We used to raise pigs on our small farm in East Tennessee. When the mother pigs had babies they were called a “litter.” There would be anywhere from 10 to 12 pigs in a litter. But sometimes, there could be more.
One cold spring night, one of the mother pigs gave birth to 21 baby pigs. When baby pigs are born they come around to the mother’s belly looking for something to eat. This mother didn’t have enough nipples for all her babies. So, the little pigs started walking around in the pig barn looking for something to eat.
When I came to the barn the next morning I opened the door and, to my surprise, there were little pigs everywhere. And they were hungry. I ran up the hill to our house to tell my brother and sister to come and help me catch all the pigs. We went back to the barn, caught all the little pigs and put them in the pen with their mother. We helped each pig get something to eat and we thought everything was fine. We counted all the little pigs and we found that there were 20.
It was very cold on this morning and there was frost on the grass. I had to walk over to another barn to feed some calves we had there. One my way to the barn I saw something in the frosty grass. It was a little pig. It had gotten out of the barn in the middle of the night while it was looking for something to eat. I picked the little pig up. It was stiff as a board. I thought it had frozen to death. I pulled off my gloves and held the pig in both hands. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. As I thought about what to do I thought I felt something in my fingers. I stood very still and I held the little pig close to my body and held my own breath. I felt it again. It was a heartbeat.
I took off running back to the house with the little pig. I went into the house with that little pink pig and told my mother what had happened. She took the pig from me and said, “This poor thing. Let’s see what we can do.” She got a big fluffy towel and wrapped the pig in it. Then she surprised me by opening up the door of the oven and putting the pig inside. She left the door of the oven open and turned on the heat very, very low.
We waited. We could feel the heat from the oven coming out into the kitchen. I could not take my eyes off the little pink pig, wrapped in a towel and lying on a rack in the oven. All I could see was the tip of the pig’s nose.
First, I thought I saw the pig move under the towel. Then I saw the nose move. Then I heard a little muffled grunt coming out of the towel. My mother reached into the oven and picked up the pig and it grunted and squealed and began to squirm in her arms. The pig was alive.
We became very attached to that little pig. We kept it in a small building near the house for a few days. We fed it milk from a bottle like a baby. We kept it in a cardboard box with a towel in it. After it got a little bigger, we kept it in a dog pen in the side yard. When the pig was big enough to eat solid food, we took it down to the pen to be with the rest of the pigs.
I thought that pig would be happy to be reunited with its mother, brothers and sisters. But that pig was so mad that we put it in that pen. I think that pig believed it was a human being or, at least, that it belonged at the house and not in that pig pen. It stood at the gate of that pen and squealed to be let out.
That pig never did act like a regular pig. It wouldn’t eat with the other pigs. It wouldn’t pile up in the shade and sleep with the other pigs. That pig was a loner who acted like he was too good to be with the other pigs. Even up until the day we took the pig to market to sell, it never acted like the rest of the pigs. I also suspect it never forgave us for making it stay in the pig pen.
I’ve often thought how lucky that pig was that I took that particular path through the field that day and I’ve never forgotten how my mother’s country common sense saved that pig’s life.