Gator, my granddaughter’s prize pig, didn’t make the cut at State Fair, and so returned home Sunday night instead of being sold off to the Spam factory. Reserve Grand Champ at County Fair, Gator had put on a few in the interval between fairs, had gone a tad beyond the point of piggy perfection show judges look for. It’s only a temporary reprieve, however–Gator, like the poet said, has “an appointment at some disputed barricade” sometime in October.
During his somewhat brief life I have made a point of not getting to know Gator. Call me squeamish, or sentimental, or whatever. Still, when the time comes, I will probably grill some Gator-chops and sizzle some Gator-bacon for breakfast. As long as it’s lean enough. I’m one of those guys that rifle through the bacon at the supermarket looking for the leanest, but at least I always put the packages back in a neat display.
Every once in a while, riffling through the bacon, I give a thought to Mrs Clancy, a character vignette in Dominic Behan’s autobiography Tell Dublin I Miss Her. Old and poverty-stricken, Mrs. Clancy lives in a Dublin slum (this is the nineteen-fifties, long before the Celtic Tiger remade Ireland into a modern nation). Behan tells us about her gathering up some raggedy bits of whatever to take to “the pawn”, hoping for a shilling or two for her supper. Toddling down the street, she dreams of the fine bacon she’ll buy, with maybe a bit of cabbage, or even a potato. But when the pawnbroker beats her down from shillings to just a few pennies, she realizes that instead of meaty rashers of bacon she’s reduced to nothing but fatty bits and ends. No cabbage. No potato. It’s the most damning indictment of the poverty inflicted on Ireland by England (and the Catholic Church, as well) I’ve ever read, and though it’s been 50 years since first reading it, I’ve never forgotten the story.
Gator is not the first pig I have watched grow up on its way to the table. During the Second World War cities in England dispensed with the niceties of mingling livestock with city dwellers. I hear that Denver and Colorado Springs now allow backyard chickens, but not roosters (which in England we called cockerels) because their crowing might disrupt the neighborhood. In Coventry we didn’t mind the early-morning crowing of cockerels–the U-boat packs prowling the North Atlantic tended to focus our thinking on not starving to death.
In our neighborhood we tended to diversify, then pool the results. My mother kept a large flock of chickens in the backyard (including noisy roosters), mostly for eggs (which were prized) and only occasionally for meat. Whenever a chicken fell ill my mother’s remedy was always a couple teaspoons of brandy down the bird’s gullet. (The same remedy was applied to my Labrador, Vino, whenever he was hit by a car, something that happened at least three times.) For whatever reason, the brandy always seemed to work, and to this day no vet has explained to me why.
Our next-door neighbor raised a pair of pigs, to which everyone along our street contributed table scraps and leftovers. When the pigs’ date with destiny arrived, the honors were left to my father, apparently for his familiarity with, and ownership of (unspoken and unexplained, then as now) a British Army Webley revolver. I think most likely he came by the gun because he was in the Home Guard, but given his murky background in Ireland of the 30’s (and my ferocious Irish grandmother), who knows?
And, yes, I did witness his swift and efficient dispatching of the pigs, a single shot to each. I was at most 5 at the time, yet I don’t remember anything traumatic about it. To this day, I can’t explain that.
Still, though, you notice I didn’t make friends with Gator.