This tale takes place on the back side of Pickerel Lake in northern Minnesota.
I was 10 or 12 years old. My brothers and I wanted everything for Christmas. Totally – more than anything else – I wanted a Schwinn bike. I saw it in a catalog, a catalog is all we had in those days.
I wanted it as much as a young boy can want, and believe me, young boys can really want. I bugged my mom and dad, night and day.
My father worked. He was gone every week, home on weekends. One Friday night, just before for Christmas, Dad walked in with a big smile on his face, reached inside his coat and out came a beautiful, little pig. Yes, a real, live pig. He reached out with those big hands full of pig and said, “There’s your bike.”
It was a registered pig, called a Hereford, just like the cow. Its markings were just the same as the cows – white face, white underbelly and red all over.
I was speechless and blurted out, “How do I get a bike with this?”
He smiled and said, “Raise it, sell it, and buy the bike you want so bad. Of course, you may not want that bike that bad.”
“I do, I do,” I again blurted out. “Dad, where will I keep it? We don’t have a pig pen.
Another big smile. Dad said, “Build one.”
“We don’t have the lumber and I don’t know how.”
“I will help you and you can buy the lumber.”
“What with? I don’t have any money.”
Here came that smile again. “Pick up beer bottles. I will help you.”
I was elated – a fun project and I get to spend time with my dad. What a Christmas! But that bike will have to wait for awhile.
Pick up beer bottles we did. My father, with his typical thoroughness, went somewhere and got boxes that held bottles, with little paper dividers that held each bottle. We filled box after box until we had enough to buy the lumber.
My father was by my side all the way. For him, that was not easy. He worked, had a farm, four boys and a wife.
That Christmas present just kept growing, growing and growing and getting bigger and bigger.
I was in the FFA program in school, and that pig was my school project. I won several awards with her.
One Saturday night, I said to my dad, “I’ve been thinking if I bred that sow and sold her babies I could buy a lot of bikes.”
My dad looked over his glasses, put his finger to his temple, winked and softly said, “Now you’re thinking.”
I said, “Dad, there’s a Hereford boar about 10 miles away. A boy in my class has him and he said we could use him. The boar sure won’t mind. One problem, we don’t have a loading chute. We will have to have one – that pig has really gotten big.”
My dad smiled. “Build one.”
I smiled. “Back to the beer bottles.”
He said, “Yup, back to the beer bottles.”
Through the years, I sold many pigs from that Christmas present. It also taught me a lesson that has helped me through all my years. All this because my dad was a patient, kind and loving teacher, and gave me a bicycle for Christmas that looked a lot like a pig.
A storyteller, John Zentz, 87, will share a blend of fact and fiction in his bimonthly column. Some tales he’s lived through, some he’s been told. Zentz and his family are longtime Hubbard County residents. He has a picture of his grandmother and grandfather, seven times removed, sitting on a porch in Park Rapids.