This week we are doing short stories. I have definately been waiting for this since we started but I did struggle with the topic. I wanted to do something new and fun and different, but, in the end, I chose to write what I know. This story is dedicated to my dad and my whole family back home on the funny farm!
“Sophie,” my mother yelled, “get out of bed right now or I am selling the pig!”
I rolled over and groaned. I looked at the clock. 6:30 A.M.
“Sophia Grace Smith,” she yelled again, “NOW!”
I rolled out of the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I grabbed my glasses off the nightstand and moved out of my bedroom. I stumbled down the stairs and met my mother’s disapproving stare.
“I have been yelling at you for the last ten minutes. You need to start caring about your project if you want to win.”
There are three things that every 4-H member knows. One, you want to be the fitting and showing champion. Two, if you do win, you get to go to the round robin. Finally, you never spook the steers. The last one is taught to us out of fear; no good parent wants their child to be crushed by a runaway steer, so our parents give us a five minute lesson on steer safety before swine showing boot camp begins. You see, kids don’t really care about anything other than staying away from thousand pound cows, but their parents have much higher aspirations.
Kids, like me, are dragged from our beds before the sun rises to whack pig’s behinds with sticks while pretending we are actually controlling the large, smelly animal. Parents are required to protect the children from cattle, but, however, they are entitled to throw, squirt, yell, and kick whenever the child whines or the pig does not feel like cooperating.
Swine boot camp started in the middle of July, and by now, the first of August, it was our lives. I walked out to our barn with Sarah, my sister, and Carter, my brother, we let the pigs out of their pens, and we picked up our sticks. Carter gave his pig a hard whack, and it took off across the pasture.
“Carter,” yelled Sarah, “you can’t hit him like that or he will never be tame!”
“He doesn’t do anything unless I hit him that hard!”
“Do you want to win the show?”
“No,” the tears started to fall from Carter’s eyes, “I just don’t want to get ran over by the stupid pig.”
“Stop crying and grow up,” shouted Sarah from across the pasture as she moved closer to Carter, her stick raised. I could see that this was getting out of control. Sarah liked to pretend that she was Carter’s mom, and I was usually the one who had to keep her from killing him when he didn’t listen.
“Honestly,” I said as stepped closer to the action with my pig following closely behind, “he’s nine years old. Worry about yourself.”
“Fine, let him do whatever he wants. He is the one who will look like an idiot when the show starts.”
“Sophie,” Carter cried, “I don’t want to look like an idiot.”
“Then practice!” I felt bad for yipping at Carter, but we seemed to have had this same argument every day for the past month and a half. We practiced in silence after that. I walked my own pig around the pasture for two hours until I decided that we could finally go back into the house without our mother yelling at us.
“Okay guys,” my mother said as she walked out of the bathroom wearing a bathrobe. She got to shower while we were outside getting covered in pig poop. “Sophie has the vacuuming, Sarah has the kitchen floors, and Carter needs to dust.”
There was an audible groan from the three of us who were lying across the couch watching some old sit-com on T.V. Land.
“Mom, are you kidding me? You wake us up at six in the morning and then expect us to want to clean for you?”
“Sophia,” she shouted back, “you don’t talk to me like that. Do your jobs or I will take away your iPods and cell phones.”
“Mom,” Sarah groaned.
“I am going to sell the pigs!”
I really don’t know why that was such a threat, but it worked for us. We groaned again, but we got up and did our jobs.
My dad came home at noon for lunch. I had just climbed out of the shower when my mother called me down to the table.
“How were the pigs this morning?” my dad asked.
“Fine,” I said as I put a spoonful of casserole into my mouth.
“How long did you work with them?”
“About two hours,” I said.
“There is only a week left until the fair—you really should be working with them more. We will go out after we are finished eating.”
“Dad, I just took a shower!”
“Sophie, you are sixteen years old. People are expecting you to win. You will not do that unless you are more dedicated.”
My dad had been a faithful member of the 4-H throughout his entire childhood. He worked with his project from the time he woke up in the morning until he fell asleep late in the night. He had been disappointed with me since I was nine years old when he found out I did not share that same vigor towards my agricultural education.
We practiced for an hour that day at lunch. I walked the stupid pig around and around while my dad threw, squirted, yelled, and kicked until the pig and I did what we were told. I almost did a little cheer when he told me he needed to head back to work. I ran back into the house, up the stairs, and into my bathroom to take another long shower.
In my hometown, the county fair and rodeo was a huge deal. I had been going to the swine show with my father ever since I was a small girl. He pointed out the best showmen and told me to remember their technique.
There are two shows for every species: quality and fitting and showing. Quality is all based on luck and how much money you have to spend. The Grand Champion of that show sold for the most money at the end of the week, but it did not come with the bragging rights that the fitting and showing title brought.
Fitting and showing is all based on talent. You spend all summer working on a winning smile, learning to effortlessly control your pig, and studying the answers to a judge’s questions for twenty minutes in the ring, yet a ton of practice isn’t always enough to win. You still have to put a judge’s special preferences into consideration. If he doesn’t like your bow, you’re screwed. If he doesn’t like the food you fed your pig, you’re screwed.
“Sophie,” I heard my mother’s voice shout, “time to get up.”
I knew better than to argue. It was 5:00 a.m. My mom didn’t want to be up anymore than I did.
“Ugh,” I thought, “pig weigh- ins.”
I pulled on my same old jeans and sweatshirt that I had pulled on every morning and stumbled out of my bedroom. I went out to the barn to find my family waiting there. We grabbed our sticks and started the miserable job of persuading the pigs to go into the trailer.
Pigs generally do not like to be put into trailers. That is probably the fourth thing that most 4- Hers know. They will fight and squeal the entire time, and you will want to kill them. It was a long hour before we had the pigs loaded into our trailer.
We pulled into the fairgrounds about twenty minutes later and started to wait. Pig weigh- ins were the worst part about the entire project. You had to be up early, with pigs, waiting in a line for hours. And, when you finally got in, you had to wash and feed your pig before you could go get breakfast and go back to bed. It is not a pleasant experience, but it means that you are close to the end of the project.
“Sophie, time to get up,” I really hated the sound of my mother’s voice by the end of the summer. I thought you were supposed to be able to sleep in during the summer.
“Sophie,” I heard Sarah come into my room and sit down on my bed, “show time.”
The morning of a show is intense. We, of course, are up early to shower and make ourselves look cute. You had to look nice to impress a judge. That not only included clean hair and a big bow but new cowgirl jeans, a collared shirt, and a belt. I had special clothes that I only wore one time a year for the occasion. It was like the prom only with pigs and cowboy boots instead of guys and tuxedos.
We pulled into the fairgrounds before the general public even thought about being there. Our pigs had to look as great as us. We had a water fight with the pigs as they ran in circles while we tried to spray them with a hose and lather them with soap. Then we had to clip them.
“Sophie, you missed a spot,” said Sarah.
“You try to do this while the stupid pig is moving!”
Carter chimed into our conversation, “I need to clip my pig, too!”
“Wait your turn!” Sarah and I yelled together.
I ran the clippers up the pigs back while Sarah tried to hold the pig steady, but the pig had different ideas. He looked Sarah straight in the eyes and shook. Water went everywhere. The time we spent perfecting our hair and make- up was in vain. We looked like we had just been caught in a freak rainstorm. Carter was rolling on the ground in laughter.
My father came over when he saw our dilemma.
“Go get yourselves cleaned up, girls,” he said as we climbed out of the pen and handed the clippers to Carter, “I will finish up here.”
We had just gotten back when they started calling in groups to show.
Carter was in the youngest group, so he went first. Sarah and I went in the show ring to watch him. His pig did not want to do anything for him, but he was not the only one struggling to hang on to a pig. The nine year old group was hysterical to watch. Pigs ran circles around the kids while they frantically tried to figure out which pig actually belonged to them. It lightened the mood before my dad pulled Sarah back into the barn to prepare for the show.
I was in the barn watching my pig when Sarah finished her show.
“Second,” Sarah said.
“That’s good,” I tried to sound excited. I knew Sarah wanted first.
“He beat me again!”
I knew she was talking about Jared Hanks. She had been beat by the same kid every single year, and it only irritated her more every year.
“He is so obnoxious. How does he always beat me?”
“You’ll beat him someday. I am sure you did great.”
“I thought so, too! How long until you go on?”
“I am in about ten minutes,” I said as I climbed out of the pig pen.
“Good luck. I am going to go sit with mom.”
I sat next to the pen until my dad came in.
“How is it going in there?” I asked.
“You need to be calm. Make slow movements,” my dad said.
“Slow movements. I’ve got it.”
“Stare a hole in the guy. Smile.”
A fair board member came out then, “Senior division!” he shouted.
My dad unlocked my pig’s pen and I grabbed my stick. My hand was trembling as I stepped into the show ring with my pig directly in front of me. I stared a hole in the guy, but my nerves got the best of me, and I could tell I was not moving calmly. I had never been more nervous as I was the moment the judge grabbed the microphone off the table.
“This is a great group of senior showmen. I have seen all skill levels and all kinds of showmen.” He started to dismiss showmen from the ring. I couldn’t believe it when he made it to the top three and I was still in the ring.
“I have picked the young lady in the red shirt as my first place senior showmen,” he said as he looked in my direction. I looked down to see I was wearing a red shirt and I was the only “young lady” left in the ring. I still couldn’t believe it as the judge handed me the blue ribbon.
My dad grabbed me in tight embrace as I stepped out of the ring. It only lasted a second, though, before he started talking strategy.
“You looked great out there, sweetie,” my dad said, “but you were still too intense. Here watch this.”
He showed me another way to show the pig, and I tried it. My pig moved calmly along with me. It was only minutes later when my grandfather came to the barn as well with his tips he had given my dad thirty years before. I listened as both of them gave me tricks to win the show.
“We are not done, yet,” my dad started, “You have real chance of winning this show and then we will make it to the round robin.”
The round robin is the place that every 4-H member wants to make it to. The Grand Champions of every breed come together to pick the best showmen at the fair. The five participants have to show every animal. It was hard to learn to show sheep, steer, dairy cows, and horses in less than a day, but my dad had made it my goal from a young age. I wanted to be there, and, for the first time, I had a shot of making it to the end.
I stepped slowly into the show ring with my eyes glued on the judge. My pig followed my every move with ease. The judge stepped closer to me and I prepared to answer whatever questions he chose to ask me.
“Hamp- York cross.”
I rattled off the ingredients found the feed I gave my pig.
“What is the most favorable part of the pig?”
The asked me more questions about my project and I answered them with confidence. He walked away with a smile on his face that I flashed back at him as I gathered my pig back up.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the judge started. My throat was in my stomach. “Give these kids another round of applause. You have seen a fantastic group of kids here today.”
The crowd applauded. I glanced at my mother as she motioned for me to keep my eyes on the judge. I turned back around and waited for the results.
“My reserve champion showman will be the boy in the white shirt with the blue- butt pig.” The judge rattled off the positives and negatives about the boy that had beaten Sarah. I could feel her smirk behind me. She was unbelievably happy that he had not won the show.
“And, now for my grand champion showman,” the crowd applauded again, “this young lady has consistently gotten better all day. She always listens to what I had to say, and she stared a hole through me all day,” the judge started to walk in my direction. When he reached me, he shook my hand and handed me a belt buckle, the prize for winning the show.
My competitive mother had jumped out of her seat with her arms high in the air. She had been waiting to be the winner since I was nine years old. I turned around to see my father outside the gate. The smile on his face told me everything. He had never been more proud of me. I shook the judge’s hand and walked out of the ring. Sarah was waiting with a hug, and she walked my pig back to the barn. My dad pulled me into a hug.
“I am so proud of you, sweetie,” he said as he let me out of his tight embrace.
My mother had made it from the stands by then, and she hugged me.
“Good Job, Sophie Grace!” she said, “I didn’t know you were that great of a showman. I bet you are glad I woke you up all those mornings now.”
“Oh yeah, mom,” I said with a smirk, “I love getting up early.”
“Do you need anything?”
“A diet coke would be fantastic right now.”
“I’ll run grab that for you,” she gave my dad a quick hug and walked away to get me the soda.
“We had better get working,” my dad said as we walked into the pig barn.
“On what? The show just ended!”
“The round robin! Can you believe that you get to be in it?”
“Oh my gosh! How long do I have to get ready?”
“Just a couple of hours—don’t be nervous, sweetie, you’ll be great!”
“I’m nervous,” I said. The round robin had been a dream I really didn’t think would come true.
“You just have to do what you just did in the ring. You can do it, sweetie,” my dad encouraged.
“Let’s do it,” I said as we walked towards the steers.