Having been raised on a farm, I had the great fortune of continually being surrounded by animals. Dad was a bird hunter, so we usually had several dogs of the setter variety. Just like most Lassie-loving-little boys of my time, I had a Lassie-look-alike Collie named Prince. While I could not stand cats, we always had a stray cat or two, which as you know, turned into four, then six and you get the picture. Dad preferred to plow his massive gardens with a horse, so we always had at least a work horse, and later a fun riding horse. We had a few cows and many, many chickens. But one of the more enjoyable animals we raised will probably surprise you. It was our pigs. Let me explain.
The Ashley County Fair came to my hometown every September. Most city folks went for the festive atmosphere, the rides and to socialize. For country folks like me, it was a time to show off our skills by entering the many contests available. For the ladies, they simply must enter their best muscadine jelly, pickles, pies or show off their quilts. Many young ones raised cows, goats, rabbits or chickens and entered them as 4-H projects. For me, it was always a pig.
As a way of teaching responsibility, and to give me spending money, dad always allowed me to choose my pick of the litter when the spring piglets were born. Whether it was of the Duroc or Hampshire variety didn’t really matter; me and that pig were bound to become besties. No matter how many other pigs we had, the chosen pig was the anointed one in my book. He would always get the best of the best pig treats, such as they were.
Now, city folks don’t know what country folks have known for a long time. Pigs are perhaps one of the smartest domestic animals around. They learn many tasks as quickly as chimpanzees. They are also one of the cleanest animals. But pigs don’t have sweat glands, so they roll around in mud to keep cool, thus giving them the perception of being dirty. In addition, when shown proper attention, pigs can become extremely affectionate to their owners. They are very social animals.
I loved spraying my pig with cool water, which consequentially made a huge mud hole. I didn’t enjoy getting in the mud, so I talked my dad into making a concrete wallowing hole for my pig. This allowed me to keep it full of fresh water and my pig could stay clean, relatively speaking. Our neighbors scoffed at us for having a “swimming pool” for our pigs when we couldn’t even afford a pot to, well you know the rest of the phrase.
To enter a pig in the fair, one must learn how to walk the pig in an arena pen in front of judges and keep him under control. Some used switches. I went first class. I used a cane. For the judges to adequately evaluate the features of your pig, it was important to keep him cool, calm and in your control. In my case, a walking cane was used to guide the pig through the pen during the judging process.
While a pig is intelligent, they also can be head strong. Unless there is motivation to learn a trick, they will lose interest. For some pigs, that motivation is scratching their belly. For some, they have a favorite vegetable, which I was never short on. For some, it was carrots, others potatoes. The challenge was to find the best motivation for that animal. For all pigs, getting to know them and making them feel comfortable around you was always a necessary ingredient in a well discipline and trained porker.
A few days before the big event at the fair, the prized pig must be on display. This comprised of keeping your animal’s pen, and consequentially your pig clean. This meant I must clean the pen and animal with a hose, which meant wearing some of their dirt and other matter. Once clean, a trick of the trade was to apply hair tonic on the pig to give them a sexy sheen. Once completed, the greatest chore was to keep this intelligent, sweat glandless, hot animal from laying down, thus negating all your previous hard work to make him sexy.
When the auctioneer called our number, it was time for me and my prized pig to strut our stuff. I knew I spent hours and hours properly training my pig. I had him properly motivated. Now, it was Puttin on the Ritz time, baby!
The end of this story is always bitter sweet. After they judged my pig, someone bought him. I left with several hundred dollars in my pocket. Several hundred dollars back then was equivalent to several thousand dollars today. But as this young farm boy left the auctioneer arena without his bestie of the past year, even though it was just a pig, he always left with a lump in his throat, wondering if the money was worth it. The young farm boy grew a little bit closer to manhood, learning there is a ying for every yang.
I learned life blesses us with very few true friends. Nothing, is worth losing them.