On the Beh place during farrowing time, in back of the pot belly stove a little ways out from the living room’s north wall, one of the two sources of heat in that house, Mom kept runt pigs in a wooden box. The box more than likely, one in which washed and candled eggs in stacked gray trays were shipped. Mom or we kids bottle-fed the pigs; usually more than one runt in that box. When the weather turned cold, I stood behind that pot belly stove while I dressed for school, for freezing it was in that house in the winter time. Early, on cold mornings, my sister, my brother and I took turns behind the stove to dress in stages as best we could so to not reveal our nakedness. A scar on the back of my right arm from touching the stove-pipe still exists.
After the runt pigs with flesh on their bones stood on their feet, Mom feeling that they could survive, she ordered them moved to a separate pen in the barn. They squealed and snorted as we lifted them out of the box by a leg and hauled them to the barn. When of a certain weight, the folks either butchered or sold them. Mom put aside that money. One of those runt pigs used to follow us kids around the farm, snorting and nudging the back of my leg when I slopped the hogs. His back was almost up to my waist in my last memory of him, I probably no more than ten, as I walked to the barn, with him trotting beside me on the left. He loved to be scratched behind his ears, one of the best places to scratch an animal; the other being right above the tail. The folks said they sold him, but butcher him they did.
In the barn on the Beh place, as were the barns on the Paxton place and on the O’Boyle place, prior to farrowing time, Dad would build pens for each separate sow. We had orders during that time, separate and distinct orders, never to go in the barn without him or Mom. But I often would. One late afternoon, I snuck in the door from the west, and saw my father slamming one of the pigs against the west wall, killing it. I don’t know if I asked him or he told me, that it was almost dead because the mother sow had rolled on it. I remember looking down at the sow lying on her side feeding the litter, and thinking why would she do that. Whether she did or it was a runt pig too weak to suck a bottle, I don’t know.
Even though we were around death a lot, bloated cows in the field, dead pigs, the only animals the folks let me see butchered were chickens, and that was a bloody mess. Blood spurting everywhere once mother cut their heads off, which she usually did after their claws were tied together with twine and hung by their claws at the top of woven wire fence, the heads like a garland of nasturtiums and daisies exploding as she walked around the fence slaughtering.
Sows and hogs in general in the right circumstances are erratic, nasty, and dangerous. I’m pretty sure that a second cousin of mine or one somehow related to Aunt Lavonne, who is married to my mother’s brother, died from having his jugular vein torn out by a hog. I remember the scene when I first heard about the gruesome event. My aunt, shy and soft-spoken, told me and maybe others how it happened in the hog pen of those whose home we all were visiting.
Memory is a strange beast. I know that the farmstead where we were was at the end of a curved lane, and that my parents were there. We were in a room off the kitchen, not a pantry, not a porch, more like a room that was made into a sunroom, and it was in the summer time, for I recall looking out to the barn while I imagined the ugly scene. I can still see Aunt Lavonne’s face and her whispering the tale so those in the next room could not hear.
I do remember one time I saw my dad being taken down by hogs in the pig pen south of the barn. He was feeding them or something, and one or many tripped him, and he fell backwards. I stood frozen by the fence as Dad rode on the back of a hog, then him sliding off, and rising. A hog can also sever the tendon of a heel.