used a neckbrace for three days as I improved Shirley’s pen. The bottle was tried again; things can change quickly. Shirley found her long-lost mother and it was me. I never was a mama, much less a super mama. All it took was a bottle, some milk and a nipple.

I bought Johnnyboy, a Great Pyrenees puppy, to protect Shirley. I knew it was a good sign when I found them sleeping in the doghouse together. You might remember Sara; I called him Sara by accident for a while.

Reader beware–Shirley was contagious. Goat fever is real; I had it. You become intoxicated at the thought of finding a good deal. You sit at the sale barn with a motley crew and wave hands to win the goat. After three months, I had won thirty.

They were all in heaven as my farm’s grass, leaves and vines began to quiver and feel the heat. It was amazing to see them chomp down the poison ivy that only weeks before had my arms ripped with blisters.jacksonville

Goats have Houdini blood. After a little hog wire here and some electric wire there, they only got loose about once a week. They know follow the leader well–crazy pilot goats that jump and wiggle; everyone follows. I kept staring wondering who as I rattled come home feed. Walking papers were handed to three. Do not pass go; do not make Mr. Beaird shake corn against the setting sun.

Springtime rolled around as baby goats hit the ground. You can deliver different things on the run before dinner–the mail, a message, a great pass, but when you help deliver a tiny goat, you better have a little lemon scented joy to grab and lather.

Finally, I shook the fever and sold half the herd. Some were invited over for dinner by honkers at my gate; others made the trip to the sale barn for a wild-eyed trot in front of the auctioneer and waving hands. When I moved, Shirley was in the last bunch to go. I made sure she wasn’t going as dinner, but as foundation stock for a Boer goat rancher.

Lawnmowers come in all shapes and sizes, but you can bet my next one will be named Shirley, even if it has ten horses and is painted red. I’ll just make sure no one is watching when I pat the hood.

Old houses

by Randall Beaird

Most of us have lived in houses older than our parents. You know the bathroom floor is ripe for a redo when you have to warn visitors, while pointing at the wobbly commode, “Think butterfly, not buffalo.” They usually got the message as I crossed my fingers, tiptoed away and tried not to listen.

My search for shelter a few years ago landed a 1939 model at my feet (in Dayton). Vacant for two years, it was thirsty for more than just paint. Several of the floor joists were ripped with rot and hung like the tired arms of Atlas; they were bent but had one last push to hold up their world.

I bought two six ton jacks and slipped into the mode of a mole. After ten minutes, I adopted two methods of snaking my way back and forth under the sagging giant. The belly crawl was good, but I stumbled into the tortilla roll. I found I could make great time by rolling back and forth like a tortilla.

Afterwards I was the living dust bag, but my forehead kissed less spider-ridden wood. New joists were soon riding piggy-back on the old while strategically placed concrete blocks, with varying degrees of wooden hats, saw the low parts rise with each rickety click of the jack. Finally it was their turn to carry the load, as the jack inched down in retreat.

Meanwhile the old tin roof was begging for attention. Maybe thick and leak free, but the tin was wearing an ugly jacket of rust. After mopping one can of roof paint on, I opted for the efficiency of a four inch brush. But with the brush carpal tunnel started to strangle my right wrist. I busted my left one out of the pen with such fervor I was giving demonstrations the next day. But by now daylights saving time had left town. Looking up at a roof needing work had me feeling down–darkness slapped my plans hard.

However, there are lights and there are airplane lights. We need a law outlawing darkness before eight! Two five hundred watt work lights and myself were soon perched atop and painting. Everything was fine until I went to fetch some more paint. Down the ladder….got fresh paint….up the ladder, I was excited–the tin was turning into a giant silver nickel!

Well, as I tiptoed back across the roof to continue, I forgot and walked over a painted portion in the shadows. Four feet across and about the time I said uh-oh, I slipped and was sliding down the roof like a startled toboggan rider. My options were limited, even more so because each hand held a gallon of paint. I thought this is a little funny but could be painful.

My first plan was to cradle the paint to my chest like a baby, protecting it from a fatal spill. But as I went airborne off the roof, holding two cans of paint, my self-preservation instinct kicked in– the cans went sailing. I wish I could say I landed like a cat or hit the ground running. But the cans did the flips while I landed like I left the roof. Faked out of my skin by the absence of injury, my heart twisted, the thud was impressive, but the pain never came.

There were other injuries. I rushed over to one can of paint. Like a car wreck, the can was on its side bleeding profusely. When you buy high dollar paint with special fibers, there’s a special attachment. I paddled it back into place thinking and thankful I was due a nice landing. (Broken legs and ribs once painted my name on hospital hill with football, horses and boats gathered on the brush, while little cotton stitches belted out a medley on the dangers of wood railings, barbed wire and sliding glass doors.)

I never rode a sled down a icy hill, but for several days, until I painted again, there was a rusty trail up high saluting my late night ride.