It’s my fault we got the pigs. We’d never discussed the idea of raising livestock, other than my husband suggesting we buy a flock of sheep so that he wouldn’t have to mow the lawn anymore. But then he bought a riding lawnmower. We live in the country, so the idea of raising animals for food is not a foreign concept here. At least half our friends—people who aren’t technically farmers—have a chicken coop out back. But taking care of two stinky, grunting mammals had never been a part of my life plan.
Okay, so maybe I don’t actually have a life plan. Which is probably how I ended up bringing home two pigs by accident. It was Labor Day Weekend, a huge three-day celebration that’s been a tradition in our town for 94 years. On Saturday night there’s a “rock and roll dance” at Town Hall. My husband and I often play in the tennis tournament (but only because he won’t play mud volleyball). On Labor Day itself, there’s a road race, a “white elephant” sale, kids’ games, food, and a juried art show. And my family has not only marched in the Labor Day parade, we’ve won ribbons for our floats all three times. Though I’m pretty sure everyone gets a ribbon.
A few years back, there was also a Pig Scramble on Labor Day, which, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is basically a bunch of kids with large burlap sacks chasing down piglets in an enclosed area. The Pig Scramble’s the kind of event so unabashedly folksy, that when you watch it, you can’t help but have a smile plastered across your face. Unless a member of PETA. So I was headed to the Pig Scramble with my son (age 4 at the time) and two of my friend’s kids, a seven-year-old boy and his ten-year-old sister, who were both planning to enter the Scramble, though as “Main Street kids” (as opposed to farmer kids) we all knew they didn’t stand a chance.
On the car ride there, the kids and I discussed this fact—how it was always the 4H Club kids who won—fearlessly snagging a piglet by the hind leg then heartlessly stuffing the squirming beast into their sack, deaf to its high-pitched squeals of terror. But the thing about my friend’s kids was that they weren’t even expecting to win, they just wanted to participate. And unlike the farmer’s kids, their family had no pigpens to store them in, nor a desire (at least on their parents’ part) to raise their own pork. Which is why I told they kids that if they won (ha ha, fat chance) that we’d take their pigs.
Then, just before the Pig Scramble started, these adorable little siblings got into a fight. It wasn’t a big deal—just your typical brother-sister squabble—but apparently it was enough to kick their sibling rivalry into overdrive. So, as the National Anthem played (because all major sporting events start off with the National Anthem) I could see the little brother’s eyes glaze over with the determined focus of a professional athlete. His big sister stood next to him, hand clenched around her burlap sack, glaring at her seven-year-old brother as if he were her diehard opponent, as she waited for the whistle to blow.
Within two minutes, each had a pig in their bag, caught by employing exactly the same strategy we had discussed in detail in the car ride there. Oops.
When the Scramble was done, I ran over to the tennis courts to interrupt my husband’s doubles match in order to inform him that we were now the proud owner of two pigs. Oh, and could he build a pigpen for them, say, in the next 48 hours?
I can still see the poor guy digging fence-posts holes at 11:30pm, the extension cord for his work light snaking it’s way down our driveway and across the lawn. But within two days, our pigpen was built and Jello and Pudding (my son’s names) had a new home.
Having never raised livestock before, I didn’t know how I would feel about eating animals I had personally known. Would I be able to enjoy my organic free-range bacon having once looked into its eyes? But by December, I was ready to eat Jello and Pudding’s faces off even while they were still alive. God, did I despise those greedy, snout-ramming, scarf-eating, pain in the pork-butts.
I don’t think I ever would have raised pigs by choice. But in the end, I’m glad I got to have the experience (and the short ribs). And I think sometimes, the most interesting things we do, we do by accident.