My aunt, unable to find me a puppy (or so she said) tied a rope around the neck of one of her piglets and let me have him as my summer pet. I reluctantly took it thinking she had gone batty from drinking the elixirs bought from a salesman who traveled through our barrio. That following weekend when my father came for his respite from the daily grind, I told him about his sister’s vice, but he ignored me. He paid more attention to my pet pig.
My father always gave me a puppy during the summer, and just before school would start, it would be sent off to my aunt’s in Subic. One summer, when I was about five, the puppy I had once taken care of had grown into a vicious guard dog and would only respond kindly to my aunt. When I arrived for my summer vacation, he saw me as nothing more than an intruder. He incessantly barked and snarled at me. I was upset by it. I thought he was an ungrateful scruffy dog worthy of serious discipline from his original master—me.
The next morning, I grabbed one of the rakes leaning against the side of the tool shed and proceeded to scare him with it if he didn’t learn to hush at my presence. He only got meaner and his barking increased even more in intensity. I stopped when I heard my aunt calling my name. She handed me two pieces of corn bread as late morning snack, which I decided to share with that scruffy dog chained under a tree. Stupid me, I pulled a stool to sit next to him so we could eat together like we used to when he was a puppy. Instead of going for his piece of corn bread, he went for my right thigh.
My aunt was worried to death; not because I got bitten, but how my father might react when he found out. Twenty-five excruciating shots I had to endure during that summer vacation. The doctor would always have a little plastic toy for me or a piece of candy, but I was always so traumatized by the needle that I enjoyed none of it. So, the next summer when I was asking her for a puppy, she thought I might be safer with a pig.
We became the laughing stock to some of the folks in that barrio, but I paid them no mind. Wherever I went, there, tagging right along was my pet pig. He was a dark brown with spots of mostly tan and lighter shades of brown. I had trained him well enough that he no longer required a rope around his neck.
I would also regularly bathe him with soap like I did with my puppies. He was regularly groomed and kept clean that my aunt allowed him inside the house much to the envy of that vicious scruffy dog tied under the tree. In the afternoons when we went swimming at the river, he would occupy himself by sniffing along the bank. Sometimes, he’d find himself a shade and take a nap. He would awaken when it was time for us to go home.
People would also find us sitting by the sideline during the inter-barrio basketball games. Some of the players asked me to have him as their team mascot but I refused. I knew he’d end up as pulutan after the tournament. But my pet pig proved to be a great distraction to the opposing teams that we soon got the respect of the barrio’s comedians; we were no longer the butt of their jokes.
There was also the summer evening dance on that same basketball court in which the lights and music would be powered by a generator. My pet pig, cousins and I would be at the far corner where we would watch the barrio’s young ladies and men having the time of their life. We would poke fun at our older brothers on the dance floor while my pet pig next to me tried to make sense of the whole event.
Twice a month, a Sunday mass would be held in our barrio’s chapel next to the basketball court and my aunt would prepare the after mass breakfast. It was a big effort since other relatives would come over, including the visiting priest and his entourage from the church in Castillejos. I guess it was my aunt’s show of gratitude for having been blessed with a good income from her backyard poultry and piggery business.
My going back to the city coincided with one of those after mass breakfasts. It was actually a grander affair because my entire family was there to take me back home. Instead of immediately joining everyone for a hearty meal after mass that morning, I was running around frantically looking for my pet pig. I actually wanted to spend whatever time we have left together. And when my father heard me asking for him, all of a sudden he announced that we had to leave and would just have breakfast somewhere along the way. I found myself in this whirlwind of saying goodbye to everybody and then immediately getting whisked out and off on our way home.
The following week, when my father sensed that I was attempting to request for my pet pig to be brought to Manila, he told me the truth. Supposedly, my aunt had mistakenly turned him into a lechon de leche; the table’s centerpiece on that Sunday’s breakfast buffet. And as I cried, my father comforted me by saying that I was right all along; my aunt had, in fact, gone batty from those elixirs she loved to drink.
Every now and then I’d still think about that summer with my pet pig. In New York, people I talked to about it were either puzzled or revolted by the idea of my having a pet pig. It wasn’t until later on when it became a more acceptable idea; the evening news during the ‘90s started to feature special interest stories about domesticated pet pigs. People started becoming more aware how smart these animals are. And of course, the movie "Babe" endeared pigs to a lot of people.
Oprah Winfrey once featured a pet pig that ran out of the house and played dead right on the middle of the street. When a couple of people walked near him, he suddenly got up, made a lot of noise and headed back to the house, but kept turning to look at them. The people followed the pig back to the house and discovered lying on the living floor was his master suffering from a heart attack.
A graduate of The Ateneo de Manila, the doctor who treated my dog bite, Dr. Novales, was given a distinguished award for his dedicated service to the indigent folks of Subic, including the indigenous mountain people (aetas) in the region.
This article is a re-post. It was originally published on Nov. 21, 2005
* * *
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.