*Originally published in July, 2014. (4-H Season 1)
By the time you read this, the county fair will almost be over. As a first-time 4-H mom, I will be exhausted from a week’s worth of activities that begin in the early morning and end late into the evening.
I will also be consoling my child. My child, who opted for a 4-H project over playing baseball; my son, who carefully picked out his animal, a pig he named Wyldstyle (if you have seen the Lego Movie, you will recognize this name).
For nearly four months, we drove to the farm where he fed her, washed her, cleaned her pen, learned to walk with her and direct her steps; all with guidance from the farm owner, 4-H advisors, and our wonderful pigpen-pals and parents.
She was stubborn, moody, often rough, and through it all, my son learned to handle her. He also learned that Wyldstyle liked to have her back scratched and enjoyed belly rubs, too.
I watched him grow to adore Wyldstyle, the market hog. Like all market hogs, Wyldstyle unknowingly-or, perhaps knowingly-faced the same fate they all do.
Back in the day, I too, showed market hogs at the county fair. I learned quickly- after I mistakenly gave my first one a name-not to get attached. But it happens and I’m not as tough as I used to be.
As the county fair approached this year, I noticed my son having moments of quiet when we left the farm. I knew what he was thinking about and it broke my heart. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. His first county fair was coming up; he was supposed to be excited.
And he was, just not about how it would end.
Let me preface this by saying, before we committed to the project, we made sure he understood that a market hog is terminal. He knew. I knew. And, as a 4-H alumni and supporter of the organization, I said, “Yes, it will be a good experience for you.”
And it has been. He scored an A at Skill-a-thon. He can read an ear notch with his eyes closed. He has made new friends. And he knows what it means to truly care for an animal.
Although Wyldstyle’s life was short, I believe it had purpose. She wasn’t fattened up just for dinner. She was a teacher and a friend to my son. And before you accuse me of being a spy for PETA, know that I like bacon, too.
And there have been moments with this animal when bacon never sounded so good. But there were also days she looked at my son and I believe she was trying to tell him something. If she was aware of how their story would end, I hope she would thank him for giving her short life meaning and for treating her well.
If it weren’t our family, then Wyldstyle would be with another family teaching them similar lessons. Regardless, her fate would likely be the same.
My son is hurting and because of that so am I. But I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t give up the memories we made or the time I spent with him because of Wyldstyle and 4-H.
Even if my son decides to never take a market animal to the fair again, at least he now knows why. He knows what it entails and what the experience means and how the story ends. He also knows that Wyldstyle’s life wasn’t in vain; that his beloved pet-project had a reason for being with him.
So, until next time, if there is one, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”