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Whatever happened to engaging the pig for Christmas?
In the countryside of old-time Barbados, many families kept pigs which were slaughtered to feed the family. Some were also sold to friends, neighbours and co-workers. But before the pig was slaughtered it had to be engaged. Since most families had no electricity nor refrigeration it was important that the whole pig was engaged (people had committed to buying the pork) before the slaughtering took place. The parents or an older child would go from house to house with a black lead (pencil) and an exercise book with which they would write down the orders – two pounds here, three pounds there, maybe a whole shoulder or leg for a better off family.
Foreday morning on the day before Christmas Eve, the butcher would show up at the house with his tools a ‘sticking-iron', a large very sharp butcher’s knife and a razor with which to shave the hair off the pig.
Except on this morning, the butcher, who liked his drinks and who was the housewife’s brother turned up without a razor. On this occasion, the husband of the house had decided to sleep through the excitement. After all his wife, her brother the butcher, and the family’s older children had things in control right?
So at 4 a.m. in the morning, the water was boiling on an open fire in a half steel drum. The lanterns and the bottle lamps were shining brightly. The brown paper in which to wrap the pork was ready, the sticking iron and butcher’s knife were ready but no razor and those who had engaged a part of the pig were expecting pork in two hours’ time. The two village shops were shut tight at this hour. So what was a housewife and her brother the sometimes drunken butcher to do? This is when a bright idea entered the housewife’s head. “We’ll shave the pig with my husband’s razor” she said.
Now, this was not just any modern razor made of cheap steel and plastic. This hollow ground razor, made of the best quality steel had been brought back from Trinidad by the husband after his sojourn there during World War Two. He had worked with the Americans at the military base at Chaguaramas. He had done his part to help defeat Adolf Hitler. He had helped make the world safe for a generation. He had used the money earned to buy the family a house spot. He was a good husband. He was an excellent father. And he took excellent care of his razor.
The razor was always kept in its original heavy cardboard case, high on a ledge above the kitchen door. Every morning the husband shaved. Every morning he washed his razor after shaving. Every morning he dried his razor after shaving. Every morning he returned it to its heavy original cardboard case. Every morning he returned it to its place on a ledge high above the kitchen door. In a family of seven daughters, the husband was literally the only man in the house. Nobody except the husband was permitted to touch that fine quality hollow ground steel razor.
“We’ll shave the pig with my husband’s razor” the wife said and she went to the kitchen and returned with the razor, and so the pig was shaved. Never has a pig been shaved so quickly and so cleanly. Good quality hollow ground razors are truly wonderful tools. The pork was wrapped in brown paper was ready for delivery.
The sun had now risen, and so had the husband. In the light of day, he saw his much-cherished razor covered in the white bristles of a pig. He was furious. The wife’s brother suddenly remembered that he needed to go home. He jumped in his old red Bedford truck and was gone in a flash. The children too remembered that they needed to go to the pipe. The husband and wife were left alone to have it out.
But the husband never again used that hollow ground razor. The wife tried many times to persuade him that yes, she had washed it and it was clean and as good as new. He was never persuaded.
If there is a moral to this story it is that a decent Bajan man will never share his razor with a pig.