The Pig Behind the Story

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Thank you to my friends and family (especially my mom who orchestrated such an incredible surprise appearance) who traveled from near and far to be in the audience last night for the Moth GrandSLAM, themed "What's Love Got To Do With It?" I told my first Moth story ever, last April, on the theme of Refuge, and was quite surprised and delighted to win the StorySLAM that evening. That night not only gave me my entry to the GrandSLAM, but it also connected me with a stranger in the audience who has now become a dear friend, all because she reached out after the event to tell me how much she'd enjoyed my story.

There aren't many things in life that feel capital "T" true, but one of them for me is that stories are the connective tissue of the human experience. Real stories, from people I love, were what saved me when I felt like my life was falling apart. Personal stories are at the heart of this website. And it feels fitting that the Refuge story about my dad's love, gave me a chance to talk about my love for Hamish...the little pig that unexpectedly came into my life in a significant way the summer of 2009. 

My life has been rich in many kinds of love (and of course a complementary variety of heartaches). Some of those love stories, I'm still metabolizing. Some I'm in the middle of living. But Hamish was a rare gem--who came into my life all in a rush, and left just as quickly. And in the years since our time together, I've started to discern the wisdom that a little pig has to offer. 

Moth stories are told live without notes, so what I said on stage isn't word for word what appear's below, but it's close...


The summer of 2009 Elin, Carlisle, and I were all recent college grads. We’d traded days in the library and nights in seedy basement parties for a summer of manual labor on the farm that provided the meat and produce for our beloved summer camp.  We were thinking about sneaking off into town one evening when the walkie-talkie crackled to life, and Dale announced, "It's happening!" 

This was the moment we'd been waiting for. Jezabelle was in labor. We rushed to the pig pin and found Dale grinning like the Cheshire Cat with a mucous covered piglet in each hand. The rest evening was devoted to tying off iodine dipped umbilical cords, cleaning a passel of pink and spotted piglets, and burying the massive afterbirth in the chicken yard. In short:  pastoral bliss at its finest. 

Only over the next few days the piglets started dying off. First one, and then a few more. Several more seemed sickly, and as days went on they grew worse not better. We took the sickly piglets back to our cabin to care for them, but each of them died. Except for one. 

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We called the one who lived Hamish. Hamish was a pink little bag of bones when he came to live in my room. He had a scabby tail and droopy skin and he was violently incontinent. Piglets cannot regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life, which is why in the wild, they sleep in a pile on top of their mother. But Hamish’s mother was sick (we’d later learn she had septic mastitis). and his brothers and sisters were dead, so I decided the best place for Hamish to sleep would be with me… in the bed. So under the sheets he went!  

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Each morning we marched to the laundry with soiled sheets, and each evening I woke up to his shrill “EEEeeeeeEEEEE” multiple times, begging for a bottle. One evening, when I’d just showered and put on clean clothes, I picked Hamish up and put him in my lap, and he immediately had a bout of diarrhea. Sleep deprived and exasperated, I wanted to throttle him. But instead, I laid back on the floor defeated, leaving Hamish, marooned in his own feces. He crawled out of my lap and up over my stomach and came to rest with his chin on my collarbone. And in that moment, everything melted. All was forgiven.

Eventually Hamish's night squawking got us relegated to an abandoned attic room over the old camp lodge. Hot nights and wasps in the rafters joined in our daily routine. But no matter how much work Hamish proved to be, I fell deeper in love with him every day. 

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The summer of 2009 was my sixth summer working at the camp. The camp property held layers of memories for me. My first kiss, my first love, my first excruciating heartbreak. I’d presumed 2009 would be no different. A fling at minimum; a summer romance if I was lucky. But as it turned out, I only had eyes for my pig that summer.

Hamish and I became completely inseparable. When the other farms girls and I would go for our daily skinny dip in Carson Creek, Hamish would plunge right in after us. When Fourth of July rolled around Hamish accompanied me into town and we sat side by side watching the fireworks. He joined in on all the farm chores and trotted close at my heels when we walked around camp. I started to have dreams of grandeur, that someday Hamish and I would hike the Appalachian Trail together. Everything felt possible.

The weeds in the garden were sky high that summer, but I'd wager we had the happiest pig in the county, maybe even in the whole darn world. September came, and I moved down the road to start a job at a school. Hamish stayed on at the farm. I came by on my days off to visit him and take him out for walks, which were nice, but ultimately a far cry from living together. 

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Hamish, as the first syllable of his name suggests, was always destined to become dinner. I knew this from the start, but I fell in love with him anyway. It was impossible not to. I was out with students on a backpacking trip when I got the call from camp. It was January. Hamish was eight months old and a good 250 pounds. He was headed for market. I missed saying goodbye. Truthfully, I don't think I could have stood it. I'm a terrible farmer. Much too sentimental. You see, farmers are always dancing with the dissonance of loving that which they will eventually lose. In fact, we all are. And still we fall in love.

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I believe in homegrown food. I believe in local meat. I believe Hamish had a wonderful life. I always knew that someday he would become someone's dinner, and I certainly knew that someone could never be me. Most of all, I know that on that June day when I first picked Hamish up, with his big eyes and his curious snout, love was no longer a choice. Love was just the reality.