Good ham and bacon for winter started on our 35-acre farm in the spring when our old Poland China sow had her spring litter. She averaged about 8 pigs to the litter. By weaning time (eight to ten weeks), Dad could tell the good ones from bad, usually picked out three of the largest and most promising pigs to fatten and sold the rest... got two to five dollars a piece for them.
Of course, the pigs didn't know, but they were eating themselves into trouble from that minute on. In spite of the eventual outcome, they lived a life of leisure all summer. They had a big trough of wheat shorts and water twice a day, a few ears of corn night and morning; the rest of the time they grazed on alfalfa or Sudan grass and enjoyed a big mud-hole in the shade of a large pecan tree.
The later part of September, they had moved up in their world. They were no longer pigs, they were shoats. In their new status, they were confined to smaller quarters getting less exercise and more feed. Actually they felt uncomfortably full at times.
About the tenth of October, their status changed again. They were moved to even smaller quarters with a board floor and nice clean oat straw for a bed and an endless stream of big yellow ears of corn. The frosty autumn nights whetted their appetites and the yellow corn continued to taste good. The clean oat straw bed made their hair shiny and curly. They enjoyed their bed even more as the days went by. They no longer had a desire to romp and play, even when the weather changed. It was just more fun to lie on a full stomach and grunt with contentment.
The second or third Monday morning of November, the sun arose with a strong south wind; the air was heavy with blue wood smoke blowing in from big timber fires on the mountains across the river. Just before I left for school, I heard Dad tell Mom "That wind will blow up something in a day or two".
That night I noticed a big pile of old posts, two wooden barrels, and two black cast iron soap kettles had been unloaded under the large oak trees south of the barn.
At dawn Tuesday morning it was raining. Dad said I could wear my new rubber boots and walk to school but if it kept raining, for me to wait at school that evening and he would be after me in the buggy. However, the rain stopped around noon, the wind changed from the south to the north, and the air began to get cold fast.
When I got home that night, the two oak barrels were under the eaves of the barn full of rain water. The two black kettles were sitting with each leg on a big rock high enough to get the old post under them. There were six or eight gamble sticks notched and ready, leaning against the tree. A large pole with one end in the crotch of a big limb and the other end resting in the crotch of two poles criss-crossed and chained together, probably eight feet high. This I knew would be used to hang the dressed hogs.
On the porch, several knives and a cleaver had been sharpened to a dangerous edge; the .22 Stevens rifle, cleaned and oiled, was standing near the water bucket. It was plain to see what would happen tomorrow. I learned from Mom that Uncle Frank and Aunt Lucy, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were going to butcher with us... about nine or ten heads all together. It would take most of the day. This meant that Virgil, my cousin, would come to our house after school tomorrow.
The three big hogs, on the floor board bedded with the bright oat straw, seemed disappointed that night when they failed to get their usual yellow corn and squealed their protest in no uncertain terms.
When I awakened the next morning there was plenty going on. A yellow light was flickering on our news-papered wall. It was the light from the old post burning under the black kettles. The steam was billowing