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Holly and her pigs at the fair

Aug 10, 2017 - By Clair McFarland

She finished last in market years ago, but there was much more to her experience than that.

You'll have to forgive me if I reminisce too much.

My son called to mind many memories after I took him to the fair - memories of selling pigs and of spending a small fortune on shaved ice.

"Mommy, why do the pigs go to the fair?"

"To have someone judge their quality, or the way their owners handle them."

"Why would someone judge their quality?" he asked.

"To see whether they'd be good to eat - or breed."

"What!"

I could see the wheels turning in his head. He was remembering the animals he'd grown fond of that day: their hairy heads, their floppy ears.

Of course, what followed was a long discussion about how the fair works and where bacon comes from.

"Doesn't ANYONE care about the pigs?" he asked.

"Yes, I think all the kids who raise the pigs care about them - and I think they're sad to see them sold," I said. "I always was."

"Hmn!"

When you are 7 years old, you build for yourself a borrowed nostalgia from other people's tales, until you have amassed enough memories to build your own. At this point, I could see that my son's borrowed nostalgia was becoming stained with cynicism: images of people driving pigs with whips, and thoughts of the butcher-shop.

These images are mostly accurate. Raising pigs is an undertaking for the determined and abrupt: you have to swat the pig to make it walk along, and you have to insult its mother to get it to climb a ramp. But that's not all there is to it.

"My love," I said, "have I ever told you the story of Holly and the pigs?"

"No, you haven't."

It was years ago.

When I arrived in the 4-H swine barn with my beautiful duroc pig that year, I was at an awkward age. And at that time, there were some boys in the swine barn who thought it would be fun to make fun of a 12-year-old girl - for looking like a 12-year-old girl.

I couldn't take it! I ran away from them and into the showing arena, where I burst into tears on the fresh sawdust. But what I didn't realize until my eyes cleared, was that there was another person in that arena: a teen-aged girl calmly snuggling two pigs.

I looked at her, and I saw the brightness in her eyes, and she said "just ignore them. Boys are so dumb" - which is the best opening line known to female friendships the world over.

(Let this be a reminder to you darling, to always be a gentleman, especially where young girls are concerned.)

Her name was Holly, and she befriended me.

It was clear from the start that Holly's pigs actually loved her. Loved her! Now don't get me wrong. Pigs can be affectionate: they nuzzle their owners and even nibble their shoes when they're feeling sweet, and - ow ow! My toes! Knock it off!

But Holly's pigs came when she called. They got excited when they heard her voice. They rolled over when she told them to. But most remarkable of all was their walk: Holly did not use a bat or a whip. She walked her two, fat, squishy pigs along daintily - on leashes.

I'd never seen anything so bizarre in my life.

I'm not sure if it's still this way, but in that era of swine, the champion pig was allowed to be the first one at the auction, when the day was cool, the buyers were optimistic, and the auctioneer was fresh. All the other pigs followed the champion pig into the auction arena - one after another - in descending order by quality.

This means that the last hog to enter the auction arena is likely of the very poorest quality, and its owner must struggle against the disadvantage of this stigma - as well as the dwindling crowd and hotter day - in an attempt to get her summer expenses repaid with a sale.

That was Holly's plight that year: she was dead last. The pig she'd entered for market might not even sell, and her whole summer would have been wasted. At least, that's how most of us would have looked at the situation.

But not Holly.

(Sorry, Holly, if I have exaggerated this tale through years of fondness, and you can correct me if I've got it all wrong. But this is honestly how I remember it.)

Holly walked into the arena with her hair tied up in pigtails. Pig. Tails! One was fastened with a yellow ribbon, and one with a pink ribbon. She held out her hand as primly as if she were plopping a sugar cube into a cup of tea - but between her fingers were the ends of two leashes: one yellow, and one pink. To those leashes, she'd collared two pigs, and round the ears of each pig she'd tied ribbons. Yellow, and pink.

How the buyers roared with laughter when Holly's pigs pranced past! And when she finally brought them to the center of the arena, and had them roll over in perfect unison, everyone laughed until they cried.

But the auctioneer wasn't laughing. He was too busy taking bids. Three dollars a pound, four dollars, five, six, seven!

"Why would they spend so much money on the worst pig at the fair, Mommy?"

"Because of Holly. They weren't bidding on the pig. They were bidding on the character of a girl who never gave up."
 

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