Ironing the Pigs

Well, it’s finally happened to me. A few days ago I received an email from a cousin I lost track of many years ago. The way this cousin found me, and an email address for me, is by finding and reading Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold. His first romance, and he liked it! (I’ll never get over being surprised when men like my romances.) We’ve been emailing back and forth for several days, catching up and reminiscing.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my mother was Canadian. Our family vacations throughout my childhood were trips to Canada to visit relatives, and while we took side trips to other relatives, our main destination was a farm in Ontario. The memories my Cousin Peter and I share are primarily of those summers on the farm. Although we both grew up in New Jersey, he is two years older, we lived in different towns, and went to different schools, so we didn’t really see a lot of each other except for those vacations and holidays.

One of the memories I mentioned to him is of “ironing the pigs.” He doesn’t remember that one, which means it happened after he reached an age where he stopped coming with us every summer, and I wrote out a description for him. That made me think that maybe those of you who read here and who must have some affection for farm and ranch life to like my books would also enjoy the story.

To give you some background. The farm was one of the family kinds, and the family earned a living with a little of everything and anything that brought in some income. They milked probably about 20 cows, raised chickens for meat and eggs, had both sheep and pigs. They put up so much hay every year to feed their own stock through hard Canadian winters it filled a huge barn to the rafters. They also raised oats, wheat, and corn, and their garden must have covered at least half an acre, maybe more.

Their barn was one of those that looked ancient from the outside, weathered, no paint, and was built into a hill, all but windowless and very dark on the inside.

My cousins, Laura and Jim, ran the farm. That summer my grandmother, my mother, my sister and I were all visiting, and so were Laura’s brother Clare and his wife, Katherine. To appreciate the story you need to know that Katherine was not an appreciator of the outdoor life. She was from the south originally and considered Canada too cold, even in mid-summer. Except for this one, every memory I have of her is indoors, clutching a sweater around her shoulders.

That particular summer our visit coincided with a litter of pigs needing to be given an iron supplement. For some reason watching this appealed to all of us, even Katherine, and we all followed Jim and Laura out to the barn.

One of the challenges of ironing a bunch of piglets is, of course, keeping the ones that have received the iron separate from the ones that haven’t. So Jim and Laura dragged out a big iron pot, very big. Like the big boilers you see at picnics where corn is boiled for clubs or big events. The procedure was that Jim would go in the pen with the sow and her litter (remember this is an old, dark barn), catch a piglet, and hand it over the pen wall to Laura. Laura would then put a dose of the iron powder in the piglet’s mouth and put the piglet in the boiler.

Katherine and my mother volunteered to keep the lid down on the boiler to keep the piglets in. So we began. Have you ever seen piglets? These were all pink, and cute beyond description. Have you ever seen a mature sow? Not so cute and her back had to be hip high on Jim, who wasn’t a big man. Piglets, when chased around the pen, caught, and lifted, squeal. A lot. Loudly. A sow whose piglets are being chased makes grunting roaring noises that will convince  anyone not in the know she’s about to kill someone.

So the piglets squealed, and the sow roared, and Jim and Laura assured all of us non-pig visitors that the sow wasn’t going to kill him, although we had trouble believing it. Piglet after piglet went into the boiler, and all of a sudden there were enough of them that when they all pushed up on the lid, Katherine and my mother couldn’t hold it down. So Katherine sat on it.

Only a few more piglets, and they could still push the lid up, even with Katherine sitting on it, and at that point Katherine started squealing louder than the piglets. Maybe you had to be there and see this non-outdoorsy southern lady sitting on the boiler lid, little pink snouts pushing up all around the edges lifting her into the air as they squealed and she squealed. We all laughed so hard we could hardly stand, but in the end we did manage to keep all the piglets in the boiler until the last one was ironed. Jim was right, for all the noise, the sow didn’t kill him, and in the end she got her piglets back, at least for a few more weeks.

And in my family over the years we regularly used “ironing the pigs” as a reference point for just how funny a particular event was.


This is one of the few photos I have of Peter and me or for that matter any of us in Canada. I have no idea who took it or how I got it. My guess is I’m about 7 here and Peter 9.



5 Responses to Ironing the Pigs

  1. DallasE says:

    Ellen, thank you for that story; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Cheryl Fountain says:

    That’s a great memory Ellen. I enjoyed the story. I am a Canadian living in southwestern Ontario in a rural area. I can totally appreciate the humour.

    Nice way to start the day with a smile.

    Thank you, Cheryl

  3. Thanks, ladies. Cheryl, I don’t think our farm would be considered in the SW. The address was Oro Station. We used to swim in Lake Simcoe, and our “town aunt” who we also visited lived in Collingwood. ~Ellen

  4. McD says:

    A suggestion? Please somehow put that story in your next novel. 🙂
    Loved it!

  5. Thanks, McD. Without researching it, my guess is in the Nineteenth Century, baby pigs that tended toward anemia just became anemic and nobody knew to give them iron much less did it. Then again maybe they were kept in conditions or fed stuff that reduced the need. I think commercial animal diets are kind of like recommendations for humans – this year they say eat such and such, next year they say such and such causes cancer. ~Ellen

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