Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Right Between the Eyes

Back in the early 30’s my Dad was one of many brothers and sisters living on the family farm near Noelville in Northern Ontario. They kept a few cows and pigs and a henhouse full of chickens. When a litter of pigs was born they were kept until they reached 200 pounds or so before they were sold for meat. It was customary to keep one or two back to be raised for the family larder. Whenever one of the brood sows had outlived her usefulness she would also be sacrificed to the butcher’s knife and replaced by a younger animal. They did all their own butchering right there on the farm and Grandpa Landry built a smokehouse out back so they could cure the pork.

They had one particular sow that they kept for a number of years and every year that pig just got bigger and bigger. Eventually she became the talk of the whole county. Grandpa guessed that she must weigh close to 600 pounds. She measured nearly six feet from snout to tail so she was longer than he was tall. No one had ever seen such an enormous pig. She began to resemble a small hippopotamus and people dropped in to visit just so they could catch a glimpse of her.

One crisp fall morning Grandpa announced that the Day of Reckoning for the old sow had finally come. The children, my Dad included, rushed through their chores so as not to miss any of the action. The time honored and accepted method of execution was to use the blunt side of a long handled axe rather than a rifle. It was quick and clean. No need to waste a bullet when one solid blow between the eyes with the heavy axe would drop a pig in its tracks and it would be stone cold dead before hitting the ground. Grandpa was confident that it would work even on a sow of such monumental proportions.

In due course the pig was lured into the shed with a bucket of mash and chained to the centre support post where she stood in sleepy indifference, occasionally shifting her colossal bulk from side to side with her belly nearly brushing the floorboards. Grandpa ordered all the children out and went for the axe. Undeterred, they scrambled up onto the flat roof which was made up of boards that had weathered and shrunk leaving cracks large enough to offer a convenient view of the dim interior. They were perched there like a flock of upended birds, eyes pressed to the boards and rumps in the air when Grandpa returned and entered the shed. He stood there for a moment hefting the familiar weight of the axe in his hands and taking careful aim. One mighty swing of that axe and his blow landed right on target with a heavy ‘thunk’ that shook the rafters. The sow, however, did not drop down dead as she was meant to do. What would have killed a lesser animal barely seemed to make an impression on her obviously thick skull. She merely let out a squeal of startled outrage and gave her massive head a shake as though to clear it. This was unheard of. There was a collective groan from the children watching and Grandpa scowled at the pig as though she were somehow at fault.

He wound up to take a second swing at her and this time he struck her between the eyes with such force that his feet actually left the ground. It didn’t even bring her to her knees but it did destroy whatever indifference she’d started out with. She exploded into action, her squeals and grunts deafening in the enclosed space as she thrashed about in her panicked efforts to get away from her attacker. Grandpa jumped clear just in time and ran for the house to fetch his rifle. This was no time to begrudge the bullet he would need to bring the old sow down. The children were practically jumping up and down on the roof in their excitement. The show had proved much more entertaining than they could have imagined. Their enthusiastic chatter changed to cries of alarm when moments later, the sow made a break for the open door. The chain that held her lashed to the support post proved to be no great obstacle to her freedom. It was never meant to withstand the frantic heaving of a 600 pound behemoth. The post gave way with a loud splintering crack and when it caught in the doorway she pulled part of the wall down as well. In moments the whole shed came down with Dad and the rest of his siblings landing in a tangled heap amidst the rubble.

Grandpa caught up to the runaway pig and finally did her in with the rifle before she got too far. The post and assorted lumber she was dragging behind her slowed her down a bit. He didn’t try to shoot her between the eyes….the bullet probably would have bounced off. The shed was a total write-off but apart from a few scrapes and bruises the children emerged very nearly unscathed. Not one of them would have missed it for the world. My Dad was still telling the story 50 years later.

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