Saturday, July 6, 2013

Shaving a Pig

My wife was born on an army base called Fort Polk.  It is in Louisiana.  Although she was raised in Chicago and the surrounding areas, she still is technically a native of Louisiana. The first time I met her family from down there was at our wedding.  Her grandmother, some aunts and uncles, and other cousins came to be a part of the affair.  Her favorite cousin and some of his family who lived in Georgia also came. She warned me at the outset about her aunt, Lisa, who she loved very much but said was a bit crazy.

The first time I met Lisa,she handed me a gun. She said, “Give this to your future father-in-law so he can put it away.” I must have looked at her strange. She said, “I drove here from Louisiana with two kids by myself. You didn’t think I wasn’t going to keep a gun under my seat?”  

Aunt Lisa is only three years older than my wife and I. She was the late-in-life baby for my wife’s grandparents.  Consequently, she and my wife grew up more like cousins than aunt and niece.  I remember overhearing Lisa’s daughter say to her in the living room of my in-laws’ house, “Mama, I’m just glad he is nice and not ugly.”  I started laughing and Lisa came and apologized.  I said, “You take what you can get.  Even eight-year-old's endorsements count.”  Since my wedding, where she sang beautifully, Lisa and I have been very close friends.

Every year my wife’s immediate family used to go down to visit her extended family in Louisiana for Christmas.  The first time I went was the holiday after my mother died.  My wife and two of our best friends, Linda and Greg, flew down and spent some time in New Orleans.  It is when I fell in love with that city.  Sometime I will write about that but not tonight.  After we had our fun, two of my wife’s cousins picked us up and we drove up north to her grandparents’ house, which sits just shy of a hundred miles south of Shreveport.

When we got there it was late.  We sat up meeting a lot of the other family I had not met before.  The next morning I got a cup of coffee and went out to sit on the back porch.  I saw that my wife’s grandparents’ house was somewhat rustic because her grandfather built it. In the yard was a flock of guinea hens.  There were cows roaming in the woods that were filled with pines, and were feeding.  Mr. Davis, my wife’s grandfather, came up to me. He was wearing overalls, and he said, “Not exactly your Kansas is it, Dorothy?” I took a sip of my coffee and said “No, sir, it is not.”

In the initial years we went down to Louisiana for Christmas I felt like a complete fish out of water. Over time though I started to feel more and more like it was a second home to us. As my boys grew up they played in the woods with their cousin; my daughter became close with her girl cousins; I rode the horses one of the relatives kept; I would fish with my father-in-law and the other men in the family, and there were fierce Trivial Pursuit and domino battles late into the evening.

I particularly like a place called Hodges Gardens.  It is a beautiful arboretum with lakes that my wife’s grandfather helped build during the Depression.  It’s right up the road from her grandparents’ home and you can rent cabins there.  Some of the family stay there at Christmas because the family has grown so large.  I really like it there.

One time when we visited my wife’s grandparents, Mr. Davis told me we were going to have a pig roast.  I like a good pig roast.  My dad and I used to do them for our church.  We would get up early and set up cinder blocks and charcoal.  We’d put a pig we got from the butcher on a spit and then sit around talking until the afternoon when it was done and we could carve it up.  After I told Mr. Davis that I had done this before he said, “Good. I like working with people with experience.”

What I didn’t realize is that a pig roast in Louisiana is a lot different than a pig roast in Chicago. My wife’s cousin and I went with Mr. Davis to start preparing things.  What I found was that Mr. Davis had captured a hairy, tusked wild boar and was holding him in a pen.  From about a hundred yards out Mr. Davis shot the pig with a rifle.  Karen’s cousin dragged the animal out and said, “It’s not dead yet.”  Mr. Davis handed him a hammer and said, “Put this between its eyes.  Otherwise we’ll just cut its throat.”  It was then I decided it was a good time to take a walk and smoke a cigarette.   

Don’t get me wrong, I like to eat meat as much as many people do, and I don’t judge people who hunt and fish for food. I just don’t want to be the one who kills to provide that meat.  My style is more “catch and release.” I know it sounds a bit hypocritical and maybe a little weak, but I’m just not going to ever be that guy who can look an animal in face and either shoot it or lead it off to slaughter.  It’s not in my nature.  It’s the same way I feel about guns.  I think it’s a constitutional right to have guns and many people need them, but I won’t ever have one, because I don't feel like I need one and it is not in my nature.

Awhile after I took my walk one of my wife’s uncles came and told me that me that they had finished dressing and scalding the pig, so I needed to come back.  It had started to rain then. He asked me, “Do you have a good knife?”  I told him I did.  He said, “Alright, you gotta come help shave her.”  When I went back to the site where they had dressed the pig it looked more like what I was used to seeing.  I asked, “What do we have to do?”  Another one of my wife’s uncles said, “We have to get all the hair off it.  No one wants to eat a hairy pig.” For the next few hours I used a knife, talked and laughed with my wife’s family, and shaved the ass of a pig in the rain.  We then had a real fun pig roast.

At one point when I was shaving the pig in the rain Aunt Lisa came out and snapped a picture of me. I said, “Lisa, what the hell are you doing?”  She said, “I just never thought I’d see you doing something like this.  I think it will be a nice contribution to your corporate newsletter.”   I sometimes hate crazy Aunt Lisa.  No, I really don’t.  I actually still love and respect her very much and cherish when I get to see her. I love her just like I do all the people I know down in Louisiana.  Over the years that my wife and I have been married I have grown closer and closer to them all, even though some of them live in very different worlds from mine, and I don’t get to see them all as much as I’d like to.

Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and do things that might be very foreign to you. It’s not always easy when you’re a fish out of water to assimilate.  If you keep an open mind, though, you never know where you might find some valuable things. You might meet some real nice people who care about you. Through a lot of years and many experiences, like shaving a pig, I found something very valuable to me. I found a place I love and a group of people that I call: “My family.”