Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Currently, one of my son’s favorite stories is Charlotte's Web. In fact he recently spent the better part of a snowy Saturday in his room listening to the audio recording of the book read by E.B. White himself. It is a gem of a book, and if you have never read it, I highly recommend you go get yourself a copy right now.
The story unfolds between a young pig by the name of Wilbur and a wise old spider, Charlotte, and the relationship that develops between the two remarkable animals. The subplot of the story lies between Wilbur and his little girl Fern, who originally saves Wilbur from the fate that faced most runts in a litter of pigs. You see, Fern’s Daddy knew the best thing for a little runt was to end his life before it could really begin, because most likely he would die from lack of being able to fend for himself. But Fern promised to take the responsibility of raising the baby pig, and Wilbur spent the first few weeks of his life being coddled and loved by the sweet little girl. In turn, Wilbur went on to live an incredible life.
The story brings to mind another tale about a girl and her pig.
I don’t recall a lot of specific memories of my childhood. I’ve recently been discussing with friends and family whether the memories we have are in fact our memories, or if they are stories so often shared that we just think we remember them. But, I do recall this story rather well.
When I was nine years old I spent the summer in a hog barn with a Hampshire pig by the name of Speckles. He earned his name from the black speckles across his white belt. It was the first year I was able to have my own hog project in 4-H. At that time we kept our projects at a friends hog farm and I recall diligently visiting everyday to spend some time with Speckles. I don’t remember how it happened, but Speckles grew very ill. In fact he was so ill, I was told he should be put down because there was nothing to be done for him. But I, like Fern, was not ready to give up on my little friend, and so I was allowed to coddle and love on him for as long as he would last. My mom and I spent hours just sitting with Speckles and hand feeding him slop in hopes that he would make a miraculous recovery. Turns out that he did! Speckles got well, and although he wasn’t able to gain enough weight to show in the Junior market hog show, I was able to show him in showmanship. By that time Speckles was a pet to me and was so tame he would practically follow me around the show arena. I went on to win my showmanship class and I still recall the silver belt buckle I proudly displayed on my shelf for years to come.
But there is another part to my story that isn’t so happy. Unfortunately, Speckles was a barrow and wasn’t worth anything but as a market hog, which meant I had to sell him for slaughter. I think this memory stays so vivid in my mind because it was my first true experience with death. Other than my grandfather dying when I was very young, I hadn’t had anyone close to me pass away. As silly as it may sound to some, I mourned that pig. I’m embarrassed to say I even made up words to the song “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones, which I often heard on the radio while riding in the car with my dad. I remember feeling silly and terribly sad all at the same time, crying over the life of that pig.
But just like Wilbur grieved the death of his friend, Charlotte (hope I didn’t ruin the story for you!), I grieved the death of my friend and the death of something more.
To quote Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite musicians and writers, “We grieve and we rejoice, like breathing in and breathing out. The little things matter, and the big things matter, and hearts far and near need hope.” Death is death, and all of it matters because it is a part of the Curse. Which also means it is a part of our life here on earth.
So consider these things as you prepare to help your child or grandchild with their next market project. Raising market animals will teach them about responsibility and hard work. It will give them first hand experience in learning about food sources and a little about how farmers feed the world. It may also teach them lessons about life, lessons that are difficult to learn, but are nonetheless invaluable.
P.S. If you would like to learn more about Andrew Peterson, I highly recommend you visiting the Rabbit Room. It’s an amazing collection of writers, musicians, artists, and preachers with so many great stories to share.