Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slice of Life Challenge - Day 30 - Death of a Pig


In case this is your first time reading my slices, here is my focus for the challenge: my fifth graders and I are participating in the Slice of Life Challenge this month, and they're writing memoirs.  I thought I'd do the same kind of writing - memory writing - throughout the challenge. I'm going to be writing around photographs and memorabilia.

My favorite author, E.B. White

January 1948
Death of a Pig
by E. B. White
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.  Link to continue...
     My favorite author is E.B. White, and my favorite children's book is Charlotte's Web.  I shared this fondness for E.B. White with my favorite high school English teacher, Robert Uritis.  He even called me at college upon White's death in October of 1985.  I can remember him writing me a letter that year in which he chronicled a stand-off with a groundhog, regretting how it came to an end. White's voice echoed within the writing.  We both loved reading White's Essays of E.B. White, my favorite section being "The Farm."  I am able to connect to each of those stories with life on my little farm.  White's humor and tenderness toward animals have always touched me.  In Charlotte's Web, I identified with Fern and her urgency to save Wilbur.  I wasn't completely overwrought at every animal death - I did bird hunt and fish with my dad, after all, but I never quite got used to the death of my pets.
     One of the most dramatic outbursts I ever had, oddly, was over a goldfish.  I was probably around nine, which is kind of embarrassing.  Surely I would have been old enough to bear it more stoically. I'm not sure why I was so sensitive about that particular goldfish, but when I saw him floating at the top of the bowl, I was just devastated.  I remember hysterically crying, my mom coming in to see what in the world was the matter.  We even had a burial for it.  I don't think I could stomach flushing it down the toilet.  Remember "The Cosby Show" episode when Rudy's fish died?  Well, I was NOT as cavalier as she, and I loved Bill Cosby's earnest attempt to conduct a funeral for the fish.  He reminds me of my dad.
     My dad stood over many an animal grave.  Sometimes he was as broken up as I was.  I remember him wiping away a tear a two, even for a beloved chicken.  Animals around our little farm died in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes it was old age or poor health, sometimes a duckling was carried off in an owl's talons (impressive as that was, it also made me furious) or pulled under the water by a snapping turtle, sometimes a whole pen of chickens were massacred by coyotes.  I wrote a post about our dog, Lady, and her death, and our horse, Colt.  No matter how it happened, I was always upset.  We even had a cow named Charlotte that I think was raised for beef, but somehow survived until she was an old lady.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was attached to her?  Or maybe Dad was?  Or Mom?  Either way, she never became hamburger.  We raised chickens for eggs, not meat.  Selling eggs was my first money-making venture.  We kept ducks for the enjoyment of watching them swim in the pond and to show at the fair. I'm not sure how we would have dealt with being real farmers.  I do love steak and chicken - just not MY cows and chickens!
     Whenever students tell me about the death of a pet, whether it be a guinea pig or dog, I know what their broken hearts feel like.  I can truly empathize.  I know what they're feeling when they get to "that part" of A Mango-Shaped Space, The One and Only Ivan, Wonder, or Where the Red Fern Grows.  I get teary-eyed, too, and we pass Kleenexes around.  One student had me in tears after I read her scrapbook reflection about her beloved dog.  
     E.B. White knew what it was to have a friend in an animal.  One who depends on you and keeps you company.  When one dies, it feels like a personal failure.  And that breaks your heart. 
Front Cover
 "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
  Charlotte was both." 


  1. What a wonderful post, Holly, you knit so many elements of your life together. I suppose, growing up on a farm, this was much more part of your life than fro city slickers like me - but your heart must have broken each time. PS> The photographs from your holiday were awesome - so glad that you had a great time!

  2. Pets are as close as family members and their death is just as traumatic. I don't think I could have survived on a farm.

  3. Oh wow, I am going to miss the daily reflections of your childhood on the farm. I loved the way that you just described some of the lives and deaths of your farm animals, especially Charlotte who I was SO glad never became a hamburger. You were very real farmers and I have loved reading about how much you loved all of your animals.

  4. I can't believe this! Charlotte's Web is also my favorite book! The best first line ever written is "Where is Papa going with that ax!" I have cried every time I read it aloud when I was teaching third grade.
    Today, a student said to me, "The only parts that ever make me cry are when an animal dies." Oh, so true. In Wonder, I wept real tears.
    Holly, I want to send you a copy of my book Blessen. Can you email me with your snail mail address? margaretsmn at gmail dot com.