Three little pigs who weren't. Pt. 1

I had been feeling down & not really in the mood to write for a few weeks. In large part, it was because it felt like we were having some pretty awful luck with our animals. And that just takes the wind out of your sails, and any creative urge drained away. 

Not too long after I wrote the post about settling in our little piglets, I had taken the youngest & gentlest of the pigs, Tocino, to the Boy's school along with one of our chickens for a story time show & tell. ("What does Tocino mean in Spanish kids? That's right - Bacon!!") 

The first graders all paraded out to the school yard where we set up a smallish pen, and gave them an introduction to some of the basics of keeping animals, how we protect them, why we enjoy them, and then finished off by telling one of my favorite stories, The Old Woman & Her Pig

A few days later, the pigs vanished. 

As they get older, they get trained to the electric fence - a few shocks on the snout, and you wouldn't go near that thing either. In reality, it's not much of a barrier, but pigs are smart, and given the choice, they'll stay inside it just fine. This lets me expand their pen to a larger and larger run, and gives them plenty of room to roam and root, and enjoy. The three little pigs, Rocky, Tocino & The Spare, all seemed content and happy in the space, and all was well. 

Then one evening, they got spooked. Hard. Bad enough to rush and burst through the fence despite the electric shock, and to completely disappear into the woods. I was out meeting a colleague for an early dinner, and my Bride and the kids did an initial search, walking the woods, hoping for some sign of the little guys. Nothing.

By the time I got home, it was late, and full dark. I walked the woods, but couldn't see a thing. The next morning, and the morning after that, I was up in the pre-dawn twilights, fending off ticks and walking the woods in widening circles, rattling a bucket full of peanuts, hoping to see some sign of them. 

A pig will range about a 1/4 mile a day, if not bothered. And usually you might find sign of them rooting or bedding down. They're not exactly tidy creatures, and can make quite a mess when they're snuffling through the underbrush for food. But I didn't see a thing. These little guys were gone. I was pretty sure coyotes would get them - or had already. We have plenty around here, and the pigs were relatively tiny still - less than 15 weeks old. After a few days, I had to give up hope. The kids (and I) got another lesson about life on a farm, however small. 


A couple of weeks later, I came home to hear from the Critter that a chicken had died. It was one of our younger ones (~ 16 months). No real indication as to why - but that's often the case with chickens. They're not meant for long lives to begin with, and a hen that's more than 3 is in her golden years. The corpse was stretched out in the pen, and the other chickens were avoiding it. No sign of predators. It was just that chicken's day to die. 

The Critter takes care of the chickens - feeds & waters them, and collects the eggs to sell. But it's still somehow my job to take care of the dead ones, when they occur. I walked out, collected the carcass and disposed of it in the woods.

A day or two more went by, and I started to smell something obnoxious. It was stronger outside on the back patio. It took me two days to figure it out. Turns out, a few peanuts had been left in the bottom of the pig bucket, which was sitting up next to the back porch. A rat had gotten into the bucket and couldn't get back out. The rat had at least had a final meal, which I assume it enjoyed. But then the rains came, and it's carcass was swollen and smelling by the time I found it. 

The Boy said "Yes. I saw that a few days ago."

Really? For future reference, there are things you need to tell your father, kid. "I saw a dead animal on the back porch" is on that list. 

Then our dog, Maggie, pulled up lame, and had to be taken to the vet. That's a longer story, but I was beginning to think that - were I a suspicious fellow - all these animals dropping around us would have to have been some kind of sign. 

When the pigs disappeared, I sent out word to our local town chicken-raisers email group.  (What, you don't have one of those?)  And I called our town police department to let them know. Just in case anyone called in a sighting of little curled tails fleeing down the trail. 

"Sure, Mr. Grady. You bet we'll keep an eye out. But you know, there are a lot of coyotes in Carlisle..." 

There was no word, and no sighting over the weeks that passed. And while I occasionally looked into the woods along the side of the road as I drove by, hoping to see some little spotted piglets, I was pretty sure that the they had already made some pack of predators a perfect late spring meal. 

Little did I know. 


Far too reflective for a Monday

Last week was one of the harder weeks I've had recently.  

My company's website was brought more or less to its knees on Monday by a combination of a technical bug and a third party service. It worked, mostly, but only if you didn't want to buy something during the day. Come back at 7pm when no one else is on the site. Then you'll be fine. But during the day, with peak traffic?  No such luck. 

This meant working with the team until late into the evening every day, and through the weekend. Except Thursday. Because Wednesday night, I managed to crack a tooth. And had to go into the dentist for a filling. Because what I need when there's a crisis in play, what I really need is a punch in the face by a lady with a power drill. And who doesn't love to return to the office with a numb face and drool on your chin? 


The same day, the Boy was scheduled for oral surgery. Because he had an extra tooth growing in right in the middle of his upper front palate. Which is just about as awkward as it sounds. There's a name for this - it's called a mesiodens ('middle tooth' - but that does sound way more medical in Latin, doesn't it?). He's 5, and is deathly afraid of doctors. However, he has no problem at all with the dentist's chair. I do not understand this. The doctor I like (except when he's got large hands, and he gets over familiar). The dentist, I dread (because it is unnatural to have someone sticking their hands in your mouth). 

The Boy came through it just fine, but we did make a family pact to try not to schedule multiples of our family in for dental work on the same day in the future. 

I also got a call the night my tooth broke that one of my uncles had passed away. A few days previously, we had learned he had liver cancer. And then, he died.  Either he had the diagnosis, but didn't want to share with the family early on, or he had avoided going in for the diagnosis.  I'm not sure. We weren't close. 

When I was a kid, I remember my mother's younger brother as a reasonably nice guy, but usually drunk. He was the first adult that I remember noticing as intoxicated. As in, can't really walk upright down the driveway unassisted to his car (where he got in and drove away. It was the 70's. The cars were big and steel. I dunno). He was also one of the first adults that I ever swore at, for showing up intoxicated at one of my events when I was 14 or 15. (I think it was a horse show. I can't remember now). I remember my mother being horrified that I spoke to him that way, and my step-father saying something along the lines of 'well, he's not wrong.' 

After that, we didn't talk much. But I learned a couple of things that day. About him. About my parents. About myself.  

A few years later, my uncle did replace the engine of my first car later on when I blew it up through neglect. He was, by all accounts, always a pretty good mechanic. Maybe that was his way of making things a little more right.

Maybe he got sober later in life. I don't know. As I said, we didn't talk much.

I was saddened to learn of his passing. I figured his liver would get him in the end. I think we all did. Including him.

But not that way. 

I wasn't sure if I was going to write about all this. It's not the fun, light stuff about eating good food or raising pigs or firing off trebuchets with the kids that I normally like to wax prolific on. And in Southern families, one does not talk about family problems. It's just not the done thing. Which (along with not being disrespectful of an adult) was what horrified my mother at the time. But not talking about the drunk in the family isn't helpful to anyone.  Especially not the drunk. And in between the temporary moments of webified crisis last week, as I drove back and forth from the dentist or to the office, I had plenty of time to think. And be - well - maybe 'sad' isn't the right word. But regretful  that   another member of the generation before me. Something there about the irrevocable loss of those connections to my mother, our family, & our shared history which has passed away. Maybe it's just because it puts me a little closer to being the old guy in the family. But I hope it's less self-centered in origin than that. 

I don't know if this story has much of a point, other than that, perhaps. And to reflect that as bad as my week was, it was ultimately trivial things like a flaky website or an extra trip to the dentist.  

Not all stories have an arc and a tidy resolution.

Sometimes, it's just... life.