Time for something more light-hearted again. When I was twelve years old my family moved from town (sort of – Eminence, Indiana is a very small town) to a little farm in the adjoining township. It was a great move for us. I had 20 acres of forest for my personal playground. We were able to raise a large garden. The small-time farming life appealed to me in lots of ways. In the second month of our time on the farm dad bought four piglets. We kids had never been around pigs much. My mom’s dad had kept a few monstrous Poland/China swine sometime back around my seventh and eighth years but we had been encouraged (and it hadn’t taken much encouragement) to stay away from them. The piglets were much less scary and furthermore, they needed fed and tended so we (especially my brother and I) were encouraged to be involved with them. My sisters were less involved in caring for the pigs and in a short time the cuteness factor diminished and the novelty wore off and the female component of the family pretty much drifted away from the pigs. But, during the brief period all five of us kids were interested in the pigs, we named them. We were, in those days, all fans of the Three Stooges. There were four pigs. For Stooge followers, we could have brought Shemp into the project but we settled instead for splitting one name between two pigs. The pigs, accordingly, became Larry, Moe, Curly and Joe.
The following November we learned something of the folly of becoming personally invested in farm animals when Curly and Joe were transformed into pork chops, hams, sausage, and bacon. When you belong to a family that does its own butchering it takes a moment to overcome the knowledge that you are rummaging around the insides of good old Joe (We boys that is. The girls deepened their sense of separation from the livestock at butchering time). Larry and Moe (whose names were not particularly gender appropriate) remained with us and became brood sows. So, about a year into our residency on the farm, we still had some home-butchered pork in the freezer and somewhere around 17 (I no longer recall the exact number) pigs on the place. By high summer that year all but four of the second generation were shipped off to market. Two remained behind to refill the freezer come November and the brood sow count went up to four.
Hundreds of pigs passed through one way and the other before I took off for college and my own life off the farm. Some were long termers. Most spent only six to nine months with us. I got my driver’s license and inherited the job of hauling corn to the mill to be ground into a higher protein feed mix. I developed some muscle hoisting hundred-pound bags of that feed into the gravity feeder! We fought the freezing weather keeping piglets warm and waterers flowing. We kept pure-bred breeding boars some of which were like very large pets and some of which were totally unsafe to be around. We had one ill-tempered Berkshire boar that had to be penned and noosed occasionally in order to trim his tusks with bolt cutters lest one of us end up gutted. Some of our pigs had zero respect for fences. One brood sow had sufficient throw back to the wild in her to routinely escape and run off into a semi-wooded swamp when it was time to deliver her litters. I put in some time chasing pigs. On a single occasion I put in some time being chased by a pig. (Moe turned crotchety in general but was especially bad tempered when she was nursing piglets!) I held pigs down for doctoring. I shoveled endless loads of their manure into the spreader. I put them in farrowing pins. I moved the piglets from there to the feeding lot once they were weaned. I loaded them onto trucks for their final departure.
In the course of all this activity I made an astounding discovery. The odor of pig is clingy. A person’s work boots can end up smelling permanently of pig. Scrubbing does not get the smell out. For some of my growing up years my wolverine work shoes or my clodhoppers were also the shoes I wore around in public. My mom recommended scrubbing the boots with vinegar. No good! Worse, though one bathed regularly – with soap and everything – there were moments: say playing basketball at lunch break or in the midst of a required physical education class or track or cross country practice – when one began to perspire heavily and it turned out that the essence of pig you had scrubbed off the surface of your skin had actually penetrated deeper. It would come seeping out with the sweat. I have not mentioned the few cattle we kept on our little spread – nor the chickens nor the rabbits. I worked with all those animals too. But none of them gifted me with the perpetual presence of unwanted aroma like the pigs.
I had not been at college too long before I sweated out the last of it. I haven’t had enough to do with pigs since to regain it. But I have never forgotten it. I have spoken with other pig farmers all of whom are familiar with the phenomenon. Another pig farmer in the congregation of the Eminence Christian Church told me not to worry – it was the smell of money! I can only say that was not the view taken by my high school peers – especially the girls.
But it does teach a lesson. Our regular contacts leave traces. Often enough, it is difficult to hide those traces from our fellows. It is impossible to hide them from God. Do a Bible study sometime on the alternate expressions concerning those things which God regards as pleasing aromas and those things which He regards as a stench in His nostrils. It’s probably a good idea if our regular contacts place us in the former category rather than the latter.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church