A special note from the writer to the reader: Please be forewarned—I wrote this story with my tongue pouched firmly in my cheek. The dictionary defines tongue-in-cheek speech and writing as “Ironic, slyly humorous; not meant to be taken seriously.”
et al, a Latin abbreviation meaning “and others” (‘et al.’ is used as an abbreviation of `et alii’ (masculine plural) or `et aliae’ (feminine plural) or `et alia’ (neuter plural) when referring to a number of people); “the data reported by Smith et al.”
The family that I will introduce to you in this posting would not know a Latin term from a monkey’s rash, but you will soon learn that the family is closely related—to the Latin term, not to the monkey.
The aforementioned family lives and reproduces in a mountainous region somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. It is an extended long-lived family that includes members from several generations, members ranging from great grandparents to great grandchildren, all crowded under the same roof.
For many years the family enjoyed the companionship of a beloved pet, a lady pig reared from its piglet status to adult pighood. She had a sparkling personality, and readily responded to the name Al, a diminutive term for Alberta. Al’s name was diminutive but she was not—she tipped the scales at 1,000 pounds, and for many years was awarded the title of Healthiest and Heaviest Hog at the state’s annual Hog Festival—she was much larger even than Godzilla, an Alabama boar hog pictured at right (you will note that Godzilla is now deceased).
The family’s rationale for naming their pet Alberta is unknown, but it’s doubtful that it came from any sort of written material, unless from can labels or printed feed sacks—most of the family was neither inclined nor capable of deciphering literary symbols—in fact, the only printed material to be found in the home, other than can labels, seed catalogs and printed feed sacks was the Sears catalog, delivered to the family annually by a postal worker leading a mule. The mule carried the mail while the postman walked, but following the last delivery the worker was authorized to ride, if he so desired.
Note: I have walked and I have ridden mules—astride—and I would much rather walk.
One more thought concerning the name Alberta—one may reasonably surmise that the home may have housed one or more immigrants, legal or otherwise, from Italy or Spain, or perhaps from Mexico, Central America or South America, all locations with considerable numbers of Spanish-speaking people, hence the name Alberta, the feminine form of Alberto.
The Sears catalog, a thick periodical comprised of thousands of smooth and very slick pages with thousands of pictorial images, was handled so much by everyone, including the very young and the very old, that the pages were softened by its constant use, especially in the section that presented images of underwear-clad models of both sexes.
Each year, in a time-honored practice initiated immediately following the delivery of the new catalog, the previous year’s publication was exported to a small house located a few yards to the rear of the big house, to be used for a secondary purpose—although very few members of the family could read, some wag had posted a crudely lettered sign in the little house behind the house that read, “Blot, do not rub,” a reference, perhaps, to the catalog’s remarkably smooth pages.
Please forgive me. I have inadvertently digressed from my original purpose, that of telling the story of the family’s beloved pet, a tremendously talented pig named Alberta—Al for short.
Now to continue the saga of Al:
Al lived with one of the family’s grandmothers—a kindly woman, an Aunt Bea type that cheerfully welcomed all visitors that came to see her highly talented pet perform. Al was a very intelligent pig and very light on her feet— she could, on cue, perform various tricks including dancing wildly on her back legs to tunes played by one of the younger boys in the family. That worthy was a lad that never did well at his studies—fact never entered a schoolroom, but he was a music maestro with a banjo in his hands. Oh, and Al also did a remarkable imitation of the belly dance performed by Little Egypt in1893 at the Egyptian Theater on the World’s Columbian Exposition Midway in Chicago (pictured at right).
In addition to her dancing abilities, Al could also emit a staccato series of grunts and squeals that were easily identifiable as the tune of The Star Spangled Banner. People came from far and wide—over the river and through the trees, to grandma’s house they came—just to hear Al sing our national anthem. The highlight of Al’s performance was when she hit the high notes in the final stanza, the part that goes, ” . . . o’er the land of the free . . .” When she inhaled deeply and then squealed out the word free, thunderous applause erupted, with the audience according recognition and appreciation for a performance that would equal or surpass the applause for any rendition of the song at major league baseball games.
The family prospered for many years, but in time the area fell on hard times, a deep economic depression that required them to forage for sustenance over a wide range. They had a plentiful supply of poke salad, a type of green made from pokeweed, a plant that grows wild over a wide range. When properly prepared, pokeweed is a palatable and digestible green, similar to turnip greens and spinach. However, preparation must be meticulous because, if not properly prepared, the weed is poisonous—it has the ability and proclivity to kill a person soon after its ingestion. The images on the right show the living plant and a woman preparing a meal that includes poke salad—ummm, looks tasty!
Not long after the depression hit, visitors seeking entertainment from the family’s beloved pet were told that the pig was not available. On questioning Al’s whereabouts, they were first briefed about the hard times on which the family had fallen, with emphasis on its inability to adequately nourish the children, primarily because poke salad did not furnish the protein necessary for survival. So in answer to the question, the grandmother would furnish a prepared answer, one couched in the form of a poem:
“Our young’uns was hungry,
And we was too,
So we done the only thang
That we knowed to do.
We et Al!
We et everthang ‘cept her squeal, and we shore do miss ‘er!”
Please don’t laugh—this is a true story, as told to me by the banjo-playing boy from Deliverance, a great movie that starred Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty—if you can find it on VHS or DVD, check it out—it’s well worth the watch!
In an odd way this posting is related to the movie, because in one scene the script called for Ned Beatty to squeal like a pig—Ned squealed beautifully, so well that he was awarded Hollywood’s Oscar for Best Squeal of the Year. The award could better have been titled Best Squeal Ever.
And just in case that a reader of this posting—any reader—really believes this is a true story, as told to me by the young banjo picker in that movie, I stand ready to offer that reader a fantastic deal on some ocean-front property near Flagstaff, Arizona—I’m reasonably certain that we can come to an agreement on the price.
Just one more thought, a word of precaution to anyone that harbors thoughts of using the poem above for mercenary purposes—the poem that reveals the fate of the fair Alberta. The poem is my creation, given birth by me. It should be obvious to any viewer that I expended a considerable amount of my time, talent and energy in its creation, and the fruits of my labor should not be harvested by others. Beware—the poem has been properly copyrighted and made a matter of record in all the appropriate venues.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.