Nostalgia: JEZEBEL

By Susan DuBar
Central Virginia Genealogical Association member

I don’t know what got into my grandmother that summer. Was it seeing the children next door with a pet pig? Pets moved in and out of their house as might be expected from the children of a veterinarian. Petunia had been the runt of a litter; neither the sow nor the farmer wanted to be bothered with her. My grandmother thought she was cute, and decided that I, too, should have a pet pig. I would have preferred a pony but didn’t really have a choice.

Not just any pig would do—mine had to be a purebred, black-and-white belted Yorkshire from a local farmer. Apparently all had been arranged before my arrival, so within a few days we headed out to Harley’s place, just outside of town. As my grandmother and Harley chatted, I wandered up and down the rows of pens in the barn, staring in fascination at the tiny piglets nursing in contentment, dwarfed by their huge mothers. Some pens held sows whose excessive girth indicated they were about to give birth; other pens held older litters squabbling over food or sleeping in haphazard piles. It was difficult to hear mere human voices over the cacophony of grunts and squeals, but eventually I noticed the two adults beckoning me to come over. Harley gave me a tiny piglet to hold; he said she was less than 24 hours old. Her mother had too many babies to take care of all of them.

Like all infants, baby pigs need frequent feeding. I had the privilege of giving her a bottle as soon as we got home. She was a little messy at first, but soon caught on and polished it off in a hurry. A cardboard box on the enclosed back porch was her bed. That lasted one night as she quickly learned to climb out and squeal for attention. My grandmother must have been prepared to shoulder the main responsibility for the baby; my mother spent her adult life denying all things rural, and I was too young. At any rate, it was my grandmother who had to get up for the two a.m. and four a.m. feedings.

The cardboard box on the back porch, while a temporary expedient, really wasn’t satisfactory for a fast-growing piglet, so she soon moved out to the back yard and into an old safe that had been converted to use as secure housing for previous pets. The screen door allowed plenty of air.

Picking out a name for the piglet was my job, and I wasn’t getting very far with it. Petunia had been taken, Porky was a boy’s name, and what was left after that? I had been sent to the grocery for a few items and mentioned my dilemma to the proprietor. She thought it over as she filled out the charge slip and suggested “Jezebel” after the popular song by Frankie Laine. I liked the sound of it, so Jezebel she became.

Naturally I had to introduce her to the community, and what better place than the ice cream social held in the church yard across the street. I don’t know if the ladies were more amused by her name or by the sight of a bottle-fed piglet swathed in a pink baby blanket, but they were remarkably tolerant and made us welcome. Jezebel didn’t stay long; I put her to bed and returned to enjoy the festivities. Those women could cook! Jezebel hadn’t been the only pig in attendance. There were plenty of the human variety tempted by the array of cakes and pies, hot chicken sandwiches, deviled eggs, and the star of the event, homemade, hand-cranked ice cream in several flavors.

Jezebel wasn’t a bottle baby for long; she quickly graduated to mash (standard pig feed), to my grandmother’s relief. That she thought we were her family was clear; she was happy roaming the yard so long as she had one of us in sight. We had to be careful if she followed us to the garden. She could easily get lost among the beans and would squeal pathetically for us to come rescue her. She gave us all a chuckle the day she discovered a minuscule puddle on the concrete slab behind the house. With happy little grunts she did her best to wallow in that teacup of water, leaving no doubt that she knew what pigs were supposed to do.

Jezebel had all but outgrown her quarters by the time my visit was ending. There was no problem finding a home for her—my grandmother had known all along that her cousin would let Jezebel join the pigs on his farm in the next county. She would visit him from time to time, and always made a point of seeing Jezebel and reporting her progress to me in a post script to one of her weekly letters.

That was the year her cousin discovered the government would pay him NOT to farm; he sold all his pigs, including Jezebel and her litter of eight. The proceeds from Jezebel’s sale were used to buy a nicely trained pinto named Joker for me to ride whenever I visited, so I got my pony after all.

© Susan DuBar 2015. All rights reserved.