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Who Killed the Pig?

September 5, 2014

I’ve devoted more than a few posts to the fact that I was denied dogs and cats growing up. It didn’t help that every time we visited Grandma she’d ramble on about the old days when they’d butcher pigs. I was a soft-hearted kid who cried at the end of Charlotte’s Web just thinking about poor Wilbur being left alone, but the thought of pigs like Wilbur being butchered turned my stomach, but not enough to turn down ham or pork chops.


My grandmother was a sweet and gentle woman who my mother claimed was vastly different from the stern woman who’d raised her. Grandma came to this country from the Azores at the age of five, but she always lived in Portuguese communities, this back when females were sheltered, denied schooling and remanded to housework and child rearing. The result: Grandma spoke very poor broken English, even though she lived most of her life in America. I’d sit across the worn kitchen table and listen to stories about the old days. She’d slip between mangled English and Portuguese without knowing it.


Sometimes I’d pester Grandma to convince my mother to let me have a German shepherd, but whenever I’d mention it Grandma would launch into stories about pig killing, which seemed far removed from pet ownership. According to Grandma, once a year a truck from a farm on the outskirts of town would arrive at their street with a massive pig, purchased collectively by the entire family, consisting of five brothers and sisters and their families. According to my mother, everyone helped render down the pig, making hams, bacon, sausages, fried tripe and whatever else pigs are rendered into.


Being pet starved, I always winced at these stories. In lieu of a German shepherd I’d have accepted a pig. I couldn’t resist asking, “Grandma, who killed the pig?”


She’d stir the ham hocks in her kale soup and pretend to ignore me.


“Did you kill the pig, Grandma?” It was hard imagining her as Lizzie Borden giving a poor pig forty whacks with a hatchet.


She’d shake her head. “I no kill the pig.”


"Did Grandpa kill the pig?”


“No, Grandpa no kill the pig.”


As a kid I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I knew pigs didn’t conveniently fall into pieces. Someone had to have killed it.


“C’mon, Grandma, tell me the truth. Who killed the pig?”


I was already earning my moniker as a chatterbox and she must have figured I’d never stop asking, so one day she finally admitted, “We buy the pig already dead. So there! No one kill the pig.”


I let it stand for many years until one day not long ago when my mother boarded her imaginary train down memory lane, going on and on about, “…how soft and spoiled kids are today. Back in my time everyone in the family had to help butcher pigs. Times were tough during the Depression.”


I always roll my eyes whenever she mentions “The Depression.”


“We used every part of the pig, and it had to last the entire year. When I was only five years old I had a knife in my hand and I’d scrape hair off the skin to make tripe.”


After letting her prattle on for half an hour I said, “At least no one had to kill the pig.”


“What are you talking about?” she said.


“When I was small Grandma admitted to me that the pigs were bought dead.”


My mother scoffed, “Your grandfather killed the pigs with a shotgun. I know because I saw it happen on more than one occasion.”


I was shocked. “Why would Grandma lie to me?”


My mother shrugged. “You were a sensitive little boy and your grandmother probably didn’t want to upset you with the truth. I have no idea who that woman was who you knew as your grandma, but that wasn’t the woman who raised me!”










Note: The picture included with this post was one of my first illustrations for the Sunday edition of our local paper, The Oregonian. I can’t recall the exact story it illustrated, but I’m sure I was thinking about Grandma and the pigs when I painted it.





It's amazing how we can eat a bacon buttie and not really think about the pig that died to feed us. Great painting.
By: LL Cool Joe on September 5, 2014
If you weren't raised on a farm, then it is unlikely you give any thought to the food on your plate. A sad reality. There are of course exceptions, such as folks who choose not to eat certain food groups because they object to how animal products are processed today. Anyhow... your mom is probably right about your grandma wanting to protect you from the truth... who killed 'the pig'... and that ain't no bull. ;-)
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 5, 2014
My father used to be a drunk (he's now a sober man). But I remember times when (completely drunk and about to fall over in his chair and words slurring) he would cry and wail and talk about the pet pig he used to keep. It was his first childhood pet. And his own father made him kill it for a meal. It traumatized my father so much that he hated the man that was my grandfather until the day he died. I guess that is the legacy of such violence. Hearing you speak of the "Great Depression" recalls something I read last week (spoken by Ben Bernanke) and reaffirmed by Timothy Geihtner. The "Great Recession" we just went through and are still recovering from was a bigger economic disaster than the Great Depression. Bernanke said 12 out of the 13 institutions that keep the economy afloat had failed. The reason they downplayed it was to avoid panic.
By: Michael Offutt on September 5, 2014
i never liked butchering day - whether it was the farmer butchering one of his old dairy cows or us butchering chickens or rabbits. yuck...
By: TexWisGirl on September 5, 2014
Wow. After reading your story, that illustration is extremely chilling. MY grandmother never killed a pig! (but only because they weren't kosher)
By: Mitchell is Moving on September 5, 2014
I can relate as I used to cry over animal stories, too.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on September 5, 2014
It was sweet of your grandmother to try to protect you. My parents never spoke about life on the farm and killing animals. Both said the depression wasn't that bad (they didn't come from Dust Bowl states). My dad said there was plenty to eat as long as you ate what they grew on the farm. My mom's father had a regular job running a farm. They seem to have had fairly comfortable childhoods, but if they didn't, they never said so. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 5, 2014
She didn't want you to think badly of your Grandfather, perhaps.
By: mimi on September 5, 2014
I don't like to think about it.
By: Cranky on September 5, 2014
Your grandmother gifted you with not having to think of your grandfather killing the pig. I wonder if your son sees your mother the way you remember your grandmother... ---- I remember the day my older son discovered where his meal came from. He was 4 and we were eating chicken for dinner when suddenly his eyes lit up. "Hey! I just thought of something. There are two kind of chicken in the world. The kind you eat.. and the animal on the farm!" We connected the dots for him after dinner. He truly thought we were teasing him at first. Gulp!
By: Hilary on September 5, 2014
You really caught the concern in that poor pig's eye. Grandmothers do tend to soften with the next generation.
By: Akansas Patti on September 5, 2014
I don't know who gets the credit, but I once read somewhere that when times were tough, the family ate every part of the pig except the squeal.
By: Val on September 5, 2014
The pig was killed at our farm every year. I made sure I was fa away from the farm when they were killing the pig. Yes, I likes ham sausage and all the other stuff.
By: red on September 5, 2014
You'll hate hearing this--but my husband used to work in a pig slaughter house. I hated the stories he told me when we first started dating. And yet, I love baconâ¦..This was another funny post and your illustration is great!
By: marcia @ Menopausal Mother on September 5, 2014
When I first saw the title of this post, I thought it was an obituary for Michael Moore. This was MUCH better. Because bacon. But, I must ask, you mean we don't get ham at Shop-Rite? Huh. That's weird.
By: Al Penwasser on September 6, 2014
Poignant story- this summer we went to the Plumas county fair and our Great Niece Juliana showed her 4-H pig "Smartie" and won 4 ribbons for her pig. Smartie went to auction and we with 3 other familys purchased him. So, in a bit we'll be putting our share in the freezer. The last time I saw Smartie I was a bit teary as I thought he was a lovely sweet pig and I remembered Charlottes Web. But I also knew that Juliana would be saving her share of the money for her future plans to be a farmer. She will be a wonderful farmer and lord knows we need concientious and caring local farmers- not conglomerates who could care less about how food is grown or produced.
By: Kathe W. on September 6, 2014
Your story made me remember all the times my mother slaughtered a chicken for the big Sunday dinner (one chicken for eight people). It was my job to hold the chicken by its feet, while my mother held it by its head, stretching the neck across the chopping block so she could hack off the head. Well, one week, the chicken pooped and I got some on my hands. So the following week I was afraid this would happen again...and I let go. And yes, I understand the phrase "running around like a chicken with its head cut off." It really spooked me back then, but I don't think I gave up my piece of chicken for that Sunday's dinner.
By: Pixel Peeper on September 6, 2014
Great post. I can understand how your Grandma "protected" your feelings by editing the history. Kids do ask probing questions and that was probably especially true for future artist/bloggers. I love the expression on the boys face and that look in the pigs eye. In fact that single eye emotes pages!
By: Tom Cochrun on September 6, 2014
I dunno, it seems to me you'll never know who was telling the truth. Anyways, I don't eat bacon.
By: Tom Sightings on September 6, 2014
I never liked the idea of slaughtering animals but there was one time I saw my dad kill a chicken. It took me days before I could eat chicken again.
By: Anne Organista on September 7, 2014
Yeah, I'm a softie, too. That's just one of those things that I don't want to think about.
By: Scott Park on September 7, 2014
I still have a hard time hearing about animals being killed. I'd rather just eat pork chops without considering what lead up to the tasty meal. Your paintings are very evocative. I even see feelings in the pig. Nice work.
By: Robyn Engel on September 7, 2014
One of the few times I can honestly say that I genuinely spooked happened when I went to kill and butcher the hog that wouldn't go easily. I had failed to make sure of having shells for my .22 rifle beforehand, and it was not until I had the hog up where he needed to be that I discovered that I did not have any .22 shells around. So, I found a couple 12 gauge slugs for my shotgun, and I carefully shot him in the forehead, in the hope of not destroying too much meat. Well, the hog went down immediately, and I proceeded to start cutting off his head where he lay in the pen, with hanging him up to bleed completely out before the skinning and gutting to come soon after. Ah, but just as I finished my first cut, which left his head being attached by only the neck bone, the hog stood up on all four of his feet. This chilled me to the bone, and I headed off to the house in a panic to call for my mom to bring me some .30-30 shells. I wound-up destroying a lot of meat before it was all over with. For I pumped four rounds into his chest cavity, in the hope of hitting his heart. The hog went down and stayed down after that, and when I cut open his head to see what went wrong with my first shot, the shotgun slug had almost completely removed his brain! Oh, and I suppose the hog got the last laugh. For his meat turned out to be really tough--even when pressure-cooked.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on September 9, 2014
Well if I had to do anything with a live animal soon to be dinner we would all be going hungry!
By: John on September 9, 2014
Your Grandmother was wise to hold back. The boy's face is particularly well captured!
By: Michael Manning on September 9, 2014

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