Piggie, our pet black pot-bellied pig, has lived long enough for all of my four sons to bring him his daily slops bucket, made up of peelings from daily meal preparations and unwanted meal leftovers. At first the boys thought it was cool to feed the pig. But then Winter came, and the slops bucket needed to be taken out every day in freezing temperatures (usually at night because they had neglected to do it during the day), and the water bucket froze and the ice needed to be broken every day, and I insisted that the smelly slops bucket be rinsed out before being brought back inside to its place under the kitchen sink, the chore became less glamorous. Piggie lives on. On occasion a family member hopes out loud that the pig will choke on an avocado pit, but only in jest. (This poem tells of the slop bucket chore from the John’s perspective ten years ago, with me, his dad, looking on. Hyrum took the photo today. The poem relates to the post Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
The wintry day was gone,
the frosty night full on,
and Dad held the slop bucket out.
“You forgot your chore, son,
and the pig is hungry.
You’ll have to go out,
though it’s cold and it’s dark.”
I stomped and I cried;
I begged him not to send me out
into the fog-filled frosty night.
But Dad just handed me the brim-full bucket.
“I’ll keep the porch light on:
you’ll be fine.”
Dressed for the cold,
I heaved on the handle,
and stepped into the night.
My skin all goosebumpy,
I followed the frozen-mud path
through the tall, stiff iron grass.
A low rumbled grunt
made me start, and then shiver,
and look warily around
at dim shadows and darkness.
Pig stood at the gate in patient anticipation.
“Here pig,” I snorted, and dumped the warm slop.
As pig smacked and slurped,
a white vapor rose like a phantom,
and I turned to run the way I’d come.
On the porch, in the light, stood my dad,
in his slippers, arms crossed in plaid flannel.
He smiled at me as I came.
I warmed, then, because
I knew I’d done good;
so did he.
I knew I’d done right;
so did he.
And I knew I’d grown up just a tad.
—You are my best friend and my big buddy.—
(John-3 to Dad)
The day-old chicks arrived at the store in a box delivered by U.S. mail. While I had ordered only half-a-dozen specialty breed pullets, they came boxed with two dozen unsexed White Leghorns for cushioning and warmth. I had hung a heat lamp—a warm if impersonal surrogate for their mothers’ downy breasts—in a makeshift pen because the chicks were too tiny and frail to generate enough of their own body heat against the chilly Spring nights. The hanging lamp radiated light and heat downward to make a spot of warmth in the straw where the chicks gathered close to rest. I don’t think they ever fully slept, for the light. But they were warm and safe and comfortable. Continue reading →
While I was away attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2013 with my teenage sons, my wife and younger children brought home two little precocious pygmy goats. They named the black-and-white kid Olive, and the light-brown kid Cupcake. Oh, they were adorable, running and jumping and calling to their human friends non-stop. They loved the attention of being petted and bottle-fed, and followed Hyrum and Hannah around everywhere. “My babies,” Angie called them. This poem is about her love for the new kids.
CUPCAKE AND OLIVE
Olive is a pygmy goat,
white with black splotches,
or black with white,
two months old, almost.
You brought her, two days old,
home, with little cousin Cupcake,
and bottle fed her
four times a day.
She doesn’t bleat like Cupcake
(oh, my goodness),
even when hungry,
but cocks her head to one side,
just so, as if to say,
And where, Mama, have you been?
Olive will only suck
from a bottle held by you,
having jumped and flopped
onto your mother’s lap.
You stroke her neck
with a free hand.
The deaths of dear pets have hurt my children’s tender feelings many times over as many years. The sad fact is: pets die. Sometimes from neglect; sometimes from sickness; sometimes from old age. From tiny hamsters to guinea pigs, and from chickens to full-sized goats, each death raised in the children’s innocent minds anew the questions of why things die, and why did their heart have to hurt so much when saying good-bye to friends. I grieved for them and with them as they grieved their losses. The day one of our pet goats died, Erin and Laura cried and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort them. But I stayed with them and talked with them and did my best to sooth them. I wrote this poem about the occasion. It isn’t a great poem, but it expresses poetically the bitter-sweet experience of losing our pet goat. You can read more about our pet goats in Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig post in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
OUR PET GOAT DIED TODAY
Our pet goat died today.
We noticed he was sick:
gasping for breath;
struggling to raise his head off the ground.
Big hands placed him in the November sun;
little hands rubbed him warm,
coaxed him to suck from the bottle, but he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t.
Then he was dead.
He was our friend, and he was gone.
I held him and gathered my little children close around,
where they wept as death and loss seeped into their reality:
“I don’t want him to die,” they sobbed.
“I’m sad too,” I said.
Daughters chose the burial place,
near Diamond, last Spring’s kitten.
Father and son dug deep in the hard clay.
Old chicken straw made a bed and a pillow and a blanket,
to keep our goat warm and comfortable
in his resting place.
Fall’s last roses placed around his head
would bring him pleasant smells in Winter.
A child’s graveside prayer,
trusting an unseen wonder,
would protect the goat and comfort their sad hearts.
“Daddy, where do goats go when they die?” they asked,
knowing that I would know the answer.
I looked in my heart for sweetness and truth:
“I’m sure God loves goats just like he loves people, so goats must go to heaven.”
Through tears they asked hopefully, “Will we see him again?”
“I hope so,” I said. Then, “Yes, I’m sure we will.”
Worried at the thought of the goat covered with earth, they asked,
“What will happen to his body when he’s buried?”
“This is the goat’s resting place, and you have made it very special
with your flowers and prayers.
He will just rest here awhile.”
One last scratch on his nose to say good-bye.
My son works to fill the hole.
My daughters gently place the reddest rose petals on the mound.
Then they run off to play,
and I hear the scared bleating of a lonely goat.
–Our garden is going to grow because of this beautiful rain!–
Caleb (2) loved to feed the goats. We kept a bucket under the sink into which we scraped all the table scraps and vegetable peelings. Each time Caleb saw the bucket, he cheered, “Goatie, goatie!” I carried the bucket in one arm and the boy in the other to the goat yard, dumping the bucket’s contents into the lopsided plywood manger I had made. At 14, one of Caleb’s daily chores was to empty the scrap bucket into the pig pen, and it was no longer an occasion he looked forward to. Continue reading →