Back on the farm my folks always encouraged we youngsters to raise animals that suited our personalities in some way. My sisters raised chickens and other delicate creatures. I was advised to consider cultivating a herd of Egyptian dung beetles. But back in the early seventies that sort of thing was hard to come by. So, I was guided into breeding Komodo dragons instead. My brother tended pigs.
Those of you who are familiar with pigs (also known as swine, hogs, porkers, idiots, jerks etc.), will find it not at all unusual that a twelve foot Komodo dragon is no match for a full grown Chester White boar. However, that’s as far as a pig’s commendable qualities extend. In my mind, the only good pig is a sausage – served at breakfast with a generous helping of scrambled eggs and hash browns.
I remember one year (I was fourteen at the time) – that for whatever reason – my Mother and I were left with the responsibility of hauling a half dozen freshly killed, halved and skinned hogs to the butcher. My brother usually raised about twenty five of the porkers, sold the bulk of them and handed over a few to Dad; something called the “King’s Tax” as I recall.
I was none too happy about helping out on this particular day. You see, I was supposed to be playing basketball with my main man, my idol, the one true god of hoops; Marvin Stewart. (Marvin was an all state player from Medical Lake Washington who played at Boise State University on a full ride scholarship.) Instead I was wrestling a bunch of greasy dead pigs onto the flat bed of a ’49 Chevy pickup.
We neatly piled the pigs on the sheet of black plastic that we had laid out in the flat bed (side racks but no tail gate). Then we hopped into the truck, pulled out of the barnyard and turned onto the county road.
“I suppose all the hassle will be worth it when we have those hams to set out on the table” Mom said. I knew she was thinking of the numerous times she had single handedly chased all twenty five pigs from one end of the farm to the other after they had made their weekly breakout to raid the family garden.
I agreed heartily – as I glanced back just in time to see the last pig half corpse slide out of the truck and onto the road.
Mom was smiling, humming a little tune to herself, as she rammed the Chevy into second gear and stepped on the gas. I cleared my throat.
“Uh, Mom, the pigs fell out.”
“What’s that?” she said sweetly.
“I said – the pigs – they all just fell out of the back of the pickup.”
The sound of my forehead meeting the glass reminded me of the time my brother and I used a baseball bat on the neighbor’s jack-o-lanterns.
“Why the (heck) didn’t you say so!” said Mom as she ground the Chevy into reverse and hit the accelerator.
I took a moment to pry my face from between the dash and the windshield before replying. “I did – as soon as I no-“
My voice was submerged beneath the sound of the old ’49 straight six winding out to about 7000 rpm. We had arrived at the first pig and the smokey smell of hot bacon grease filled the air as the right rear tire spun on the carcass.
Mom slammed on the brakes and cut the engine. Speed seemed imperative somehow as we piled out of the cab and ran to the back of the truck. Jackpot: at least four halves of the pigs had jumped ship right where we stopped. I glanced at the smoking carcass squished beneath the rear tire.
“Let’s get the easy ones first” I said as I bent to take hold of the cold swine flesh.
I paused in contemplation as the “bat on pumpkin” sound met my ears. Mom was kicking one of the dead pigs with enough force to lift the 100 pound half an inch or two off the road.
“(Darn) pig, stinking (darn) pig.”
I sensed that Mom was unhappy and knew it was time for me to play the man. I stood with fists clenched and glared at the pigs as I attempted to speak in a baritone.
“(Darn) pigs! Lousy, (#*$!*+&) (darn) pigs!”
Her look caused me to understand that being a man was limited to picking up pig cadavers from the roadway.
I stooped to the task.
As I grasped the nearest swine by the foreleg and began to lift, my feet slipped on the lard oozing over the smooth pavement and I fell headlong into the pig pile. I executed a strange dance as I scrabbled for a purchase and attempted to shove myself upward and away from the heap of hogs.
At that moment Marvin Stewart pulled up. He peered through the windshield of his car a long while before stepping slowly from the vehichle. He then remained behind the shelter of the open door. He was immaculate in his glimmering satin basketball warmups. His upper echelon court shoes shimmered in the bright sunshine. Marvin looked at me sideways as I continued jive stepping in the midst of the pigs.
“Whatcha all doing?”
No one spoke.
“Are those pigs?” he nodded toward the swine corpus nearest his car.
I stopped my gyrations, fell on a pig and then rolled free of the mess. “Yeah. They’re pigs.”
Marvin looked at my Mom, then back at me. He slowly rubbed his chin and then his hand dropped to lightly caress one satin sleeve. He lifted his eyes to the horizon and gazed into the smoky distance for some time. Then his eyes lowered to meet mine; I could see that he had his game face on.
“Let me give you-all a hand.”
Marvin stepped forward; he bent to grasp a pig and sunk his strong fingers deep into the oleaginous meat. As he stood upright the pig flopped against his chest and thighs. He grimaced as he tried to hold the swine away from himself as he staggered toward the pickup.
I watched in stupefied amazement as the one true god of hoops struggled to load first one pig, then another and another.
“You gonna sit there and watch or are you gonna give me a hand?”
We made short work of the chore with the both of us loading pigs while Mom backed the pickup to each carcass. Once the last pig was safely in the truck, Marvin wedged a 2X6 across the back to keep the porkers on board.
The three of us climbed into the cab of the ’49 and I kept a wary eye on the rear view mirror as we pulled away from the farm house. I glanced at Marvin scrunched in next to me and gasped at the sorry condition of his satin warm ups. From chest to knees Marvin was befouled with pig lard and blood. I started to stammer an apology to the one true god of hoops when he cut me off with a gesture. He was silent a moment as he carefully pulled the corrupted cloth away from his leg. The lard caked satin remained in a peak when released and Marvin pushed it back into place before speaking.
“No problem man, that’s what friends are for.”
I could feel a giddiness wash over me.
“But, you-all let me know the first time you roast up some of this pig for dinner…” his smile held a hint of vengeance, “I want to be there.”