Living on a small farm had its disadvantages. There was always work to be done; and if you were present, you were expected to work – no matter your age. As a child as young as three, I was shown how to gather eggs from the chicken house; and I was milking cows before I started kindergarten. I even had a metal bucket that was child size so I could carry the milk easily. However, I never complained. It was just our way of life, and I did it because it took everyone to make it work smoothly.
My papa tended to the cattle and the hogs. I followed him regularly as a child, so those soon became my jobs, too. The cattle I could handle by myself, but the hogs required me to have an escort. We had a registered sow (rhymes with wow) that would eat your face if you got near her piglets. She was mean, and I wasn’t as terrified of her as I should have been. I wasn’t old enough to remember one incident with her, but I had heard it told so often that it made me cautious of her.
When I was three years old, this mean sow had piglets. It was winter and bitterly cold. She had wallowed out a mud hole in her shed and positioned her rear end near the hole. As she birthed the piglets, they were falling into the water and starting to freeze. My papa and mom took a few of the boards off of the shed on the outside. He would catch the piglets and hand them to my mother, who was drying them with towels and setting them back inside the shed. I said she was a mean sow – not smart; or so one would think…
A few weeks later, her piglets are weaned and ready to be sold. We found a buyer for them, and he and his son came to the farm to pick them up. Since I was so young, it was my job to help round up the piglets for transport. I was put inside the hog pen and set loose on the unsuspecting piggies. Knowing their mother’s temperament, she was locked inside our loading shoot so we could catch them without incident.
However, as anyone who is acquainted with hogs will tell you, piglets make a lot of noise when they’re caught. You have never heard such squealing. With her piglets in distress, the momma sow grew more and more disturbed. They, unlike sheep, are very protective of their young; and she was exceptionally so. After several tries, she finally busted through the boards of the gates keeping her imprisoned and started running to save her piglets by any means necessary.
That’s when she was faced with two adults in the hog pen and a three-year-old little girl. According to the stories told and retold, she looked at both adults holding her offspring. Then she saw me – a toddler holding one of her own. She looked at my mother for a long time and then back at me. She then pawed the ground a few times – as a bull would before charging – and bolted in my direction. My mother dropped both of the piglets she was holding and took off in my direction as well, screaming at me, “Denise, drop the pig! Drop the pig!”
My mother got to me before the hog did and scooped me up in her arms and kept running. She hurdled the fence of the hog pen with me in her arms and only stopped when we were a safe distance. The sow didn’t stop and tried to run through the fence. By this time, my papa had climbed up the loading shoot and was watching the whole thing. The buyer and his son watched in amazement several yards away.
Every adult present that day determined the mother hog knew I was the offspring of my mother. They suggested she went after me because the adults were going after her children – something I guess only a mother can understand. I would argue that she only went after me because I was less threatening and more easily attainable. However, my mother’s recollection of the story makes me consider that an exchange happened between the two mothers – a look, a knowing, an understanding. I’m still not sure. I just know that I wasn’t allowed to be at the hog pen without an adult from that day forward.
The piglets were finally caught that day. The sow showed signs of depression for the next couple of weeks or so. She laid around on dry dirt (not mud) and wouldn’t eat regularly. She finally snapped out of it, but losing her babies did a number on her emotionally. (Yes, I am implying that animals have emotions. Please be kind in your comments.) We honored her later by selling her at auction and not having her slaughtered and processed, but I’m sure she eventually found herself on someone’s plate – just not ours. In our opinion, she was too mean to eat.
By the way, I haven’t eaten pork in almost ten years; but that’s a story for another day.