Betsy’s Ears


“Look at that stubborn pig over there! Betsy won’t act like that when you unload her!”

Kevin looked down at his sister, Susan, and answered, “I hope not, but you can never tell for sure.”

“But you have Betsy trained so that she does just what you want.”

“Yes, she does at home, but when you bring pigs here to the fair where everything is strange, you can’t tell. Anyway, it isn’t how she acts that worries me—it’s her ears.”

The big stake truck finally pulled away from the unloading chute, and Kevin and Susan watched as Dad backed up their smaller truck. When it stopped, Kevin let down the tailgate. He was nervous as he picked up the training stick and touched Betsy on the side. Betsy gave a snort and walked sedately down the gate and into the chute.

“Take her back to stall thirty-eight,” said the fair superintendent. “Here’s a card to fill out and put on the outside of her pen.”

Kevin was proud of Betsy’s behavior. She’s a good hog, in spite of her ears, he told himself. He was remembering last winter when he had decided on swine for his 4-H project.

“I wanted to get you a purebred gilt (young female pig),” Dad had said, “but we just can’t do it right now.”

Kevin had understood. After the years of drought, he was used to making do with what he could get. Then, when he had talked to his 4-H leader about taking Betsy to the fair, Mr. Roland had asked, “What class will you enter her in?”

“What about this class?” Kevin had replied, looking at the entry listing. “‘All Other Breeds’—that just about describes her.”

Mr. Roland had chuckled. “Maybe so, but I’m afraid she’ll have to have some particular breed name. She looks more like a Poland China than anything else, except that her ears stick up, while a Poland China’s should flop.”

So now as Kevin filled in his card, he wrote “Poland China” as the breed and “Kevin Jackson” as owner. “I’d better take her over and wash her now,” he said when he finished.

“More washing?” Mom asked in mock horror. “You’ve done nothing for the last week but scrub that pig!”

“I know, but there won’t be much time in the morning, and I still have to work on her feet some more.”

The next morning the Jacksons were at the fairgrounds early. Kevin had already given Betsy another bath when Mom and Susan came over from the home economics building.

“She looks wonderful,” Mom said. “Now you run and put these on.” She held out a clean pair of jeans and a clean plaid shirt.

“Aw, do I have to?” Kevin protested. “These jeans I have on are OK. None of the other guys are getting fixed up.”

“You have your prize exhibit all polished up,” Mom said, “and I want my prize exhibit polished up too.”

Kevin laughed and took the clothes. “Watch Betsy for me. Don’t let her get to rooting around and get her snout dirty,” he warned as he left.

It was exactly nine o’clock when Kevin came back. Mom, Dad, and Susan went in and sat down while Kevin waited with the other exhibitors. He took a deep breath and tried not to be afraid. I think her ears are great, he told himself. Ears that perk up can hear better, and they make her look more intelligent.

Still, he knew that she had to be judged according to the rules. I guess what counts is to do the best that I can, he thought. He knew that he had really worked hard on this 4-H project.

As the class before Betsy’s was called, Kevin went back to Betsy’s pen to put on the coat dressing, carefully working in just the right amount of oil. She does look pretty! he thought proudly.

“All other breeds, senior gilts,” called the judge. There were only three in the class: a Chester White, a Spotted Poland China, and Betsy.

As Kevin brought Betsy out, he could hear Susan “whispering” to Mom, “Betsy’s being real good, isn’t she?”

Kevin was careful not to touch Betsy’s tail so that she would take the curl out of it. He guided her carefully over in front of the judge, squatted beside her, and stretched his arms out to hold her still.

Once she shied slightly, but Kevin soon had her quiet again.

Betsy might be excited but not as excited as he was. Not only would a blue ribbon for first prize mean a lot, but the prize money would help with his school clothes.

“First prize,” said the judge, “goes to the Chester White. She is true to type, stands well on her feet, and has a well-arched back. Second place goes to the Spotted Poland China, another good gilt but a little heavy in the front quarter. Third goes to the … well, the owner says she’s a Poland China. She has a good back and stands well, but she isn’t quite true to type.”

Kevin gulped a little as he took the white ribbon and started Betsy back toward her pen. Of course he knew animals had to be judged according to their breed, but still it seemed unfair to put Betsy down because her ears perked up like a Berkshire’s. The judge had noticed that she had a good back. He could have noticed that she had a good curl in her tail too. And there wasn’t a better behaved hog there.

Kevin came slowly back to the judging ring, trying not to let his disappointment show. He’d done the best that he could.

Finally the last class was finished, and the judge was speaking. “We’ve had some good swine, and they’ve been well groomed. However, I couldn’t help noticing that in some cases the hogs were better groomed than the boys who showed them.”

Kevin glanced at his mother, and the twinkle in his eye matched hers. He looked back as the judge continued. “Now I’m happy to announce the winners for showmanship. In each division the showmanship award goes to the boy or girl who shows an animal to the best advantage.”

Kevin held his breath when the judge called, “All Other Breeds, Senior Gilts,” but the prize went to the owner of the Chester White.

“And now,” the judge continued, “first place for fitting and showing of swine—Kevin Jackson!”

So the judge had noticed how well Betsy behaved! Kevin exulted.

There was a burst of applause as Kevin went up to accept the purple championship ribbon. Better than that was the knowledge that Mom and Dad and Susan were proud of him.

Perhaps Betsy was proud too! At least, her ears perked up proudly when he told her.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney