I stood beside my dad. We were leaning together on the fence that formed a boundary for our pigs. We were watching the mother pig nurse her new litter. The mother pig had gradually grown to look like a big balloon. There were many places on her tummy where her newborn babies could connect their mouth for their first taste of milk.
Their bed was plain dirt at best, and mud at worst, but they all seemed happy. Well, almost all. As we watched the mother repeatedly nudge the smallest baby away from her tummy.
I asked my dad why the mother pushed the smallest one away. Dad simply said, “Because she knows that one is going to die.”
I asked Dad if I could have that one.
Dad said, “Yes, you can have it but you need to know it is going to die.”
I ran for a shoebox and padded it with a blanket. I found a little bottle with a nipple and filled it with milk. The baby pig drank. I set my alarm for every two hours during the night. During the day I had a job picking cucumbers. I carefully positioned the baby pig in the shoebox and took it with me to work leaving the pig in the sunshine at the end of my row. I picked faster than anyone so I would have time to feed the baby and still keep up with the crew.
After several days of giving my best the little pig died. I guess I had to learn what the mother pig already knew.
I’m glad for a dad that didn’t protect me from the realities of life. He let me experience pain and loss. He let me try.
The end of the story is not what I had hoped but the memory speaks to the riches of my childhood and the wisdom of my parents.
What would you answer if a child were to ask you the questions I asked my dad?