The old oak plane kicked out ringlets of pine, as Daddy pushed it along the new 2 x 8 board. This board would become a feeding trough. We were getting pigs, and the new trough was for the new pigs.
Later, Daddy would saw this trough-board into two sections, and join them in a “v,” but not until he planed all down the edges of this eight-foot board.
Then he nailed the two pieces together with the lap joint that fit so tight that it wouldn’t leak one drop of the water and mash mixture we would feed the pigs. After he cut and nailed on the end caps, the new trough was ready.
We had already repaired the hog-wire pen, which encircled some oak trees and bordered others. But to tell the truth, the feeding trough was in much better shape than the pen. The hog wire had been there for a very long time…. maybe since the early spring 30 years ago when Daddy and Grandpa raised their pigs. I would be thirteen that summer, and Daddy wanted us to raise some pigs, too. He wouldn’t charge me for the pigs or the feed. Whatever I made in this business proposition was mine to keep.
Next day, Daddy brought a toe sack to the car. He backed the old Plymouth out from the homeplace, which still sits directly across from what was once Polkton school. We headed up the Ansonville Road toward Sugartown, but took the first fork to the left and drove up to Mr. Frank McCollum’s farm.
We got out and Mr. Frank showed us our pigs. Little black Hampshires, with black coats and white racing stripes. They looked like they had on dress suits, and were cute from their little flat noses to their little corkscrew tails.
Daddy and Mr. Frank brought the pigs to the trunk, and put all three into the toe sack. I worried that they might smother. Mr. Frank said that a toe sack was the best way to carry your pigs home. The toe sack let them breathe, but it wouldn’t let them go exploring, and it wouldn’t let them mess up the trunk.
When we got home, I beat Daddy to the trunk so see if they were all right. When he opened up the sack, I could see that they were.
Daddy carried them to the pen, undid the wire and walked inside. I got the hose and put some water in their bucket. They headed straight for it. I put some more water in the mud hole, too. Then Daddy showed me how to mix the mash in a bucket and feed them. They took right to that as well. They scampered around, until they found the mud hole. Then they wallowed. One of them might have rolled an acorn around with his flat face. They seemed perfectly happy in their new home.
“Daddy, can I name them?” I said. “Moe, Larry and Curly…or Manny, Moe and Jack?”
“No, son,” he said. “You can’t do that. You talk to all of them at the same time. Say, ‘Soo-ee pig,’ if you want to. But do not give them names.”
Daddy didn’t want to talk about that anymore, so I let it drop. Later, I would know only too well why he gave me that advice.
I fed them in the morning and the evening — and maybe even more while they were small. After a while they would stop what they were doing and come running when they saw me. As they got bigger, I had to give them more feed. And I started feeding them table scraps from what we called the slop bucket.
Sometimes, they got on my nerves by trying to root one another away from the trough and I told them not to be such pigs. Then I realized that would be a biological impossibility as I laughed at the irony of my words.
They were up some size the first time they really scared me. A classmate, gazing out the window of the school, saw some pig-like objects in my yard and, “Leon, your pigs are out.”
I craned my neck so I could see, then asked Mrs. Myra Lockhart could I go check on them. She let me.
I had no idea in the world what I was in for. I had never herded a hog in my life, and I had no idea what in the world to do. But as I walked toward my pigs, they came to me, and followed me right up to the gate of the pen. Then they waited while I pulled the wire open and walked inside. And lo and behold, those hogs followed me right in.
I secured the fence, then went to the mash supply and got them a snack. Then I found the hole where they had rooted out and fixed it as best I could with bare hands.
“You are good old hogs,” I told them. Then I went back to school.
It was an oft-repeated scene. Schoolmates spotted my pigs walking around in the yard more than once. So the call to action changed from, “Leon, your pigs are out,” to, “Leon your pigs are out, again.” Mid-day was a favorite time for them to roam. Each time I came up, they met me in the yard.
It became a little drama. They would greet me after each escape. I would say, “Hello hogs, let’s go home.” Then I would walk ahead of them to the pen, open the gate, and they’d follow me inside. Then I would get them their treat, and fix the pen. “You’re good old hogs,” I’d say, then leave them to their snack. I noticed the mornings were chilly, so it was getting on toward frost. It would soon be time for them to leave.
Because we had no way to take them, Daddy made arrangements for Mr. Ransom Thomas to haul them in the trailer he pulled behind a black ‘52 Chevrolet. The morning he came was clear, and cold. Mr. Ransom made regular trips to the sale, and he knew a lot about hogs.
After he backed the trailer up to the pen, he got in the pen behind my pigs and tried to drive them onto the trailer. Maybe other hogs could be driven, but not these three. They had never been driven before, and they weren’t going to be driven now. After three of four attempts, Mr. Ransom told me he needed me to help get them on the trailer.
I knew exactly what it would take to get them in, but I did not want to do it. To use our little drama to lure my pigs into the trailer that would take them to the sale would be a major breach of trust.
I knew I could not keep them, but I waited for a long time before I finally I bowed to the inevitable. I could not speak to them when I walked into the pen; I simply led them out onto the ground and up the ramp into the trailer. They eagerly followed me in. I had no treat, so I could not bear to face them. I just slipped out quickly as I could so Mr. Ransom could close the gate. As he walked to the car, I thanked him as best I was able. Then I watched as he pulled out past the house and onto Ansonville Road.
I could barely speak as I watched the trailer leave. But I whispered, “I love you, you old hogs.” Then I wanted to cry.
Those nameless animals had become much more than a business proposition. Maybe matters would have worked out differently had they never broken out of the pen, and had they never made a game out of graciously following me back in. And they never simply reveled over their mid-day snacks. But this little drama, repeated so often, had built both enduring trust and endearing friendship .
And as the trailer moved on past the Methodist church and out of sight, I felt both sadness and sorrow at their having to leave, without hearing my “goodbye.” They could not understand, nor could I tell them the sadness and the sorrow that I felt.
The medieval writers have wisdom on this situation that we seem to have forgotten today. There really is a Great Chain of Being, with God on top and men below, and pigs somewhere below that. But in some way, we all have a foreordained position in the universe. When Daddy told me not to name my pigs, he may have been trying to tell me that pigs have different callings. Those of one calling offer pleasure to their humans as pets; those of another calling offer their bodies to feed the hungry as food. Somehow my pigs did both.
Leon Smith is a resident of Wingate.