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Porcine Amor

by Colleen Halupa


Portly     Ignorant          Glutton

How did pigs get such a bad reputation?  Why do we use them to insult other humans?

                                                You are such a pig.”

                                                “He’s a male chauvinist pig?”

                                                “The baby looks like a little pig.

                                                ”He eats like a sloppy pig.”

Even William Goldman in Lord of Flies opted to use the name Piggy for an overweight, intellectual, but physically inferior, boy who is eventually killed by the others. Pigs are most often associated with greed, gluttony, and uncleanliness. Porky Pig, the cartoon character, stutters and is a bit dim. Humans look down on pigs as inferior creatures. But perhaps this is because many of their negative characteristics are much too close for comfort to our own human shortcomings and imperfections. Pigs have been known to eat their young, but then so don’t humans figuratively?

Although they are rarely mentioned, pigs also have some of the characteristics we view as positive attributes in humans. They are humorous, caring creatures. Pigs are friendly, loyal, and intelligent. They are so biologically similar to humans that porcine valves have been used to replace human heart valves to prolong human life. Pigs love to eat, but in doing so, they provide the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, to feed humans. 

     My love affair with pigs was accidental. I grew up in a small town and never gave pigs any thought other than the annual Christmas ham, which was my favorite meal of the year. When I was in my early twenties in the Air Force, I was an Airman working in a medical laboratory. Our supervisors, three female Technical Sergeants never worked on the bench. They feigned overwhelming paperwork and chatted the day away, swaying through the lab, high heels clacking with coffee cups in hand while the Airman did all the work. When we were behind due to high workload or instrument malfunction, they never assisted us. I swore to myself when I became a supervisor, I would never be like that. 

I made rank quite quickly and found myself a soon-to-be Technical Sergeant. One day while I was waiting to “pin on” this rank, I found a picture in a magazine. It was a large pink pig, lying dolefully on fluffy, ruffled pillows on aVictorian chaise lounge. There was a large box of ornately decorated bonbons on the table in front of her. I ripped out the page and pinned it up on the bulletin board in my “first-ever” office so I faced it whenever I sat at the desk. It was my reminder not to be the kind of supervisor who sits around and does not help her people.  I viewed pigs negatively as most people do. Coworkers would come in my office and comment on the picture. I could never tell anyone the “real” truth about why it was there (those women still worked there and now would be my peers), so I just told everyone I liked pigs. Soon, almost every gift I got was pig-themed. 

Fast-forward a few years later when my husband and I went home on vacation and visited some friends who lived out in the country. They bred dogs and had the occasional horse or cow.  The city where we lived changed the rules and now allowed only two dogs. I had three before I knew about the law change, but one was a three-pound Yorkie. One of my larger dogs got out and had a very minor altercation with my closest neighbor’s dog, the neighbors who grew marijuana illegally in the woods between our houses, had drunken bashes every weekend, and shot off guns illegally in the city limits on New Year’s Eve. Although I never reported them and had good reason to, they reported me to animal control and I had to get rid of one dog under duress. Our friends in Pennsylvania agreed to take my Yorkie. When I got there, they told me they had something to show me that might cheer me up and a plan. A black pot-bellied pig they named Hormel gleefully ran up to me oinking. He was sweet and funny. They offered to take me to the Amish auction so I could buy one of my own; one pot-bellied pig and two dogs was legal.  My husband agreed, partially to spite our unruly neighbors. Pot-bellied pigs were all the rage at that time in New York City pet shops, so I bid on the first pig that came up to be sure I got one.  I won him for $27. I named him Hamlet and his first official act was to rip a four-inch cut on my face with his tusk. I wooed him in the car  on the twenty-two hour drive home.

Hamlet became our source of family amusement. My eight-year old daughter loved him and wanted him to sleep with her where he promptly “hogged” the bed. His first Christmas, he ripped open his presents with the joy of a toddler. When he was a piglet, he used to wrap himself up in my kitchen rugs, bottom up, cross left, cross right--just like newborn human babies are wrapped. I never figured out how he did it with four tiny hooves. We gated him in the kitchen and couldn’t  find him one day. We had moved all food to high ground months before after he managed to knock all my canned goods around like a baby playing with blocks. He could smell a candy bar that had been in a paper bag ten years ago; so, adjustments had to be made, including baby locks on all the cabinets. We heard oinking and turned the Lazy Susan in the bottom cupboard. There he was, a black pig now white as snow, sitting in a ten-pound bag of flour.

I lived in Nebraska and their regulations had not yet caught up with the pet pig pet craze. I had to register him as a one-pig herd and he got a green card. We lived through piggy puberty and odiferous boar syndrome where young male pigs secrete the worst fluid you have ever smelled in your life.  Whenever “Pretty Woman” came on the radio, it became Piggy Woman (instead of don’t walk on by, substitute “take me to your sty”). “Shake Your Groove Thing” became “Shake Your ‘Hoove’ Thing.” He used to baste in front of the fireplace in the winter, turning side-to-side, and we swore we could smell a faint hint of bacon. He infiltrated every aspect of our lives, joyfully.

Any challenges we had did not compare to the love he gave us.  One year when my daughter was a Girl Scout and it was cookie time, we stored dozens of boxes in our spare room awaiting delivery. My daughter went in the room did not shut the door.  Hamlet ate ten boxes of Thin Mints. At least he had minty fresh breath for about five minutes. He then promptly vomited them all over my very new, very light tan rug. Next, my daughter sold giant chocolate bars and didn’t learn from her previous mistake.  Almost two dozen candy bars chewed, ten devoured, and all upchucked all on my now not so new rug.

When we traveled to see family, we took Hamlet. He was a great traveler and logged thousands of miles in the car sleeping in the back seat. One trip we were almost there and Hamlet started frantically oinking. My husband wanted to pull over. I said we could make it. I was wrong. We drove up the Pennsylvania mountain, pig urine spilling from the back of our SUV. Every time I put groceries in the car afterwards, a hint of eau de’ boar assaulted my nostrils.

If my mother-in-law wanted to see her son, she had to take Hamlet, but he was banished to the cellar. We took him to a family reunion and someone thought it would be funny to give a pig beer on a paper plate. When he returned to the cellar, he found a six-pack of Yuengling sixteen-ounce glass bottles.  He broke and drank them all. We returned to broken glass and a drunk, staggering pig.

 I decided to go back into the Air Force as an officer, even though moving with two dogs and a pig is a challenge to say the least.  The military assigns you a sponsor at the place you are going.  She called me and asked, “What do you need?”  I responded, “A pig-sitter.”  I was not kidding. Instead, Hamlet went to visit Hormel for a few months. 

When we moved into our new house, we got additional fencing for the dogs and Hamlet to keep them away from the swimming pool. Yes, pigs are great swimmers; only the tip of the snout shows, but that is another story. The fence company did not close the gate properly, and the dogs got out and ran off.  I ran out the door, chased them, and rounded them up. When I got back, Hamlet was on my front porch. The next-door neighbor I had not even met yet was outside. She told me someone knocked on her door. She opened it, but there was no one there.  I waited for the punchline and wondered why she was telling me this. She said she then heard a knock again, opened it again, and looked down. There was Hamlet. Oinking at her. He has mistakenly “knocked” on her door instead of his own at the new house when he got out of the yard. Great way to meet the neighbors!

We made out last move to a small farm in East Texas. Hamlet the house pig finally got to see what it was like to live the true porcine life.  Our nearest neighbors were about 300 yards away. Hamlet again went down and introduced himself before his humans did by eating all of their dog’s food in the garage. I bought him a bright red harness and a bandana to differentiate him from the wild pigs roaming the area, particularly during hunting season.

As he got older, the steep steps became harder for him to navigate, so we made him a pen inside our horse pasture with a Dogloo we called the “Pigloo.” He grew his own vegetables from the ones we fed him; one year it was pumpkins, and his last summer, tomatoes. He could crawl under the rungs of the pen, and come and go as he liked, but he rarely strayed very far. When Hamlet was eighteen, one winter day he did not come to greet us as like always when we came home from church. He died in his sleep on the soft straw in his Pigloo less than two short years from the world record for oldest pot-bellied pig.  I was heartbroken, but that’s the way I want to go.

We buried him in our front yard under our struggling magnolia tree. The magnolia flourished. My friend bought a tombstone for him, Hamlet 1993-2011.  She included some of the sayings from Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White truly “got” pigs) including “Some Pig” and “Terrific!” He was…both and much, much more.

Pigs do have quite a nose and appetite that does not quit.  They can teach us about our basest instincts as humans, but they can also teach us many valuable lessons. How to enjoy life to the fullest. How to enjoy a good meal. How to snuggle. How to be kind. How to be humble. How to sacrifice. How to make someone laugh until her stomach hurts. Most importantly, they can teach us how to love.

So the next time someone calls you a pig don’t get insulted.  Smile and say thank you. They just called you something noble and “Terrific!”

Playful, Personable, Patient

                       Intelligent, Incredible, Interesting

                                           Gallant, Giving, Gentle

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