I left church early that day with a headache. I planned on a nap as soon as I had fed the children leftovers for lunch. As we walked in the door, a note fluttered to the floor.
Well, that was that. Maybe it was impaired thinking due to the ache in my head, but I didn’t change out of my church attire or require Gregory to change. Alex and Gabe weren’t home, so we did what they would have done. After all, Petunia has channelled her Guinea hog ancestors before and gone on long ambles through the countryside. Always she amiably followed a bucket of corn back to her pen, no problem. Gregory fetched a scoop of cracked corn from the barn and reported that Petunia had gotten out through the wooden gate, tipped over the barrel, and eaten about half of the corn. This should have been a warning: Petunia was not even remotely hungry.
We drove down the road, looking in all the back yards. Finally at the bottom of the hill we saw a cluster of neighbors in the woods. Sure enough, they were trying to entice a portly black pig into their barnyard with some grain. Petunia appeared to be enjoying the attention, leisurely chewing and swinging her head around from person to person. Gregory waved his scoop of grain under her nose and she began to follow him through the briars at the edge of the woods. When he got to the road, she veered and scuttled back into the woods, Gregory hard on her heels, rattling his corn scoop and trying to persuade her back out to civilization. The neighbors watched, amused, and offered to fetch a rope. I thought maybe a leash would work better and drove home quickly to fetch one, as well as to pick up Rita, our best animal catcher. She had boots on, but I still didn’t think about changing out of my slip-ins from church. Back I went in my long navy blue dress, not intending to be involved in any way except to encourage the young fry.
Greg is the most defeatist of all the children when it comes to animal husbandry, and this was no exception: This will never work. She isn’t hungry. There is no way we will ever get her to follow me all the way home. Can’t we just shoot her?
At this point I should have listened to him. The corn was all in a little pile beside the road where Petunia obliged us by trying to eat a bit, but as soon as the leash got close to her head, she scooted for the briars. Unlike us, she didn’t give a patooie about the prickles and poison ivy. I looked down at my brown flex-soles, sighed, and resigned myself to a long , arduous chase. Only you don’t chase pigs. They will not be herded and any gap in a string of people trying to do so is the first place they will spy. As portly as the average adult pig is, they are amazingly agile. “Just stay with her, keep her in your sight!” I hollered to Greg. The undergrowth was so thick I couldn’t see either of them, but I heard him reply, “She’s in their pasture!”
These neighbors have a horse pasture with one strand of shocking wire at waist height. It had no meaning to Petunia, but at least she was in an open area where we could see her. Gregory and Rita joined her to try to persuade her toward the open barn doors near the horse corral. Meanwhile the horses went nuts, galloping round and round, snorting in agitation at their porcine visitor, who gave every evidence of thick-headed enjoyment of the situation. I ran down their lane, hoping to direct her between a swamp and the house. Petunia took one suspicious look at the dark barn doorway and slithered neatly between all the people into hog heaven, the gooshiest, pooey-est barnyard in the vicinity. She was not interested in giving up her Sunday afternoon field trip, keeping right on course, due west toward a much deeper woods where I had no hope of ever finding her again.
I looked at that barnyard and stepped in on a hummock of grass, figuring if I stayed on the more stable looking tufts, I could stay reasonably clean. The second hummock betrayed me and I lost my shoe. It was ridiculous anyway. Why not be ridiculous barefooted in ankle deep poo? I tossed my shoes and the girls tossed their boots and Gregory tossed his sneakers. We were getting just a little bit miffed, but we had learned a few things from Petunia, and we acted like we also were on an unconcerned, although thinly-veiled-anxiety-ridden stroll westward. She changed course and came back toward the barn.
“There’s pellets in that barrel inside the barn doors,” the lady of the house bellowed down the hill. I squelched into the dim interior, moved the whiskey bottle off the top of the barrel and opened it. Down at the bottom was a small layer of pellets for horses, sure enough. It was such a vast barrel and I am a short woman. I barely managed to keep one foot on the ground as I dived down to scoop up the food. As I attempted to entice my pig into the barn again with the scoop of pellets, she took a sniff, disdainfully turned up her snout, and trotted up toward their house. Incongruously, just then we were joined by a spotted fawn frisking around. We only lacked a clown on an elephant to make the circus complete.
There was a small stand of trees and bushes up there where Petunia decided to go for a break from pesky humans. “Hey,” Gregory said, “I think we could pen her in there if we had a portable fence.” I was considering driving home for ours when the elderly neighbor suggested using the chain link fence that was precariously draped around a small garden. He cut the twines that held it upright against some aged posts and we proceeded to drag it out of the weeds. Chain link fence is much heavier than one might expect and I was afraid he would drop with a heart attack. The girls kept vigil close to Petunia while Gregory and I helped to haul the fence up the hill.
The bushes were planted next to an antique tractor, a snow plow, some assorted children’s swing set parts, etc. etc. We managed to get the fence upright and tightly joined together at the seams with red baler twine. Where there was a gap I set a folding table that was leaning against the tractor wheel, apparently there for lack of storage in the house. Petunia now had shade, grass to nibble when she felt like it was time for a little something, and a playground. I doubted it would keep her in for long, but maybe it would work until Alex got home. The back up plan was to take the trailer down and attempt to load her onto it, but there was no way my crew of children and I were going to try it on our own. We were hungry, muddy, and frankly, we were making sausage in our minds. We promised the neighbor some if we ever butcher the troublemaker.
I kept apologizing for infringing on their Sunday afternoon relaxation and they assured us that they had nothing better to do, it was no problem, etc. etc.
Retrieving all our poo-caked footwear, we went home and cleaned up. I made lunch, and when I had time to think about it, the headache had not improved with so much fresh air and exercise. I had that nap and was brought back to earth by excited shouts at the next door neighbors a few hours later. “Your pig is in our backyard!” they called.
I looked where they were pointing. There was Petunia, belly swaying gracefully, heading due east toward her pen. Maybe she missed the security, or maybe she missed her husband, but she was coming home. Gregory opened the gate and she trotted straight to her wallow, easing into it with the exact familiarity of any weary human coming home to the recliner at night.
I drove down the road to her makeshift chainlink pen at the other neighbor’s house. There was the spot where she had easily nosed up a hole big enough to squeeze under. The only fence a pig respects is shocking wire, so I wasn’t surprised, but my neighbor was. We visited for a while, making small talk. I was glad, because I had never connected with these folks except to wave as I walked past. Before I left, the lady of the house dug out a volunteer Rose of Sharon bush for me. I have never especially liked those bushes, but I planted it in a corner where it should do well and serve to remind me of surprising friendships in unlikely circumstances.
But I still want sausage.
Want to see the culprit?