The Story of the Pig
It has been brought to my attention that it is time for the annual retelling of the story of me and Paul and the pig.
Growing up in Texas is different from growing up in other states. For one thing, your stories tend to revolve around old train bridges, prickly pear cacti, beer that reaches thermonuclear meltdown temperatures and explodes in the trunk of your car, and pigs. This here is a story about a pig named Wilbur.
About 10 years ago my friend Paul, who is the caretaker of a 600 acre ranch in Manchaca, Texas, a few miles south of Austin, called me up a few days before New Years Eve and said, "hey, on New Year's Eve we're going to roast a pig here on the ranch. Do you want to come?" Paul said he was going to roast the pig "vaquero style," over hot coals in a pit that he had dug in the earth. I didn't know if that truly is "vaquero style" or not but there are some fundamental precepts by which I live my life and one of them is that when somebody invites me to a pig roast I don't say no. I told Paul I'd be mighty pleased to come to his soiree.
A couple of days before the roast Paul called me up and said "hey, I'm going to go and get the pig. Do you want to help me?" I said I would help so Paul attached a horse trailer to his pickup truck, drove into Austin from his ranch near Manchaca, picked me up, and we headed north to a farm out near Taylor, a small town a few miles northeast of Austin.
We got to the farm and met the seller of the pig, a 16-year old blonde-headed girl named Jessica. She had ribbons in her hair and was very nice in the way that Texas farm girls are. The pig, a 250 .lb Duroc, had been her FFA/Ag project, and she had named it "Wilbur." "Just like in "Charlotte's Web," Jessica said. I thought he was a fine-looking pig ---- a deep, almost mahogany red ----- but apparently Willbur hadn't shown real well in the County Jr. Fair and Livestock show, so it was time for him to go so she could get another one and try again the next year. Jessica had grown quite attached to Wilbur and she knew why we wanted him. There was a briefly emotional scene as we loaded him into the trailer but she gathered her inner farmgirl and managed to get hold of herself. Still, I could see that there were tears in her eyes as we drove away. I'm not ashamed to admit that, seeing her, I, myself, was a little choked up, too.
We left Taylor, drove back to I-35, and headed south down the interstate through downtown Austin toward Manchaca. We took the Manchaca exit, and turned right, onto an FM road. Paul said that he needed gas so we stopped at a convenience store. Paul got out and to pump the gas. All of the sudden he said, "Oh, crap. The pig is gone!" I said, "what?" Paul replied "I kid you not! THE PIG IS NOT IN THE TRAILER! REPEAT! THE PIG IS NOT IN THE %*$&$#&# TRAILER!"
I was inclined to think that he was pulling my leg but there was something in the tone of his voice in that second "THE PIG IS NOT IN THE %*$&$#&# TRAILER!" that was somehow convincing. I got out, looked in the trailer, and sure enough, our 350 .lb pig was gone!
I kept closing my eyes, rubbing them, then re-opening them, as if somehow this missing 450 .lb Duroc would magically reappear in this little horse trailer, but to no avail: that trailer was empty and it was staying empty.
I have to interrupt for a moment to describe the trailer. It was a trailer that was designed for a single horse, the horse facing forward, of course. At the back there were two doors with iron bars that ran vertically from the top of the trailer to the bottom. These doors had a big window cut into them, I guess so if it's a little larger horse then his rump can extend out through that window.
My first thought was that somehow we "lost" the pig before we ever left Jessica's, that we hadn't closed the doors properly etc... but the doors were closed and secured and, besides, I helped put that pig in the trailer and KNEW that there was a pig in it when we left Jessica's house.
Paul and I started groping toward the only possible explanation: the pig had somehow managed to either jump or crawl through the hole in the bars at the back of the trailer. "Maybe the pig jumped, sensing his imminent demise," Paul said. Really, "imminent demise." That's how he talks. Immediately, my brain was filled with visions of a 500.lb Duroc pig running wild on I-35 with tires screeching and 18-wheelers swerving and cars crashing because of this huge, scared animal.
We stood there for about two minutes, not knowing what we should do. If we retraced our route, we might come across either the pig or the pig's carcass on I-35, surrounded by crashed vehicles and injured people. Of course, in such a scenario, our inborn sense of Texas values would kick in and we would have to own up to our mistake. Then we thought for a moment that we should just go on home and hide. Finally Paul said, "Maybe Wilbur jumped when we exited I-35, got onto the access road, and slowed to make that right turn at that stop sign a few miles back." So we agreed to just drive back to I-35 to see if we could find Wilbur. If he wasn't somewhere on the way, Paul said solemnly, then "It's in God's hands."
We drove slowly back to the highway but did not see our pig. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as I began imagining the carnage that a frightened 550 .lb Duroc could cause on a major interstate highway. But right there where the FM road and the I-35 access road meet there was a pickup truck pulled over in the grass. The driver motioned for us to roll down our window.
"Did y'all lose a pig?" he asked, in the thickest Texas drawl I think I've ever heard (and I knew John McDonald from Palestine, Texas, so I've heard some doozies). We didn’t see any visible damage to his truck but maybe it was on the side away from us, where we couldn’t see.
Finally Paul said, in a halting voice, “Well, I think we might have." As if we would have had some doubt about whether or not we had lost a pig. Mind you, one of the things you learn early hereabouts is if your pig is lost. And it is an “either/or” proposition, kind of like being pregnant. You have either lost your pig or you have not.
Before we could say anything else, the man said "I've got him tied up to my back bumper."
Sure enough, we walked around to the back of his truck and there was Wilbur, roped and tied up. And I remember thinking that only in Texas does a random passerby have a rope with him and also have the technical proficiency with the rope to lasso a crazed pig. What I mean is that I grew up in a rural area of Texas and was a member of FFA and on a very good dairy cattle judging team and even with that background I don't believe I could lasso a pig, no sirree bob.
We couldn't believe our luck.
Paul was pretty upset with the pig and didn't want to take any chances so he took a large mallet or sledgehammer from his toolbox and brained Wilbur between the eyes, dropping him. Unfortunately, in his haste, Paul hadn't pondered all the repercussions of having a lifeless, 650 lb. Duroc pig on the side of the road, like a sack of flour. It took quite an effort to get the pig into the trailer but finally we managed. We wanted to give the man some money as a reward for arresting our fugitive pig but of course, him being a Texan and all, he would not take it. So we invited him to our pig roast. He said he would try to make it but did not. Probably thought he'd be safer just about anywhere in Texas than on a ranch with the likes of me and Paul.
We got Wilbur back to Paul's place. Paul already had a pit prepared. I won't go into the rest of the details, but suffice to say that 800 .lbs of hog meat made for a magnificent feast a couple of days later ----- vaquero style.
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.