Tom Sawyer Has His Limits

Think of the anatomy of a pig, a big, fat one in this case. The legs are short and stumpy. The body is huge: both in girth and in length. It’s not a body made for sit-ups. Or “crunches.” Just think of the physics of it. Now hang the live, angry, frightened pig up by its hind legs.

I’m going to have to ask you to hold that thought for just a minute.

I am feeling more and more at home in Ka Glo, the mountain village where I live. My sense of being at home includes a desire to participate in, to share, as much of the life of the community as I can. A lot of their life is their work.

It was the end of the corn harvest when I arrived. There’s a good deal of corn grown on the steep slopes of our mountain. Almost everyone seems to have at least a small patch. When the ears have been collected and husked, the next job is to rub the kernels off the cobs and throw the cobs away. It’s laborious work. People were at it pretty constantly when I first arrived. They sit in front of their houses and rub the hard kernels off with their thumbs. Anyone who comes by will sit for a while at least and pitch in. When I first joined in, I was the source of much laughter. Not surprisingly, I was slow and awkward. Soon there were warnings, too: The corn would tear up my unaccustomed hands. (It did.) Nevertheless, I took my time, kept at it, and I am glad I did.

Most of the corn eaten in Ka Glo is eaten as cornmeal, so any day that we want it, it must be ground. We use a clumsy, two-handled hand mill, a real test of upper body strength and cardio-vascular endurance. I have pitched in several times so far, taking one handle while one of the young men takes the other. It wears me out thoroughly, and leaves blisters across the palms of my hands. My friends seem surprised at my interest, but happy for the help.

I wonder if they feel like Tom Sawyer, selling hard work as play with the right sort of marketing. They do not charge me to join them the way Tom charged boys to let them whitewash a fence, but I wonder what they think. What kind of rich man’s caprice do they see in my desire to share with them work that is not mine?

This brings me to the pig. Sunday morning, I saw a group of them leading a large hog by a thick rope to a big tree. They wound the rope around its hind legs, threw the rope over a strong branch, and lifted the pig until it was hanging in the air. It took about six of them to lift it. It turns out that a pig that has been hung up like that is pretty much immobile. They are too heavy to move themselves.

By this point I had disappeared into the house, chased away by the pig’s wild squealing. They quickly neutered the pig, let it down, and led it back to its sty.

Later that day, I spoke with Casnell about the chore. He’s my next-door neighbor, a thirty-five year old man who still lives with his parents and four younger siblings because he can’t yet afford to get married. He noticed that I had not wanted to share in the work. I told him that I like being a part of community work, but that cutting up the pig was more than I could do. He said that he doesn’t like it either, but since other pig farmers do it he
feels he must. It’s hard to sell the meat if the operation is not performed.

He well understood my own aversion to the chore. He and I have talked a lot about the fact that I do not eat meat. But the meaning of such aversion is what interests me here: It seems to me to mark strongly one aspect of my rich man’s privilege: the freedom to indulge such an inclination, to choose the work I am willing to do.