The first time I realized there were pigs on Earl’s farm was when I went to see why Pepper was barking. They were well away from the three houses on the land and behind a stand of trees I hadn’t explored in my three months living in South New Hope. As I approached the pen, the stench made me realize why they were where they were. The pigs didn’t seem agitated by my agitated dog.
I calmed Pepper, who immediately pissed on the wire pig pen, snorted, then back-kicked some dirt on the pigs for good measure.
Pepper went off to greet my landlord, Earl, who was walking through the cow pasture to see what all the ruckus was about. Earl had the slow, deliberate walk of a man comfortable in his own skin. He always wore a fedora with the front slightly turned down. Like in the movies of the 30’s and 40’s.
Earl Hutcherson was not a big man. Five-foot-seven at the most. He was built squarely and solidly. His hands were hard and strong from a lifetime of supporting his family with manual labor. He had the kind of steely colored piercing eyes you couldn’t lie to.
I was a twenty year old college sophomore.
Earl and his brothers, Good and Toad, owned a good deal of Arkansas River bottom land as I understood it. They were all farmers.
Earl looked like he was “part Indian,” according to my local buddies. The complexion and high cheek bones. Indian heritage is very common in that part of the South. I never asked him about it. It didn’t matter.
Lola – some called her Momma Lola – was Earl’s wife. She was a tall, slender, stern looking woman afraid of nothing but spiders, tornadoes and hell. I once saw Lola grab up and wring the neck of a chicken that became that night’s dinner. I’ve never had cornbread as good as Lola’s.
Both Earl and Lola watched Lawrence Welk and “the Hee Haw” faithfully. Lola knew all the gossipy back-stories. As far as I can tell Earl was born in 1907 and Lola in 1908. They are both long passed, Lola going first.
The first time I met Earl was on the porch of the house I was going to live in. My friend Butch had an aunt who knew Lola from church. That’s how things work in rural Arkansas and everywhere else. It’s who you know.
The small house was $50 or $55 a month. Far less expensive than anything in town. I needed a cheap place to live having just married my first wife while on summer break.
“Where you from, son?” Earl got right to it. That was his way.
When I told him I was from New York he asked, “New York City?” I told him I was, but lived in a dorm at Arkansas Tech the year before.
“Are you a Jew?” The question stunned me. Even Lola, who was standing in the background, seemed surprised.
Oh shit. I’m out here in the middle of “throw your dead body in a hole in the middle of nowhere and cover it with dirt so you disappear forever country” and this isn’t what I wanted to hear.
“I am.” I answered. “Is that a problem?”
Turned out Earl and Lola knew I was Jewish through Butch’s aunt, who wanted to know what church I belonged to.
“No, you’re just the second Jew I’ve ever spoken with.” Earl was in his 60’s.
The first Jew was his foreman at a Kansas munitions plant where we was sent to work during World War II. That’s also the farthest he’d ever been from his land.
I asked Earl if the foreman treated him well. “He was always good to me,” I was very relieved to hear that.
During the time I lived on Earl’s farm we sometimes spoke about religion when I helped him with chores or when he felt like talking. He never asked me to attend his church. Lola and Earl went every Sunday. They were what I thought good people of any religion should be like.
Earl’s farm was on a dusty, at times rutted, dirt road between Pottsville, and Russellville, Arkansas and the rich bottom land the he now leased to soybean farmers.
The family still kept Hereford’s for sale and for beef. They had an immense white Charolais bull named “Charlie.” Charlie could easily walk through the thin strands of barb wire that kept him from committing chaos, yet he never did. He didn’t seem to mind my presence when I walked across his pasture. I think it was his way of establishing my insignificance. His 2,000 pounds against my 150 pounds. I was barely worth an interruption to his grazing.
The four room house for rent was said to have been an old farmhand shack, the bathroom was added later.
If you looked at the ceiling just right you could see sky. Oddly, the roof never leaked.
There was no air conditioning. Heat consisted of propane fed space heaters.
Behind the house was a stock pond. A barbed wire cow pasture surrounded everything. The house was on well water that smelled like rotten eggs until we got a filter.
The view from the kitchen window was rolling pasture with stands of mature trees and Mount Nebo in the background. Sunsets could be spectacular.
During the spring and summer the honeysuckle that grew everywhere was intoxicating. We would come to pull the flowers apart and taste the incredibly sweet nectar.
As Earl approached, Pepper peeled off to inspect the two captive beasts again.
Earl asked if I knew anything about pigs.
“No, this is the closest I’ve come to live pigs in my life.” I stared at the surprisingly hairy beasts.
Earl stared surprisingly at me.
“Do you think you can help me get those pigs onto the pick-up and into the barn sometime this week?”
I told him I’d be glad to and we figured out the best time.
The pigs were soon to become all sorts of good things to eat.
Whenever Earl asked for help I was always happy to answer the call. As much for me as for him. Growing up in apartments in The Bronx and Queens was nothing like this.
Although I’d spent the past year living at school, and drove through lots of western Arkansas, I never got to know the people of the Arkansas River Valley until I moved into that run down house. The lessons I learned living in South New Hope have served me to this day.
The pigs were no different.
© 2016 carlgottliebdotnet