Friday, July 20, 2007

Mondale Escapes!

I was raised on lots of foods that are really, really bad for you but taste really, really good. We grew our own vegetables in the garden and we kept chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, and anything else that we could get our hands on. Now all of that stuff isn’t necessarily “bad” for you. However, the way it is prepared can be. You see, in our minds, the only way that foods taste good is if you fry them. We fried practically everything. Fried chicken, rabbit, taters, tomatoes, okra (which we pronounce Oak-ree) sausage, bacon, ham, pork chops, and the list goes on and on and…well, you understand. In order to fry our foods, we made our own homemade lard (see the attached picture of my dad making lard), or we bought Crisco or Cloverleaf brand lard at the store. That’s one reason that, as an adult, I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and am overweight, but… this post isn’t about my health problems, it’s about Mondale.

My very favorite food in life is, without a doubt, sausage. I love it, love it, love it. There is nothing better than waking up to the smell of fresh sausage frying in the pan. Add that, along with the aroma of JFG coffee and buttermilk biscuits, and you have stolen my enlarged, grease-filled heart. We used to make our own sausage. We would raise pigs (or Hogs if you prefer) and around Christmas time, when they were all fat and sassy and the temperature was nice and cold, Dad would get out the old .22 and assassinate the pig. Then, we would commence to butchering. I would go into details of hog butchering. However, this post isn’t about that, it’s about Mondale.

My dad always had a knack for finding just the perfect name for any animal that we had. For example, we once had 3 beagles in which he promptly named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in honor of the 3 children of Israel who survived being thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar or worship the golden idols. A few other names Dad bestowed upon our animals were Bob, Limb, Stranger, Sooner, and General Lee, but… this post isn’t about all of those guys either, it’s about Mondale. Yeah…I’m getting to it. Just hang on.

One year, Dad bought a new pig. It was a distinguished looking animal; it wasn’t the cute, pinkish-looking pig like Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. No, this pig was black. Now, don’t ask me why but dad took one look at that pig and decided to name it Mondale after the former US Vice President, Walter Mondale. Whether Dad meant it as a compliment or an insult, I don’t know, but that is what he named it. That pig seemed to like the name. Any time that I was around him and called out “Mondale”, he seemed to perk up and listen.

Instead of keeping Mondale in the usual pigpen up on the hill on my papaw’s land, we decided to keep it out back in a pen that we had constructed beside the chicken house. If you know anything about pigs, then you know that they like to root. A pig will root itself right out of a pen in a hurry unless you take preventive measures against it. The very first thing to do is to “ring” its nose. No, this isn’t for high-fashion pig status; it’s to keep them from using their noses for rooting. For some reason, we had not gotten around to ringing old Mondale’s nose yet.

I remember this day just like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday morning, I was sitting on the couch watching cartoons, when I heard dad in the kitchen talking to mom. “The daggum pig is gone!” “Gone? How could that be?” “Ah, I guess he rooted his way under the fence.” “I wonder where he’s went?” “There ain’t no telling. He probably went up into the woods.” “Well, I guess we better go look for him.” I walked into the kitchen, “Mondale has escaped?” “Yep, let’s go see if we can find him.” So, the whole family set out to find Mondale.

We were all over the backyard and in the woods behind our house searching and calling out “Mondale, here boy, Mondale!” Not a grunt or a squeal was ever heard. We asked the neighbors if they had seen Mondale. Not a hide nor hair was seen by anyone. It’s as if Mondale had vanished into thin air. We never did find that pig and we had to go without homemade sausage that year. Perhaps it was old Mondale’s way of trying to help us eat healthier, who knows.

So, if you are ever out in rural Knox County, TN and you happen upon a distinguished looking, black pig, it could very well be old Mondale. Tell him that Tug says hi and that I am still upset from having to do without homemade sausage back in ’78!


CS said...

I had a pig once, a big Yorkshire, who could escape from his pen. He didn't root his way out because it was concrete, and we always found the gate securely locked. It was a mystery - we'd arrive home to find him alseep on the front porch with the dogs. We changed his name to Ijip (Incredible Jumping Pig) and would send him back to his pen every night. Kin to Mondale, maybe?

SteveLong said...

I used to "get" to help with the pig butchering when I was a kid. I was fairly small, so my job was to assist with the scraping that was done after the recently killed pig was placed in a large tub of hot water (it would have a fire built under it). It was nasty work but the payoff was well worth it. The salt-cured hams were my favorite, but the sausage was great, too.

That was a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

The posts tonight are bringing back lots of fond memories of my childhood in these mountains that I will forever call home.

Byron Chesney said...

CS: Yep, Mondale's family tree probably don't branch out very much. "Mondale and the Incredible Jumping Pig" the next big act coming out of Knoxville. Watch for them at the next Sundown in the City.

Steve: I've scraped many a pig. We had a 55 gal metal barrel that was cut in half that we would build a fire under to boil the water. It was always my job to do the scraping. We also used to save the pigs tail for suprise Christmas gifts, that was always a big hoot around the cedar tree! My first draft of this post actually included a detail of the whole hog killing experience, but it was so long that I deleted it.

Jeremy Peters said...

My mamaw used to have a neighbor named Turk who raised and slaughtered hogs. As a kid, I used to stand at the edge of her yard and watch as the hogs were prepared on slaughtering day.

I remember the steam of the boiling 55 gallon drums, and the ghost-white carcas of the hog after they were done.

He always gave mamaw some of the homemade sausage in quart jars, and it was hands-down the best I've ever had. No comparison to the store-bought kind.

His hogs were notorious for getting out, too, although finding them was never a problem. They always made a bee-line across mamaws yard to her other neighbors garden.

Thanks for the post!