By Sean Dietrich
I’m just an old woman who raises pigs,” said Miss Wanda. “You’d be crazy to wanna write about me.”
Maybe I am crazy. But right now, I am on Miss Wanda’s sprawling farm in Central Alabama, and there are pigs everywhere, roaming, making deposits.
One pig—named Twiggy—is brushing against my leg like a lovesick house cat. She is sniffing my hand. Twiggy weighs more than a commercial washing machine.
“Twiggy loves cookies,” Miss Wanda tells me. “She thinks you have cookies in your hand.”
Miss Wanda is 76, and a pig lover. Her love affair with pigs started innocently just like any hobby.
She bought a pig that was supposed to be a “teacup pig,” from a breeder in Georgia.
They named the tiny pig “Cream Puff.”
“Cream Puff used to be small enough to fit in your pocket,” says Wanda. “Used to let him sleep in my bed and everything. Thought he’d stay that small.”
But Cream Puff kept eating his Wheaties, and soon he was about the size of a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys.
Miss Wanda explains: “I found out there ain’t no such thing as a ‘teacup pig.’ People oughta know that going into their first pig purchase.”
Cream Puff turned out to be a big old boy. He eats eight pounds of feed each day and frequently makes six-pound contributions to the Barnyard of Life.
Miss Wanda is her own woman. She is a vegetarian, a musician, a quilter and a dedicated granny. And she loves pigs.
Wanda takes me into her home. It’s a place that smells like cinnamon and fresh bread. There is sheet music everywhere, and fabric bolts, and porcelain figurines.
She removes a violin from an old case. She plays “Flop Eared Mule” and “Amazing Grace.”
She holds the fiddle low on her arm. Her fingers are arthritic. Her spirit is not.
Her father taught her to play. Long ago, he was a millworker, a farmer. She remembers watching him play his fiddle in the kitchen while her mother cooked supper.
She was close to him. After her mother had a horrible nervous breakdown, he raised her.
When she got older, she met a man in the military. She married him. He carried her all over the world—Japan, Germany, Florida.
“He was abusive,” she says. “First time he smacked me, he blamed it on whiskey. The second time, he was sober.”
One night, he lost his mind and tried to kill her. She left him, and took her 10-year-old daughter with her. She came here.
She arrived at two in the morning. Her father met her on the porch. And it was here that they had a good life. Her father played his fiddle for his beautiful girls until he passed.
So that’s her story. She raised her daughter here, by herself. And she is still here because she loves it.
“After my daughter got married,” she adds. “Things started to get pretty lonely.”
So she bought a pig.
And pigs became her friends. They’re too big to come indoors like dogs. But you ought to see their snouts light up when she comes around.
“My daughter thinks I’ve lost my mind,” she says. “But after years of trying to be somebody I’m not, I’ve finally learned to be me. Maybe I am crazy. I don’t know.”
She looked up her ex-husband on Facebook a few years ago. She emailed him for the first time in 30 years. It was something she wanted to do.
She flew to California to forgive him in a Mexican restaurant over a margarita.
“Ten years ago, I coulda never done that. I think I’m finally done healing inside. Healing takes time.”
Our meeting is over. She hugs me and bids me farewell. She sends me away with vegan chocolate chip cookies. Twiggy is waiting beside my truck in case I’d like to donate my cookies to a needy hog.
Before I leave, she says: “You ain’t really gonna write about some old woman with pet pigs, are you?”
I might, Miss Wanda. I just might.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.