Friday, September 12, 2008

Pigs: A Tale of Youth!

I remember one time when we lived on the farm we bought a pig, and while I know this in and of itself is not newsworthy, the manner in which we transported it home is. As I recall, when we bought the pig the vehicle we had with us was a Ford Pinto. Yes, a Ford Pinto. Not wanting to go back home and get the truck to haul it, we improvised by sticking the pig in a burlap sack and laying the sack in the back of the Pinto. My brother and I were so excited to have a pig, we petted the sack and talked to the pig, and would poke our hands into the air holes in the sack in order to pet the pig. I’m sure we scared it to death. Every once in a while the pig would let out a squeal, I’m sure out of fear and from being pestered, but Jason and I took it as a sign that he needed more attention. That poor pig. Mom and Dad told us to stop aggravating the pig, but it was to no avail, we were just sure that the pig needed us!

As we neared home, the pig began to cut a conniption fit, the likes of which had never before been borne. Well, this was the sign Jason and I needed to lay the back seat down so we could get back there and hug up to the sack in an effort to comfort the pig. Needless to say, it didn’t work and luckily we got home soon thereafter, or else I don’t know the pig would have survived the trip.

It seemed like we always had hogs when I was growing up. I recall that at one time we had upwards to 80 hogs and pigs. I loved having the pigs. We kept them in a big hog lot near my granddads house. For the most part, I remember best the hogs that we had the longest time. We built on to the old chicken house and made it into a 5-stall hog house, with each stall opening into a one acre lot.

I remember the first stall belonged to Snowball, a Middle White/Berkshire sow, who was ill-tempered but always had the fattest pigs. Snowball's piglets always brought the highest amount at market because they were as fat as little butterballs. She was sometimes a mean old sow though, and you never knew if she was having a good day or a bad day.

The second stall was for Spot, a Spots sow, who consistently gave birth to more piglets than she had teats. Spot would try to feed all the piglets and would be “pulled down” so much from the piglets that I’m pretty sure a strong wind would have blown her over.

The Third stall was for Bertha, a gigantic Hampshire sow. Bertha was special to us kids because she was so gentle, she’d let us ride on her and let us play with her piglets. Bertha was so fat, it was like riding on a walking mound of Jello.

Next to Bertha, in the 4th stall, was Junior, a mixed-breed boar that we bought at the stock sale for $1. Junior was so cheap because he was ruptured. We originally bought him to butcher (a hog for $1, you can’t beat that with a stick). Junior was gentle and us kids just loved him. The adults told us not to get attached to him because he was to be butchered, but we figured if we made a pet out of him, he’d be safe. Well, on this assumption, we were wrong. Come Thanksgiving Day, Junior was butchered. I remember trying to hold out loyalty for Junior by refusing to eat the heaping platter of pork chops that he had become, but my resolve must not have been too awfully strong. Junior tasted good!

In the last stall, we kept the hogs we were going to sell, or used to keep the boar when we borrowed one. We never kept a boar hog, to us it was a waste since we could just as easily borrow one as to keep one and feed it all year long.

A farm in Germany Valley near Slack Hands place.

We always borrowed a boar off of a man named Slack Hand, named that because he never would strike a lick at work. Slack Hand had a farm left to him by his father and he lived off of that. He never did take good care of his stock, and we’d always have to feed the boar a few weeks before it could "perform" for our sows. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but old Slack Hand’s hogs would eat rocks! Yes, I saw them do this! Slack Hand’s daddy was a first cousin to my granddaddy Don, so we was related to him, and Slack Hand was only too happy to lend us a boar hog for a few weeks because when we’d return the boar to him, he’d always immediately take it to the stock sale in Moorefield and sell it while it still had some weight on it! I remember I found it hilarious at the time, but now that I think on it, it really wasn’t funny, but Slack Hand never had a loading chute for getting his hogs on a truck. Instead, he just put down the tailgate of the truck and hogs would come from everywhere trying to jump up into the back of the truck. I know now that those hogs were trying to get the heck off of that farm and to somewhere where they’d be fed. The hardest part of getting a boar from old Slack Hand was getting the other hogs back off the truck since all we needed was a boar hog! They’d be packed in the back of the truck like sausage in a casing.

Some hogs near Slack Hands farm.

I remember my favorite pig of all time was a little piglet named Skunk. His mother was Gertrude. Skunk was my pig from the time he was born. I babied him and carried him around like a puppy. I always knew that we weren’t going to keep him and that he was to be sold when he got older, but I loved him anyway. I couldn’t bear to think that the slaughter house would buy him, so Mom assured me that if Crites Slaughterhouse bid on him at the stock sale, she’d say “No Sale” and bring him back home. Jason and I went with them to the stock sale the day that Skunk and his cohorts were to be sold (my brother also had a pig in this lot), and when Skunk and the other pigs were brought out for bid, you’d have thought we were at a ballgame or something. My brother and I stood up and yelled, “Hi Skunk, Hi. Wooooo. Wooooo. Skunk, we’re up here. Skunk!” We were sure yelling and cheering them on. I know we also named off the other piglets too, and tried to get them to recognize us in the crowd, but I can’t remember their names. We were so loud that the fellows that worked the stock sale came over and told us we’d have to calm down that we were scaring the animals!! Well, an old woman named Mattie, who had a huge dairy farm in Durgin, WV (near Baker’s Rock between Petersburg & Moorefield), thought it was cute that we were selling our pigs even though we obviously loved them, so she bought them all. After the sale, she came over to me and Jason and told us we could come and visit them any time we wanted to, and she said they’d be safe at her farm and she would feed them the leftover milk from her dairy operation.

Although we never did go see Skunk after we sold him, I do remember sitting with Mattie and asking her about Skunk when I’d go to the stock sale after that. She’d always tell me he was as big as a hog! I also remember she’d always tell me she was hungry and invite me to go with her to the cafeteria there at the stock sale. Mom knew her so it was okay. Mom always said Mattie was a nice old woman, and though you wouldn’t know it, she was probably the richest person in the South Branch Valley. Anyway, I remember Mattie always ordered us a hot ham sandwich and a piece of lemon meringue pie. They made the best stuff there at the stock sale cafeteria, all of it was homemade and it was run by farm women who really knew how to cook. Mom and Granddad used to pick on me after that by telling me that Mattie was the woman for me, she loved to eat as much as I did, and she could afford to feed me!

We sure had some good times at the stock sale and raising pigs.


tipper said...

Very neat post! My husband became attached to 2 hogs when he was little-even though he was warned not to. When the men got ready to butcher them-he hid and threw rocks at them. He was not rewarded for his actions if you know what I mean.

Jason Burns said...

You forgot to mention all the junk we would buy at the stock sale, too.

Matthew Burns said...

I didn't forget to mention the junk, thats another story for another day!
Matthew you remember any of those pigs names?

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Great post! Very entertaining. I can actually see you and Jason doing this. I bet it broke your heart to have to sell that pig. I never knew that story about Mattie...very nice!