Next year or two, I learned more about hog farmin than anybody got a need or even a right to know.
They was all sorts of hogs Mr. McGivver kept: big ole Poland Chinas an registered Hampshires, Mangalitzas, Durocs, Berkshires, Tamworths, an Cheshires. He even had a few merino sheep, which was sort of funny lookin, but Mister McGivver said he had em cause they was "nicer to look at."
My job, I figgered out pretty soon, was to do just about everthin. I slopped the hogs in the mornin an afternoon. Then I'd go around with a shovel an try an get up as much of the pig shit as possible, which Mister McGivver would sell to crop farmers for manure. I fixed fences an tried to keep the barn cleaned. Every month or so I'd load up the truck with whatever pigs Mister McGivver wanted to sell, an take them to market up at Wheeling or wherever.
One time I'm comin back from a trip to a pig auction, when a great idea come over me. I am drivin on the outskirts of this big ole army base, when it occur to me that they is wastin a lot of food that might be useful. I mean, when I was in the army a long time ago, I spent a lot of time on KP, account of I was always in hot water. An one of the things I remembered was that there was a lot of food an stuff that just got thowed out in the garbage from the mess halls, an it suddenly occurs to me that maybe we can use this food to slop the hogs. This is on account of hog food is expensive, an Mister McGivver say this is the main reason he cannot expand the pig farmin as fast as he wants. An so I stopped by the headquarters an ast to see whoever was in charge. They shown me into a little office, an lo an behole, there is this big ole black feller settin behind a desk, an when he turned around, it was Sergeant Kranz, from my ole company back in Vietnam. He took one look at me an liked to jumped out of his skin!
"Great godamighty! Is that you, Gump? What in hell are you doin here?"
When I tole him, he bust out laughin till he liked to split his pants.
"Pig farmer! Why, hell, Gump, with your record - Congressional Medal of Honor an all - you ought to be a general by now - or at least a sergeant major, like me! Mess hall leftovers for pigs, why - well, why not? Hell, Gump, you go see the mess hall first sergeant. Tell him I said to give you all the garbage you want." We talked about some of the ole times back in the war - about Bubba an Lieutenant Dan an some of the other fellers. I tole him about the Ping-Pong stuff in China an gettin involved with the NASA people an startin up the srimp bidness an playin football for the New Orleans Saints. He say that all sounds pretty peculiar, but what the hell, to each his own. For him, he says, he is a "thirty-year" man in the army, after which he is gonna retire an open a saloon that won't allow any civilians in, whatsoever, includin presidents of the United States. Finally Sergeant Kranz clapped me on the back an sent me on my way, an when I got back to the farm with a load of garbage for the hogs, Mister McGivver was beside hissef.
"Goddamn, Gump," he shouts. "This is the most brilliant idea I've ever heard of! Why didn't I think of it myself! With all this slop from the army, we can double - hell, quadruple our operation in a matter of months!"
Mister McGivver was so happy he done give me a fifty-cents-an-hour raise an let me have Sundays off. I used the time to go down to the town an sort of ass around. Coalville wadn't much of a place. A few thousan people maybe, an a lot of them was out of work account of the coal seam that caused the town to be there in the first place had done played out. The mine entrance was just a big ole hole in the side of the hill overlookin the town now, an a lot of the guys set around the courthouse square an played checkers. There was a diner there called Etta's, where some of the ole miners gone to drink coffee, an sometimes I'd set there an drink coffee alongside em an hear them tell their stories about when the mine was runnin. Tell the truth, it was kind of depressin, but it was better than hangin around the hog farm all the time.
Meanwhile, it became my job to arrange for the mess hall slop to be brought to our hog farm. First thing we had to do was to separate the pig food from the other shit, like napkins an paper bags an boxes an cans an all. Sergeant Kranz done figgered out a way to do this, however. He made all the KPs in the various barracks divide the garbage into separate cans, marked Edible Trash an Inedible Trash. This worked good enough till visitors' day at the army base came around an some of the mamas an daddies of the soldiers complained to the general about what their sons might be gettin to eat around there. After that, we figgered out a new code for the cans, but it worked just as well. In a few months our operation was workin so good Mister McGivver had to buy us two new trucks just to haul the garbage to our farm, an within a year, we had seven thousan an eighty-one hogs to our name.
One day I done got a letter from Mrs. Curran. She says it is gonna be summertime pretty soon, an she thinks it might be a good idea for little Forrest to spend some time with me. She don't put it exactly in the letter, but I get the impression little Forrest is not doin too good. It is like "boys will be boys," but also she adds that his school grades ain't high as they used to be an "it might be helpful if he could spend some time with his daddy." Well, I wrote her back, sayin to send him on up on the train when school let out, an a few weeks later, he arrived at the station in Coalville.
When I first see him, I can hardly believe it! He has grown about a foot an a half an is a fine-lookin boy, with sandy brown hair an good clear blue eyes like his mama had. But when he sees me, he ain't smilin.
"How's it goin?" I ast.
"What is this place?" he says, lookin around an sniffin like he has arrived at the city dump.
"It is where I live now," I tole him.
"Yeah?" he says.
I get the impression little Forrest has developed an attitude.
"They used to mine coal here," I say, "afore it run out."
"Grandma says you are a farmer - that so?"
"Sort of. You wanna go on up to the farm?"
"Might as well," he says. "I don't see no reason to stay here."
So I took him up to Mister McGivver's farm. Half a mile fore we arrive, little Forrest be holdin his nose an fannin the air. "What is that smell?" he ast.
"It is the hogs," I say. "What we raise on the farm is hogs."
"Shit! You expect me to stay here all summer with a bunch of stinkin hogs!"
"Look," I say, "I know I ain't been that good a daddy to you, but I am tryin to get us both by, an this is the only work I got right now. An I got to tell you, you ain't sposed to be using words like 'shit' around here. You is too young for that."
He didn't say nothin for the rest of the drive, an when we got to Mister McGivver's house, he gone on inside to his room an shut the door. Didn't come out till suppertime, an when he did he mostly just sat at the table an played with his food. After he gone to bed, Mister McGivver lit up his pipe an say, "The boy don't seem to be very happy, does he?"
"I reckon not," I says, "but I think he'll come around in a day or so. After all, he ain't seen me in a pretty long time."
"Well, Gump, I think it might be a good thing for him to pull his weight around here, you know. Might make him grow up a little bit."
"Yeah," I says, "maybe so." I gone on to bed mysef an was feelin pretty low. I closed my eyes an tried to think about Jenny, hopin she'd turn up to help me, but she didn't. This time, I am on my own.
Next mornin I got little Forrest to help me slop the pigs, an the whole time he acted disgusted. All that day an the next, he didn't say nothin to me cept when he had to, an then it wadn't but a word or two. Finally I had a idea.
"You got a dog or anythin at home?" I ast.
"Well, you want a pet?"
"You know, I bet you do, if I showed you one."
"Yeah? What sort of pet?"
"Foller me," I says.
I took him to a little stall in the barn, an there is a big ole Duroc sow, nursin half-a-dozen piglets. They is about eight weeks ole, an I had my eye on one of them in particular for a while. I figger it be the pick-of-the-litter, so to speak. It has good clear eyes an comes when you call it, an it is white with little black spots, an its ears perk up when you talk to it.
"I call this one Wanda," I says, pickin it up an handin it to little Forrest. He don't look too happy takin it, but he does, an Wanda begun rootin an lickin him like a puppy will.
"How come you call her Wanda?" he says finally.
"Oh, I dunno. I sort of named her after a ole friend of mine."
Well, after that, little Forrest seemed happier. Not so much with me, but Wanda become his constant companion. She was ready to be weaned anyhow, an Mister McGivver says it is okay with him, if it makes the boy happy.
One day it is time to truck some hogs up to Wheeling for the auction. Little Forrest helped me load them in the truck, an we set off early in the morning. Took half a day to get there, an then we got to come back for another load.
"How come you always drivin all those hogs up to Wheeling in this old truck?" he ast, which is probly the longest words he has had for me so far.
"Cause we gotta get em there, I guess. Mister McGivver's been doin it for years."
"Well, don't you know there's a railroad runs right through Coalville? Goes up to Wheeling, cause it said so when I rode in here on it. Why don't you just put the hogs on the railroad an let them take em up?"
"I dunno," I says. "Why?"
"Because you'd save time, for cryin out loud!" He looks very exasperated at me.
"What's time to a hog?" I ast.
Little Forrest just shakes his head an looks out the winder. I guess he is now figgered out that he has got a pea brain for a daddy.
"Well," I says, "maybe that is a good idea. I'll talk to Mister McGivver about it in the mornin."
But little Forrest ain't impressed. He just settin there with Wanda in his lap. Lookin kinda scared an alone.
"Fantastic!" shouts Mister McGivver. "Trains to carry the hogs to auction! It'll save us thousands! Why in hell didn't I think of that!"
He is so excited he's about to bust, an he picks up little Forrest an give him a big ole hug. "You're a genius, my boy! Why, we're all gonna be rich!"
Anyhow, Mister McGivver give us both a raise an let us have Sunday an Saturday off, an so on weekends I'd take little Forrest down to Coalville to Etta's diner an we'd get to talk to the ole miners an other folks that come around. They bein real nice to little Forrest, an he is all the time astin them questions about stuff. It weren't a bad way to spend the summer, actually, an as the weeks gone by I felt that little Forrest an me is gettin somewhat closer.
Meantime, Mister McGivver is tryin to solve a very messy problem, namely, what we gonna do with all the pig shit that is pilin up as our operation expands? By now, we has got more than ten thousan hogs, an that number is expandin ever day. By the end of the year, Mister McGivver say we ought to have upwards of twenty-five thousan hogs an, at about two pounds of pig shit per hog per day... well, you can see where this is leadin to.
Anyways, Mister McGivver is sellin the hog shit for manure at a pretty fast clip, but at this point he is about run out of folks to buy it, an besides, the folks in town are complainin louder an louder about the smell we are creatin.
"We could try to burn it," I says.
"Hell, Gump, they already bitchin about the odor as it is. How you think they'd react to a bonfire of fifty thousand pounds of pig shit ever day?"
Over the next few days we kicked around a few more ideas, but ain't none of them gonna work, an then one night at the supper table when the conversation turned to pig shit again, little Forrest piped up.
"I been thinkin," he says, "suppose we use it to generate power?"
"Do what?" ast Mister McGivver.
"Look here," Little Forrest says, "we got that big ole coal seam runnin right underneath our property...."
"What makes you think that?" says Mister McGivver.
"Cause one of the miners tole me so. He says the coal mine goes for nearly two miles from where the entrance is in town right across this land where the hogs are, and stops just before it gets to the swamp."
"Is that so?"
"It's what he tole me," little Forrest says. "Now, looka here..." He pulls out a composition book he has brought an lays it out on the table. When he opens it up, damned if it don't contain some of weirdest drawins I have ever seen, but it look like little Forrest might have saved our asses again.
"My God!" Mister McGivver hollers after he has looked at the drawins. "This is wonderful! First rate! You deserve a Nobel Prize, young man!"
What little Forrest has come up with is this: First we plug up the entrance to the coal mine back in town. Next, we drill holes down to the shaft under our property an bulldoze the pig shit into it ever day. After a while, the pig shit will begin to ferment an give off methane gas. Once that happens, we have a vent for the gas that runs through some kind of machinery an stuff that little Forrest has figgered out, an in the end winds up in a big ole generator that will produce enough power not only to run our farm, but it will run the power for the whole town of Coalville!
"Just think of it," Mister McGivver shouts, "a whole city run on pig shit! And furthermore, it's so simple an idiot can run it!" I am not so sure about this last statement.
Well, that was just the beginnin. It took the rest of the summer to get the operation goin. Mister McGivver had to talk to the city fathers, but they come up with a government grant to let us start the deal. Pretty soon we got all sorts of engineers an drillers an EPA people an equipment drivers an construction workers millin around on the farm, an people are installin the machinery in a big ole blockhouse they built. Little Forrest is named "honorary chief engineer." He is so proud, he is about to bust!
I gone on about my duties sloppin hogs an cleanin barns an pens an so on, but one day Mister McGivver comes an says for me to get the bulldozer, because it is time to start shovelin the pig shit into the mine shaft. I worked at that bidness for a week or so, an when I am done, they put a big mechanical seal over the holes they has drilled an little Forrest say now all we got to do is set an wait. That afternoon as the sun begins to go down, I watched him disappear over a little hill that leads down to the swamp, ole Wanda trottin along beside him. She's gettin big now, an so is he, an I ain't never been prouder of anythin in my life.
A week or two later, when it is almost the end of summer, little Forrest come an say it is finally time to start up the pig-shit-power operation. He took Mister McGivver an me into the blockhouse just before dark, where there is a big heap of machinery with a bunch of pipes an dials an gauges, an he begun to explain to us how the thing works.
"First," he says, "the methane gas is released from the mine shaft through this pipe, an a flame ignites it here." He points to what look like a big ole hot water heater. "Then," he says, "the condenser gets the steam compressed an it turns this generator, which makes electricity that moves out through these wires, and that's where the power comes from." He stands back, grinnin from ear to ear.
"This is wonderful!" cries Mister McGivver. "Edison, Fulton, Whitney, Einstein - none of them have done better!"
Little Forrest suddenly begun turnin valves an handles an thowin switches, an pretty soon the needles on the pressure gauges begun to climb an the meters on the wall begun to turn around. All of a sudden, lights flickerd on in the blockhouse an we is all jumpin for joy. Mister McGivver rushes outside an begun to holler - all the lights in the house an barns be on, bright as day, an in the distance we can see lights comin on in Coalville, too.
"Eureeka!" shouts Mister McGivver. "We have turned a sow's ear into a silk purse, an we are now eatin high on the hog!"
Anyhow, next day little Forrest got me back into the blockhouse an begun showin me how the operation ran. He explained all the valves an gauges an meters, an after a while, they didn't seem so hard to understand. I just had to check it all once a day an make sure that one or two of the gauges was not registerin more than they should be, an that this or that valve was turned on or off. I guess Mister McGivver was right, even a idiot like me could run this thing.
"There is somethin else I been thinkin about," little Forrest says at supper that night.
"What is that, my brilliant lad?" says Mister McGivver.
"Well, I been thinking. You said you were having to slow down the breeding a little bit cause there are just so many hogs you can sell in Wheeling and the other places around here."
"That is correct."
"So what I'm thinking is, why not ship the hogs overseas? South America, Europe - even China?"
"Ah, well, my boy," says Mister McGivver, "that is another fine idea. The problem is, it costs so much to ship hogs that it becomes uneconomical. I mean, time you get em to some foreign port, the shipping costs eat up your profit."
"That's what I been thinkin about," he says, an he pulls out the little composition book, an damned if they ain't another whole section of sketches he's drawn.
"Fantastic! Unbelievable! Terrific!" Mister McGivver cries, leaping up. "Why, you should be in the Congress or something!"
Little Forrest has been at it again. He has done sketched a model of a hog transport ship. I did not understand all of it exactly, but the gist of it is this: Inside the ship the hogs is kept in layers from top to bottom. The floorin is nothin but heavy mesh steel, an so when the hogs on the top layer shit, it drops on the second layer an the second on the third an so on, until finally all the hog shit winds up in the bottom of the boat, where there is a machine like we have made here that runs the entire ship.
"So the energy costs are virtually nil!" Mister McGivver roars. "Why, think of the possibilities! Shipping hogs for less than half the normal cost! This is simply amazing! Whole fleets of ships powered by shit! And it doesn't have to stop there, either! Think of it - trains, planes, airplanes! All of it! Even washers and dryers and television sets! Screw atomic energy. This may usher in a whole new era!" He is so excited he is now wavin his hands, an for a minute I worry he is gonna have a fit or somethin.
"I'm gonna turn this over to somebody first thing in the mornin," Mister McGivver says. "But first, I want to make an announcement. Gump, you have been so helpful around here that I want to show my gratitude by cutting you in on one third of our profits. Now, how about that?"
Well, I was kind of surprised, but it sounded pretty good, an I tole him so.
"Thanks," I said.
Finally the time come for little Forrest to go back to school. I was not lookin forward to it, but it had to be. The leafs was just beginnin to turn on the sycamore trees when I carried him to the train station in the truck. Wanda was ridin in the back, account of she was too big now for the cab.
"I want to ask you somethin," little Forrest says.
"What is that?"
"It's about Wanda. I mean, you ain't gonna..."
"Oh, no - no, I ain't gonna do anythin like that. I think we'll keep her on here as a brood hog, you know? She'll be fine."
"I want you to be good when you get home, hear? An do what your grandma tells you, okay?"
He just set there lookin out the winder, an I got the feelin there was somethin wrong.
"You ain't unhappy about anythin, is you?"
"Well, I was sort of wondering, why can't I just stay here and help run the hog farm?"
"Cause you too young, an you gotta go back to school. We'll see about that later, you know? But it ain't time right now, okay. Maybe you can come back for Christmas or somethin, huh?"
"Yeah, that'd be good."
We got to the station an little Forrest gone around to the back of the pickup truck an got Wanda down. We set on the depot platform, an he was huggin her around the neck an kind of talkin to her, an I felt real sorry for him. But I knowed I was doin the right thing. Anyhow, the train come along an he hugged Wanda one last time an got on board. Him an me, we just shook hands, an I watched him through the winder as the train pulled out. He give me an Wanda a little wave, an then we gone on back to the farm.
Well, let me say this: The days that follered was crazy, an Mister McGivver, he was busy as a one-legged man at an ass-kickin contest! First, he done expanded the hog breedin operation tenfold. He is even buyin hogs from all over, an so in the months that come, we has got upward of fifty or sixty thousan hogs - they is so many of them, we lost count. But it don't matter, cause the more hogs we got, the more methane gas we produce, an by now we is not only lightin up Coalville, but two other little towns down the road. People from the federal government up at Washington says they is gonna use us as a model example an even want to give us an award ceremony.
Next, Mister McGivver has gone to work on the project of buildin the pig-shit fleet, an almost within no time, he has got three huge ships under construction over on the Atlantic Ocean at Norfolk, Virginia. This is where he spends so much of his time now, he has left most of the hog farmin bidness to me. Also, we has had to employ about a hundrit workers from the town, which was a great relief to them, as most was out-of-work miners.
Furthermore, Mister McGivver has expanded the hog-slop garbage collection to ever military base within three hundrit miles, an we is got fleets of trucks pickin up the garbage, an what we don't use ourselfs, we sell to other farmers.
"We are becoming a great national enterprise," Mister McGivver says, "but we are leveraged up to the hilt."
I ast him what that meant, an he says, "Debt, Gump, debt! We have had to borrow millions to build those ships and buy more land for the hog farm and trucks for the garbage operation. Sometimes at night I worry about goin broke, but we are in too deep now to quit. We are gonna have to expand the methane gas operation to meet expenses, and I'm afraid we're gonna have to raise our prices."
I ast him what I could do to help.
"Just keep shoveling shit fast as you can," he says.
So that's what I did.
By the end of that fall, I figgered that we has got somewhere between eight hundrit thousan an one million pounds of pig shit down in the mine, an the operation is runnin full steam night an day. We had to double the size of the plant just to keep it goin.
Little Forrest is due to arrive for Christmas, but about two weeks before that they has scheduled the ceremony to honor us for our contributions to society. The whole town of Coalville is decked out in Christmas decorations an little colored lights an stuff - all run by our plant. Mister McGivver cannot come home for the celebration on account of he is too busy tryin to get the ship fleet built, but he tells me to accept the award in his absence.
The day of the ceremony, I put on my suit an tie an drove into town. There is people there from all over - not only Coalville, but the little towns nearby an also a bunch of buses with folks representin civic an environmental organizations. From Wheeling, the governor an the attorney general has come down, an from Washington, they has come a United States senator of West Virginia. Sergeant Kranz has also come over from the army post, an the mayor of Coalville is already makin a speech when I arrive.
"Never in our wildest dreams," he says, "did we ever believe that our deliverance was at hand - saved, as it were, by a herd of swine, an the ingenuity of Mr. McGivver and Mr. Gump!"
The ceremony was takin place in the town square below the little hill where the mine entrance was, an the platform was decked out with red, white, an blue buntin an little American flags. When they seen me comin, the high school band interrupted the mayor's speech an begun playin "God Bless America," an the five or six thousan people in the crowd begun to holler an clap an cheer as I walked up the platform steps.
Everbody there shook my hand - the mayor, governor, attorney general, an the senator, as well as they wives - even Sergeant Kranz, who was wearin his dress uniform. The mayor concludes his talk by sayin what a fine feller I am, an thankin me for "revitalizin the town of Coalville by creatin this marvelous invention." He then says everbody should stand for the playin of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Just before the band begun to play, there was a slight sort of tremor in the ground, but nobody much seemed to notice it but me. Durin the first verse, the rumblin in the ground begun again, an this time some folks started lookin around kinda nervous like. When they got to the high part of the song, there was a third rumble, a lot louder than the first, an it caused the ground to shake, an a pane fell out of a winder of a store across the street. It was about now it dawned on me that somethin bad was fixin to happen.
I had been so nervous that mornin when I was tryin to get into my suit an my tie an all that I had forgot to release the main pressure gauge at the power plant. Little Forrest had always tole me this was the most important thing to do ever day, account of somethin serious might go wrong. By now, most folks are still singin, but some is sort of mumblin to each other an turnin they heads to see what is happenin. Sergeant Kranz lean over to me an ast, "Gump, what in hell is goin on?"
I was fixin to tell him, when he found out for hissef.
I looked up at the hill where the plugged-up mine entrance was, an suddenly they was this humongous explosion! A big flash of light an flames, an then KA-BLOOIE! the whole thing done blowed up!
Next instant, everthin got completely dark, an I thought we had all been kilt! But soon I heard a kind of low moanin around me, an when I wiped my eyes an looked around, it was a sight to see. Everbody on the speakin platform was still standin there, kinda in shock or somethin, an they was all covered in pig shit, head to toe.
"Oh, my God!" shouts the governor's wife. "Oh, my God!"
I looked around some more, an damned if the whole town ain't covered in pig shit, includin, of course, the five or six thousan people in the crowd out in front. The buildins, cars, buses, ground, streets, trees - everthin, about three or four inches deep! The guy playin the tuba in the band was the strangest sight of all. He was so surprised, I guess, that when the explosion happened, he was blowin a long note an didn't quit - just kept on tryin to blow his note with the tuba full of pig shit, an it looked sort of like a souffle about to get done.
I turned around again, an there was Sergeant Kranz, starin me right in the face, eyes all bugged out, teeth bared - somehow he'd even managed to keep his army hat on.
"Gump!" he hollers. "You fuckin idiot! What is the meaning of this?"
Before I could answer, he reach out to grap me by the throat, an I figgered what is comin next, so I leaped over the railin an run away as fast as I can. Sergeant Kranz an everbody else, them what was able, anyway, begun to chase me, too. It seemed like a familiar situation.
I was tryin to get home to the farm, but I realized they ain't no place to hide there, probly - at least not from a mob that has just been hit with a million pounds of Poland China pig shit, an blamin it on me. But I runned just as fast as I could, which is considerable, an by the time I got to the house, I has outdistanced them somewhat. I was gonna try an pack my bag, but suddenly, here they come up the road, hollerin an yellin, an so I run out the back door an go into the barn an get Wanda, who look at me kinda funny but follows me anyhow. I runned past the pens an across the pasture, an damn if all the hogs don't start chasin us, too - even the ones in the pens, what broke through an joined the mob.
Only thing I can think of is maybe to get into the swamp, so that's what I did. I hid there till sundown, while there was a lot of cussin an shoutin all around me. Wanda, she had enough sense to keep quiet, but when night come, it is cold an wet an there is flashlights shinin through the swamp, an ever so often I can pick out a person carryin a pitchfork or hoe, just like in the Frankenstein movie. They even got helicopters overhead, shinin their lights, an loudspeakers demandin that I come out an surrender.
To hell with that! I say, an then along comes my salvation. I hear a train in the distance on the far side of the swamp an figger this is my only chance to make a break for it! Wanda an me, we slogged out onto higher ground an by some miracle managed to jump on board a boxcar. Inside, there is a little dim candle burnin, an I make out a feller settin there in a heap of straw.
"Who in hell is you?" he ast.
"Gump's my name," I says.
"Yeah, who's that with you?"
"Her name's Wanda."
"You got a girl with you?"
"Sort of," I says.
"What you mean, sort of - you got some kind of transvestite there?"
"Nope. She's a polled Duroc hog, might win some prizes one day."
"Hog?" he says. "Greatgodamighty! I ain't had nothin to eat in a week."
I can see this might be a long trip.