Spring pig

“A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another.” E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

E. B. White opens his children’s classic with the birth of a litter of spring pigs. One of them, the runt of the litter, will just make for trouble; and so Mr. Arable is poised to do away with it.

“This is the most terrible case of injustice I have ever heard of,” announces Fern, his daughter, the young girl who will save the pig on her own terms.

Thoughts of Fern ran through my head when my younger daughter pulled into the driveway with a large yellow bin sitting on the seat beside her.

“What you got there?” I asked.

Proudly, she pulled the bin from the car and held it down so we could see inside. There, nestled in with old newspapers and several towels, lay a pink spring piglet.

“The sow at the farm had a litter, but she killed all of them except for this little guy. We rescued him from certain death. His name is Lucky, because he’s lucky to be alive.”

She carried the yellow bin into the kitchen and sat it on the floor. From her pocket she pulled a plastic baby bottle, filled with formula. “Wanna feed him?” she asked, handing me the bottle.

I pushed the rubber nipple gently against the piglet’s pink snout. He soon latched on and began to suck and swallow like a hungry newborn.

“How does he get along without his mother?” I asked.

“He’s got his own bed under a heat lamp at the farm. He’s gotta be fed nearly every hour round the clock. I’m usually up with Mr. Christensen anyway, so I offered to take a couple of feeding shifts over the weekend.”

Mr. Christensen is the octogenarian that my daughter takes care of during the week. He’s got Alzheimer’s dementia. My daughter makes his meals, bathes him, helps him get dressed, drives him to the adult daycare program at the assisted living home, and makes sure he gets to his doctors’ appointments on time. She did the same thing for his wife up until she passed away this past February.

Lucky dropped the nipple from his mouth and lay down in the bin. He pushed against the towels with his snout and closed his eyes. For all appearances he looked to be one contented piglet.

“Are you going to keep him here overnight?” I asked my daughter.

“No, he might get cold. He’ll probably do best in his own bed under the heat lamp. I just wanted to stop by and show him to you.”

She picked up the bin with the sleeping piglet inside and carried it back outside to the car. The engine roared to life.

“I’ll drop by sometime next week for dinner,” my daughter said. “I’ve gotta get back to the farm to look in on Mr. Christensen.”

I watched her back down the driveway, negotiating the tight turn into the street. She waved from the open window. In that moment, she seemed supremely happy.

I reckon spring piglets will do that to you. Taking care of older folks who can’t fend for themselves does that as well.

"Lucky" 2013 © Brian T. Maurer

“Lucky” 2013 © Brian T. Maurer

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Web and Flow

On the morning of the day prior to departing for Atlanta, where I was scheduled to give a formal presentation about a pig and a spider, I rolled out of bed early—it was my Saturday to cover the office.

While toweling off after my shower, I noticed a grey spider descending from the light above the bathroom sink. Her spinnerets formed a nearly invisible silken thread as she dropped down to hang motionless before the mirror. Shortly, she retreated up to the light and selected another point from which to begin a new descent. This time she dropped down to the shelf below the mirror and crawled behind my toothbrush. Gingerly, I nudged it to the side to reveal the spider resting by a tiny puddle of water.

She measured a centimeter in length, double that if you included her front legs. I could see the array of her black eyes and mouth-parts moving as she drank from the miniature pool.

I exited the bathroom to dress, and when I returned I found that the spider had struck out in a new direction, cantering across the wall to the shower stall, where she tucked herself in behind the aluminum molding.

Here is E.B. White’s description of Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web: “Stretched across the upper part of the doorway was a big spiderweb, and hanging from the top of the web, head down, was a large grey spider. She was about the size of a gumdrop.”

I’ve seen plenty of spiders around our place, but never a solid grey one like this one in the bathroom. Uncanny!

With the exception of a minor glitch in the sound system (thankfully, there was a savvy tech in the room to remedy the situation), the presentation at the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta, What Charlotte’s Web Can Teach Us about Caring for Critically Ill Children, came off well.

When I arrived at the lecture room 10 minutes before we were scheduled to start, I counted 8 tables with 10 chairs at each table, and no one to fill them. I needn’t have worried—within minutes the hall was packed to standing room only. One group actually huddled on foot at the back for small group discussion over the entire two hours. (I found out afterwards that we hosted 125 attendees.)

I told a story as part of the introduction, then proceeded to show the video clips from Charlotte’s Web, pausing intermittently for discussion and feedback.

Several folks gave us two thumbs up afterwards. One fellow who works in interventional cardiology asked me if I might be able to give the same presentation at the institution where he works—Children’s Hospital in Dallas.

I also met a fellow who, after he learned who I was, told me that he’s read every column I’ve written for the past two years. Now what are the odds of that happening?

When I returned home, after I unpacked my bag and stowed my paraphernalia in the proper places, I retired to the bathroom. As I stood outside the shower, reaching in to test the water temperature with one hand, once again I glimpsed the grey spider. She descended from the storage shelf by a single silken thread, hanging motionless for a moment in the air, before continuing down to light upon a purple plastic box lying on the floor.

I bent down to have a closer look and studied her carefully. I was certain she was the same spider that I had seen that day before departing for Atlanta. The color and body size were identical, right down to her tiny facial features. Then there was the fact that she inhabited the same small room as before.

But what clinched it for me was when she said, “So tell me: how did the presentation go?”