Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Bounty in the Bramble Patch

My wife's grandfather raised hogs on a small farm in North Mississippi. His was one of the last small-time commercial operations--he never had more than a hundred or so pigs on his place at any one time and he raised them pretty much the way hogs had been raised for thousands of years. He didn't have fancy individual faring pens--just a few scattered three-foot high hog houses on five or six fenced acres. For nearly fifty years he had driven his pick-up each day into Memphis to pick up garbage can loads of restaurant refuse with which to slop his hogs the next morning. He supplemented the slop with feed corn, or vice versa--I could never figure out which. The slop contained every vegetable, meat, and bread imaginable, to which he added water and filled handmade wooden troughs, out of which the hogs greedily and noisily fed. The smells and sounds of a cold, dark winter morning on the Cannon farm is a memory I will likely take to my grave.

After the hogs had cleaned the troughs, an inspection would often uncover forks, spoons, and knives from the restaurants that had inadvertantly made their way into the garbage. The restaurants wouldn't take them back, and while they may have never had many luxuries in their lives, the Cannons never wanted for tableware. The haul over 50 years had yielded numerous complete sets, several of which were given away to families less fortunate.

Of course, every vegetable seed that entered into a hog's confederate end, exited from the yankee end and was deposited in its own mound of the world's best organic fertilizer. The ground in the hog lot stayed bare as the face of the moon, however. Any seed that sprouted was immediately whacked by a porcine weed-eater.

When Mr. Cannon died in the late winter of '91, his family sold off all of his hogs and the well-fertilized hog lot reverted to a bramble patch. Later that summer, one of Mrs. Cannon's granddaughters brought her three children for a visit. After the compulsory hugs and kisses were endured, the boys ran immediately to explore the jungle that had grown up in the hog lot. Not much later they returned, proudly carrying a cornucopia of vegetables--squash, tomatoes, watermelon, peas and beans of several varieties. They were summarily accused of raiding a neighbor's garden and were within a hair's breadth of suffering their daily spanking, for which they had just provided the not-necessarily-required justification, before they finally convinced their mother to come see the "wild garden" in the former hog lot. Without the daily intensive grazing by the hogs, the last of the hog droppings had provided a final gift.

I was always amazed at the care Mr. Cannon took with his hogs. He knew when any one of them was missing at the hog trough and would go to any length to rescue a pig in distress. I like to think of that bounty in the bramble patch as nature's (and the hogs') final tribute to the man.
Post a Comment