by Melissa Mejias Parker
Texas wildlife specialist Dr. Billy Higginbotham has a saying: “There are two kinds of landowners in Texas: Those with feral hogs and those that are about to have feral hogs.”
Now that you drug me out here, I’d like to share my half of things which I hope will shed some light on the situation. Most of you are familiar with what I’m about to say, but I think these things bear repeating. My assigned representation has advised me against this, but I’ve always believed that when a storm is coming on, I’m better off just jumping in the pond, get a jump on him. That’s my defense, no disrespect intended.
‘Bout half of all the wild hogs in the US roam the Lone Star State. That’s two million wild hogs on the loose just in our parts alone, causing 400 million dollars a year in damages. In other words, you take one of these out on a weekend trip to Hill Country, well you just saved Texas 200 dollars. Pork’s gotten a lot more popular down here in the Beef State with all the hog killing. House just passed the Pork Chopper Bill giving the OK to issue licenses for hunters to mow’em down from helicopters. It’s a special kind of feeling you get from bloodletting as a public service.
Thing is, these aren’t just any animals. They’re scary fellers, dark and mean and full of bristles. They weigh as much as a full-grown man, and some weigh up to 400 pounds, much as a full-grown Texan. They take the land that our fathers tilled, and our fathers’ fathers, and they shred it to pieces. That’s the difference between eating and feeding. “Opportunistic Omnivores,” they’re called. It don’t matter what it is or where it came from. 150 years ago when our soldiers went back to the fields to bury their dead and gather their wounded, the hogs had gotten there first. The soldiers thought that the wails they heard night after night were from the bullet holes, not from their men getting picked apart, eaten alive. People take to thinking that each pig carcass in the pile is just one more good stone on the great scale of justice.
Putting down hogs is a point of pride for us. I’m not trying to rile anybody up here, I’m just giving the facts. You all know Dusty. Dusty poses his boy with each of his kills—he’s shown me a snapshot of all of ‘em. In an early one you’ve got this two-year-old boy sitting on the head of a massive boar, smiling and tugging on its ears. In another one the kid’s on its back with his legs crossed, holding a newspaper and smoking a pipe. Eventually Dusty had a little girl, Jenny, and he took a photo of her bawling between the thing’s dead jaws, her brother holding a gun to its neck. Dusty’s killed more trophy hogs than anyone I know. He’s lost a lot of baying dogs over the years—he refuses to put them in Kevlar vests like some of the other guys are doing because he believes that for a dog to die in pursuit of a pig is the greatest honor it could have. When I was over at his house for poker some time ago I saw that Jenny had hung a cross on her bedroom door for every dead dog. On each one she’s drawn smaller crosses in pen, lots of them. I didn’t count, so I can’t say for sure, but it looked to be about the number of pigs that Dusty’s done in. All these are accounted for in the master bedroom, wall-to-wall hog heads. The Great Hog, the one with four-inch tusks, sits right over the headboard. He nicknamed that one Lindy, after his mother-in-law Belinda. He thinks that’s a lot more funny than it is, especially since I don’t know a man alive that doesn’t think his mother-in-law looks a little like a boar.
It’s true that feral pigs make it to the news more often than they make news. They usually only put up a fight when cornered, but no, not always. I’ve got another neighbor, Nan, who was attacked in her own backyard first thing in the morning, had her coffee in hand, and still had her slippers on. She found the sow rummaging through her garden, looking for worms under her prized begonias—I’m not kidding around, the woman has been sponsored by fertilizer companies over these begonias—and anyway, the pig just bolted toward her, impaled her leg easy. Nan threw the coffee in its eyes, and it blindly ran through her fence, tearing through the streets. Animal control had to track it down and tie it up with a lasso. Nan needed 80 stitches. And this woman I’ve known for years, who doesn’t have enough hate in her to fill a doll’s thimble, asked for special permission to watch that sow die as they gave it the needle.
Maybe it ended up in the garden by mistake, wasn’t thinking about homes or humans, just following smells. Didn’t charge out of malice, but fear. Sometimes there’s nobody to blame for these things. Driving off-road in your ATV, a sounder comes out of nowhere and your quad gets hit, flips, and when you wake up you’re paralyzed from the waist down. Could be that the pig you crossed fates with got paralyzed too, we don’t know, we don’t hold trials for these kinds of tragedies. Could be that both families ended up in the waiting room. It’s a sad thing.
But not all tragedies are accidental. More and more lines, boundaries, are being crossed, and we can’t take it anymore. Over in McLennan County, there was a guy sitting in his living room watching TV, watching football for Christ’s sake, and a hog walks in through his front door. Like he was invited to watch the game! This poor guy doesn’t even get up from his couch, right, the hog charges like a Linebacker, he doesn’t wait for the snap, he is offsides, offsides, are you blind, are you out of your mind Ref? Except there is no ref, the Cowboys lose, and a man bleeds to death on his living room sofa. And I don’t blame that man for leaving his door open. I blame the pig for walking through it. I blame the pig.
My apologies for losing my composure, it won’t happen again.
Jennifer Mabury, Dusty’s little girl, was about six years old when the seizures began. At first it would only happen once in a while, but then it started getting more frequent. She would get seizures on the playground at school, so she had to wear a helmet to kindergarten. Kids were kids about it. They’d try to see if there was a word or a phrase that could set her off, jabber nonsense at her all day. Then one time during a fit she bit her tongue so hard that blood started spurting out of her mouth. Some girl got drenched, her parents complained, and Dusty pulled her out of school. He didn’t know what to do, her mother didn’t know either. Jenny was always a little bit queer, even from when she was a baby, and they were starting to worry that every seizure she had was making her queerer, queerer brains, queerer eyes. Dusty couldn’t stand it and would start to yell at her every bout she had, Cut it out. Cut it out right now, y’hear me? Get up! Get off the ground, that’s not how we do things. What’s wrong with you?
You know he was desperate because he sent her to stay with Belinda. She owns a small farm north of here, and they all figured it would be good for Jenny, for her to get away for a while. The months go by. Every time Belinda would call they’d let the phone go three rings longer than it takes to get to the receiver because any one of those calls could be the bad one, the one with the news they rehearse in their heads because no matter what they won’t be surprised. But there is never news, she just wants to talk about the soaps while she watches Jenny feed the chickens through the window, or ask if they wouldn’t mind sending her their Safeway coupons from the circular. His wife would sigh. Dusty would let some air out too.
Then there was news. Belinda called to say that she didn’t want to say anything, she was afraid she would ruin everything just by saying it, but Jenny had gone two weeks without having a seizure. Belinda said that they weren’t going to believe it, but she was pretty sure she knew what the reason was. Pal.
Pal the pig.
‘Course, this wasn’t a wild pig, this was one from the farm. Apparently they developed some kind of special bond. Pal would sense when Jenny was about to have a fit and he’d start barking and run right up next to her. She would pet him and he would wait, and then she’d be fine. Jennifer was ready to go back home, on one condition. The heads had to off the walls, the cousins. She couldn’t stand for Pal’s cousins to be hanging in their house. Now you have to understand, Dusty loves those heads, even Lindy. Lars, Pete, Hammy, Two-tone, Beebee—he’s named them all. He specially picked glass eyes that would suit their personalities. Gives ‘em a pat on the snout before he gets in bed. A man can really learn to love a hog once he’s good and dead. But Dus loved Jenny more, so he packed everybody up and put them in the basement. And Pal moved in.
Pal became a celebrity. He was a hero to a lot of you too, I know that. Jenny enrolled back in school and so did Pal. The kids loved him, they’d race him around the playground, and some of them started wearing helmets like Jenny. The teachers liked having him in class, they felt he was a real symbol of something. People were lining up to get his autograph. Local newscasters started dropping by to visit. Jenny would invite them to dinner by the trough and she’d serve them some meatless meal on a blanket so’s they could keep Pal company while he ate. Reporters would always ask her what it felt like to have such a special pig. She’d just say, All pigs are special.
I have to disagree with Jenny on that one. The way I see things is, some pigs are animals and some are beasts. And so if I see one wander into my yard at night, I’m not gonna ask myself, is this a special pig? Or is it one of the two million feral pigs that’s been chewing up Texas like tenderloin? I’m not gonna ask, is this the miracle potbellied pig that cures seizures? No. I’m gonna load up my gun, shoot it in the head, fry it up and eat it, and not wonder if its name is Pal.
I regret some things. Jenny’s seizures came back, and now she isn’t talking. Her eyes look queer. Her mouth too.
I accept some responsibility. I’ll even put up some of the money for the monument that all of you want in the middle of the square. But I do not accept the blame. I blame you. I’m angry, I’m angry right now. You’re vigilantes. This ain’t the way things are done. You’re gonna get a posse to drag me out of my bed down to some holler? You’re gonna put me in a pigskin, slap some hooves on my hands, and hold a tribunal in the mud? You’re disgusting. All of you are disgusting. You may be smart, but you won’t outsmart us forever. We’re making poison to kill all your litter in the womb, and we know we can get you to eat it. You’ll eat anything. So tear me up already! Come on, come to market. Feed on me, you animals, you beasts, you pigs! You’ll make a real nice barbeque in hell—I’ll see you there. I’ll order you up with extra slaw.