When the weather forecaster predicts, “There’ll be a hard freeze tonight,”
we usually shift our priorities and rush to pick the remaining garden
vegetables. Boone County’s first hard freeze usually comes about this time,
Peppers, tomatoes, okra, melons, and other vegetables are enjoying a sudden
growing spurt just now. The pepper plants are bending under the weight of new
growth. Cantaloupe vines are blooming, okra and tomatoes are outdoing
themselves, as if they sense that the end is near.
Lots of the ripe tomatoes and green peppers go to the kitchen, almost-ripe and
green tomatoes go to our in-the-ground cellar. We sometimes pull the cherry
tomato plants up by the roots and pile them on a shelf in the cellar. With
luck there’ll be a few left for a salad on Thanksgiving day.
One Friday morning, almost 40 years ago, the early morning forecast was:
“There’ll be a hard freeze tonight.” Uncle Archie said he’d help me take
care of the vegetables before Chub and the kids came home. Unc, at age 82,
came for a week’s visit and stayed four years. He was a lot of help around the
I got some baskets and buckets ready for the picking and then remembered that
Chub asked me to take a bit of corn to the hogs. Just then Unc came in with a
bucket of Skyline’s warm milk.
As he set the bucket on the cabinet he said, casually, “Save out some for the
white sow; she had seven baby pigs this morning.” Then he added. “We’d
better mix the milk with some “ship stuff.” She left the shed and had those
pigs right on the cold damp ground, up against the wire fence.
He said, “I’ll get straw while you mix the ship stuff.” As I mixed, I
accepted the fact that shivering piglets have priority over tomatoes and
We didn’t dare to try to move the sow and babies. When a sow wants to have her
babies out in the cold it’s best to leave her alone for a while; some sows
kill their own babies when upset.
Unc was a heavyset man and his legs were wobbly but together. We used baling
wire and pliers to tie a large piece of galvanized roofing to the fence for a
windbreak. The sow scolded us for this and for putting straw around her and
her seven pink piggies.
Next I started the tractor to go to the corn field but a front tire was low so
I drove to the shed to use the air compressor. Then we were on our way to
shuck enough corn for Woodchuck, whose first litter would arrive the next
week, and for a few hogs that would soon go to market.
Then Unc tossed two piglets, born dead, onto the tractor platform and climbed
on behind me. He disposed of the two as we drove to the field.
Returning with our sack of corn we found that Woodchuck was crowding in with
the white sow and her babies. She wouldn’t be driven away so Unc enticed her
to follow a scoop of ear corn, and we eased her through the gate and latched
it quickly behind her.
Next we had to get Skyline out of the lot because a pig mashed by a milk cow’s
hoof is as dead as a pig eaten by a frantic sow.
Unc and I stopped for a very late cup of soup and a cold beef sandwich. When
we checked the residents in the barn lot, things were quiet and unchanged --
except for the screeching of baby kittens! In the barn, behind some machinery,
we found Betty William licking two live ones and two that were a few degrees
Betty William, the cat who got two names before the kids knew how to determine
the sex of a kitten, has now removed all doubt about gender.
The kids would soon be walking up our long driveway. I hurried to warm a wool
rag and wrap it around the chilled kittens. They were sound asleep in a shoe
box on the open oven door when Nancy and Walt gladly took over as nurse maids.
Near bedtime I ended my journal entry by saying:
“It’s been a busy day. The wind quit blowing as a cold front passed at noon
and the air seems fresher and purer than ever. It was one of those beautiful
crisp October days with trees turning and birds singing. We’ve saved seven
baby pigs and four kittens, which we neither needed or wanted.
And yes, we got most, but not all, of the tomatoes and peppers picked away
before night and the hard freeze that’s predicted.”