I could argue, unfairly of course, that my friend Mike was responsible for me sending a runt pig to market so I could get a bike, just like his.
You see, Mike had shown up at our one-room country school with a magnificent bicycle. It was red, with bright chrome on the handlebars, pedals, tire rims and fender supports. And it had balloon tires with white sidewalls. All the kids admired it, even the girls. Boy, was I envious . . . especially when he’d peddle slowly beside me down the dirt road the mile to our farm home. His home was a mile further. Mike was being friendly; I was being jealous.
There’s a good chance, for many days my parents endured pleas for a bicycle. My older sister had one too. But, then, she was older. That was the excuse. My parents couldn’t afford a bicycle for me just yet. All of the small mixed farms in the area were poor, ours included. But at seven years old, I didn’t understand. I just wanted a bike like Mike’s.
One day my Dad came up with a great idea. He was good at great ideas. He offered me a deal. If I would nurse a runt piglet just born, I could have it. Most runts died within weeks. If I could save it, Dad said he would ship the grown pig to market when he shipped the others and the money would go toward a bike for me. What a deal! I didn’t realize he was also helping me learn about responsibility.
I remember the tiny pig squirming and squealing loudly when I first went to pick it up. Dad showed me what to do and warned me to stay clear of the mother. They’re protective of their babies and can be dangerous. I made sure she was nursing when I entered the pen. The runt was easy to find. It would be scrambling all over its siblings, squealing and trying to get to a nipple . . . a ‘spigot’ Dad called them. They were all occupied by bigger, stronger piglets refusing to share. The first few times I grabbed the runt at feeding time, it squealed loudly. The mother would raise her head slightly, then lay back and continue nursing. She had work to do. Soon, she ignored us. The runt learned to come running when it saw me enter the pen . . . must have adopted me as its surrogate mother. I missed the irony, back then.
My Mom had fitted a rubber nipple onto an Orange Crush bottle that I would fill with cow’s milk. I’d sit in the pen holding the runt on my lap feeding it with the makeshift baby bottle. Most pigs smell awful, especially up close like that. I know . . . I got to clean our pigpens after feeding my runt. Funny thing, though. That little runt had a sweet baby scent about it that I found delightful, even as a young boy. It smelled so good that sometimes I didn’t want to put the runt down after the twice-a-day feedings.
In a few months, as it got bigger, that smell went away. I missed it. The runt was growing but still wasn’t as big as its siblings. Dad put a mark on its ear so we could identify it. One day I learned my runt must be a boy. I didn’t know then how to tell the difference. That was the day my runt got ‘cut’ along with the other boy piglets. They screamed a lot at the time. I didn’t know what was going on. Dad shooed me away and said he’d ell me later. He didn’t.
During the months that followed, my piglet grew fast with his hand-fed diet and personal attention. He almost caught up in size with his siblings. Finally, it became difficult to tell him from the rest except for the ear mark. One day, a truck arrived and I remember watching him scramble up the loading chute with his siblings. Off they went to market. I didn’t understand then what that meant for my pet runt and the rest.
A few days later, my bright red Road King bicycle arrived with its white-wall balloon tires and lots of chrome. I was proud.
That’s how it was done on farms then. Some years later, I understood. I don’t remember what happened to my Road King. It doesn’t matter.