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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In the wee small hours

My daughter telephoned me at work to let me know that the elderly woman she had been caring for had died in the night.

She was staying with the woman and her husband in their home. The woman had liver cancer; the man suffers from dementia. My daughter cooked them breakfast, helped them bathe and dress, drove them to medical appointments, made sure they got their medications on time, kept the larder stocked.

She heard the woman moan in the night, turned her over on her side, heard the rattle in her throat. She called the hospice nurse first thing in the morning. The nurse came to the house, pronounced the patient, and signed the death certificate. Then she and my daughter bathed and dressed the body.

I could hear the exhaustion in my daughter’s voice as she related these incidents over the phone. I was certain that she had learned quite a lot while taking care of this couple, much more than she would have learned sitting in class at nursing school.

These thoughts ran through my head as I sat listening to an old Frank Sinatra LP recording after dinner. The album belongs to our next door nonagenarian neighbor; the old turntable was a gift from the elderly woman who died.

I sipped my coffee as Sinatra belted out the words to “All the Way” and softly crooned “In the wee small hours of the morning.”

In the wee small hours of the morning
While the whole wide world is fast asleep
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never ever think of counting sheep.

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You’d be hers if only she would call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That’s the time you miss her most of all.

Literary critic George Steiner opines that “Death is closely related to what I call real music: a certain sense of the end of time and of personal life.”

“When somebody asks how one can have an intense meaning which one doesn’t understand, music is the one place to turn for an answer.”

Right now those words seem to make infinite sense.

“Amour” — A conversation

“So, what did you think of the film?”

My daughter raises her eyes from the menu. “It was…intense.”

“Yes. I’d say that’s a good word to describe it: intense.”

We drove to the restaurant in separate vehicles directly from the cinema, where we had taken in a matinée showing of the 2012 Cannes Palme d’Or film “Amour.”

“What scene stuck in your mind the most?”

My daughter and I both agree on the same scene, the one that is never mentioned in any of the reviews I have read to date.

“I didn’t get the part about the pigeon, especially the second episode.”

“I’m not really sure I understood that myself. The first time round he shoos the bird out of the apartment window. The second time he closes the window first with the express purpose of capturing the bird. It’s not clear what he does after that.”

“Ready to order?” The Japanese waitress stands pencil straight by our table, clothed in black. After the scenes we just witnessed, what better color? I think.

“May I ask you a question first?” my daughter says. “What’s the difference between sushi and sashimi?”

“Ah, sushi is a mixture of raw fish and rice; sashimi is only raw fish.”

“I get it; thanks for explaining that. I think I’ll have a spicy tuna roll with a green garden salad on the side.”

“For you?” The waitress regards my face.

“I’ll try the dragon roll with a salad and a bowl of miso soup.”

“Very good.” The waitress holds her hand out for our menus and disappears down the aisle.

“I’ll tell you what really upset me,” my daughter says, taking a sip of soda. “The way the daughter spoke to her mother after she’d had the stroke. I mean, there the mother is, lying in bed, practically unable to speak; and her daughter’s talking a mile a minute about buying a house and interest rates and—it was so pathetic.”

“Almost as though the daughter couldn’t focus on anything but herself and her own emotional needs.”

“Exactly.”

The waitress reappears with the salads and the soup. We spread our napkins and pull the chopsticks from the paper wrappers.

“The actress did a great job, though,” my daughter says. “It was almost like she actually had a stroke in real life, she played it so well.”

“I think she got an award for her performance,” I say. “Best actress—I’m not sure what it’s called in Europe.”

“They both did a good job—both she and the guy, too.”

“A very realistic performance,” I agree.

The waitress stops by to clear the dishes and brings us our entrées.

“So, do you have to go back to look in on Evelyn and Randy this evening?” I ask my daughter.

“Technically, no. The hospice nurse might drop by. But I’ll probably give them a call just to check in. Evelyn feels better when I call.”

“Did you talk with the hospice nurse about her prognosis?”

“A little bit. She told me less than three months. I never noticed how yellow her eyes were before today.”

“That’s usually not a good sign when you’ve got liver cancer,” I say.

“I guess not.”

We turn to the food on our plates in silence. After a bit I say, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for me to take you to see that particular movie.”

“No, I think it was good that I went. It brought up a bunch of stuff that I’m dealing with right now—even if it was hard to watch.”

“It’s always hard to watch,” I say, fumbling a piece of sushi with my chopsticks.

Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in Amour