Perils of a Virginia pig pickin’

by Rachel Brear

A month ago when I came home from work my boyfriend Scott said, “Hey, you got a letter.” I haven’t received an actual handwritten letter since my birthday last December, so I was happy. As soon as I looked at the envelope, I immediately recognized my friend Joanie’s handwriting. I ripped it open and smiled as I read that she and her husband were inviting us to their first end-of-season pig pickin’ party.

Scott was completely confused about what kind of party this would be. He’s from New Jersey. The “nice” part of Jersey, he likes to say.

“Literally pig pickin’? Picking pork off a pig? Do I have to wear cowboy boots? Will rednecks be there?” he questioned. I assured him it would be a fun party, out in a field where they’d cook a pig for a long time while we drank beer and talked – normal party stuff except on a farm. I’d only been to one pig pickin’ and had a great time.

Last Saturday we packed up the truck and arrived at Joanie’s farm a few hours later. As we rolled up the long driveway in the rain we noticed people decided to park in the grass, turning it into a mud pit full of that awesome Virginia red clay. Scott immediately noticed his Ford Ranger was tiny in comparison to the huge Dodge Rams dominating the parking lot.

Rednecks? Check.

Joanie greeted us right away and said because of the weather the party moved into one of the greenhouses that had been cleared out for the season. She pointed out the beer coolers that were completely stocked and, of course, the port-o-potty.

“I don’t want these people tracking mud in my house,” she said, “but you guys can use the bathroom in the house.” VIP! Very Important Pigpickers!

Inside the greenhouse, tables lined the sides with potluck plates. There were hay bales for seats in case “yer dogs started hurtin’ ya.” In the middle was a large long table ready for the anticipated 140-pound hog to rest while it was carved.

I knew a few of the people, but mostly stared at the good ol’ boys dressed in the same uniform: Mossy Oak jackets, Carhartt pants, and baseball caps that proudly supported either UVA or VT. Cowboy boots? Check.

We walked outside and saw the gigantic barbeque grill mounted on a trailer. The hog master (real title) who was extremely proud of his hog said it was time to eat. It took two men to carry the pig (on a pole) to the carving table inside while the hog master sharpened his knife. He started to carve one side of the pig, while other guests helped themselves to the other end, picking the meat off the carcass and shoveling it into their mouths.

People picking pork off a pig? Check.

The delicious aroma filled the greenhouse and I started feeling pretty hungry, so I grabbed a plate and helped myself to the carved side. My Jersey boy was staring in horror. I asked him what was wrong and he said it was the port-o-potty and lack of hand sanitizer. He’d watched cowboys come in and out, then with the same hands shoving meat into their mouths and picking some more. Scott isn’t a germaphobe by any means, but had a case of dysentery while he was serving in Iraq and it wasn’t an experience he wanted to repeat. He wouldn’t eat.

Later we were told the band was about to start in the barn. Joanie shooed us out of the greenhouse and shut the door behind her, saying she’d clean up later.

The band played but the singer was so drunk he couldn’t remember words to any of the songs. People danced. I think they were dancing, maybe just swaying while trying to stand up straight. An hour or so later the music stopped and the singer was asked to drink coffee.

Most of the people left by then, and the remaining guests were mostly my old friends. We all drank more and stayed up laughing and goofing off until 4 a.m.

The next morning was brutal. My mouth was dry and all I could think about was the crisp bubbles of an ice-cold Coca-Cola. Joanie said there probably still some in the greenhouse.

I threw on my shoes and walked outside. The rain stopped during the night and the morning sun was heating things up. I swung open the greenhouse door and was greeted by a preternatural, primal smell.

And there it was, ribs poking out everywhere, pork hanging off the table and floor. Greenhouses are meant to germinate seeds and hold in moisture for humidity and climate control. This was not a good place to store a pig overnight. I almost threw up three times. It was absolutely disgusting. The Coke wasn’t worth it.

A pig pickin’ is a great fall tradition and a good way to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Scott and I agreed we’d go back next year – if they have it again. Maybe not so much for the pig, but for the homemade moonshine and good friends. Next time we’ll wear our UNC hats to represent. And we’ll remind our host to put up the pig.

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