Babe the stone pig came into our lives as a kind of a substitute hound dog. This is how that happened.
When our older guy graduated from high school, we moved. We wanted Matt to finish school in his home, with his friends, and with wonderful teachers who knew and cared about him; but then, although we loved our neighbors and our community, we had to consider our hefty commutes. We decided to move to the small town where I was working, which had good schools, old friends, and a direct route to Mark’s work.
The first year, we decided, we would rent, and we found a beautiful old farmhouse just out of town. In the 1840’s, it had been an inn. The house had a stone porch, tall ceilings, sweeping rooms; it had beautiful yards and a drive that turned into a trail leading into a vineyard.
We shared the drive with John and Shirley, who were the caretakers for the property.
They were also animal lovers. Shirley walked out the trail each day and fed critters stale cereal, and they expected her; she had a giant bruise on one leg where a woodchuck, wild for its Wheaties, barreled right into her.
John and Shirley had a beautiful long-haired cat, an incredible white parrot, and a big shepherd dog named Tasha. I’ve been in their house when all three of these beasts were snuggled together, napping—cat curled up on dog with a bird on its shoulder.
Tasha was an impressive dog. She had a head as big and as thick as a good shovel; her feet were like pie plates. She was loving and loyal, but not a dog a casual visitor would want to mess with.
She was also a rescue dog. John had saved her from the basement of our house after realizing that a former tenant, the kind who left in the middle of a night, had left behind two dogs, locked in the deep, wet, scary cellar. The other pup, sadly, didn’t survive, but Tasha thrived with John and Shirley. She wouldn’t go anywhere near the door of our house, but she felt a little territorial about the yards.
When we moved in with our Holmsie dog, John dragged over a sturdy white dog house. We set it up in the backyard for Holmsie. It had a wood floor which we covered with a blanket, and we made a port for her chain.
Generally, Holmsie sought out a sunny grassy spot to snooze her days away, but whenever Tasha came near, she snarled (under her breath; no fool she) and took up residence in the doghouse.
So she used the doghouse quite a bit, and when we moved 18 months later, into a wonderful house and wonderful neighborhood on Orchard Street, John insisted we take the doghouse. She loves it, he said, motioning to Holmsie dog, and so we put it in the truck, unloaded it at Orchard Street, and parked it in the far back corner of our new backyard.
Holmsie never went near it again; she only liked the doghouse when Tasha threatened to take it over.
Holmsie spent her days at Orchard Street joyfully making dirt nests in flower beds I had recently reclaimed and choking herself when Kathy’s cat taunted her. The cat, which lived in the house (you’ll pardon the pun) kitty-corner behind us, was a genius at estimating just how much slack there was on our dumb dog’s chain.
What to do with the empty dog house, such a sturdy structure, with such nice memories of our year and a half in the old inn?
We thought we’d buy a stone dog statue and perch it in the door, and maybe paint a name over the lintel.
So we haunted outdoor stores and nurseries and couldn’t find a dog statue that called to us. We kept coming back to a pugnacious stone pig (a pig in a doghouse?), and finally it came home with us. A serious family discussion decided the name, and I took out the black enamel and carefully lettered ‘Babe’ over the doghouse doorway. And the pig took up the seat of honor.
The neighbors grew very fond of Babe, and we made sure she was dressed for any weather. She was a silent witness to our backyard barbecues and bocce games. Holmsie had no problem ceding her place in the old doghouse.
When, several years later, it was time to make the family move to Ada, Ohio, so Mark could pursue his law school dream at Ohio Northern, we left behind the doghouse, but we couldn’t part with the pig.
We’d thought long and hard about where to live during the law school years, and we decided to buy a trailer in a mobile home court. We wouldn’t have neighbors above or below, we wouldn’t have college kids partying on weekends, and we could recoup some of our investment when we left.
We found a nice mobile home court on the edge of town, and the first trailer was for sale. It had the corner lot, a nice young couple and a cornfield for neighbors, and a roomy front yard. We painted inside and out, refurbished the shed, and downsized our furnishings, and we settled in for a two-year stay. Holmsie found her favorite spot, and we planted Babe in the midst of a day lily bed, facing the curving drive.
Other people in the court had stone geese they dressed; we were the only ones with a pig, and she was noticed. Once, when the seasons were changing, we had removed her winter togs but hadn’t yet found an appropriate spring replacement at the consignment shop. Mark was shopping at the dollar store one night when a woman he didn’t know stopped him.
“Where’s that pig’s hat?” she demanded.
He promised to take care of it, and we did.
When we moved to Mount Vernon, Babe, who lost a trotter in the move, took up a seven year vigil in the corner of the fenced side yard.
Her ear broke in the move to Zanesville, but she is firmly ensconced in a little squared off spot in our old fashioned brick and cement patio.
How does a silly, quirky, HEAVY item become such a family fixture? We would not leave Babe behind. Battered and broken—which is how I feel some early mornings—she maintains her pugnacious attitude. There can be rain falling mercilessly, there can be snow piled on her knitted hat, and she sticks that intrepid snout into the air and grins that piggie grin. She bears the change of hats well, and she presides at our outdoor meals. She beams at our visitors.
She’s been with us on the whole strange trip,–which, yes, may have cost a trotter or an ear tip, but has yielded such wonderful rewards.
Many families have icons—a battered ceramic Santa with taped toes, a blanket lovingly made by hands long stilled, a book of photographs and drawings spanning generations. Ours is a stone pig named Babe, who took up the empty space in a doghouse. She reminds us where we’ve been, greets us every day, and makes me think that, whatever the years may bring, there are some things, steadfast and sturdy, that will remain.