This Little Piggy is Going to Hell

Never name your pets if you live on a farm.

That rule was put in place by some farmer and his wife back in 1265AD. They had a daughter named Isabella. She was kind and good. Her father raised sheep on this farm. Isabella would frolic in the meadow with the sheep, charm them, and they her. Her parent's gazed out of the curtain-less cottage window to marvel at their sweet daughter and her innate ability to communicate with these simple, fatty, tasty-when-roasted, animals.

Isabella took pride in naming them names that suited their personality. Shyness, Lamb-y and Glowing Girl were among her favorites. She danced and sang with the sheep in the meadow from sunrise to dusk, making up ditty's that included their names and personalities. Her idyllic life was the kind that ends up depicted in films starring Shirley Temple, with Bojangles as the tap-dancing hired hand.

This all came to a screaming halt one evening when Isabella's mother called her in for dinner. "I'm starving, mummy," Isabella remarked, with rays of sunshine emanating from her cherubesque face. "What's for dinner?"

"Lamb stew. Same as last night and same as tomorrow," Isabella's mum coldly spat out. She was bitter from all of the farm work and had built up a resentment towards her husband from squelching her dancing career in Dublin and moving her to this sheep farm.

Isabella made the connection. That connection her father had feared she would make one day. Her young, round eyes darted rapidly from her parent's faces to her plate and then out the curtain-less window towards the barn.

"You mean, this is.... Shyness, or Lamb-y??!!" She choked back tears.

"Actually, Izzy, my angel, I have no idea," her father stated as bluntly as the ax he used to kill the sheep. "They're just animals to me and food for my family. One day the money we make selling them will buy us curtains for our window."

Isabella pushed her plate and her parents away forever. She left home that night, became a vegan, moved to Barcelona, set up shop as a wigmaker and she moonlit as a prostitute. (Wigs weren't really in fashion yet.)

Flash forward to summer of 1981, I worked at  Diamond Lodge Guest Ranch. A "dude ranch" outside of Durango, Colorado. A college friend, Donna DiTucci, and I were hired from Dallas as "Entertainment and Activities" directors. We "entertained" the guests and ourselves by putting on little shows at night. Our "activities" included perfecting rodeo horseback-riding tricks and finding new ways to feature bandanas in order to look more dude-ish. We'd just starred in a college production of The Boyfriend so most of our skits involved those songs. We just re-worked those 1920-era show tunes, swapping out the French resort references with cowboy terms.

The business of the ranch was tough. It was as hard to earn money from dude-ranching as it was to earn a roll in the hay with the rough-riding cowpoke son of the owner. Not impossible, just hard.

The owners were constantly struggling with new ways to attract guests. One day they showed up with a baby bull. There was a dairy farm nearby and they sold off the bulls for $100, as bulls only produced semen, and the dairy farm only needed milk.

I had heard that in Sweden, farmers lifted their cows every day from birth, and therefore were able to do so even when the cows weighed 2,000 pounds, because they never noticed a drastic weight gain, like Ricki Lake, Kirstie Alley or the Mexican peso. So I lifted that baby bull, who I named Beauregard, every day for the ten weeks I was there. I'm sure it was a funny sight -- me struggling under the weight of a very confused 100-lb baby bull. I fed him bull formula from a discarded Moosehead beer bottle fitted with a nipple. In a scene much like the clay-throwing sequence in the film Ghost where Patrick Swayze got all up in Demi Moore's business, the studly cowboy taught me to wean the bull from the bottle to a pail by sucking first on the bottle, then my fingers, then the liquid from the pail.

The ranch owner's also bought a sow, and her twelve piglets, to entertain the guests. Not sure if the piglets were supposed to entertain by putting on little chorus numbers, but I named the sow Mama Cass. I named the piglets -- The Cass-ettes. The litter included Re-Wind, Ella, Fast Forward, Eject and Memorex.

Swarthy Cowboy informed me that when it was time to wean the piglets, the mother would start to shake the piglets off her teats. They would fight to get back on, and in the cruelest example of supply and demand, as her milk dried up she would stomp on the head of the runt and kill him dead.

In a defiant Lifetime TV movie Not Without My Daughter moment, I sneaked in the pig pen late one night and grabbed that little runt and ran. I tucked him inside my really-cool-that-I-wish-I-still-had-snap-front jean shirt and hid in a small barn close by.

Suddenly, the mama pig forgot that she was plotting to kill this piglet, and began squealing and rooting and bashing into the sides of her pen. The sow was totally pissed and moved surprisingly fast for a big girl.


I lay in that little barn all night, with him wiggling inside my shirt. At one point, with remarkable aim, he bit my actual nipple with one of his needle teeth, making me scream and almost reconsider his rescue. I named the pig Arnold, after the Green Acres pig. I told him so as I talked to him calmly trying to assure him this kidnapping was the best thing for him.

As the sun rose, I could tell that the mother had calmed down and returned to her surviving and hungry brood. I began Arnold's training.

He was very smart. Soon he followed me so closely that I had to drag my foot a bit so I wouldn't hit him in the piglet chin. Sex-tiger cowboy built him a small pen next to our bunkhouse, and if Arnold heard me approaching he began to squeal with delight. Pigs are intelligent and needn't a leash. They can't sweat, so they roll in the mud to cool themselves off. (I did the same thing after watching the ranch hands shower.)

Arnold ate what I ate, and was really, really cute. I once had to cuddle him all night for three nights in a row to break a little fever he had. I was truly worried I'd lose him.

Sometimes at the ranch, I took a horse on a long trail ride and end up on Lemon Lake. I rode the horse bareback into the cold water and the horse would swim It's a magical feeling riding on a swimming horse.

I wanted to replicate that for Beauregard the baby bull and Arnold the brilliant piglet. Donna and I put both of them in a canoe and tried to paddle them around the lake. I guess baby bulls are afraid of water or canoes, because Beau was wiggly. His movement almost capsized the canoe and we had to abort that ill-conceived mission.

As the summer grew to a close, I prepared to go home. I was in the Marine Corps reserves and had a two-week camp in Palm Springs to attend, which held the promise of an awesome tan. I wanted to fly Arnold home to Dallas and keep him there, possibly on our ranch where ironically, wild pigs are a nuisance.  

But the U.S. experienced a record heat-wave that summer, and the airlines refused to fly pets, which included piglets, so I had to leave Arnold at the ranch. I checked in on him for awhile, then stopped because I didn't want to hear that he had fetched a good price or tasted better than we thought.

I often think of the cowboy in Colorado and my little pig, Arnold -- and why one should never, ever, name your farm animals. They might end up on my plate.

3 comments:

  1. Oh Greg!
    Great blog, your best yet and thanks for the touch of limelight.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know how you feel, when I was a little girl, I had a Jersey cow I named Buttercup. I let her into my aunt's vegetable garden because she was hungry and I feed everyone, it makes me feel better :-) The next time I went to the farm, she was gone, they said she had been sold to the next farm. Yeah, right, and the fridge just happened to be stocked with cuts of beef!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. My cousin had a cow named Stewie, need I say more?

    ReplyDelete

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