Growing up in Florida: The Pig Killers

The Pig Killers

Let me tell you about my uncle Hugo:  Whip smart, could turn his hand to nearly any task, never finished high school but was well read, served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, had two ships shot out from beneath him and lived to tell the tale.

Also a dedicated alcoholic with a side of violence.

I’ll give him this though…he recognized there was a problem and he turned his full attention to solving it.  Granted, it wasn’t much of a plan, but it WAS a plan.

For some reason, he and I bonded…for all that he scared the living shit out of me. He encouraged my model building, guitar playing, and introduced me to science fiction…three pastimes I continue to this day.  Maybe that’s why my mom shipped me off to his farm in the summer of my 16th year?

Farm, you ask?  Well…it was a farm in as much that he grew things.  It was roughly an acre of land on a gravel road with a cinder block house plunked in the middle of nowhere…typical for central Florida.  That was part of the plan.  See, my uncle was a big fan of the Whole Earth Catalog. If you weren’t around back in the 60s and 70s, or were just unaware, it was this pretty cool catalog that was geared towards folks drawn to the back to the land movement of the time.  Not only did it sell things like cherry farriers, threshing milkers , and corn hoes, it had lots of interesting articles. I remember one article that gave instructions on how to “hunker down”. That’s a squatting  back on your heels while you chew a hay stem and talk about how the lack of rain has been right disappointing…or something. There was also a short story written in the margins of the catalog that told the tale of a journey of some dude named Divine Right. There was, if memory serves, a fair amount of sex in the story. Are you with me on that? 16 year old boy, boredom, a book that had lots of sex in it.

I adored the Whole Earth Catalog.

Anyway, the farm was part of his plan to not be so drunkenly violent. Get back to the land, put some sweat equity into a life, get clear, man. Central Florida, boredom, surrounded by drunken rednecks. What could go wrong? Actually, to be fair, now that I think of it, it seems to have worked. He still drank a lot and did scary things while doing so, but he was kind in a sort of sarcastic/snarky way. Also, he saved me from the priesthood…but more on that some other time.

But, that’s not what I hunkered down to tell ya’ll about. I’d like to talk about slaughtering pigs and about my uncle’s neighbor, Jerry.

At some point in the back to the land thing, unless you were a vegetarian, you had to slaughter your own livestock. At least once…it was a right of passage. I think he was inspired to do so after reading an article in the Whole Earth Catalog…once he was able to pry it from my hands.

“No! What…hah..Hi Uncle. The catalog? Heh, yes I was reading it. What was I reading? Ummm, an article…. ah an article about how to make your own cheese. Cheese comes from milk. I didn’t know that. Isn’t that fascinating?”

Catalog in hand and his new copy of Foxfire he began to study the mysteries of turning pig into pork. And I waited.

I won’t bore you with the details of the prep work I had to do before the great undertaking. Except, collecting wood was key for some reason…lots of wood. I picked up every goddamn twig on that property and made a great whacking pile of the stuff. I proudly showed it to Uncle when he got home from work. He lavished much praise on me for my industry and dedication.

That’s a lie. He said, “Jesus Christ! Who are you going to burn? Joan of Arc?”

The next day was the day. Now, I won’t lie to you (any more than necessary), but I found the whole process fascinating. I don’t ever want to do it again, but I know that I could. I sprinkled a tiny bit of food into the pig’s trough while Uncle sat on the edge of the pen with his rifle and neatly drilled her through the back of the head. Dead pig.

I’m not sure that summer in Florida is the best time to slaughter an animal. Maybe my uncle was impatient? The bugs sure appreciated the gesture though.

There we were…mid slaughter. It’s hot, buggy and well, bloody. My uncle’s neighbor  saunters over.

“So, ya’ll slaughtering a pig?”

My uncle is standing there, knife in hand. I’m holding a tangle of intestines in place with my bare hands. The pig’s head is on a tarp watching all of this

“Uh, yeah…Jerry. That’s what we’re doing. Slaughtering a pig”

Now, I suppose this would have been a good time for us three men to hunker down and talk about the finer parts of slaughtering and butchering as well as the joys of country living. But, my uncle gives Jerry (who you might have figured out by now is a numbskull) the hairy eyeball. As he leaves, Jerry says, “Say Hugo…you should have a barbecue! We can talk about all of this. Give me some pointers. I think it’s time I did my own pig.”

Cue ominous music

Fast forward – the pig is now pork. Desirable parts are in the freezer. Less desirable parts are buried in a hole dug by yours truly. (Lemme tell you…few things can make one ponder one’s own path in life like digging a huge hole in the Florida heat and filling it with offal. It was awful.) So, Jerry and Uncle confer, Jerry’s plans are made and tomorrow is his pig’s big day. That morning, Uncle and I were doing something outside when we heard Jerry start the process. Like my uncle, he was going to use a gun to kill the pig. Unlike my uncle, he got into the pen with the pig. We heard some rustlings, some “here piggy piggy”, some annoyed pig grunts then…

BANG!

At this point, me being a visual person, I would use all kinds of different fonts and fancy formatting to convey the commotion that took place. But I can’t. It was too great and terrible in its scope for formatting tricks. Simply put…

The pig squealed.

It wasn’t a squeal of pain.

It wasn’t a squeal of fear.

It was a squeal of fury.

It was a cry against all of the hurts and injustices this sad world could generate. It was a cry of vengeance and righteous retribution and not going gently into that good night. It was a cry that said, “Farmer Brown? I am going to fuck you up!

I’ve never been a soldier, so I can only imagine that what followed is what war sounds like. Crashing wood, screams of anguish and fury, profanity, pleas for mercy and then finally: BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM. A resigned grunt…then silence followed by moans of pain and soft weeping.

Uncle and I had cleared the fence by this time and were rushing to the rescue. What we found was a scene of devastation and carnage. In the center of the wrecked pen lay the pig – that valiant and mighty pig. In the corner sat the dumbass. Bruised, bleeding, and holding a broken leg. Between sobs he told us the story. The pig wouldn’t settle down, wouldn’t come near him, he got impatient, faced the pig like some kind of cowboy high-noon showdown, took careful aim…and nicked her leg. If he hadn’t had the chance to re-aim his weapon and empty the clip, this story would have a different ending.

I felt sad for the pig. Sad at the suffering, the waste, the loss of life and spareribs…but, I was also proud. I was proud to have known that such an animal, forced to live in its own shit, rose up in that one moment of stupidity and cruelty, didn’t give up, and ultimately nearly gave as good as she got.

Rest in peace you magnificent beast. You fought bravely and well. Your cousin died peacefully and was delicious.

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