A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Charlotte's Web Set Me Up:
The Truth about Children's Literature and Farm Life

by Kelly Roberts (Oct 2011)


I have no idea how old I was but at some point between the age of eight and fourteen, I was either asked to go visit my neighbor to help them out or decided they needed to be visited and voluntarily went on my own. My neighbor was an agriculture teacher; he and his wife raised pigs. And, his pigs were farrowing. For those of you who are city folk, farrowing is the process of assisting the birthing and immediate aftercare of pigs.

Farm children get excused absences from school for events such as farrowing, harvesting and deer hunting…no questions asked. An unfortunate practice of pig farrowing, however, is that the babies need iron shots. The act of sticking a baby pig with a needle is horrific! The vein best suited for this shot is right behind their ears. A screaming pig can rock you to the very core, and believe me, they HOLLER during the shot-receiving process.

My job was to hold the new babies while the neighbor gave them their iron shots. No problem. I was willing to wrestle with the little boogers, regardless of how powerful their infant three-pound bodies were, because I knew a secret. I knew that farmers give away runts to the young girls who happen to be around at the right time. I knew that young girls get to be champions of the runts and save their lives by pleading for rights of ownership. I knew that runts then grew into huge pigs who got buttermilk baths and won prizes at the local fair AND that spiders in the pig’s barn turned magically into English-speaking life forms and wove words of adornment about said piggies. On farrowing day, I KNEW I was going home with a prize.

Thirty-six times I held a three pound tornado and endured the eardrum exploding screams. It didn’t matter. All I could think about was how to mix up buckets of pig slop in order to properly grow the fine specimen I was about to receive. The mess, the stink and my aching arms were worth it. I was going to have a Children’s Novel Life.

When I was holding pig number thirty-five, my neighbor’s summarizing words forced themselves through the haze of my daydreaming, “Thanks so much for helping us out, Kelly. You were a real trooper. Tell your mom and dad I said hello.”

I blinked. Twice. I stood there for a second too long before answering, “Uh, okay. I sure will.” My neighbor made another joke about the pig poop on our shoes, we finished number thirty-six and he headed back toward his house.

“But what about the runt?” The question was articulating in my head loud and clear but got trapped in my throat, squeezed off with powerful disappointment. The guy was just a normal, every-day farmer. If there was a runt, he was simply going to raise it like any other pig. Truth be told, I couldn’t see that any of the pigs were smaller than any other. I turned around to set my sights on how far away our own home was, made my legs move, and began the trek across the pasture back to reality.

“Some Pig,” I thought to myself as I navigated the bumps in the pasture. “Terrific. Radiant. Humble.” The cloud of emotion over my head began to rain. Halfway across the pasture I thought, “Stupid.” I tripped over a tuft of Love grass and sunk into a bona fide funk.

By the time I arrived to my front door I was thinking, “Dumb, dumb book.” I took off my shoes and walked in the house. As I passed my bedroom entrance, I glanced momentarily at the back wall. My bookshelf was in full view and I spied my copy of the E.B. White novel quickly. I stopped, hesitated, sighed and then went into my bedroom and grabbed a book. A different book.

I think I’ll read “Heidi,” I thought. I approached my favorite reading corner in the room, sank down onto the carpet and opened the story. The spine cracked as I adjusted my position and found page one.

By the time Heidi and her aunt were on top of the mountain, the cloud over my head had stopped raining and the sun had begun to peek out just a little.

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Revised October 2011.