Hog Heaven

In my previous blog post I mentioned my prize-winning Poland China hog named Cornpone (the Magnificent), which made me a bit sentimental about pigs. So I went to my archive of photos and pulled out the snapshot I took of him dated September 28, 1957.

Cornpone, Champion Poland China hog, 1957

Oddly, after these 61 years the Kodacolor print has taken on the true color of the subject, a magenta-toned sepia. It lends the memory a certain monumentality.  He is standing by his trough in which I would dump a daily bucket of slops (scraps from our truck stop café across the highway) and mix nice messes of special mash to make him fat.

Cornpone’s pen was a good-sized area next to that for Daddy’s twelve brindle hunting hounds. The picture was taken from the edge of his wallow in the foreground.  I’d also bring buckets of water every day to keep it suitably muddy, and he’d loll around in the muck, grunting and snorting.  That’s where I learned the truth of the old saw “happy as a pig in hot mud.”

We kept our herd of several hogs (the pinker variety) in a pen down past the pasture at the edge of the woods—where their stench couldn’t reach up to the house or yard. It was also my exhausting duty to haul many buckets of slops to them each day and to keep their wallow wet.

Periodically we’d slaughter maybe three of the herd at a time, and neighbor folks from around helped with the hot and heavy work. First, Daddy would lean over the fence with his rifle and shoot a hog between the eyes.  It would drop like a rock.  Then he’d jump in and slit its throat, letting the blood run into the wallow.

A few of the men would drag the carcass out of the pen and up the hill to where some huge iron pots were boiling on wood fires. They’d haul the hog up on ropes over a tree limb and lower it into the boiling water for a moment to scald the hair off.  Then they’d hang it up from another branch for the butchering.

When they’d spit the stomach open, I was always grossed out by the cascade of guts but had to help with sorting out the intestines for sausage-casings. Brandishing great knives, they’d toss slabs of hog-fat into another iron pot to render out the lard and make chitlings (pork rinds).

The butchering would take most of a day, and it was quite a community party. We’d wrap up the cuts of hams, loins, and so on to put in our big walk-in cooler, and folks would take turns on the big grinder making sausage.  The neighbors were happy to get shares of the meat and buckets of lard for their work.  And we had loads of fresh pork to sell in the café.

Cornpone didn’t share the rustic fate of our common hogs. That fall we took him to the Sevier County Fair in DeQueen, Arkansas, where he won the Blue Ribbon.  After his big win, he went to a more sophisticated hog heaven.  Being a simple country boy of fifteen, I sold my champion hog to a meatpacker and bought myself a pair of cowboy boots with turquoise tops.  My young feet outgrew them within a year.

#

More Indian Mounds

It’s been a good while since my last posting in June about the Aztec Codices, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered my multitudinous non-readers worldwide.

Shortly after that, I went on the family vacation I mentioned in the first week in July. We went to a place on a lake near Hot Spring, Arkansas and had a lovely rural time of it, though we came home with a bunch of chiggers.

While there, we visited the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park near Little Rock, a site I’d never seen before, though I’d included a drawing of it in my old book on the Indian mounds called “Remember Native America.” It was a rainy afternoon, but I still managed to take some pictures of two of the surviving pyramids, which I’ve finally managed to figure out how to add to the Gallery of Indian Mounds.

AR one pyramid, Toltec Mounds

AR another pyramid, Toltec Mounds

The Toltec mounds (no connection whatsoever to the Toltecs of Mexico) are an early Mississippian site, abandoned by 1050 AD, which may actually be related to the Mayan civilization. It might well have developed under the influence of Maya or Teotihuacan traders, or even migrations at the collapse of those civilizations around 800 AD.  We’ll just have to see what further research makes of that possible connection.

Meanwhile, I’ve also uncovered a number of earlier photos (slides) I took of other mound sites and have also added them to the Gallery: more from Moundville AL, Cahokia IL, Marietta OH, Crystal River FL, and Nanih Waya MS.  Check them out.

Which brings us back to my suggestion from when I put the Gallery together nearly four years ago: Surely there are other folks out there who have good pictures of Indian mounds, and I would love to include them in the Gallery.  Email them to me at rbalthazar @ msn.com with the state and site name.  I’ll plug them in to this collection, which as far as I know, is the only one of its kind.

YE GODS! THE AZTEC CODICES

Here it is at last, the third part of YE GODS!  This is the promised illustrated commentary on the Aztec Picture-Books, a unique discussion with examples of the fifteen codices that survived the book-burning during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.  I can guarantee you’ll never have seen anything like this in terms of art history, mythology, and Aztec ethnography.

Click here to view or download YE GODS!  THE AZTEC CODICES

Or click here to visit the cover page for the new section

It’s been a couple months since I last posted anything, (not that anybody out there really cares, I suspect), but the time has been well spent on completing this project, in and around many other developments in my life.  Not the least of those was running around trying to set up an exhibition of the Aztec Icons, without success to date, and to interest a local non-profit publisher called Radius Books in making a book on the whole three-part YE GODS! shebang, which may still materialize.  The next epiphany of 13 icons still remains to be drawn.

In other developments, it took these couple months to move to a new apartment, including some weeks to move my iris garden to the new place.  It’s splendid with a huge balcony/porch and a big area for a garden and enormously convenient to my gym and other amenities.

In terms of iris, I’m thrilled to report that after five years of looking and wheedling, I’ve finally found someone to start up my plant recycling business again.  A young fellow named Aaron jumped in with his shovel and has already been selling iris on Craigslist like hotcakes.  He plans on selling at farmers markets around here and should do a land-office business, so to speak.

Now my big plan is to go with the family for a vacation during the first week of July at Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It should be a sentimental time because it’s quite close to my childhood home in the southwestern woods of that state.  Maybe I can even get my grandsons to read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND!

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15. Stomped-on Toad-frog

In this last chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has a chance to say goodbye to everyone he knows and loves and then, excited about leaving for New Orleans in the morning, goes to bed on his nest of pine-straw in the back yard.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15.  STOMPED-ON TOAD-FROG, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 14 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 15. – Stomped-on Toad-frog

Maybe it was the moonlight, or the hard work of the day, but I had a long complicated dream—

It’s golden evening, and I go to the river.  Trees in straight rows, but they’re huge tall oaks that make me think Tudor.  The sunset turns amber, rays slanting through the columns.  Standing on the high bank, I say to myself, “It’s too late to swim.”  Below, there are jagged rocks in the bank.  A chorus of voices sings sweetly, “Here are the crawdad towers of shrimp-gulls, here the polyp tubes of ash-clay, and chandelier coral.”

Swift water in front of me, a wide river, and I follow its sinuous channel fast to the sea, which draws back, baring sand dunes and fields of sharp stones.  A rain of powdery shells falls and shatters to blue dust.  I don’t want to stay here, so I fly high, high overhead and away, across the land, a desert-crosser returning, outrunning the river.  Beneath blur rows of honey-green orchards to a blue lake.

Now I’m on the ground behind a big house among dark cedars.  A familiar voice, Danny’s, calls “Annie Over!”  We’re playing that stupid game.  Again I feel desperate to see him.  I run in the back door through an empty kitchen and down a hall past rooms of furniture draped with sheets.  And I know it’s our house, Danny’s and mine, the one he dreamed of.

I open the big front door to let Danny in, but he isn’t there.  So I step out onto the porch of that beautiful plantation house with white columns looking out over the lake.  Suddenly I see him running across the field, waving, and I find myself breathing hard as though I’ve just been running too.  Danny is beautiful in the golden evening, laughing.  I motion him in the door.

Evening sun streams through the windows, swirling around us.  In the parlor, the sheets are strangely gone from the furniture.  Little green turtles sit and crawl all over the sofa, chairs, and tables.  Danny stands in front of me, a blush on his smooth cheeks and a glitter in his eye.  Amber light burns like honey on his shoulders, and my own arm is also gilded.  But my skin grows dark, dark like molasses, like Zaya’s.  Danny’s arms encircle me, and there’s a blinding joy of flowing into one another.

And we slide down, down, like down a boat slide, down a mossy channel into the lake among the reed pools.  The water is thick and soft around us, the warm blood of the ancient living Earth.  Part of it, Danny and I, I and he, we drift slowly around among waving seaweed.  And I know that we, and everything else, are just cells in the body of the giant animal Earth.

Above, the sun glimmers down from a high shimmering circle on the surface, flashing through undulating sea-grasses.  Fish dart about, brightly colored, splashes on the green.  These are the glossons, the threrches, emerald black and leaf-brown birds, and we are they, in plumes and veils of rainbow-feathered fins, floating forever together and one.

###

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13. Push Comes to Shove

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has his first day off from working in the café in well over a month, and on a long relaxing walk in the woods he achieves enlightenment.  Then he spends the afternoon painting the fence and mowing the lawns.

To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13.  PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 12 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 13. – Push Comes to Shove

I ambled over to the café for some supper, and Margie fixed me a chickenfry.  Then over at the house again, I turned my radio on to WNOE and wrote to Betsy.  I told her right off about how after three years I’d at last fallen out of love with Annette.  While I was describing the old plowshare, the door from the living room into my room opened, and Daddy came in.  Surprised, I turned from my desk and said hi.  I couldn’t remember him ever coming in my room before.

“Hi,” Daddy said back.  “You know, I been thinking on that problem in the magazine.”

Pleased that he’d found it interesting, I said, “Oh yeh, I worked that out this afternoon mowing the lawn.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when Daddy’s face screwed up in the familiar rage.  Instinctively I ducked, but he still managed to smack me hard upside the head, knocking me and the chair over backwards onto the floor.

He stood over me shouting down, “Just see if I try and help you again, you smart-ass son of a bitch!”  With a kick in my thigh, he stomped out, slamming the door so hard the curtain rod fell off, the white lace crumpling up on the floor.  Stunned, I lay there not even feeling the hit or kick, nor the least bit like crying.  What had happened to wake up that monster in Daddy again?

I stood up slowly, furious about the injustice and determined not to put up with it anymore.  It quickly grew into a cold, hard anger.  Whatever spark of love I might have felt for Daddy this morning had just been knocked right out of me.  Clearly push had just come to shove.  Standing there with the chair on its back and the letter on the desk, I decided what to do.

From under the bed I took out my suitcase and started pulling stuff out of dresser drawers.  First things I packed were my Frankie Avalon sweater with its floppy collar, and Danny’s striped shirt that I’d never given back.  While I was choosing some other shirts, Mom looked into the room and saw me packing.  “What are you doing?” she asked quietly, pushing the crumpled curtain back with the door, but of course she knew.

“I’m going,” I said simply.  “I’m 18 and I’m going.”  Gathering up shirts and pants, my arms were full.  Mom stood by the chair lying there and cried.  Janie looked in the doorway, all scared.  For an instant I kind of faltered but went on anyway, “I’ll catch the Greyhound tomorrow and go on to New Orleans now.”  Like Fats Domino, I was ready to walk there.

Mom sniffed hard and asked, “Why do you have to go right now, Benny?”

Her tears made it hard for me not to cry.  “He hates me, and I’m going.”

“No,” Mom sobbed, “Daddy loves you.  He just doesn’t know how…”  As far as I was concerned, I had no feelings left whatsoever.  Mom stood there by the overturned chair crying while I packed the shirts.  Janie disappeared.  “Please, honey,” she said softly and stroked my shoulder, “try and understand how worried Daddy is.  He didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“What else does a fist mean?” I asked and wadded some pants into the suitcase.  “I’m not staying here and getting beat up on anymore.”  For a moment Mom stood there crying silently and then left.  I heard the front screen door close.

#

In the King Edward cigar box on my dresser I found $380 after having paid my fees and buying some clothes from the catalog.  It would just have to be enough, I reckoned.  Take the Greyhound straight to New Orleans, and until I could get into the dorm, I’d camp out down in those willow woods along the river.  A guy could do okay there for a couple weeks with all those big boats on the river and a grocery store probably not too far away.

That meant fetching my sleeping bag from the back room.  Then I started packing my journal and old novels into a cardboard box.  Maybe I should just have Mom send them to me, but I didn’t want anyone seeing all that stuff about Annette.  Then there was all my huge record collection, the books on the shelves…  I started to get really confused because I couldn’t take all that much with me now.

In a daze I picked up random things on my desk and then scribbled on the letter to Betsy, “Change of plans.  Will write from New Orleans.”  While I was addressing the envelope, Daddy appeared in the doorway again.  I stepped away behind the overturned chair.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a choke, his eyes pained.  “I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m going,” I insisted and wary of more blows, put some pens into the suitcase.

Daddy very slowly bent and picked up the chair.  “But for your Mom, just stay till you have to go, like we planned, please.”  His face turned very pale, and he looked away toward the door.  “She’s all torn up about this.”  When he turned back to me, Daddy’s eyes were wet.  His next words came in a rush, “I really am sorry.  I just wanted to do something with you, for you, I mean, because I…”  I stared, and when he took a step toward me, I backed away.  Covering his eyes, he mumbled, “Don’t go yet.  Please.  I… I do love you, Benny.”

If he wanted me to say I loved him too, I couldn’t lie.  Inside, I didn’t love anybody anymore.  My heart was empty without Annette or Danny or anyone.  As Daddy wiped his face, our eyes met, and I saw despair there, more than just the grief of this moment.  “When you sell this place,” I said, hoping sincerely, “things will get better.”  And even better without me.

Daddy’s pale eyes looked real sincere when he said, “Look, Benny, I really do appreciate all the work you done, the fence and all.”  Again he moved toward me, but I was near the bed and couldn’t back away, so he managed to get his arms around me, squeezing hard.

I stood there thinking we were really the same size now, and there was that distinctive smell he had.  I hadn’t felt his arms around me since I was a tiny kid, and that lost look in his eyes.  And he was actually asking me instead of ordering.  So what were a couple more weeks?  It would be a lot easier just to stay on, and it didn’t really matter now I knew how I truly felt.  “Okay,” I conceded.  Besides, the money from two more weeks’ work would come in real handy when I’d at last be on my own in New Orleans.

Daddy squeezed me again and much to my relief, let go.  Surely my smile was as weak as his.  “I’ll go tell your Mom,” he said.  “She’ll be happy.”  With that, he turned and left.

###

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 12. Some Tail

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Cousin Lew sets Ben up for his first time ever to go “parking” with a girl.

To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 12.  SOME TAIL, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 11 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 12. – Some Tail

Good old Margie and I had that unspoken bargain that in the slack afternoons I’d cover for her to read the paper or embroider, and later on she’d handle it while I’d catch forty winks.  Round about three I lay back on the seat of number one napping in the rosebush-filtered sun.  Suddenly Margie called, “Your dad’s home.”

I peeked through the rosebush and saw Daddy and Joe Ray getting out of the Desoto over by the mailbox, and Ox was pulling up right behind in his pickup.  I trotted across the highway to see what was up.  In the bed of Ox’s truck was the hugest goddam catfish anybody ever saw, maybe nine feet long, lying there big as that walrus in the New Orleans Zoo.  Daddy said he got it off folks who netted it out of the Little River, and he’d butcher it up to serve in the café.

Joe Ray declared, “That mouth is easy big enough to swallow a full-growed man.”

They backed the truck up under a good-sized black oak off to the side of the café, and hoisted the fish up by its tail from a branch.  They got to work with big knives, and I stayed to watch the guts glob out into the tub.  But I had to get back to work.  In another lull in business I checked on the fish butchers who had it all skinned but were hacking with hatchet and saw trying to cut off the monster head.

Ox exclaimed, “I bet this fish is at least a hundred years old.”

“Was,” I corrected him and cautioned, “Don’t go telling any customers their catfish steak’s a hundred years old.”

#

In a couple hours Lew got back from the peach orchard and was so happy to be done with the work at last.  He marveled at the giant catfish head with its long whiskers and sat for the last while of my work with a nice cold Dr. Pepper and the funny papers.  As soon as Daddy showed up, we ran out to feed pets.  After a quick supper together in number three, we bummed around, chasing each other across the pasture and fighting a pine-burr war out by the gravel pit.

Come evening, Lew and I sat on the terrace in the cool under the pines and played canasta, constantly having to shoo the cats and dogs away from our cards.  I asked when we were going to take care of the problems in our pants, and Lew chuckled wickedly.  “Not yet—we gonna get us some tail tonight!”

I was too surprised to squeak.  He pulled some Trojans out of his pocket.  “A guy down at the orchard got me some,” he explained, handing me a little packet.  Staring in disbelief, I took it.  Lew explained, “Iris says she wants to do it tonight.  You know, before I go away.”

I certainly understood that but brandished the rubber and squeaked, “With me too?”

“No, no!” Lew laughed.  “She’s got a date for you too, Cuz.”

“Who?” I squeaked again, but Lew wouldn’t say.  When I reminded him that I didn’t know how to do it with a girl, he said you just had to warm them up first with some kissing and playing with their titties.  Then you reach down there and feel them up some before you slip it in real slow.  I got a bone on thinking about a girl, any girl, spreading her legs for…

The evening wore on with us playing pinballs.  It took forever, and all I could think of was me actually having a date.  By nine o’clock I was really nervous when Iris showed up, followed by Liz Butler.  What a relief that she was going to be my date, my old friend and dance partner, real cute in a tight white blouse with her light brown hair up in a ponytail.  As I sat down beside Liz in number four, I became acutely aware of the Trojan in my shirt pocket.

Iris was very intent on Lew as we all chatted about nothing in particular, and I got to feeling the same sort of affectionate attention from Liz.  She was all smiles and kept touching my arm.  Pretty soon Lew suggested we go for a little ride in Iris’ car.  Liz took my hand and sighed, “I always wanted to go riding with you, Benny.”

Lew saw my concerned expression and whispered, “You and I can make like going home and meet up with them outside.”  We got up with casual farewells to the girls, said goodnight to Daddy at the register, and walked out the door.  Once outside, Lew and I waited by Iris’ car.  Suddenly I got excited, in both ways, to be going out riding with a girl like other guys do.  Thank goodness Liz was nice-looking and we were such good friends.  After a bit the girls strolled out of the café, and we got into the car.

###

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 11. The Race

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben’s cousin Lew visits to work in the nearby peach orchard.  Ben gets a day off from working in the café to pick peaches with Lew, and afterwards they go skinny-dipping in the river.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 11.  THE RACE, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 10 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 11. – The Race

Lew drove the jalopy out the gravel road to McKellar’s Crossing, a ford across the shallows in the Cossatot.  A rutted track wandered off across the field beyond.  If you walked a ways downstream, you came out of the bushes at the swimming hole.  There were no rocks or stobs anywhere in the broad pool about fifteen feet deep in most parts, and a great rope swing hung from the branch of a sycamore on the bank.  Lew jumped out of his clothes before I even had my shoes off and dived into the water.

Even as good a swimmer as I was, I had to admit that Lew was better, a lot stronger.  I lost some quick races back and forth, and then we just splashed and horsed around for a good while with many cannonballs from the rope swing.  I felt so happy having this companionship in my prison, even if for only the next week and some.  Then we climbed out on the bank and lay down by a towering hickory tree to dry off.  Lew’s prick looked maybe bigger than mine, more like Danny’s, and circumcised, of course.

The late afternoon sun slanted through the treetops across the river, their shadows lengthening across the water.  A cicada began its loud, whirring song down the stream.  Not a ripple disturbed the bright reflection of a few clouds on the still surface of the swimming hole.  Lew broke the silence with, “I guess it can get awful lonesome, huh?”

I grunted, “Not many girlfriends in this neck of the woods.”

Lew laughed and said, “Why not?  You’re so sexy with all this hair.”  He petted the hair on my chest.  “Why don’t you date one of these cute chicks you know?”

Wondering why he’d even ask that, I said, “You know, Lew… Catholics aren’t supposed to get involved with non-Catholics.”

Lew guffawed.  “Benny, that’s so old-fashioned!  Nobody thinks that anymore.  I mean, Joannie’s even a Lutheran.”

I lay there on the riverbank like an astounded fish out of water.  Had my whole life been because of a mistake?  I protested, “But Father Jordan said we…”

“That was just him,” Lew consoled.  “You gotta watch out for the Jesuits.”  Boy, I was so confused by now—and outraged—that I couldn’t speak.  Lew patted my hairs again and said, “Too bad you thought that, Cuz.  Some of those girls at the café got the hots for you, sexy guy.”

That just made it worse.  I didn’t even know…  Of course, Lew was the sexy one with his smooth, tanned chest.  I couldn’t keep from looking at his prick, so much like mine, lolling there on his thigh.  I asked, “Have you ever screwed a girl?”

“Plenty of times,” Lew replied emphatically.  “Joannie’s not even my first.  Back in tenth I went sparking with a girl named Sherry and fucked her like crazy.”

Impressed, I still had to wonder how many times was plenty.  Since my worldly cousin would definitely know, I asked, “What’s it feel like?”

“There’s nothing like it!”

That wasn’t very helpful at all, and I seriously suspected it wouldn’t actually be all that much different from me making love with Danny.  At that thought I got anxious again if my buddy had called me yet.  Trying not to think about it, I asked Lew, “How do you get a girl to let you stick it in her?”

Lew laughed out loud and said, “Let you?  Benny, if a girl wants it, she’ll even help you.   You just better be ready.”  What he meant was clear enough, but I wondered how you’d manage to be ready right on time.  Then Lew pulled his watch out of his pants pocket and exclaimed, “Uh-oh!  Uncle Lee said for us to be back by six thirty.  We only got five minutes.”

Being late always drove Daddy wild.  Scarcely into our pants, we piled into the Ford and splashed across the river, bouncing along the old track, a shortcut I knew to the old highway.  It bounced so bad I banged my head on the roof.  The track came out on the gravel road behind the Barkers’ store, and we roared away raising a plume of dust behind us.  I sure hoped Daddy wouldn’t throw a fit.  Maybe he wouldn’t slug me, not in front of Lew.

#

It was only a couple minutes late when we got home.  As we rolled over the lip of the Hill, Lew remarked again on how beautiful our place was, the buildings with red roofs and white fences and the tall clustering pines.  We pulled up in front of the house, and I worried because the Desoto was gone.  Surely Mom wasn’t still working after all day long.

We ran straight across the road and found Melvin leaning on the register with only two parties, both eating happily.  He sighed dramatically, “Two more to feed.”

I nervously asked where Daddy was.  Melvin chuckled, “Your dad was all antsy about you getting back, so I tell him I’ll mind the store.  He’s just gone over to Lefty’s for a haircut.”

I asked if there was a phone call for me from Danny, but not that Melvin knew of.  We sat in number four, and he took our orders like customers, a barbecue plate for me with ice tea, and three cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake for Lew.  Then I went and checked for any note maybe by the register, only to be disappointed.

While we ate, Melvin sat on the stool across the way and said, “I hear you boys going on a hayride.”  I told him we were going with Iris and Pam.  Melvin said, “Well, I’m proud to hear you got yourself a date.  ‘Bout time.  I been telling your dad you young bucks need to go out and have some fun.  Looks like maybe he heard what I’m talking.”

###