My Mom, the Warrior

Thanksgiving afternoon with the Sheriff

My mom stood just 5 feet 2 inches tall, but when it became necessary, she could be a fearsome giant.

One day as we were entering the sullen, smartass stage of adolescence, Mom was sewing and my brother got into some kind of mischief. When Mom scolded him he popped off with some smartass remark, and Mom whirled in her chair and whacked him on the head with the thimble she had on her finger. It had to hurt, because the “thwack” could be heard clear across the house.

My brother is two years older than I am. As kids we were always getting into fights, and Mom was always having to break us up. Eventually we were both a lot bigger than her, and it was harder for her to intervene.

Finally, we got into a fight and refused her demands to stop. At that point she waded into us with a broom handle, raising knots on our heads. As I recall, that was the last time my brother and I ever fought.

My oldest brother and one of his classmates had vied for the affections of the same girl, and my brother won. The loser (both literally and figuratively) carried a grudge about that for years. So, when I entered my freshman year of high school, guess who my Physical Education teacher was? You guessed correctly, the loser! If teachers were allowed to use such language in class in 1963, I might have thought my name was dammit! This guy picked on me every day, whether or not I had done anything wrong. It wasn’t hard for him to find something to chew on me for, because I was (and remain) among the clumsiest and most uncoordinated guys you’ll ever see.

Eventually I told Mom what was happening with my PE teacher. She went to the school filled with righteous rage, and reigned supreme over the Principal and the teacher, who by then was uncomfortably staring at his shoes after the Principal heard the story about loser and my brother. He never picked on me again.

What really established her fearsome persona though, was the next-door neighbors’ pigs. My best friend’s dad was a farmer, who raised tomatoes, corn, soybeans and pigs. He was good at farming, but not so much at maintaining his fences. His pigs kept getting out and rooting up the neighborhood lawns, especially ours. The damage to our lawn was so bad it looked like it had been plowed. We complained and he promised to fix the fences, but was slow to actually do it.

Soon my dad and oldest brother started to splash paint on the pigs to prove they had been there. When that didn’t work, they started shooting them with .22 cal. bird shot. This bird shot was contained in a .22 cartridge that was crimped on the end and looked like a blank. The rifle became like a tiny shotgun- it couldn’t actually kill them, it would just pepper their bottoms and they would run home with bloody butts.

One day when Mom was home alone the pigs came back and started to root up the back yard. Since Dad and my brother weren’t home, she went and got the rifle. Instead of birdshot though, she grabbed a box of hollow points- she didn’t know the difference. She then opened the kitchen window and fired a single shot. Two pigs bit the dust, the bullet having passed through one and into another. One was dead, and the other jumped up, ran home and died there. When my brother got home Mom had him drag the dead pig up to a wash in the pasture and leave it.

Meanwhile, the neighbors turned apoplectic. My friend’s dad and adult brother came walking up the road, then up the driveway, (Mom locked the doors and hid) but instead of knocking on the door, they went through the gate into the pasture and found the dead pig. They came back from the pasture and walked back down the driveway in a state of high excitement, talking loudly and wildly gesticulating. They didn’t come to the door. That was the day before Thanksgiving.

The next day after Thanksgiving dinner, the County Sheriff pulled into the driveway. (That was back when the sheriff himself actually served road duty and responded to citizens’ calls.) It seems like the neighbors had called him to complain about their dead pigs. He and Dad sat in the living room and talked it over while watching college football, the annual “Blue and Gray” game between two highly-ranked Northern and Southern teams.

They would talk about the neighbors’ pigs for a while and then go silent for several minutes as the game distracted them. Dad showed him the bird shot cartridges and Mom’s hollow points (haha) while mom worked in the kitchen, pretending she wasn’t even involved. They kept getting distracted, and Dad and the Sheriff spent more more time watching the game than talking about the issue at hand. All in all, it was quite a pleasant visit.

Long story short, the Sheriff told us we were within our rights to shoot the pigs while they were on our property, and advised the neighbor to fix his fences. During all this time my friend and I never talked about it, wisely deciding on a separate peace- except for the rare times when we were quarreling: “Well, your pigs tore up our yard!” followed by, “Oh yeah? Well, your Mom shot our pigs!”