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While the Guests Are Sleeping
A Yankee Innkeeper Reflects on Life in the Deep Old West
"There's a pig out on the highway! It's going to get hit!"
It was true, there was a pig. By the time we got out to the street, our guests had coaxed it onto the sidewalk by the saloon. It was a medium-sized pot-bellied pig — the kind that, if you look it up, you will see is highly intelligent and sometimes housebroken, living indoors.
I had been introduced to a different pot-bellied pig soon after I moved to Duncan in 2006. That pig had a name: Fred. He lived with Blackjack Bob, a blacksmith in Ft. Thomas, about 60 miles down the river. Bob's wife Zika held up her hand to stop us. "Fred is not a touchy-feely kind of pig," was what she said.
But this pig from the highway was touchy-feely. He seemed happy to follow us up Main Street, wagging his tail and grunting.
We were to learn some days later that, before being lured up to The Simpson, the pig had been inside the saloon for a spell. Old-timers here will tell you about a horse that drank beer from a feedbag while standing at the bar inside the Apache Grove, up the highway. That will have to wait for another time. I promise to get back to it, as there is much more to say about the Apache Grove.
Knowing nothing and assuming the best about everyone involved — including the pig — we ushered him into our front garden and began offering him things to eat. A five-year-old girl tried pieces of apple and carrot. But the pig kept nosing at the hose coiled on the ground. "He's thirsty!" we all shouted at the same time, and someone went running for a bucket to fill.
We secured the gates to make sure the pig wouldn't wander back onto the highway. I got a photo of him with the little girl reminiscent of the cover drawing on Charlotte's Web. Then I went inside to get the word out through social media.
Early the next morning I was checking for messages from a grateful pig owner when an alarmed hotel guest was again at our library door. They couldn't find the little girl or the pig.
We ran out and quickly located the child, who was wandering contentedly in our huge maze of a garden. Then we saw the broken gate in the back and, behind it, the pig rolling around in fresh hay we had put out for our goats. The goats had scrambled to the highest point in the yard. The fur over their spines was standing on end.
Spotting us, the pig scrambled to his feet and ran to Clayton, running tight circles around his legs. He rooted at Clayton's boots as if intoxicated by their smell. I distracted him with corn chips, and we made a run for the shop.
I posted more photos online and made some printed flyers for the post office bulletin board. I also sent the local 4H office a plea for help, if not with locating the pig's owners then in recruiting a new owner. Dusty Murdock quickly put out the word to the 4H community.
But no help came. No pig owner or potential new pig owner wrote or called.
Over the years, since we reopened The Simpson's doors, we have taken in animals in need. Two old goats came with the property and each lived out its life; we added two young goats a couple of years ago. There have been lots of chickens, beginning with a group of curly-feathered "Frizzles" whose descendants produce notably small eggs for a local friend. For a few weeks we fostered an orphaned lamb, and for a day or so a wandering Nubian goat shadowed me, peering over my shoulder to investigate whatever I was doing.
A wildlife biologist friend brought us a desert tortoise that she had repeatedly seen crossing the highway, imperiling its life. The tortoise patrolled our perimeter until it found its way out. There was a black rabbit that frolicked with our cats — cats too numerous to count, many of them still with us — and we've sheltered a half dozen lost dogs, all quickly returned to owners or placed in new homes.
These animal guests mingled with whatever wildlife slipped in: snakes (until we gave away the hens and chicks — no snakes since then), skunks, squirrels and raccoons, javelina that come at dawn to eat seed fallen from the bird feeders, and — most unusually — a coatimundi. That coatimundi was spotted all over town throughout mid-summer, strolling about with its tail held high.
Never before have I regretted my soft heart as I did after we invited the pig in.
We are blessed with some fine next-door neighbors, a family with three kids whose rooster you will hear if you stay with us. They also have hens, and they had bought a nice double-decker hen house for them. Samuel and Gabriel and Yesinia all came to break the news to us: the pig dug under our fence into their yard and destroyed their hen house.
He was still in there, scouting around for more fodder. Shattered sections of the hen house were strewn about, the feed bowls licked clean. The hens and rooster were huddled in a far corner of the yard, emitting the quizzing moans of worried poultry.
With the kids, we cajoled the pig back into our yard and blocked the access he had created with heavy rocks and cement blocks. It was right about this time that one of our hotel guests appeared with a local cousin, a woman who said she would take the pig.
She looked okay, the woman, so I decided to take her at her word. She crouched down and rubbed the pig's stomach, at which he immediately turned belly-up with a smile on his face. She kept saying, "You're my pig! Yes, you are!" She left promising to return right away with men to help her catch him.
And she did. As they walked back through our gardens I thought, "Well, these guys can catch a pig". I thought that because all at once it looked like we were on location for a certain scene in the movie Deliverance. I hope you will know which scene I'm referring to because I don't wish to describe it.
I couldn't watch. I walked up to the front garden and waited. There were screams. Nothing screams like a pig.
The thin-faced man with a dirty brown cap pulled over his hair, along with his equally noteworthy companions, emerged from the back and hurried through our gardens to Main Street. The pig was once again free to explore downtown Duncan.
A few despairing days later, we learned from our town manager, John Basteen, Jr., that there was another fan of pot-bellied pigs who was willing to take ours. She arrived with a cage in her pickup truck, the sort of cage you might bring to carry away a puppy or a cat. It was not an auspicious start.
When she arrived, the pig was once again in the neighbors' back yard, having removed all the boulders and cement blocks that we had pushed into his passageway.
The woman dangled a carrot and the pig trotted over to meet her. He circled her feet, wagging his tail and grunting as he had done with Clayton, and showed particular interest in her flipflops. The neighbor kids and their grandfather looked on, as delighted as I was that it was going well.
She crouched down to rub his belly — this apparently is something that pot-bellied pig aficionados know to do — but he didn't flip over. Instead he produced an artifact that good taste prevents me from naming or describing.
The woman scrambled to her feet. The kids were standing frozen in place with eyes wide. I had no doubt that they were as worried as I was that this would be the end of the adoption process.
But the woman was unfazed. With Samuel and Gabriel helping, she tried to lure the pig toward the little animal cage. It quickly became clear that the pig had no intention of going into a cage. She gave me a look. "Is this pig cut?"
"I really don't know," I told her, because it was true that I knew nothing that would satisfy that question. And I didn't share my suspicions with her.
The woman left to round up a friend who, she said, would be able to get the pig into the cage. They returned together within minutes; as it turned out she recruited the first able-bodied man she saw as she drove. Dressed in work blues, he was broad-shouldered and thick-chested, with a sun-kissed complexion and a look on his handsome face that said he was the man for the job.
His first move was to sit down on a railroad tie in the goat yard, to which the pig had retreated. The pig eyed him from a safe distance. "Come on over here, buddy! Tell me about your day!" the man called out, slapping the ground in front of him. The pig took a few steps in his direction.
I removed myself again. I was starting to understand that a case of post-pig trauma syndrome might be developing.
There were more screams. The gate to the goat area flew open and the man marched past me, red-faced and scowling. I didn't ask. I felt almost as sorry for him as I did for myself.
Incredibly, the woman still wanted the pig. To this day I expect she has no idea what profound gratitude I hold in my heart for her. And, in case you are wondering, there was never any discussion of pork on the table, with her or with anyone else. It seems that people in this part of the world don't think of pot-bellied pigs as breakfast or dinner.
And thus it fell to our town manager, John Basteen, who is also Duncan's animal control officer and father to several young livestock husbandry experts, to get the pig from our downtown block to a new home in the hamlet of Virden, just over the border in New Mexico. John arrived in his pickup truck with a strapping teenage son. They had nothing but their bare hands at the ready. Samuel and Gabriel joined them in the neighbors' back yard. That episode is fully documented in the video below.
What isn't documented on video is what happened after John caught the pig. He carried the squealing animal back to the truck and settled him on top of the open tailgate, hugging and patting and soothing the distraught thing. Very soon the pig calmed down. John ordered his big dog out of the back seat in the cab and tucked the pig in there for the ten-minute drive to Virden. And off they went.
I heard from the woman a few days later. She was now convinced that the pig was not cut. She had heard that our county supervisor, Richard Lunt, would cut a farm animal as a kindness to his neighbors, and she wanted his phone number. I had also heard that about Richard, along with a great many stories about the livestock doctoring he had done for people, whether or not they voted for him. But I didn't really want to be the conduit to Richard for this job. I suggested that she call the town manager for his number.
Every time the phone rang, I was afraid it would be something more about the pig. Instead, the next news was delivered yet again by a hotel guest knocking on our library door, where we were once again hiding from everyone.
"There is a couple up front," she said. "They say they're looking for their pig."
I asked Clayton to go with me to meet them. I wasn't sure I would keep my composure if he weren't there to restrain me. They were a young couple I had never seen before, both exceptionally attractive young people with very beautiful caramel-colored skin. They had been out of town, they said, and were now looking for their escaped pig.
The timing of their vacation and the pig's antics in town were not entirely congruent. I just said, "You're going to have to call the town manager." Sorry, John.
A few weeks later, I was helping the town billing clerk Isabel with the line-up for our early morning Fourth of July parade. After I had handed out parade numbers to entries that included a ten-foot papier mâché American eagle, a man in full battle fatigues driving a perfect vintage pickup, and some dressed-up girls on splendid ponies, I started walking back toward the park. Someone spoke to me from a pickup truck parked along the parade route.
It was Linda, the new owner of the pig. I prepared myself for the worst. Everything is fine, she said. Richard Lunt cut the pig and now he was a good citizen, happy in his yard in Virden. His worst offense had been breaking the faucet for the garden hose.
I was never, ever going to ask Richard Lunt about that day. But he brought it up while visiting with us.
"It took five guys had to hold that pig down," he told us. The five included John Basteen.