Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Come on, lift that hog!

Christmas tenderloin
It is Christmas eve, 1979, I’m 12 years old. There is a cold December wind blowing hard enough to make the leaves dance off of the steep hillside behind my papaw’s barn. A few white snow flurries are trying their best to get to the safety of the hard frozen East Tennessee ground. Over to the right my dad was stoking a fire which had half of a 55-gallon metal drum filled with water sitting in the middle of it. “Why exactly do we have to do this today?” I asked my dad. “Cause it has to be below freezing to kill hogs and it’s below freezing today,” he replied. “But its Christmas eve,” I complained. “Well, you want some tenderloin for breakfast on Christmas don’t you?” he asked. I couldn't deny the fact that some tenderloin, along with my momma’s homemade biscuits and gravy would really hit the spot.

 “Pow!!!” The crack of papaw’s .22 rifle echoed off of the hillside as I spun around to see the large 500-lb hog hit the ground. “Get over here and help me drag him,” papaw demanded.  I rubbed my hands together and sprinted over to the hog pen. “Grab his laig,” I was instructed. We began pulling the mud stained Yorkshire across the field beside the now boiling drum of water. After laying the hog on the ground, dad and papaw poured the scalding water over him. “Git that knife over there and start scraping,” papaw said. I didn’t really mind this job. I had done it before, not just with hogs but also chickens. The worse part is always the smell. I took the butcher knife that momma had sent with me and began scraping hair off of that hog. It took me and dad several minutes to get it scraped well enough for papaw’s approval.

After the scraping was done, papaw walked up with a 2 foot long stick in one hand and a Barlow knife and piece of rope in the other, pointed toward me and dad and said, “we gotta git this hog up there between them two limbs.” Dad and I grabbed the hog by the hind feet and started lifting. “Hold him right there for a minute,” papaw said as he took his knife and started cutting behind that hogs legs. “What in the world did you do that for?” I asked. “I gotta git this gambling stick wedged in there to hold him up,” he said, as he worked one of the sharpened ends of the stick behind one leg. After running the other end behind the other leg, he tied a short piece of rope onto the middle of the stick and then tied it around a long wooden pole.

My papaw, Lorn Chesney
“Alright, lift,” papaw said. Dad and I got one end of the long wooden pole into the crook of one of the trees. “Alright, that’s good, now we gotta git the other end on the other tree.” [ This is where I must pause for a second and fill in some details… You probably never met my papaw, but if you did then you would assume he was a frail man. He was about 5 foot 6 inches tall and couldn’t have weighed more than 100-lbs soaking wet. He was lean and wiry. At 12 years old I was already as big as he was and my dad was taller and outweighed him by about 70-lbs. Back to the story…] My dad and I grabbed the other end of that pole and lifted with all of our might. We had to raise that 500-lb hog up high enough so that it would swing free from that pole without its head touching the ground. That made our lift about 6-foot high.

“I can’t lift any higher,” I complained. “Come on, lift that hog up!” papaw yelled. Dad and I were both straining with all of our might but we still lacked at least a foot to get the pole lifted high enough. “Ah, git outta the way,” papaw grunted in disgust. That is when I discovered that my papaw was the strongest man on earth. With his little 100-lb wiry frame he grabbed that pole with a 500-lb hog on it, raised it a foot over his short 5’6 body and wedged the other end of that pole through the tree. I didn’t know whether to bow down and worship him or run in embarrassment at my obviously girly self.

With my mouth still standing open in amazement, papaw circled around with his knife in his hand and said, “git back there behind him and hold while I gut him.” Dad placed an old 5-gallon bucket in front of the hog and papaw sliced that hog from navel to neck. “Plop,” guts, intestines, and all manner of parts slid out of that hog and into the bucket. I was feeling just a little nauseous but as long as I looked away it wasn’t too bad. Then it happened…"ppppfffffffffff" trapped inside that hog must have been the gas from every rotten thing he had ever eaten in his life. Imagine if you will the smell of every old Easter egg and rotten potato that you've ever smelled all joined together for one special occasion while your nose is about an inch from the glory spout. I heard my dad snicker. Papaw didn’t flinch or even let on like anything had happened. I stood there unwavering, determined not to budge. I couldn't take it anymore, “Aaaaaahhhhh!!!!,” I screamed. “What in the samhill is wrong with you!?” papaw demanded. “Nothing,” I said, as I continued holding my breath. “Well quit your messing around and hold that hog still!” I stood there in embarrassed silence holding onto that hog for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally we were finished. I walked over and stood in front of the fire for a while and thought about how bad I had it, having to help with killing hogs and all. “You want this tail?” papaw asked. “Sure," I said, "I've got big plans for it." We took all of the meat and divided between papaw and my family. Some of it went to the smoke house to cure and some of it went to mom’s kitchen to be prepared for Christmas breakfast.

I sure did enjoy that tenderloin on Christmas morning. Maybe I didn't have it so bad after all.


Mary January 1, 2013 at 7:12 PM  

I can just see everything happening. :) Our kids are missing out!

Anonymous,  November 25, 2013 at 1:57 PM  

I enjoyed reading this. It's well written and it reminds me of some of my hog killing times.

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