We Southerners love our pork. From country ham to sausage biscuits to pulled pork barbecue to ribs, there’s few family functions that don’t include pork in some fashion or another. This is quite true in our family too and often the pig becomes the story of the event. As a result, we’ve even given him a name . . . Wilbur. Wilbur has been reincarnated several times over the years, but that just makes it easier to tell the story – any of the stories – involving him.
Wilbur made his first appearance in the late 1950s – the Christmas after my brother was born. He was born on Halloween so Christmas was the perfect time for the family to come together and celebrate the arrival of the first son.
Dad was at sea and wouldn’t be able to get home but that didn’t keep him out of the planning process. He contacted a local grocer and ordered all kinds of food to insure this would be an unforgettable celebration. In addition to the turkey and beef normally served at Christmas, Dad also ordered a suckling pig.
Our stove couldn’t roast a suckling pig – the oven was way too small and there were all the other dishes to cook – so Mom asked a local bakery if they could help. They were more than happy to oblige but neglected to mention they had never done anything like this before. It was a pig and every good Southerner knows what to do with pig meat . . . Or so we thought.
Instead of roasting it arranged upright with the popular apple in its mouth, the bakery had it laying on its side. It wasn’t stuffed so as it cooked, it collapsed. Although it wasn’t the prettiest presentation, as Mom said later, it tasted divine. So, it was arranged on a huge platter and brought to the table.
There was hope for the pig until sister Maura – ever the outspoken one – took one look at this creature and announced to all the guests present that it looked just like the neighborhood dog that had been killed by a car a few days earlier. That comment sealed its fate.
Mom was not one to waste anything so I’m sure the pork was salvaged one way or another. While a beautifully arranged suckling pig will create a memorable meal, I doubt many people would still be talking about it 40+ years later. In our family, this is where Wilbur attained immortality.
Fast forward several decades and, after listening to Aunt Caroline complain about having to buy and lug bags of manure to fertilize her garden, my husband jokingly threatened to get her a pig. Thus began The Wilbur Wars of the late 20th century with each combatant threatening to get the other a pig.
Hubby won the first skirmish when he found a battery-powered pig that walked on a leash. This became Caroline’s Christmas gift that year. The next year, she attempted to give him a real live Wilbur – even going so far as buying one and bringing it home the day before the Christmas function. Fortunately for us, the pig had some health issues and had to be returned to the farm. Her stories about trying to keep Wilbur, the piglet, in a bathtub kept everyone entertained that Christmas. The verbal artillery continued to fly back and forth across the Creek until Caroline’s death in 2001.
Stories of Wilbur continue to entertain young and old alike. We are all waiting for him to make his next appearance and add another episode to the family legend. It’s only a matter of time.