One late spring morning as we were having coffee, Old Man opened the door so he could watch the turkeys in the field across the street. He had a turkey-calling device that he rubbed together so he could “talk” to them. He loved watching the wildlife on our hill.
As we sat there that crisp cold morning, he looked at me and said,
“Kid, this feels like hog boilin’ weather.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I have never boiled a hog, nor have I seen one boiled.
“Why boil the hog,” I asked.
He responded with a chuckle and a slight grin,
“Not boil the hog, I said boilin.”
I still had no idea what he was talking about, or should I say talkin’ about.
He began to tell me this story:
“Hog boilin’ is what happens in the late spring, or early summer months. All the hogs are placed in the same pen and fattened up. The fattening process usually took about 6 weeks. Once the hogs were ready they were slaughtered. We kept one hog for the family, but the rest are taken to town to be sold.
My dad and grandfather had a big cast iron pot that they used to heat the water that the hogs were boiled in. The pot stood about three feet tall and was about four feet wide and five feet long. A fire pit was dug into the ground and the pot was hoisted up and over the roaring fire, and placed on the flames.
As the water started boilin’ the hog was gently slid into the water. If the water temperature was just right, when the hog was pulled out, it could be scaled with very little work. Scalin’ the hogs meant the hair and top layer of skin was removed.
After the hogs were scaled they were covered in course salt and let to cure for three weeks. The curing process was very important. The salt brought out the taste of the meat and prevented flying insects from landing on the meat and polluting or spoiling it.
At the end of curing process the hogs were washed and hung to smoke in the smokin’ house.
The smokehouse was about half the size of a doublewide mobile home. Hickory wood was used to smoke the meat. At anytime there could be up to thirty hogs hangin’ in the smokehouse. It took about four cords of hickory wood to smoke the hogs during the smoking process. At the end of the process there was enough meat to feed the family, and provide money for the family bills.”
He went on to say that each step was important, and each step needed to be followed correctly. Skipping or skimping on any step would cause the meat to be thrown out. It would render the meat useless or unwanted.
When he completed his story he began to cough and wheeze. He tried to stand. He wanted to go in and sit in his chair in the house, but the weakness and dizziness he was experiencing prevented him from being able to move. I offered to help him go inside, but then he heard his wife began calling for him. He shook his head no. We sat there in silence for several minutes as I waited for him to catch his breath. Finally, he looked at me and said,
“Talk about useless. I can’t even get out of my damn chair!”
I tried to tell him he was not useless, to me anyway. I tried to reassure him that his life had meaning, and that his stories meant the world to me. He shrugged his shoulders looked at me and called me an emotional idiot. I just grinned. I knew what he meant, and I knew that that was his way of telling me he loved me.
As I sat there watching him I began thinking about his story and could not help but wonder what his life could have been if he had not cut corners in life. I wondered how his life and the lives of his family could have been different is he had allowed his own curing process.
This morning as I went out to feed the animals the air was crisp and cold. I watched the turkey’s on the hill across the road. As I watched them, and began to think about the hog boilin’ story, I thought about my own curing process. I thought about the way I was raised, and the way I raised my children. I thought about who I use to be and who I am now.
I thought about this last week and how my patience had been stretched beyond belief. I thought about how much I was missing my friend, and how much I was missing our morning talks. But most of all I thought about how, in the process of having my patience stretched this last week, a mirror had been held up to my face and revealed some things I really did not want to see.
I had been cutting corners just like my friend.
As I watched the turkeys I realized I was at another life crossroads. I could deny the issue that had been revealed, or I could begin to alter the woman in the mirror.
I sat on the front porch and drank almost a complete pot of coffee while I contemplated the choices. In the end the decision was really very clear. Denial was not an option.
I would like to say that I jumped up, full of joy and began the pain staking process associated with change, but that did not happen. Instead I shuffled back into the house, looked in the mirror, took a deep breath, and decided to make the change that was needed whether I felt like it or not. Not because I felt empowered to do so, but because I saw a need.
Yup, this morning it felt like hog boilin’ weather in this part of the valley.