Little swine a big hit on Pig Day at center

Event: The director of a facility for seniors organizes a porcine celebration that entertains and brings back memories of growing up on a farm.


March 03, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Guests rushed through the monthly blood pressure screening at Taneytown Senior Center yesterday, eager to celebrate Pig Day.

The promise of a pig encounter even piqued the nurse's interest.

"I kept hearing `Pig Day' so I decided I would stay," said Debbie Smith, a registered nurse with the Carroll County Health Department. "One gentleman said I would see a before and after."

The gustatory and belated celebration - Monday was National Pig Day - was rife with porcine puns, pig tales and even a visit from two of the real things.

Julie Feeser, who runs a nearby hog farm, brought two day-old piglets to the party. The newborns squealed, squirmed and charmed about 25 guests.

"He is all smooth and velvety," said Becca Garrett, 12, a center volunteer, who roamed among the audience offering the seniors a chance to cuddle the noisy newborn.

"They like to be held close and they are actually cuddly," said Feeser.

Hope Heltebridle, 90, gently held the piglet and remembered feeding many a runt on the family farm.

"I had a few that got to be pets," she said.

Angie Walz, center director, often organizes theme events to stir memories, she said. Cow and blackberry days were big hits. So as March 1 and National Pig Day approached, she began planning.

"It is the oddest things that will pull out their memories," she said. "Most of the seniors will share when we have something like this."

And join in the humor.

When she asked the crowd to guess the author of the words "Pigs treat us as equals," the consensus was sausage-king Jimmy Dean. No one guessed the real answer: Winston Churchill.

Julie and Franklin Feeser raise about 1,000 hogs on their Taneytown farm, so she could offer insights into the industry today.

U.S. pork exports reached a record $1.5 billion last year, according to industry officials.

Pig research benefits humans, particularly in cardiac and digestive fields of medicine, and hogs are the source of many pharmaceuticals. Pigskin, which is similar to human skin, is used in burn therapy. Actor John Wayne had a defective heart valve replaced with a pig's valve, she said.

"These animals do a lot more than feed us," she said.

But the food aspect cannot be denied.

Yesterday's menu revolved around pork, including cocktail wieners, pigs in a blanket, ham salad, ham steaks, chilled fizzy hogwash punch and - for dessert - pink-iced tails on cupcakes and marshmallow snouts atop sugar cookies.

"People enjoy the unusual and this makes them laugh," said Walz. "These events bring more people in and get them talking."

The lunch and the entertainment stirred memories of lives lived on the farm and old family recipes. Mary DeBerry, 79, raised hogs, chickens and dairy cows, and rated pigs the smartest animals by far.

"They can find the smallest hole, creep through it, dig up everything in the yard and then head straight back to their pen," she said. "They were loveable in many ways. The goodbyes were hard."

Pigs are rated the fourth-smartest animal, according to the National Pork Producers Council. In days of yore, sea captains would sail with a pig on board because the animal was said to swim toward the nearest shore in the event of a shipwreck.

During their visit to the center, the Feeser piglets settled into a relaxed slumber nestled in various laps. But, by the time they returned to their pen, they were fairly active and ready to play, Feeser said. They need toys to occupy themselves, so she hangs chains for them to pull.

"We used to use bowling balls and pins, but they won't play with them once they get dirty," Feeser said. "They are actually very clean animals."

Helen Null, 76, remembered bottle-feeding many a piglet, usually the ones that were not quick enough to establish a spot to suckle. "We had one that would scratch on the back door to let us know he wanted a bottle," she said.

Betty Bradshaw, 76, did not live on a farm, but her family raised a few pigs every summer. "They were never hard to raise," she said. "Then, we had bacon, sausage and puddin' all year."

Puddin', she explained, was a delicacy made from grinding pig scraps, and "I love it to this day," she said.

"Pork was the only meat we ate," Bradshaw said. "We had no beef, and my mom took eggs to market so we didn't roast chickens until they were old and really tough."

Can a pork-based diet be healthy?

"I am 92, and it never hurt me," said Flora Blucher, cutting into her ham steak. "I will be eating a lot more of it, too."

When the Rev. Jerry Fuss arrived for Bible study, Walz could not resist one more play on words.

"Reverend, you arrived at the tail end of Pig Day," she said.

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