There are some things in life that you can count on. Some things that you just know are going to happen. Some things you can set your watch to. One of those things is my father.
When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to look for one of my siblings around the house. ‘Dad! Have you seen Biffie?’ Dad’s pat answer, his go-to response, his réponse générale was ‘He got to close to barn and the hogs ate him.’
Many nights I would lie in bed cursing myself for falling prey to that answer. You would think that after hundreds of times, I would learn. Lamentably, no.
One evening I, right after I made the standard blunder, I asked my father why he kept saying that. I think he could hear the irritation in my voice. He paused and his eyes grew distant. Having known my father for the better part of my life, I could tell that I had triggered some basal emotion and, being predicable, I knew what to expect. His eyes squinted slightly and when he spoke there was a catch in his voice. He asked me to sit down next to him and he proceeded to tell me the whole story…
My father was raised in Owensboro, WA. The three biggest exports of that little burg were tobacco, hogs and plutonium-239. Each of these exports were produced in a separate part of the city and they only commingled as they were leaving town. As you can imagine, the storage requirements for crops, livestock and nuclear fuel carried unique requirements, posing a daunting problem for the city’s sole engineer. Each of these was transported from the city by rail, and in a town the size of Owensboro, there was only so much room for such a facility. The decision was ultimately made to create a giant rotating dock where the various cargo could be unloaded in a segreated way. I did some digging at the Benton County Hysterical Society and I was able to find a copy of the engineers original proposal:
Even to my untrained eye, there is an obvious fatal flaw in this layout. Everyone knows that when you are organizing Hogs, Tobacco and Fuel, the order must be clockwise pattern of T-H-NF, not H-T-NF. (Before you ask, yes, I know about the NF-T-H permutation promulgated by Black and Merton, but I think Merton is a jackass.)
The first few years of the switching yard went smoothly. Tobacco, Hogs and Nuclear Fuel were loaded into the trains and shipped off to the four corners of the globe. The tobacco went to Greece, the hogs to Denmark and nuclear fuel went to an undisclosed location. It was not until the late 50’s when the sun spot activity, seen below between the double pipes, approached it’s zenith that the magnitude of the error was made evident:
Following the marked crest in 1959, a breech occurred in the wall separating the hogs and plutonium-239. The fuel was partially consumed by the hogs and they started grow to gigantic purportions. The hogs, now even more hungry than before, could sense the organic matter behind the tobacco wall and promptly used their now-super intellegence to knock over the wall. Frankly, I think their gigantic size had more to do with it. How smart do you need to be to knock over a wall? Seriously. Anywho, we now had gigantic radioactive pigs who were eating tobacco.
It took all the effort that the Washington’s Naval Reserve (America’s 17th line of defense, right between the Cub Scouts and the League of Woman Voters) to subdue the beasts. Look to someone else for a description of the awful slaughter. I can never repeat what dad told me. But I can show you a video of the destruction. Needless to say, the hogs, fuel and tobacco where wiped out. Or so we thought…
Now, if you have ever known a smoker, you know that when the craving hits you had better get out of the way. Nothing is going to stop them from getting their nicotine, particularly nothing as trivial as being vaporized in an atomic blast. The pigs somehow managed to reconstitute themselves and come back to life. Like I said, these were smart little piggies. The newly reanimated super turbo action pigs quickly used what was left of the rail yard and constructed a humongous fortress. A barn actually. To the surprise of many, the hogs made a demand of a telephone so they could communicate with an unknown party. Two brave soles from the navy reserve stepped up to take the challenge, Nicholas Bergman and Benjamin Knack. Since the railroad was still intact enough to a handle a hand car, Nick and Ben were sent to the scene. This particular hand car, nicknamed ‘the paddy’ was older and it would not pump well, so Bergman and Knack had to whack it with some steel rods to get it moving. When the day arrived, Nick and Ben loaded the phone equipment on the hand car. There was some obvious hesitation on their part. They were being ordered to go into a hog-infested, radioactive and nicotine laced site. It looked as if they would not go when their Sargent started screaming, ‘Nick! Knack! Give the paddy a whack and get that hog a phone!’
They did. And what happened when they got to close to the barn? That’s right. They delivered the phones and were on their way.
Now, having a barn full of atomic hogs who were jonesing for a smoke is not all bad. It did provide some tourist opportunities. The constant military presence ensured a constant stream of low ranking government officials who made token visits. As I said, it was not too bad. They even set up a alternative fuel plant to convert the hog waste into energy. As Pop used to say, ‘That smells like money!’ Really, it didn’t.
Years passed away and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange, of a long desert line of traps way back in the bighorn range. Of a little hut by the great divide with a white man stiff and still, lying there by lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill. (I’m sorry. I went into a Robert Service trance. Won’t happen again.)
After four or five years of co-existing, the solution was dropped on our laps by none other than the King of Pork, Mr. Jimmy Dean. The Dean family had been trying to figure out a way to combine the the rich goodness of pork sausage with the rich goodness of tobacco. Since the FDA rejected his application for tobacco flavored sausage, he turned to the town to provide them with tobacco-fed pork. The problem was getting the hogs in a permanently deceased condition, on account’a their tendency to come back to life, don’t cha know. The solution was to come from right under their noses…
As everyone knows, it is common to use boron to slow nuclear reactions. They had all these power plants that had all this boron, so the logical step was to start to flood the hogs with boron. That process started in the mid-60s and was finished by 1972. The hogs had lost their radioactive glow and were now fit for slaughter. Mr. Dean came in himself to stick the first hog. It was quite a party. As the Dean staff winnowed through the herd of hogs, they slowly approached the barn strong hold. Step by step, they slaughtered and processed, slaughtered and processed. Then they slaughtered and processed more. Now they were within inches of the barn. The doors started to creaked open, showing only a razor thin beam of light. As the door swung ponderously, the remaining hogs started to march out in a very deliberate pace. There they were, face to face, the hogs and butchers.
It took many years for commission to finally establish what went wrong. The report was over 500 pages, so I’ll just boil it down for you: The butchers got to close to the barn. The hogs, despite their reduced girth, still maintained their super-intelligence. No one had counted on that. The lead pig started to bark commands (well, grunt, really). The pigs circled the hapless butchers, teeth bared with an evil vengeance in their eyes. Revenge would be theirs today. The butchers got too close to the barn. With squeals of triumph, the pigs lunged forward, eager for their meal. The butchers pull out their knives to defend themselves. But it was too late. The butchers had got to close too the barn.
And the hogs ate them.
My great-grandfather was one of the butchers who lost their lives that day. At the wake, they served Mr. Dean’s tobacco fed pork sausage, which my father felt was in poor taste. I mean literally, it tasted awful. People died for this? It was on that day that my father coined his phrase, more as an emotional protection than anything else.
No one ever did find out what the phones were for, or if they were even used. I supposed we should worry. What’s the worst that could happen…
My fathers shoulders dropped, signifying the end of the story. A deep silence permeated the air. Could this have really happened? Why was this the first time we had heard about it. Had the history books been wiped clean? We all stared at my father with a mix of respect and horror. Unsure of the veracity of the story, we all pressed him to tell us the truth. To this day he has maintained the story. Sure the dates, people, location and variations of plutonium changes, be the story’s core message is constant: Don’t talk to dad when he’s been drinking.
And so it goes.