This is a story, a true recollection of my mother and her pet pig Nutnor. Although it does not have a happy ending, the story impresses harsh realities of farm life and what it was like as a small child growing up on a farm in Southern Maryland. (The Runt, I published earlier, is a story derived from this original essay.) My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s now and I enjoy jotting down some of her memories from time to time. The story of her little piglet Nutnor was always a favorite.
The noise was unnerving. The little creature’s high-pitched screams frightened his daughter. “Make him stop!” she cried covering her ears. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She stood outside the stripping room of the tobacco barn. She watched her father. He lay the injured piglet on his lap. Large leathery hands cradled the small animal with a sincere gentleness.
Without answering his daughter’s pleas, he wrapped the animal in a towel. It struggled against the restraint. He pulled a measure of line from a spool and threaded a needle. Holding his young patient steadily, he pulled a broken tusk from the animals hide and sewed him up. The wound in the runts back end no longer bore the old sow’s rejection. He lifted the animal up to the bulb illuminating the small room and inspected his handiwork.
“There, you’re gonna be fine.” The noise subsided to barely audible grunts.
Madaline stepped into the room. A smile replaced her tears. She peered up at her father and grabbed his coat pockets. She pulled him down toward her. “What’re you gonna do with him? Will his momma take care of him?” A determined face demanded answers to her inquiries.
“Well,” he hesitated. He stared out the frosted pane and processed the situation. Snow fell as darkness descended. Deep down he knew the piglet didn’t stand a chance of survival. The sow wouldn’t accept him back and he didn’t have the time to care for him. Too compassionate to allow a young animal to die without a fighting chance, he made a hard decision and lowered the piglet into his daughter’s arms.
“Do you think you can care for him?”
“Really? You’ll let me keep him?” Madaline squealed. The little animal squirmed and kicked as she took possession of him.
“Hold him tight.” Her father warned. “You can take care of him until he’s ready to go back outside. Don’t get attached to him.”
With a fierceness, she held him tight and whispered, “I got you now. Nobody’s aint never gonna hurt you again. Not ever again!” With her new ward, she left the barn. Her father watched her march toward the house. He wondered what her mother would say. And how much will he have to pay for it later?
Scrounging around the barn, he located an old crate. He turned out the light, secured the barn door and carried the crate to the house. Approaching the porch, he overheard a heated conversation between his six-year-old daughter and her mother.
“What do you mean bringing that into this house?” his wife asked raising her voice.
“But he’s hurt, ma. Daddy put me in charge of him. I gotta find him a bottle.”
The farmer entered the kitchen. His wife stood rigid with her had her hands folded across her chest. Madaline cradled an exhausted piglet. She was trying to keep a determined look with her jutted out jaw. Her bottom lip quivered.
“It’s okay Addie, it’s only for a few days. Just until the little runt is strong enough to return to the barn.” He lay the crate beside the cast iron stove. “Let him stay here and warm by the fire.” He met his wife’s resilient glare. It wasn’t difficult to see where his daughter got her strong resolution.
“Only a couple days, I mean it,” Addie responded. She rummaged through cupboards, searching for a bottle. Madaline looked up at her father. A smile stretched across her dimpled face. Having lined the crate with rags, Madaline set the piglet into the enclosure.
Madaline sat on the floorboards beside the piglet. “It’ll be okay,” she spoke soothingly. “You gonna be just fine.” The piglet stared up at her. “I’m gonna call you Nutnor.”
“Where’d that come from?” her father asked.
“I dunno, he seems like a Nutnor.”
Her mother located a glass baby bottle, filled it with milk and sat it on the stove. Once warmed, she pulled it from the stove and added a nipple.
“Test it on your wrist,” she advised handing the bottle to Madaline.
Madaline turned the bottle over allowing a few drops onto her wrist. Satisfied, she lowered the bottle into the crate and shoved the nipple into a hungry mouth. Nutnor latched on and began to suckle.
“Time to wash up and off to bed when you’re done,” her mom ordered. Madaline eyed her for a moment. “I mean it,” her mom added.
The next morning the farmer and his wife found a sleeping child on the floor beside a content piglet. The farmer smiled, his wife frowned. “It’s fine Addie, it’s only for a few days.”
The crate became too small for the piglet after several days. Madaline had fussed over him, taking her job seriously.
“Time for him to go outside, Madaline,” her father told her.
“But he can’t, it’s too cold out there.”
“Sorry, but that was the deal.”
“We’ll fix a place in the barn. You can fill it with straw,” her father offered.
She looked up, her eyes watered. “Don’t pull that on me, pigs don’t live in the house.”
Placing the piglet in the crate, her father picked up the container, and headed outside. Madaline ran after him. In the barn, her father cleared a small area in the corner of a stall and cordoned it off with boards. Madaline waited. When he finished, she piled the area with straw and an old horse blanket.
“This is your new home,” Madaline spoke to Nutnor. She picked him up from the crate and placed him in the enclosure. “Everything’s gonna be okay,” she spoke to the animal. The piglet looked up at her, tracking her movements. A mutual bond had formed.
In the following days, Madaline spent most of her time in the barn. She bundled up, grabbed a bottle, some food scraps and set-off to the barn. The piglet continued to improve. He grew strong. Madaline couldn’t get enough of him. She dressed him in old baby clothes and pushed him around the barn in her baby buggy.
Her mother grew tired of her daughter spending so much time with a pig. It wasn’t normal, she told Madaline’s father. It was time.
“Oh, hey there daddy,” Madaline greeted her father. She was sitting on an overturned bucket pretending to read Nutnor a story. “It’s time for Nutnor to go into the pen with the other pigs,” he told her. “He’s big and strong now. And a little girl shouldn’t be spending her every waking moment with a pig.”
Madaline’s face froze. She turned away, staring at the wall above her pig. “I’m sorry Madaline, but he’s a farm pig, not a pet. He’s going to grow too big to keep.”
The tears fell as she watched her father scoop up the pig and head toward the back of the barn where the farrowing shed and pigs were contained. She grabbed his coat crying.
“No daddy, no. He’s not like the other pigs. Please, daddy.”
“Sorry sweetie, but that’s the way it is on a farm. You took good care of him.”
He couldn’t stand to look at his daughter. He knew her heart was breaking. But he had to put the pig back in with its own kind. He was a meat pig and would grow up to be a hog. It also wasn’t right to see his daughter pushing around a baby buggy with a pig dressed in baby clothes he rationalized.
He sat the pig in the pen with the other swine. Nutnor squealed as he looked back at Madaline and her father. Madaline dropped to the ground sobbing. It wrenched his heart. He left the barn and walked back to the house with forced footsteps.
An hour later, Madaline returned to the house. Her face reddened from more than the weather. Going directly to her room, she shut her door hard. Muffled cries emerged from her room.
Over the next several days, Madaline visited Nutnor. He stayed to himself. He refused to eat. The little pig’s heart had been broken as well.
A week later, Nutnor went missing. Madaline convinced her father to allow her into the pen to search for her beloved pig. “Oh no, Nutnor,” she wailed.
Making his way over to the corner of the pen, he found his daughter crumpled on the ground. In front of her, curled up dead under a bush was Nutnor. “I told you. He didn’t think he was a pig!” she screamed.
Trying to console her, he picked her up off the ground and stood her in front of him. “I’m sorry Madaline. These things happen on a farm. It’s a part of our life.”
“But it’s not fair, it’s just not fair!” she choked between sobs. He pulled her close to him.
“I know, it’s tough. Life isn’t fair. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s our life on the farm.”