We always had a menagerie at our house, with anywhere from one to three dogs, two to over a dozen cats, and various fish and reptiles to fill out the collection. Someone else kept horses and cows in the field, so the place had the illusion of being a working farm. Since the fences were all falling over, I spent a good deal of my life walking down the middle of State Route 286 in my nightgown at midnight carrying a bucket of corn calling, “Come on cow; stupid cow; let’s get out of the middle of the road cow” to the animal whose halter I was pulling. I also had the trauma, at a very young age, of finding a cow that had gone missing quite dead, it having fallen into a freak crevasse in the field.
The only large farm animal we owned ourselves was actually a family pet, one whose needs we did not know how to manage. But we did so love that pig.
Sally came to us much in the same way that Wilbur came to Fern in Charlotte’s Web. She and her brother were runts scheduled for the chopping block at a neighbor’s farm. Only, in the E.B. White classic, Fern is a kid when she saves the pig. At our house, it was my Mom who rescued the runts. She brought us home the two newborns, and we built them a pen in my bedroom, leading to my opinion that they were, in fact, my pigs. Somewhere in the acquisition process, I had misheard the word “sow” and thought female pigs were “sals”. Making an additional logical leap, I had decided that “sal” must be short for “Sally”. That explains one name. I think we may have called the boy Joey because we were reading Katy No-Pocket a lot at the time, even though our Joey bore no resemblance to a baby kangaroo.
Mom was pregnant when we got the pigs, and Sally and Joey had to be bottle fed. We cradled them in our arms just like real babies to give them their meals, enjoying the soft skin under their wiry hair while they grunted and wiggled in our laps. Of course, they were babies, and they weren’t diapered, let alone housebroken. When Joey suddenly spewed out a cataclysm of green diarrhea in my lap one day, I screamed and leaped to my feet, sending him squealing to the floor. My parents tried to convince me of the gravity of this by asking “What would have happened if that had been the new baby and not the pig?”
When Joey later died, I felt completely responsible for a little while.
Actually, though, both pigs developed parvo, a virus just as deadly to the porcine population as to the canine one. They had to be quarantined to their pen and kept away from the other animals. I don’t remember much about that period except for the smell of green pig shit and Joey’s ultimate demise. (And the eventual dissipation of my certainty of my own guilt.) Sally recovered, though.
I had a goldfish, and the house was full of animals, but I felt like Sally was mine in a way those others weren’t.
Sally slept as close to us as she could, hooves and all. She trotted around with the dogs and begged for scraps with them, too. She came on walks to the creek just like everybody else in the family.
As she grew, her feet became a bit problematic, as did her precocious nature. She understood that our food came from the refrigerator, and she was known to force the door open to get a spare meal. There’s a scene in E.T. where the alien raids the fridge and winds up drunk (along with Eliot) on a six pack of beer.
Sally did that. And she did it at around the same time the movie came out, so that we felt she’d perhaps been sneaking off to theaters in her free time. We walked into the kitchen to find cans oozing and scattered, punctured by pig teeth. Sally was sleeping it off in the corner.
Sally’s favorite scratching post was the upright piano in our middle room. As she grew, this got downright dangerous. The piano rocked back and forth as the ever-larger pig leaned in to find her itch. Mom moved the piano to the living room, which solved that one problem, but the pig wasn’t shrinking.
The one and only time my not-quite aunt and uncle stayed over, Tom woke to a cold pig snout nuzzling against his back as Sally looked for a good way to join them in bed. He bodily lifted the pig, who was probably a hundred pounds by that point and deposited her, squealing, on the front porch, where we found her the next morning. She had previously been an inside-outside pig. Thereafter, she stayed outdoors, more because her hooves were poking holes in the kitchen linoleum than because of her tendency to alarm overnight guests. Pictures of our backyard from that era show grass pockmarked with everything from hoof holes to the “wallers*” she rooted up for herself.
For me, having a pet pig was a lot like having a pony, only without the hassles of currying. I rode that pig everywhere. She would let me clamber up on her back, then she’d traipse along at a moderate pace.
She would also let my friend Jenny ride her, because Jenny was the right size. But the one time Dad tried to get on, Sally took off running and ditched him as she flew by a window. She did not tolerate passengers over a certain size, and Dad had violated the weight requirements, even though he was a thin man. I’m sorry to say I can’t find the picture of myself riding in the nude, but that was my preferred method of transportation. I ran around naked most of the time, so that was typically how I rode the pig. I guess it should have been uncomfortable, but I don’t think it was. Visitors had to pause to decide whether to be more horrified by the naked five year old or by the fact that she was riding around the yard on a 500 pound slab of bacon.
Once Sally passed that quarter ton mark, it was decided that she had outgrown the yard. She was moved to an old tin building that might once have been a stable, and she lived out the remainder of her life in the field. I grew up, got too big to ride her, and she fell back into Mom’s care. She was confined to a little square of space around the stable when she and a bull developed a mutually adversarial relationship that could have been deadly for one of them. And she just kept growing. She was no pot-bellied toy, after all, but a great white pig engineered to be somebody’s meal. Even the pot bellied pigs ultimately get pretty large, but Sally easily outstripped them. She didn’t get enough exercise, got entirely too much slop, and she ultimately reached a thousand pounds.
It was at this point that she became ill again. We called the vet and asked how long pigs lived. The pigs he knew went to the slaughterhouse pretty young, and he told us “about three years or so.” Sally was six at the time, and there was really very little we could do for her. I rather think that if we’d known more about keeping a pet pig, she could have lived a decade or more, but that’s pure speculation. Most of her life was spent happy and well loved, but those last couple of years, she had been rather neglected. She and the enemy bull had finally made an odd sort of friendship for a little while, but then he had to be moved and she was alone again. The end of her life was really rather tragic, so I prefer to think, instead, of the beginning, when she was our bottle-fed baby, and the middle, when she was a much loved pet.
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* Madame Syntax wishes you to know that the word is “wallow”, not “waller”. I disagree with her. I say that a pig “wallows” in the mud, but the word for the mudhole it makes must, by its nature, be spelled as it is pronounced, “waller”. She says that if we follow my logic, “victuals” will soon be spelled “vittles”. And she is unhappy that I would be just fine with that.