The Pig Story

  Jerome Shea       January 4, 2009      Weekend Wonk

Welcome to 2009, friends. Looks like things will probably get worse before they get better, so let’s start the year off with my all-time favorite joke. (I always thought of it as a “shaggy dog story” [“shaggy pig story”?] but my research into that wonderful genre suggests that a purist might give me an argument. Whatever.

We start with very early spring in Milwaukee and a young man we’ll call “Bob.” Bob is saving up for something—to return to college perhaps—and is working at a foundry for six days a week and as much overtime as he can wangle. It is punishing work in a place that would do credit to Dickens. And the weather is worse than the job. No one has seen the sun since October. It’s cold and wet all the time; piles of snow, weeks old, are covered in grime; everywhere, you step in slush up to your ankles. Compared to this place, hell is a getaway destination.

One Sunday morning Bob crawls out of bed, staggers to the kitchen sink, and pulls open the curtain. He is eye-level to the sidewalk in this hovel of a basement apartment. But what he sees is…THE SUN! Yes, the sun is shining for the first time in months! Delirious, he pulls on some clothes and jumps into his scabrous old Ford Pinto. It coughs to life, belching smoke. For this one day, Bob will be free. With this one day of respite, he knows that he can bear another few months in the foundry.

In fairness to the Badger state, its countryside has always been picture postcard perfect. Soon Bob is in a land of rolling hills (just greening up, the crocuses blooming) and tidy farms with fresh-painted barns and picket fences. At one farm, he sees by the side of the road what could be a petting zoo and screeches to a stop. Yes, there are chicks and goslings. There are little lambs, and baby goats at their antics. Bob is awestruck. He cannot drink in enough of it. One animal is especially beguiling. It is a pig. Not a piglet, but almost fully grown. This pig is on its hind legs, its front trotters on the fence, looking at Bob as if to say, “Welcome, stranger; rest yourself.”

The second thing to catch Bob’s eye is that this animal has a peg leg! It is lovingly made—sanded, stained, varnished, and with clever straps to bind it securely but comfortably to the pig’s haunch. The pig seems oblivious to it.

A wave of love and gratitude washes over Bob. He marches right up to the farmhouse and knocks. The farmer, a naturally friendly man, comes out. Bob explains that this “peaceable kingdom” that he has found may well have saved his sanity.

He asks about the pig. The farmer scratches his head, searches his memory. “Oh, that’s SAM you’re talkin’ about. Remarkable animal, Sam. Saved my life! Twice!”

“Coupla winters ago—it was bitter cold—Mother and I had turned in for the night and were snug upstairs. But a coal had rolled out of the fireplace and lit the ball-fringe on my big chair. Pretty soon the whole parlor was on fire. Sam musta smelled the smoke. Somehow he got over that fence and come a-runnin’. He run right up to the house and started banging on the siding with his front trotters. It was—thank god—a clatter to raise the dead and finally it woke us up. I look out the window, see the fire, and Mother and I race to safety. The fire boys from Fond du Lac got there in time to save the house.”

“Good lord, that’s a…”

“Wait on a minute, son. That spring was wet, all over the county, but I was itchin’ to start plowin’ and plantin’. Mother tried to discourage me, but I’d have none of it. I fire up the John Deere and soon as I get to the south forty, sure enough the back wheel hits a sink-hole and over she goes. I am pinned under the seat. I can’t get a breath. I am making my peace with the Lord. And then Sam comes out of nowhere! He looks me right in the eye and you could see him thinkin’ up a storm. He looks around, sees my boy Joel across the road cuttin’ firewood. He runs for Joel just when the milk tanker from the Co-op comes by. Don’t stop Sam. He just runs underneath and all eighteen wheels somehow miss him. He bites onto Joel’s pant leg and starts yankin’ like hell won’t have it. Finally Joel figures it out, comes racin’ over in the pick-up, grabs the jack, and gets that tractor off me in the nick of time. I spent a week over in Sheboygan in one a them oxygen tanks, but you see I pulled through. I owe my life to that pig.

“My god,” says Bob, “That’s the most remarkable thing I ever heard. Just when you want to give up hope on the world…. But, wait, you haven’t told me about Sam’s wooden leg.”

The farmer gives Bob a puzzled look—and then a look of shock and contempt. “Son,” he says,

“Little pig saved your life, YOU wouldn’t eat him all at once, wouldja?”

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