Most everyone who reads this blog already knows me, but for those of you who weren’t aware,
I had a baby last Christmas.
(The details of which are a separate story for another day.)
His name is August but usually we just call him Gus. Or Gussy. Gustmas. Goose.
I told my friend Heather that the poor boy has no chance of knowing his real name, seeing as we call him so many other things. (In fact, I am curious to see what he pens when he writes his name for the first time.)
My husband had suggested the name August along with a handful of others on a list. My name is April (May) and I was sold on the name when JB said, “He could have something in common with you (both having month names) and we could call him Gus.”
Yes. Gus. Great nickname for a boy. I looked at my round-faced jovial husband with twinkling eyes, whom my son has a great chance of looking like as an adult, and thought, “Yes, he could pull off the name.”
The Original Gus
Little August isn’t the first Gus to come into my life. When I was a kid a big yorkshire boar arrived at our farm, having been betrothed to our lady pigs. His name was Gus.
Most farmers treat their animals in a very business-like way. The animals are there to perform a service (lay eggs, provide dairy or meat, or procreate) and are therefore not fraternized with.
But my parents were fledgling farmers, neither having had grown up on a farm. They didn’t have any rules about how us kids should interact with the animals, and so we made every pig, cow and sheep –not to mention the obvious dog and cat–our pet. (We had chickens, too, but such careless, brainless creatures were not worthy of names or special attention.)
Boars are typically fierce animals. They are big, strong and smart. They have a very low center of gravity and can push just about anything around, including people. They grow tusks.
Despite these facts, my parents still let their young children befriend the 780 lb boar, Gus.
(Pardon the photo quality–my brother meticulously scanned a scan of the original for me, as I was too impatient to wait to dig up the original at my mom’s house, which is far away.)
And Gus did not let us down. Gus was a very friendly pig. He loved getting pet. And scratched. He was especially fond of my Dad scratching his back with the big rake and would grunt his approval when this happened. He would stand really still while my Dad ran the big metal yard rake up and down his back. Sometimes the scratching would be so pleasant that Gus would fall asleep while standing there, crashing to the ground onto his side in scratch-coma, legs sticking straight out. An unknowing observer might have thought him scratched to death.
While we had every other animal that farms could boast, we never owned a horse. Which wasn’t a big deal when we had Gus. He was more than happy to give rides. My brother, his primary child caretaker, didn’t even need a saddle or reigns. Just climb on Gus and away he’d go.
We did not find pig riding to be very unusual, but we did think it was a cool trick. And we were proud of our friend Gus. One day our neighbor who lived on a large hog farm came over to play. He was initially disinterested when my brother brought him down to the barn to see our prized pig. He had hundreds of pigs at his place, none of them pets. But when my brother opened the gate to go in with the pigs, the neighbor came to life and shouted, “Whoa! That’s a boar! What are you doing?!?”
My brother was going to ride him, of course! This astonished the neighbor. And I’m not sure if he ever came over to play after that.
When you live on a farm you get a lot of firsthand education about life. You learn about babies being born, sickness, caring for others, death. You also learn about sex, whether you wanted to or not. I remember seeing Gus do his thing with the lady pigs and marveling at his corkscrew penis. It perplexed me. And years later I distrusted my memory of this. Surely I was making that up. A corkscrew penis makes zero sense, right?
But it’s true.
Unsolicited by me, my brother told me this in an email a few days ago:
“Watching Gus do the ‘birds and the bees’ thing for the first time was better than anything on the Discovery Channel. His penis was shaped like a corkscrew and spun like it, too! As a small boy I was initially horrified but ultimately amazed.”
(There’s your fun fact for the day, readers. You’re welcome.)
One of the sad things about farm life, after you’ve named and loved each animal, is saying goodbye to them. My parents eventually ended their pig farming, finding cattle more lucrative. The girl pigs were sold, leaving us with just Gus. And even though my parents weren’t professional farmers, they still couldn’t keep an animal that didn’t have a purpose. Gus had to go.
My mom said that they tried to find a home for Gus, but at 780 pounds, farmers felt he was too big to mount the lady swine. My Dad sadly loaded him into the trailer and brought him up to the auction, where he would be bought and turned into…bacon. When they got there my Dad was to deliver the boar to his pen among the myriad of other pens containing animals at the auction. So he opened the door to the trailer and said, “Come on, Gus!”
When that big grunting boy with tusks walked out of the trailer, everyone around freaked out and started climbing fences to safety yelling, “Hey! That’s a boar! Watch out! Boar!” And they watched in amazement as Gus plodded along down the aisles behind my dad, obeying him to the last word and walking into his pen, where Dad shut the door and said goodbye.
We had dozens of named animals on the farm. Porky, Petunia, Portia, Orville and Wilber. Hershey, Valley, Nestle, Dolly, Rosie and Prompter. Bud, Abby, Rascal, Cuddles and Charles Barkley. Reba, Sam, Holly, Polly, Kaleipso, Twinky, Charlie and Max. I could go on but it makes me miss all these pets.
But besides our beloved Jack Russells, no other animal lives on in our memories like Gus.
He was some pig.