The Backstory: The Pig and I

I have a full series of biographical posts here, if you wish to attempt some armchair psychoanalysis on RameyLady. 
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I have only a few rules that I strive to follow at work (in addition to the basics of human kindness):

1. Don’t be too loud.  
The struggle is real, y’all.  I work at a rather quiet place.  I think my laugh carries all the way down the hall…. to like the second floor…

2.  Don’t be too weird.
If you’re reading The Backstory series, you understand: When I went off to college and spent some time with people from all around the country, I realized just how odd I am.  I blame this on being raised by a struggling working-class family living on a mountain in Appalachia, raised by parents a full generation older than any of my friends, as an only child whose primary companions were a few of the dysfunctional neighbor kids, our 10 cats, whatever came over the airwaves on the TV or local radio, and thousands of books.

3. Don’t say the F-word. 
…without having *very* good reason.

Three rules.  Should be simple.

You’d be amazed though.

So at lunch yesterday, when the talk of the table had turned – twice – to the subject of pigs …..hunting wild hogs ….. eating wild hogs [not as much meat as you’d think] ….. pet “comfort” pigs [I don’t know, I didn’t ask]) … plus pet pot-bellied pigs had come up in conversation before that as I was walking to lunch — I had the momentary thought of telling this story to the table.

Until I did a reality check, and decided the necessity of explaining my entire background before the story could even make sense probably took me past the boundaries of rule #2.

[I made the right call, I think.  Moments later, when I suggested that cauliflower tastes delicious roasted in a very hot oven with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, they all looked at me like I had 4 heads.  *shakes head*  People shouldn’t abuse food the way they do, like by not roasting cauliflower and eating that amazing caramelized toasty goodness on a cool winter evening. I digress.]

So here, dear reader, is the story that came to mind when the talk of the table turned to the pigs.

*****
I don’t know why my parents started to acquire large and small animals on our 12 acres of land, but they did.

I don’t have any actual memories of this, but family lore confirms that as soon as my family had settled on the mountain  in a little cement block house built by the previous owner (our temporary dwelling while my dad and brothers constructed our house), my brothers managed to talk my parents into letting them get a horse.

I’ll have to share the horse story some other day.  He didn’t last long with THAT attitude….

Over the course of my life, we had – in addition to the horse – two pigs, many chickens, two dogs, and a multitude of cats….. plus my brother’s beehives (for a time)…. which led to a few visits by a hungry black bear (and the end of several of the beehives). Oh, and fish.

When I was a preschooler, we had two hogs.  My dad and brothers constructed a pig pen a ways down into the woods from the house – to prevent our yard from smelling like a farm – and split trees into a fence.

The sow, black and pink and rather grouchy, bore the name Sarai for no reason that I can explain. I was probably 4; every part of the world made as much sense as anything else, no matter how bizarre, though I’m sure I asked why.   Sarai had a piglet (hers? not sure) that we called Rudy.  I don’t recall Rudy’s end, but I’m *pretty* certain a large wild animal feasted on him before we could do anything else with him.  Like serve him for supper.

I was daddy’s girl and followed him pretty much everywhere.  We took vegetable scraps and leftover food down to the pig trough for them to devour.  I learned how much fun it is to torment pigs – they glare at you with beady eyes. And they’re hella intelligent. It got to where they’d always stay across the pen from me if I was outside.  Inside the fence, I found them large and terrifying.  All that bulk and snuffling.  And mud.  *ew*  [insert Jimmy Fallon voice here]

Then one day in the golden autumn, my dad fired up his 1960-something Ford pickup truck, which had a rebuilt bed of wood with tall sides made of slats, and drove it and my brothers down to the pigpen. It took all 3 of them and maybe a neighbor too to pin down Sarai – who was huge and unhappy – and wrestle her up into the truck, tying her down.

The boys stayed in the back; my mom and dad flanked me on the red truck seat in the cab as we drove across the mountain to a barn-like building with a name something like Sonny’s or Sam’s or Harry’s.  That’s where the men dragged Sarai squealing off the truck and then disappeared into the building for quite a long time.

I was furious at being stuck in the truck cab with my mom.  Livid.  My dad had left no opening for disobedience here; he was clear that I was to stay put…. plus my mom wasn’t going to let me do anything more than stare through the back window of the truck cab.   So I waited. And stared.

And that was my family field trip to the slaughterhouse. 🙂

I’m sure I was given a basic explanation that Sarai had served her purpose and it was time for her to go … and that we would be able to eat bacon and pork chops and roasts all winter thanks to her sacrifice.  I remember when the truckload of white-wrapped packages came back from the butcher, labeled in black sharpie.  (The bacon was especially tasty.)

I don’t recall being particularly traumatized by the realization that the animal I’d helped raise was now part of supper.  I don’t know what that says about my psyche, but it was normal for mountain life.  We buried many pets while I grew up, lots several chickens to a hungry possum, and got rid of the troublesome horse.

Death is always near in the Appalachians.  It just is.

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