The Year I Owned a Pot Belly Pig

Norman Sylvester

 The day of the week doesn't matter. I couldn't remember it if I tried. It was summer though, June 2014. Haili and I were having lunch, went for a drive, picked up her little cousin — the usual things to keep you busy in a small town with nothing to do. We joked about going to get Cousin a new bunny to take home and surprise her dad. Too bad there weren't any bunnies at the feed store that day. They did have pot belly pigs, though. 

Have you ever seen something as cute as a pen filled with little piglets? We were entranced and needed a closer look. The store clerk told me I could get in the pen with them, not that I was waiting that patiently for his permission. It probably only took ten minutes for to figure out a plan to take one of theses babies home. Haili didn't have room to host a pig at her house, but I had a small chicken barn, so we could pen off a section. Oh, but I was going back to college at the end of the summer, and it would be too cold in winter for our baby to stay out in the barn. So we talked each other into it. We'd each pay half. She would come see him after I went back to school and we'd teach him how to be a well-behaved house pet, because pigs are easier to train than dogs. The plan was formed, phone calls to parents happened, and money was being counted. 

We chose the piglet with a white arrow shape on his head. The man behind the counter told us that if we really wanted a pig, we need to pick up the one we want because, "He's going to squeal. You need to get used to that if you want to take him home." This guy didn't want us coming back the next day crazed and terrorized trying to return the squealer and get our peace and quiet back. Challenged accepted, Sir. I caught the pig we had chosen with ease and poise, cradled him in my arms, and not a sound was made. We waited, we talked, Haili scratched his head, and we talked some more. Ten minutes passed with this pig in my arms and not a single squeal, moan, or groan. I chose this pig and He chose me. The poor counter guy, feeling awful foolish, now expressed his complete surprise. He had never seen a match made in Heaven I guess. 

So we followed our surprised and awestruck attendant into the store to grab a bag of feed and pay the bill for our new best friend, Norman. After the walking and the five more minutes in the store, there was still no squealing. Other costumers expressed their surprise at our well-behaved pig. Our day progressed, Haili drove, I held Norman in my arms, we bought him a leash and a harness, and we showed him off to other friends. He was safe and happy in my arms and there was still no squealing; a snort or two when we snuck him into Walmart for leash shopping, but no squeals. We brought him home, tucked him into his pen, and fell asleep happy.  

If you don't know and you're thinking of getting a pig, please remember they are social creatures. They need a friend. They need communication. Every morning before work, I'd spend an hour with Norman in his pen. He'd eat breakfast. I'd sit in the hay next to him and talk about the weather, work, and things people told me. Every day after work I'd take him out of the barn for a walk around the field, and we'd go in the house so he could get used to being a house pet. The dog was not overjoyed to meet Norman but she got used to him and they had a normal sibling rivalry. 

He was smart. He knew his name in less than a week and he knew how to walk nice on a leash. I'd often drop the leash and let him stroll next to me with more freedom. I'll never forget one day walking through the field. The grasses were high, maybe up to my knees or hips in some places. I dropped the leash and Norman ran down the path we had padded down with our walks, and then he jumped into the grasses and disappeared. This was new and we hadn't learned "come back" yet. My family once owned a Beagle who, if given the chance to run, ran at an unstoppable speed and when I could no longer see Norman, my heart panicked. I can't tell you why but the first thing I thought of was just telling him I couldn't see him. That is all it took: "Norman, I can't see you," and pop! Out came this sweet face from the tall grass as if to say "Oh, Here I AM, Momma!" He was Smart. 

He was sassy. When I would take him in the house, I'd carry him to my room and we'd play or he'd investigate the room or just sit in my lap and watch Grey's Anatomy. After we introduced him to the dog and made it clear he was a new family member, not a toy, the door would be kept open so he could wander around the house. It took him a while to leave my bedroom doorway because he'd never admit it, but he was afraid of the slippery linoleum floor. So instead of leaving the room, he'd run around, run up to the door, snort and stamp, and when the dog would look at him, he would quickly run the other way. He was taunting and teasing, refusing to be the scaredy cat. Norman was not the best at meeting new people. He bit my Marine brother when they met, sort of a fight for dominance. Norman won that fight. He would sass others and be snippy or nip, but when he did that to me I'd hold his face in my hands and we'd have a nice chat. My dad would say, "I've done the research, Jessica. He's not going to respond to your full sentences. Just tell him 'no.' He will learn." But Norman and I had an understanding. He may have scared and traumatized the Marine of the house (don't tell the other jarheads that) but I was the momma bear, which means he got all that sass from me anyway. He couldn't and never did scare me. He was sassy. 

He was spoiled. The first couple months, he lived in the small barn with the chickens. But from that first day, my plan was always to have him as a house pet. So I trained him to be in the house and behave himself, but I had to go back to college for the fall semester in August. Before I left, I showed Mom how to hold him in your lap and rub his nose. It did not work out well because Mom was always fearful that Norman would bite her when she pulled him into her lap. So instead, we just got him used to laying on the floor and having her give him belly rubs and talk to him. Dad, who had been the skeptic, definitely fell into the role of pig parent, or rather pig grandparent, much quicker than Mom. Dad was smitten. They became best friends, so much so that I felt a little ignored when I returned for the holiday breaks. Dad built Norman his very own pen to sleep in and be in when no one was home to supervise the mischief maker. The pen wasn't the only handcrafted pig product that was added to the house. Norman didn't love the linoleum floors and maneuvering down the steep stairs to get outside. Dad made him a ramp covered with carpeting that found its new home on the far left side of the steps. With this helpful piece of equipment, Norman went outside when the dog did and became house-trained very well. When my dad would come home, he'd walk through the door and say "Where's my pig?!!" and Norman wold started to snort, squeal, run around his small pen waiting for his favorite family member to let him out and scratch his back. Being away for a few months, I had lost my title as Norman's favorite. He was spoiled. 

The rest of the year was the same as you'd expect of any pet owner. We loved Norman and wanted to spend years with him as our pig. He got sick, kidney stones, and he needed a small surgery. I was at school, but it went fine. By the time I got home, he was his normal sassy self. We did our usual things, spent time outside, watched Grey's Anatomy, laid in the hallway, and listened to our favorite songs. Often we helped Dad cook. I helped more than Norman did because he laid under Dad's feet or ran around Dad's legs begging for attention and scraps. But then I left for California on a trip to visit my sister. Norman didn't mind because he had Mom and Dad and the dog to keep him company. But he got sick again, and this time it was a seizure that stopped his heart before anyone could even blink. My dad called me to give me the news and we just stayed on the phone in silent tears for a while. 

The story ends almost exactly a year after it began. We now have the memories, pictures, and stories to share of the year a sassy potbelly pig was part of our family.  

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The Year I Owned a Pot Belly Pig
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