Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pig Farm

I never thought I'd be grateful for the memory of dead piglets.

Back in the 80s, my sister and I stayed with my grandparents for a week or so each summer. I'm not sure how old we were on this particular visit, probably 7 and 10 or a little older. My grandparents had a funeral to attend one afternoon, so they asked some family friends (we'll call them the Smiths) if we could come spend an afternoon on their farm while they went to the church and reception. My great-grandparents had sold the farm to the Smiths when they retired, so my grandparents had known them for years. What better place to leave the grandkids for an afternoon, the old family farm with a family they trusted.

Despite growing up in a rural town, I'm pretty sure we came off as city folk to the Smith's kids. The oldest daughter decided to take us around the farm that day so we could see what her chores were like. As the oldest kid on a pig farm, her main chore was to check on the piglets. That entailed going from sow to sow to see if any of them had accidently rolled over their babies and crushed them to death. Pigs may be smart animals, but they certainly have a high infant mortality rate. There were dead piglets in many of the litters. Some had been there a little too long and had already started to attract flies and maggots. The oldest Smith daughter nonchalantly grabbed each dead piglet, maggots and all, and flung it into a wheelbarrow.

After an afternoon spent with the piglets, we sat down with the family for supper. I don't remember the meal very well, but I'm pretty sure it included pork. I'm also pretty sure I didn't have much of an appetite. My grandparents picked us up shortly afterward and we went back home, none the worse for wear except for a newfound disgust for farm life.

I'd pretty much forgotten that day on the pig farm until my mom called me yesterday. She gave me the rundown on the family gossip and then slipped in that Mr. Smith was just arrested on six counts of child molestation dating back to 1983 and with girls as young as 8. I had one of those shuddering "there but for the grace of God go I" moments when I realized that both my sister and I had been placed in the care of a child molester for a day. Thank heaven that our memories are of dead piglets and not something much more horrifying.