Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • The years we lived year round on the island I raised pigs.

    Like most things I get myself into I didn’t have much of an idea before I got started. I grew up with ‘we’ll see’ as the default answer to almost all requests and I had concluded early that too much research stunts ambition.

    I asked Old Morris down at the wharf if he knew anyone who sold piglets.

    Old Morris spat into the corner of the room. Pigs and green paint is bad luck on a boat, he said.

    I wondered why green but I was on a mission and didn’t want to get sidetracked.

    I’d rather have a steak than a pan full of grease and a porkchop, Lyford said.

    Seeing as he was selling yellow and red streaked flounder roe, cod cheeks and slimy grey cod livers, I didn’t see as how his culinary recommendations carried much weight. Anyway it was piglets I wanted not chops.

    The old man wouldn’t even let a ham sandwich aboard, said Mick.

    The collective wisdom and local lore at the wharf had gotten me exactly nowhere. So I headed out to ask other experts.

    Bud toured the back roads in the dirty white Caddy he got when he sold the Backsider.

    I must have heard the story a hundred times of how he threw a belligerent drunk through the front window of the bar. The place was boarded up tight then, waiting for better times or new dreams or both, and Bud cruised with a pink plastic bottle of Pepto between his knees and a warm beer in his hand. Whenever he spotted me walking he shoved the door open and waited till I got in.

    Walking’ll kill you, he said, lighting his next cigarette from the end of the last one.

    After we discussed his latest trips to the veterans’ hospital, I explained I was looking for pigs.

    Fella up on the Buttermilk road sells ‘em, he told me. Can’t miss the fuckin’ place. Old saggin’ barn right there on Raggedy Ass Corner.

    It’s on raggedy ass corner on the butter milk road, I told Mick. I hope it meant more to him than it had to me.

    He popped the first beer of the case I set on the seat between us, drained it, belched, flipped it out the window into the bed of the pick-up and popped open a second before putting the truck in gear.

    What the hell you goin’ to put ‘em in, he asked.

    We looked at each other.

    Guess it depends on how big they are, I said.

    He looked over at me and beat the wheel with his free hand laughing until the truck swerved and he had to brake and stop in the middle of the road.

    Well, he said. We’ll see bout that won’t we.

    The sagging roof on the old barn was a patchwork of shingles. Random colors and textures applied in odd years. Chickens scratched in the yard and a black and white guinea fowl set up a clatter until the old man shuffled out. Stained shirt, feedstore cap, ancient suspenders holding up his baggy jeans, and unlaced boots. He tilted his head back to get a good look at us. Blinking and unsteady, eyes watering in the early spring sunshine while we waited, restless and ready. Young bucks.

    Mick’s eyes bugged when the guinea hen hopped up and rode the old man’s shoulder.

    You fella’s fishing, the old man asked.

    Likely it was the litter of empty five-gallon buckets for bait in the back of the truck and my hip boots rolled down but it could have equally been Mick’s hands and the dead white band across his forehead when he scratched his peeling nose with the brim of cap.

    I told him I was staying out to Gotts Island.

    And you’re raising pigs, he said.

    Yeah. I got chickens and geese and a couple goats, thought I’d try pigs this year, I told him.

    Mickey sniggered.

    The old man looked at me for a moment like maybe we had met in the store or on the street one time and he was trying to recollect when and where.

    I used to fish, the old man said leading the way across the barnyard.

    Mick had changed out of his hipboots into his shore shoes to drive and was making a slow go of it trying to avoid the farmyard mess. Fuckin farmers, he muttered.

    Still got the compass from my old boat round here somewhere. Well here’s the pigs, he said, shoving the door open to a low shed.

    Oh my sweet dying eye jeezus, breathed Mickey.

    The sow was enormous. Her piglets swarmed for her teats from the other side of a low but heavily built fence.

    Gotta have a fence ‘tween ‘em, the old man told us. Christ she gets to rolling and she’ll crush the lot of them.

    Piglets were $30 dollars that year and I bought three. The old man plucked them out the litter and dropped them neatly into empty feedsacks.

    We each lugged one across the farm yard and set them in the truck.

    You fellas wait here a minute, the old man said and disappeared into the house.

    What the hell’s he up to, Mick asked. We oughta hoot and drive ‘er, tides going.

    The old man came back carrying a battered blue box with worn brass fastenings.

    Here, he said, I got no use for it now. My boy took the boat and sold it. He handed me the box.

    I opened the worn brass hasp and saw the old box compass set in its gimbals.

    She never needed no adjustment, he said. Stayed true all those years.

    I had no words but a bare thank you.

    He smiled and for a moment his eyes cleared.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.