My father-in-law has a strange hobby. While other people go bowling or collect monkey figurines, he dumps all his time and cash into eating things.
I don't mean that he has an interest in food. He's lean and tough like a strip of barbed wire. He doesn't care much about how things taste. And when I say "things" I don't mean "donuts" or "casseroles", I mean specifically "domesticated animals".
I don't know why he's like that. I don't know what the thrill is. All I know is that he's never so animated as when he is describing a new type of livestock that he has managed to procure and find a way to serve as a main course.
It started out with pigs. Then it went to cows. Sure, he got dogs and horses for the kids, but my father-in-law was a lot more interested in the chickens. Because you could eat em. He tried quail, but they were too hard to catch and eat. So he went with rabbits. This was good for me, because early on in my relationship with my husband, my future father-in-law took me out to see the cages where several dozen fluffy bunnies sat, fat and content, with their litters of adorable little babies hopping about in innocent joy.
"We eat em," he told me, watching to see how I would react.
"Yeah, John made rabbit enchiladas for me! They're great! When are these going to be ready to eat?"
I was in.
We were pleased when John's dad discovered sheep, because lamb is my favorite meat. Lately all my father-in-law talks about is the goats, because this season he'll have a few ready to send to the butcher. He's full of speculation on the best ways to eat goat. When we go down to visit, we always bring back a few ice chests full of assorted animal parts. There's one rule, though. It has to be labeled.
"How about this?" I asked once, holding up a wrapped white package.
"What's it labeled?"
"Put it back," my husband said, looking over his shoulder nervously.
"Is there a problem?"
"Well... remember how he was saying the neighbors dogs were running all over his property?"
"Have you seen any dogs since we've been here?"
"I haven't even seen any neighbors," I replied and then got suddenly queasy as he gave me a "bingo" look. Ri-i-ight. Don't eat the 'meat'.
That's the background that made the 55 MPH Pig all the more amazing, I suppose. You see, many years ago when my father-in-law was just discovering the joy of carnivorous farming, he was taking a load of young pigs to the auction. He had selected as many as he thought he would raise and eat himself and the rest he loaded up in the cage on the back of his truck to haul off. Along the freeway, he hit a bump and discovered that he had forgotten one thing. To securely fasten the cage.
Only one pig bounced out, but that little lady bounced hard. She tumbled out onto the road at freeway speeds, narrowly avoiding being hit by oncoming traffic, and then went over the guardrail and down a steep embankment. My father-in-law pulled over, made sure the cage door was shut so that it locked securely this time, and then went to collect what he thought would be a pig carcass.
She was down there, a little bruised and slightly disturbed, but by and large all right.
My father-in-law took the pig home that day. He spent hundreds of dollars on vet bills to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong with her and that she healed up properly. He nursed her back to full strength himself. And he gave her a name. She was the 55 MPH Pig for the rest of her days, which were many and peaceful. She had multiple litters of piglets and lived a full life of privilege. Alone among all the animals on the farm, she was my father-in-law's Pet Pig.
There came a day when the 55 MPH Pig, by then a senior sow, slipped and injured her hips. This was sad news for any pig, let alone an aged one. My father-in-law went reluctantly on the vacation he had planned months ahead of time, telling my husband to keep an eye on her to see if her condition improved. It did not, and John regretfully called his dad to deliver the news.
"Put her out of her misery," his dad said.
Living on a ranch, John was not particularly squeamish about dispatching an animal humanely when the situation called for it. But when he went out to the pen and the 55 MPH Pig rested her head against the bars and stared trustingly across the barrel of the rifle at him, his resolve left him. He tried several times to aim the gun and simply could not do it. He called his dad and suggested the butcher be called in to do the deed.
My father-in-law was furious. With many scathing comments about lily livers, he canceled his vacation and came straight home. He was home by the next morning, taking the rifle and storming out to the hog barns with a few biting comments about sentimental morons as the door shut behind him.
And he was back in the house fifteen minutes later, tight-lipped and teary-eyed, asking my husband if he knew where the number for the butcher was.
Who knows why the 55 MPH Pig worked her way so deeply past my father-in-law's stomach and into his heart? The butcher was called in, and although John says his dad didn't shed any tears while the butcher put the old sow to rest, that was about the time the pig knick-knacks started showing up in his dad's house. Even now, when we can't figure out what to get him for Christmas, we just go with a pig collectible and the otherwise gruff meat-eater is happy.
But he still had the 55 MPH Pig ground up and made into sausage. After all, meat is meat. Especially when it's your favorite hobby.