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A Tale Of Two Deaths: Part 2

June 9, 2017

I was eight years old at the time. Looking back, thought I was older. But, the faded writing on the back of the blue ribbon from Faribault County Fair ribbon is dated 7/18/73, the summer of my 9th year. Faribault County is located in Southern Minnesota, near the Iowa border. So, I must have been eight.

The most remarkable thing to me now, looking back, is how disspationate I feel about the whole thing. I had a pig that year. I was a farm kid and I was enrolled in 4H. I was given a piglet to raise. He was absolutely mine. I fed him. I cleaned his stall. I took him for walks. In fact, the walks were very important.

Did you walk your pig today?

Not yet.

You need to get out and take him for a walk.

My step-dad was a farmer. He was the son of a farmer. I knew this because his parents lived just down the road on the next farm. He was probably descended from a long line of farmers. I loved living on the farm. We shared a party-line phone. We had a barn, a grain silo, and acres and acres of farmland. We raised corn and soybeans, chickens and hogs. I remember one time complaining about the smell the pigs made. My grandfather corrected me.

That’s the smell of money.

And that summer, one of those pigs was mine. My brother, two years older, also got a piglet. We were expected to care for our pigs and present them at the fair in the fall. One of the memorable things from that summer is that I never named my pig. The surprising thing to me is that I don’t even remember it being a discussion. He was my pig and even at eight years old, I was expected to be responsible for him, but I never thought to name him.

At one point that year I adopted a baby chicken. It was a runt, much smaller than the other hatchlings. I was devastated when the dog got into the garage where I was keeping the chick and killed it. The chick had a name, but the passage of decades has faded the memory. But, not the pig. He was just a pig.

If you’ve ever read the book Charlotte’s Web, you have some idea of what going to the fair is like. It was the high point of the summer. I still remember winning a zippo lighter at the carnival. (It was the 70’s.) But, mostly I remember taking care of and showing my pig. Every animal category has it’s own criteria. With pigs, we took them to the show ring in groups of 4 or 5 kids. We were judged on how clean the pig looked, how well behaved he was, and of course, what he looked like physically. That’s the reason the walks were so important. It exercised the pig and turned fat into muscle, but it also gave us as kids a chance to learn to work with the pig. The pig should be willing to obey our commands. We had a short stick, like a yardstick that we used to tap the pig on the shoulder to get him to turn one way or the other.

While the pigs were in the arena, they were being judged by both the people handing out the ribbons and by another group of men. They were being evaluated by the hog buyers. The pigs were weighed and then the buyers offered to pay us for the pig. I don’t remember how much my pig weighed, but I do remember the amount offered by the buyer was $345. To an eight year old, that was a lot of money in 1973. It would be a lot of money to an eight year old in 2017.

I remember my step-father coming to tell me what the buyers were offering. I don’t remember if he had to convince me, or not. I do remember that I sold my pig. The animal that I had raised from a piglet was headed off to the slaugthter house and I don’t remember shedding a single tear. I think that’s why I didn’t name him. He wasn’t a pet. Our farm had hundreds of hogs. We sold them every year. At eight years old, I understood that sending pigs off to market was part of being a farmer. I remember I was excited because my brother and I both earned blue ribbons and a couple of kids from a farm down the road, who’d been in 4H forever and bragged about it, only earned red ribbons. I used the money from the sale of my pig to buy a new bike.

We only lived on the farm for a year. My mother and step-father split up and we moved from the mid-West back to Washington state. I was nine by that time and I was embarrassed by the tears I shed. I loved the farm life and have often thought about how different my life might have been had I grown up on that farm. It’s a time in my life that I look back on with fond rememberance. Even 45 years later, I occasionally let myself feel a tinge of emotion about that period of my childhood. But, none of that emotion is for the pig.

He was just a pig.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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