by CJ Mouser
He came with his father to buy two butcher pigs. I was holding a little boar while my husband Fred performed a castration. I watched the boy carefully, concerned that he might get queasy. Castration is not a messy procedure, but the way the pigs carry on, you would think they were being burned alive.
He was about six or seven I guess, wearing overalls—the bib pockets stuffed full of God knows what all little boys carry. He had one hand crammed in a hip pocket, restlessly fiddling with something as very young boys tend to do. The red sucker he had plugged into his mouth moved from one side of his jaw to the other, and he squinted in the morning sunlight as he watched the process.
“Why ya hav’ta do that?” He asked bluntly, taking the sucker out of his mouth and holding it pinched between thumb and forefinger as he waited for his answer. Three grownups all started talking at once, each wanting to explain it in the most reasonable and gentle manner. Fred took center stage. He did very well.
“Well… it’s like a sickness. If you don’t cut out that part, they get mean and then you can’t handle them. It’s not a big deal, they do it with calves and goats, too. But…” he said, meeting the boys eyes, “not people… not ever.”
Fred is a father, and knows the importance of making such a distinction to a child. Especially a young boy.
“Oh”. The boy replied.
The sucker went back in and then came right back out.
“Does it hurt?” He pressed, wincing slightly.
“Well,” I took over, “I guess it has to hurt a little bit, but they are fine as soon as its over, and it heals up pretty fast. I think it’s more scary than anything.”
The sucker went back in. Father and son waited patiently while we disinfected the little boar. Fred dropped the now useless family credentials from the pig, into a bucket at his feet and we washed our hands in preparation of catching their pigs. The sucker came out again and I cringed. I knew what the next question was going to be.
“What’cha gonna do with them now?” He asked, eyes serious as a heart attack as he studied the contents of the bucket. Before I could say anything Fred launched into his standard answer.
“Gonna make some soup, throw in a hambone or two, a few carrots. Good stuff.”
Of course we were going to bury them as usual, but Fred has that tendency to tease; likes nothing better to hear “ooohh, gross, that’s nasty,” and so on.
The boy stood there holding that sucker in his hand as he mulled it all over, and then he met Fred’s eyes and smiled a wry little smile. He was not unaccustomed to the feeling of someone tugging on his leg, apparently.
“Oh”. He said again after a moment or two, and then he looked up at his dad and grinned.
” ‘mind me not to eat here.” He said, almost but not quite preventing the little giggle that escaped.
Back in went the sucker, and he smiled widely around the stick, clearly proud of the fact that he had caught the joke. I thought we all were going to die laughing. I nudged Fred.
“You just met your match.”