[June 27, 2023] It was my first day cleaning a pigpen, and I knew I had stepped in it big time. Yep, that’s me all right, taking on a job that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or getting into. But I was also too hard-headed to admit I was over my head, thinking I could do anything anyone else could do and do it with little effort. I was wrong. And I will admit that my personality has never changed that much. For good or for bad, I’m still too hard-headed for my own good.
Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, we moved away from the town I grew up in and where all my friends lived. I was distraught for leaving my friends and everything behind, including our two dogs that I loved dearly, beautiful Rough Collies and both emotionally close to me. Our move would be one of many, moving almost every year, making and losing friends, finding new summer jobs, and involuntarily learning to be mentally tough.
A man showed up the same week we moved into our newly rented house and said he was looking to hire a teenager to make some cash and “learn the trade.” The following day was my first day cleaning pigpens. I’d never even seen a pigpen before.
While I cannot remember his name, I was attracted to this happy-go-lucky pig farmer with his outgoing nature and bubbly personality. It was helpful that he had three daughters; one named Linda – about my age – the first girl I’d ever kissed. I fondly remember that kiss. It was like an electric charge that ran through my body. It made us both smile widely. She was so cute.
I also remember that first day in the pigpens. It was memorable, and for a 13-year-old boy, it took plenty of grit to get through it. Pigs are powerfully built and intelligent, big animals, and they remember how you treat them. I think their memory is better than elephants, and pigs will hold a grudge. Don’t ever get on their bad side. You might be crushed up against a side railing or knocked over unexpectedly from behind and stomped on. They are crafty creatures. Respect them. Treat them well.
That first day, my task was to clean two of the pigpens, I think to prove I was up to the job. Cleaning the pens is a job that is important because that’s how you raise healthy pigs. It controls roundworms which pigs are prone to get, keeps the bacteria down to a manageable level, and helps prevent diseases. A clean pig is a happy pig. My job, keep the pigs happy.
The pens I was to clean were slippery with solid pig waste and urine, hay to absorb the moisture, a concoction of wet anti-bacterial disinfectant, and rainwater that dripped through the barn ceiling. Maybe that’s why I fell face-first into that dirty pen that day, and I was stunned, more by landing in the pig poop than by the fall. Oh, did I mention that pig poop has a strong recognizable stench. I didn’t know it then, but pigs like to poop on wet spots. Of course, the entire pen was wet. I also learned, that first day, cleaning the pens while wearing tennis shoes was figuring things out the hard way. Typical of me. I swear the pig farmer was dying from laughter, watching me struggle, get filthy, tear my pants at the knee, ruin my shoes, scrape my forehead, and vomit.
At the end of the first day (actually a half day), I was exhausted, and I remember little else after leaving the pig farm other than my mother making me take off all my clothes in the backyard and hosing me down before I was allowed in the house to get a “real” bath. The pig farmer paid me five dollars in one-dollar bills for my efforts. I had a real job. I was rich. The pig farmer liked me. And I kissed a girl.
The Summer would be one never to forget. My mother, a wonderful woman, helped me more than I realized at the time. She cleaned my clothes and had them ready for me every day. She fed me a full breakfast and packed my lunch, usually a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread, an apple, and a cookie (my favorite) and placed them in a paper bag for carrying. My dad was happy because I was a “man” since I had a job and contributing to the family.
I did learn one big lesson. Don’t work on pig farms. I joined the Army.
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