Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, August 4, 2018

29. The Sow and the Drive-In ... THE FARM IN PINE VILLAGE

Early that spring, sows were farrowing, and Joe had one sow left over after filling all his individual hog houses. He arranged panels wired to metal fence posts to form a narrow chute to help guide the sow from the hog lot to the stall in the southwest corner of the barn. Unbeknownst to Joe, Robert was hiding near the chicken house. Robert held a corn cob that he planned to throw at his father in an ambush whenever Joe might walk within range. Joe often entered into the fun of such mock attacks, and Robert looked forward to the surprise.

Meanwhile, Joe was ready to steer the sow toward the barn. He stood behind her, and he took hold of the top edges of the panels to steady himself, should the sow try to back up. He began nudging her forward.

“Go on! Get on up there!” he spoke sharply to the rather reluctant sow. Just as the hog had reached the high threshold of the open Dutch door, she balked.

“Come on! Get up in there!” Joe shouted.

Suddenly, the sow flexed her fat body, bringing her front legs around to her left and placing them on the edge of the panel, as if she would attempt to jump over the panel.

“Pshaw!” Joe exclaimed, as he struggled to shove her legs off the board.

No sooner had he dislodged the sow than she whirled to her right and tried to leap over the tall panel.

“Dog my cats!” Joe yelled while making a superhuman effort to shove her front legs back down to the ground. In the process, he scratched his forearm on the end of a baling wire, and blood trickled down to his elbow.

Robert watched, wondering if he could do anything to assist his father.

Joe managed to get the sow oriented in the right direction, and, with a mighty push, he made her jump up over the tall threshold and into the stall. Working at breakneck speed, Joe swung shut the bottom half of the Dutch door and locked it in place. He breathed a sigh of relief and climbed over a panel to tend to matters outside the chute.

All at once, with a splintering crash, the sow flew through the air and fell to the ground. She found her legs and bolted for the hog lot. The remains of the broken Dutch door hung from the hinges.

Joe uttered a word that Joe never said.

Robert remained hidden. Robert’s eyes were wide. He knew the word because some of his classmates at school had kindly taught him what it meant, but he never expected to hear his father use it. His father never used a naughty word!

Robert slunk away, so that Joe would never know that his son had overheard his father’s transgression. Robert would keep the secret for years to come, and he never divulged it to anyone. Robert felt certain that his father, who taught the adult class at the church on Sundays, had instantly repented!

The sow that had escaped the barn held off having her litter. Joe felt that the litter by the first sow to have had pigs in the present round was old enough to be released into the hog lot, and he readily confined the stubborn sow in the hog house vacated by the oldest piglets and their mother.

To trim down the number of pigs on the farm, Joe later loaded three pigs in his GMC pickup. He could haul them to a variety of nearby markets: Boswell, Attica, and Lafayette were the principal outlets. On that Saturday, he chose Lafayette. Charles and Robert accompanied him. After unloading the pigs at the stockyard, the morning had been spent. Joe and the boys were hungry, so Joe pulled into the Park ’n’ Eat, a drive-in restaurant on State Street with the Tastee-Freeze and the Cities Service station on the east side and the Standard gasoline station on the west side.

When the waitress stepped up to the truck, she made a face. “Pew!” she said in disgust, as she smelled the hog manure in straw lying in the bed of the pickup. Without saying another word, she turned and went back to the dining area.

“I wonder what the hold-up is,” Joe said.

Before long, the owner of the restaurant walked out to the truck. With an apologetic smile, he said to Joe, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid we can’t serve you. The smell of the pigs is too strong and will scare away our other customers.”

Robert felt embarrassed. He understood the owner’s point, but Robert knew better than to say anything.

With a sharp look in his eye, Joe returned the owner’s smile and said, “That’s the fragrance of money. I just sold three pigs, and I have good American money to spend on three of your hamburgers.”

The owner shrugged his shoulders and enhanced the apologetic look on his smiling face. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to drive on. If you will come back in your family car, I will personally ensure that your meal meets your expectations.”

“You needn’t go to such trouble,” Joe replied over his shoulder, as he backed out from under the roof of the drive-in and headed home.

“I’m sorry you boys have to wait a while longer before we eat,” he said. Robert and Charles didn’t mind, but they could see that Joe was seething.

It came as no surprise that the family never returned to the Park ’n’ Eat.

The occasion when the sow broke the barn door and the occasion when the restaurant refused service were the only two occasions when Joe was angry—at least, they were the only two times when Robert could detect Joe’s anger. Joe was otherwise consistently peaceful, even amicable at all times! Robert concluded that pigs were the ingredients to upset his father’s proverbial apple cart. After all, hogs were the common denominator in both incidents. Robert developed the misgiving that, in working with swine, situations could arise that would inspire ire; for that reason, he always tried to keep his equanimity and his sense of humor when feeding pigs or helping care for new litters. Robert had reached the conclusion that pigs were catalysts for disaster.      


  1. Thanks for your comment! I perceive the incidents in the episode as offering insight into ways children come to know their parents.

  2. I laughed out loud when I read, "Joe uttered a word that Joe never said," and the description of your father repenting of his sin. You could have been describing my own growing up.