Ever since we moved to El Paso we have enjoyed driving in the Lower Valley past the cotton and alfalfa fields on a beautiful afternoon in the fall; the best time of year in this part of the country, in my opinion.
In our early days here, the view toward the river was lovely; its banks lined with giant old cottonwoods that were probably there when the padres walked past. Unfortunately, housing developments and junk yards and sprawling urban blight are taking over, too fast, and we have to drive further and further down the valley to find similar views these days.
One fall day last year I needed a break from my regular routine, and since my husband was off on one of his biking adventures, I decided to look for an old crumbling adobe farmhouse close to the river that we used to enjoy exploring. In those days it had been almost hidden by a dense windbreak of cottonwoods and other trees planted by a farmer long before.
It was after I saw that house that I first became aware of the traditional use of blue on windows and doorways in the southwest. Blue keeps the witches and bad spirits away, I was told by old timers who knew the history of the area. Ever since then I have been fascinated with those old adobes. They always seem to blend perfectly in their surroundings, and I have felt a terrible sense of loss when one by one they have disappearred. It's one thing to see them abandoned, melting away from the effects of time and weather, but something else entirely when they are bulldozed to be replaced by pavement or metal warehouse buildings.
Relieved to see the ruins of the old house some distance from the highway, I turned onto the road leading toward the river, but was surprised to see a large field of corn. All the fields in that area had been harvested already, and I was curious as to why such a large expanse of this valuable crop had been neglected this late in the year.
I stopped my car near an abandoned piece of farm equipment and got out to look around. Soon I detected what appeared to be a path between the rows, and assumed this might be another of the mazes that farmers plant to challenge and entertain visitors in the fall. Winding around and about, soon I had no idea where I was or what direction I was facing. Suddenly I tripped over something strung across the path and heard a loud clanging as I sprawled headfirst toward the ground, my open-heeled shoes flying off.
Picking myself up and dusting my clothing, I muttered under my breath and looked around for my shoes and to see what had caused my fall. To my astonishment, I found myself face to face with a pig in denim overalls, standing upright, one front hoof on a wheelbarrow, the other on a revolver at his waist. Alarmed, I held up both hands and said, "I am not armed. I come in peace. Buenos Dias."
"Howdy," he replied, bowing. "At your service."
"How do you do," I replied, feeling around on the ground with my toe for my shoes. "My name is Wanna. Please," I said, my eyes fixed on the holstered gun. "No need to worry about me. I was just out for a drive to enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon. When I saw this cornfield I was intrigued and .... and if you don't mind, I surely would appreciate it if you would move your hand, er, hoof? away from that gun."
"You look relatively harmless," he said, lowering his hoof from the holster and putting both hands in his pockets. "Can't be too careful these days, though," he said, frowning slightly.
"Well, I know Texas has a concealed handgun law, but I'm not used to seeing weapons out in the open, especially in a holster," I said, slowly lowering my arms. I looked down and saw that I had tripped over a thin wire, strung with bells. "Is that some kind of warning system?" I asked.
"Could be," he smiled enigmatically. "Nice area, this Lower Valley, although I don't know quite what to think of this dry climate."
"Oh, you're not from around here?" I inquired.
"No, I am from Virginia," he said. I waited, but he was not more forthcoming.
He looked down at my shoes approvingly. "I see you are wearing some vegan shoes. Good for you."
"Uh, well, hmm. I didn't realize they were - vegan, did you say?" I said, dusting off one foot, then the other, and slipping them into my shoes. "I just bought them because they were comfortable, although frankly they're not the thing I would've worn today, had I known I'd be tramping through a cornfield."
He looked at me. "Those shoes are made from hemp, not from ...." He shuddered.
"Oh, my yes. I understand now," I said, realization dawning. I turned my feet from one side to the other and looked more closely at my slides, secretly relieved that I hadn't worn leather walking shoes. I held up my bag. "See, this isn't from mumblemumble either."
He nodded again, then continued. "When we decided to leave Virginia, I learned that there was a group out in this area experimenting with alternative ways to build energy-efficient housing, and since I was in construction, it seemed a logical place for the family to come."
"I'm not involved in building," I told him, "other than small settings for my miniatures hobby, but an old friend of my son's is in that business. And it's true; you can see some interesting experimental housing projects in the Southwest. I know some people up in New Mexico who made a house from hay bales, another from adobe and beer cans, stuccoed over."
"Well," he replied, "One can look in vain for a source for wood here, I've noticed, except for the giant warehouse stores, of course, where we really prefer not to go." He gestured toward the dense green around us. "These cornstalks are genetically engineered for strength and not only provide a place of concealment, but also with selective cutting I have plenty of material to use in my construction experiments. Where I come from we used sticks and straw as well as bricks, although I can tell you right now that sticks and straw have their disadvantages." He nodded sagely. "You recall reading about those houses being blown down, no doubt. And not just from hurricanes, either. "
"Oh sure. Yes, I do; from the time I was a child, really." I paused, recalling my grandmother's voice, reading, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll BLOW your house down!" And to think I was meeting someone who could relate personally to that experience!
"Well," I said, bringing myself back to the present, "I'll tell you, Mr. ... um, what did you say your name was?" He did not answer.
Since he was not more forthcoming, I continued. "This is a good area to experiment with housing, all right. People throughout history have always used what was available to build their homes, and here, of course, what's available is plenty of dirt. The nearest forests are up in New Mexico, and there's not much lumbering going on these days. Some say because of the loss of habitat for the spotted owl, others say it's because of the economy. Frankly, I think the old way of making adobe houses was much preferable to wooden ones anyway. Are you aware that the old-timers in this part of the country mixed sticks and straw into the adobe mud?" I asked.
"Oh yes," he said. "I've done a great deal of research. It helps bind the bricks together. That's why we decided to use adobe for our little abode." He smiled at his witty use of words. "It makes for a very energy efficient dwelling that blends in with the surroundings. And we definitely need to blend in."
"Yes, sir," I said, nodding toward the remains of a crumbling adobe farmhouse in the distance.
"Like that house over there which is now in ruins, unfortunately. I'll bet that place was over a hundred years old. It's melting right back into the ground from which it was made. Of course, that was before there were many people around here. Mud bricks only go so far when you have become a big city."
I began looking through my totebag. "You know, I had some information here somewhere about a site that was a 19th century walled hacienda near where the San Elizario road crosses the old acequia madre. It appeared on an 1852 map."
Searching the bag, my fingers encountered old Kleenex, my lip gloss, sunglasses, a package of crumbling crackers, a bottle of Tacky glue and a pair of tweezers.
"Unfortunately," I continued, pushing aside my magnifying glass and a recent miniatures magazine, "By 1873 part of the building was razed, but surviving parts were occupied by a fellow named Juan Carbajal who owned a store and some municipal offices. It's been partially reclaimed and a historical marker was put on the site back in the 70's, I seem to remember reading."
I sighed. "Well, heck, I had it, but now I can't find it. I'm always carrying around too much and this thing weighs a ton. Aha!" I cried, pulling a rather dog-eared photograph from the bag. "I happen to have a picture here of my husband, standing by some more old adobe ruins not far from here."
I showed him the picture. "It's not too clear, though. I was just getting used to my camera and you kind of have to squint to see him."
"Hmm," the pig said, giving the picture a quick glance.
I couldn't tell if he was all that interested or not, so I added quickly, "Well, if you like, Mr. Um, Pig, I can bring you more information about this area. I joined the El Paso Historical Society, although am not active at the moment. I keep thinking I will do more because I love history. However, my consuming passion right now is miniatures, so I don't ever seem to find the time to take part in the Society's many activities. I do love poking around in this area, though. It has such an interesting history, and I can just see in my mind's eye what it was like in the past."
I looked down the dark tunnel through the cornstalks. "Actually, I think where we are right now is not too far from San Elizario, which at one time long ago was the county seat. There's an old jail there. Did you ever read or hear in the movies the word 'hoosegow,' meaning jail? Well, actually it was wrong. The jail is called the carcel; the court part is referred to as the juzgado. Both of them were in that old building in San Eli."
My companion began to get a glazed look in his eyes.
"Well," I hurried on, "to make a long story short, the San Eli jail was built about 1850 of adobe bricks made from sun-dried mud and reeds and cottonwood logs around steel cell blocks. The story is that Billy the Kid freed the only man ever to escape from that jail, one of his buddies, Melquiades Seguro."
"Very interesting," he said. There was a rather lengthy pause while he folded his arms, um, legs? across his chest and looked at me rather seriously. "You appear to be an amiable sort," he said. "Can I trust you not to reveal our location to anyone? Even the Historical Society?"
"You can, sir," I said, nodding vigorously. "I have kept secret the location of an endangered springsnail family in Arizona, as well as a store for Super Heroes, and many others I have come across in my travels. Yes, I can be trusted."
At this point, he looked around as if to see if anyone were listening, and then whispered, "My name is Taylor Hamm. You've probably heard about what happens to us Hamms in Virginia. We are now part of the Pigness Protection Program."
"Oh, wow, I've heard about similar programs, but never knew any swine who were in it. I guess I shouldn't ask why you are here..."
He sighed, fingering his holstered pistol absentmindedly. "Well, as if things hadn't always been bad enough, we began feeling very uneasy when that terrible 'The Other White Meat' advertising campaign started. At that time, quite a few relatives and friends decided to leave. And then there were all the stories about the swine flu epidemic in China or wherever. Then there was a tragic incident with my Cousin Birming Hamm and a local Bubba-Q group. Well, at that point, I contacted The Vegetarian Society for help and my immediate family, including my wife's uncle, wound up out here. Actually, I thought we were going to New Mexico, but apparently we are a few miles short."
"Well, yes," I said, nodding, "You are. This is still Texas, although most of the rest of the state forgets we are even here. So, if you want to get away from something, this is the place to come." I mused for a moment. "You know, I remember reading once about a fellow named Cleveland Amory who wrote a book about a most unusual animal sanctuary; it was really a heartwarming story. Let's see, what was it called....?"
"Ranch of Dreams?" he interrupted my thoughts.
"Why, yes, that was it. How did you .... Don't tell me! Is this the Ranch of Dreams?" I asked excitedly. "I thought it was in East Texas!"
"No, this is not the original, but we are a tiny branch, so to speak. Yes, for decades Cleveland Amory worked tirelessly on behalf of animals as the founder of the Fund for Animals. Over the years countless animals who were mistreated or simply found "inconvenient" were saved from death's door at his Black Beauty Ranch. The Pigness Protection Program grew out of his original Fund, but I am not at liberty to give details."
"Well, I have heard of Witness Protection Programs, usually to get people away from the mob or something, but a Pigness Protection Program! Wow! This is so neat!"
Nodding, he said cautiously, "Miz Wanna, if I lead you to our homestead, we will be placing our very lives in your hands."
"I swear, Mr. Hamm, I can keep your secret," I said. "Cross my heart and hope to die."
"All right then," he said, and led me through the dim green shadows of the corn maze and out onto a steep bank. As I blinked in the sunlight, I spied an attractive adobe dwelling built around an enclosed patio. It was surrounded by a mud and rock wall that blended perfectly into the rough terrain."You have done a remarkable job," I said admiringly. "This place is almost invisible!"
"That's the idea," he said, wryly. "Just used some stagecraft techniques. One of my older relatives was a set designer back in the early 60's at the Swine Inter-Collegiate Theater Consortium. I learned a lot from him about aging and antiquing techniques to make things look old. And believe it or not, there is an old family story about a magician ancestor who worked with the Army during World War II to make tanks and other armored vehicles and such appear to disappear, although I can't vouch for the accuracy of the story."
As we approached the adobe house, I saw another male pig, reading, seemingly oblivous of us. "That's Uncle Boyle, sitting over there in the shade. We use the local inter-library loan program and he keeps himself busy reading," he said, pulling a library identification card from his pocket. "Here's mine."
"We all have library cards under assumed names, of course, but Uncle Boyle is by far the biggest reader. He's particularly fond of the Harry Potter books," Taylor Hamm confided.
At that moment, an attractive female pig wearing long skirts and carrying a pan of tomatoes and a sun hat came around the corner of the house. "This is my wife Delly," Taylor said. "My dear, this is Miz Wanna, who is exploring the region - and can keep a secret."
The female pig set the tomato pan down on the ground nearby and bowed slightly.
"Nice to meet you, Miz Wanna. I assume since my husband brought you here that you are a reliable sort. Normally, no one would know about us outside of the program"
I nodded, smiling. "The pleasure is mine, Miz Hamm, and I assure you I will tell no one. I like your sun hat, too," I added.
"I just can't get used to the bright sunlight here," she said. "If I don't watch out, I can really get a burn."
"I have the same problem," I told her. "My dermatologist once suggested I should move to a rain forest in Oregon."
"I believe some of our relatives may have moved there, right, dear?" she asked.
"Could be," her husband said. "There are Hamms all over the country now; wherever there is a local branch of the Program."
(You may wonder, Reader, since I swore to secrecy, why I am telling you this story; but my visit was some time ago and as you read further you will understand why I can speak of it.)
"You may call me Delly, if you wish," she said pleasantly. "It's so good to have another female to chat with. My children are unfortunately too young to be of much use in conversation. Their mode of speech is high squeals and their occupation is playing in the mud. Also, Uncle Boyle usually has his nose in a book, and Taylor here is always out experimenting with corn stalks. Yes, I am quite happy to see someone from the outside world. One who isn't out to do us in, that is."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't dream of doing you harm. No, ma'am."
Miz Delly reached in her pocket and brought out a colorfully wrapped bar.
"This is my Vegan Cranberry Nut Bar," she said, handing it to me. "You look like you could use a bite to eat. We also have the original flavor or blueberry, if you would prefer."
"Oh no, cranberry sounds great," I replied, unwrapping the bar and taking my first tentative bite.
She said, "I especially prepared these for us and other Pignesses. What do you think?"
"Delicious!" I cried, promptly taking another bite. I couldn't believe how hungry I was, having skipped my lunch, and the bar was quite tasty.
"One bar is equivalent to eating 2 fresh pears, so it is a great source of fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. Absolutely nothing artificial is added and these bars are naturally low in sodium.
"Would you like to come inside?" she asked, and stood aside so that I could enter the house through a small very old-looking doorway.
"Well, just for a moment," I replied, "I really need to get home before too long."
We passed Uncle Boyle, still immersed in his reading, who nodded briefly, never looking up from the latest Harry Potter.
As we entered a cheerful kitchen, I admired a geranium in the deep sill of the window. "Why, that looks just like the window in the home of a late friend of mine, an old lady who lived in an old adobe in Ysleta for a long, long time," I said.
"Yes, that's one of the things I like about adobe homes," she said, "the deep window sills. They're a great place for plants." She led me into a small, but cozy living room.
The walls were filled with photographs. I leaned to look at one. "Oh, that's Taylor when he was a piglet," Miz Delly said, smiling. "He was still in his bare skin phase at that time." She walked over to stand beside me, pointing at various photos.
"Now that is Uncle Boyle when he was younger. He was Chief Chef at a fancy vegetarian restaurant in those days. He used that chalkboard to write up the menus daily since everything was prepared fresh.
"And this is Cousin Birming Hamm. It was his unfortunate demise that sent us on our way from Virginia. Sad story," she sighed. But then she perked up as she lifted one photograph from a nearby chest and smiled at it lovingly as she handed it to me.
"Here are Leanie and Honey, the twins, when they were very young. They're the ones you no doubt heard squealing outside as you came up. Every time their little friend Tubby comes over, they go a bit wild. Little dickenses ...."
"Always leaving their toys around," she said, pushing a pull toy and a stuffed dinosaur out of my way and toward a nearby footstool.
I looked around, marveling at how the Hamms could make a new adobe that looked as if it had been there always. "Your house is so colorful and homey," I said.
Miz Delly looked around reflectively. "Well, wherever we go, we try to blend in with the local culture and customs." She gestured toward a little sign atop a nearby chest.
"This was a gift from the wife of our local agent of the Program. They also picked this furniture up for us. It's a bit rustic and worn, and certainly more colorful than what we had in our old home in Virginia, but it serves the purpose. I keep thinking I will hang that sign somewhere, but haven't gotten around to it."
She pointed to a small rug in front of the sofa. "Besides the photos there are a few things we always carry with us from place to place. One is that rug, which was made by Taylor's mother."
"And another is that old chair with the cushion. My grandfather made that chair when my father was just a little boy, and it holds special meaning for me.
"That, and the silver tea set, which was passed down to me from my mother. Somehow in our many moves, the knob on the teapot lid was broken off." She sighed. "Well, I suppose that is a small price to pay for our freedom."
"I have a book over here somewhere that I'd like you to take a look at," she said, moving to a small desk and rummaging through letters and other written material.
About the time she pulled open the desk drawer, my stomach rumbled with hunger. I surrepticiously licked the last of the delicious cranberry nut bar from the wrapper, just as she turned around with a slender volume. I could feel my face burning with embarrassment as my stomach rumbled loudly once again. "Please excuse me, Miz Delly; I missed my lunch. That bar was so delicious that I couldn't resist those last bits. I don't know what came over me."
She smiled and gestured toward more of the fruit bars in a shallow bowl on a table. "No need to apologize. I take that as a compliment! Have another bar and take a seat so that we can have a nice chat."
I gratefully accepted another of her delicious fruit bars and moved to a pleasant corner with a comfy sofa.
"Did Taylor tell you that I am a writer and a cook? Taylor encouraged me to collect my recipes for a cookbook, and I wound up with two books that I'm about ready to send to a publisher, but I would prefer to have some more testing. I was just looking through this one when you walked up. After picking all those tomatoes I realized I didn't have recipes for salsa, which is so popular around here. And Uncle Boyle has a good crop of various peppers. I need to make a note of that for my next one."
She made a quick note at her desk, "Make Salsa," then brought me a small volume. "Would you be interested in trying out some of my recipes?"
"Well, of course," I said, taking the book and reading its title aloud, "Miz Delly's Vegan For Beginners. " Flipping through the pages, I added, "Although I don't cook as much as I used to, now that I am retired," and took a bite from my second vegan bar as my eye was caught by a recipe for Soybeans Milk.
"Oh, you will find that these are very simple recipes." She picked up another thin book from the stack on her desk and looked inside.
"Honey's drawing her home in Virginia again," she said with a sigh. "Poor little piggies; they were traumatized when they saw Aunt Ima's house blown down. They've seen a lot in their little lives."
I rose to leave. "I'm sorry to cut our visit short, Miz Delly, but I really need to get on home and feed my dogs."
"Of course," she said graciously. " But first let me give you our address. I will be interested to hear what you think when you've tried the recipes."
I hesitated. "Are you sure that's safe, Miz Delly? Getting mail out here, I mean?"
She nodded. "The Program has made arrangements for us to receive all correspondence and written material like books and magazines through another alias. It's very lonely, being away from all that's familiar." She gestured to the stack of mail on her desk.
"Those letters from our friends and family help greatly. As you can see from the stamps, they come from all over. The Program is quite widespread, you know. And, of course, as you saw with Uncle Boyle and the children's books, we all benefit from reading." She sighed regretfully, glancing toward some booklets on the desk.
"I just wish those little ones could sit still long enough to learn to play at least one instrument. I was playing piano before I began school."
I tried not to look at her hooves, wondering how that was possible. But then, what's not to wonder at around here, I thought.
As I tucked the address into my totebag, she said, "All my books are easy enough even for you to do. We've met a few humans since we've been here, but no one I felt comfortable asking to read my cookbooks. You seem to be quite sincere, however. A trusting soul."
"Well, I try to be. That's the way I was brought up."
We stepped outside and she handed me the cookbook as we seated ourselves on a comfortable bench near her husband.
Just then we heard a large rushing of wings, and Taylor said, "Look to the river." We rose and walked over to look through an unobtrusive opening in the wall that surrounded their compound. I was surprised to see several migratory birds gathering at the water. "It seems early in the year for the birds to arrive," I commented. "Winter must be coming early up north where they come from," I said.
"You are quite isolated here, all right, although I understand why," I commented, looking past the birds toward the Mexico mountains in the distance.
"We attend the Vegetarian Society meetings once in a while,"Taylor Hamm said, "and have gotten acquainted with a few Vegans, but we try to stay away from crowds."
"We did go into San Elizario recently for an enchilada supper at the church," Delly Hamm added, "But we dressed inconspicuously and stayed in the background. The food was delicious, but we were limited as to what we could eat, of course.
"I'm thinking seriously of starting my own little business, beginning with my Soy Chili Mix. I do believe it is fully as tasty as what People are eating, and definitely more humane. This is the prototype label," she said, handing me a colorful page which she pulled from her apron pocket." What do you think?"
"Looks good to me," I responded, "except the red 'Miz Delly's' doesn't show up too well against the black. Maybe you need to make it bigger or lighten the background or something."
"You're right," she said, "If you don't mind, I'm going in to the computer right now to work on it while your suggestions are fresh on my mind."
"Well, of course, I don't mind," I said. "I'm the same way. If I don't do it right away, I forget it."
"And I would appreciate your comments about how the recipes work," she called over her shoulder. "It was good to make your acquaintance, Miz Wanna."
"And nice to've met you, too," I cried after her. "And thanks for those tasty bars!"
Taylor Hamm said, "Before you go, let me show you around the property." Then he led me on a quick tour among and through the various buildings, including a lush garden fenced in by berry vines.
"Amazing!" I said. "This place is just a marvel of cleanliness, efficiency and charm."
"We even have a swine cellar," he said, a twinkle in his eye. "I'll just bet you were one of those Humans who thought pigs were filthy, right? Always wallowing around in mud?"
"Well, no, not really," I said. "My grampa used to say that pigs were very smart and quite clean, really. They were only as clean as their circumstances allowed them to be. Mud was simply a way for them to cool off."
"Exactly!" he said. "Your grampa was right! If Humans lived in some of the places pigs are forced to live in, they'd be filthy, too. Actually," he continued, leading me to an area at the edge of the patio screened by vines, "We do have a nice hot mud bath set up here. The mud here rivals any you will find in the great spas where all the rich and famous go."
At that point we heard squealing from behind the vines. When he pulled aside the greenery, we saw three little pigs playing in a container filled with mud. He hollered at the piglets, "Out of there!" They froze in surprise at his forceful voice, mud dripping from their happy little faces.
"Why aren't you playing in your own mudbox? You know you are not supposed to bother your mother's things! I know some little piggies who are not going to market with me! And you, sir, will go straight home," he said to their friend Tubby.
All three piglets promptly leaped from the vat and ran squealing around the corner as he called after them, "And don't let me catch you in your mother's Special Blend again or I'm going to tan your hide!
Taylor Hamm looked at me rather sadly, "Oh my, that was a rather unfortunate choice of words, wasn't it?" He sighed again. "It's just amazing how such expressions creep into our vocabularies."
I didn't know what to say, so said instead, "So, Miz Delly has a line of Mud, too?" I asked. "I thought I noticed what looked like samples of mud on a little table on the patio when I first arrived. Therapeutic or Beauty Treatment?"
"Both," he said. "Oh, Delly's quite the entrepreneur, all right. Never know what she'll come up with next. Her current bedtime reading is on the great spas of the world."
I could hear the tip-tapping of Miz Delly's computer as Taylor and I walked back toward the Hamms' wonderful little dwelling. By this time Uncle Boyle and the little pigs were nowhere in sight.
At this point, a single ray of sunlight struck my face. I realized the sun was beginning to set, and I wasn't too keen on walking through that cornfield maze in the dark.
"Mr. Hamm, this has been such an interesting afternoon, and you and Miz Delly have been so hospitable, but I really need to start back toward my car."
"Of course," he said. "I'll escort you to the edge of the field."
As we approached the outer wall of the adobe compound, it was eerily quiet, almost as if no one lived there.
As we retraced our steps through the cornfield, the lovely desert twilight descended. "Thank you so much for the tour of your wonderful home, Mr. Hamm. I wish you and your family the best."
"Well, the Pigness Protection Program has been good to us so far and we have felt quite safe here."
"Please give my regards to Miz Delly and my thanks again for the delicous Cranberry Nut Bars and the cookbook. I look forward to trying her recipes."
"Our pleasure, Miz Wanna. And I trust that you will keep our location a secret."
"By all means, Mr. Hamm. By all means," I called back, waving as I left the maze and headed for my car. And at that, he faded back into the cornfield.
As I drove away, I wondered once again at my good fortune at having met the Hamms. It has always been difficult to explain to my own family and friends how I manage to stumble on to such intriguing people, and er, animals.
Well, I thought aloud, it must be some intuitive something I inherited from my ancestors. I wish I had been able to talk to my grandmother when I was older; I'll just bet she had some interesting experiences, too. She told me stories when I was a small child that make me wonder now who she might have met back in Oklahoma.
After my discovery of the Hamms, I became very busy with my miniatures and other matters, and soon my visit with the members of the Pigness Protection Program faded into memory.
Some time later at the super market I saw a package of soy beans next to some fresh ginger root. Then I guiltily remembered that I had never sent Miz Delly any feedback on any of her recipes, so I purchased the soybeans and ginger, and that night tried her recipe:
MIZ DELLY'S SOYBEANS MILK
1 cup of soybeans
a pinch of ginger or a slice of ginger root
Soak the soybeans with 2 cups of water for 4-6 hours. By then, we should have 3 cups of beans. Use mixer or grind the beans - adding 3 cups of water or the same amount of water to the beans. After grinding, drain them with cheesecloth into a pan of lukewarm water (8 cups). Squeeze the milk. Boil the milk. Keep it in the refrigerator. Milk should be good for at least a week.
I assumed from the pictures that when she said to squeeze the milk she was referring to the solids in the cheesecloth, so that's what I did. My homemade Soy Milk had an unusual flavor, but was actually quite tasty.
The next day, I decided to pay the Hamms another visit, and drove all through the Lower Valley, trying to find the right cornfield, but none of them looked familiar. And then, just as the late summer sun began its descent in the west, I spotted the old piece of farm equipment that I remembered from my previous visit.
Something has happened, I thought, as I got out of my car and walked toward the field. It was sere and brown in the glare of the late summer evening, not lush and green as before. I walked in vain back and forth, trying to find anything familiar, but nothing remained. No small adobe hacienda blending into the terrain, no mud spa, no vegetable patch or berry vines; nothing.
I walked dejectedly back toward the edge of the field where the old plow was, and then my eye was caught by something fluttering in the evening breeze. It was a newspaper, caught on a tumbleweed near the road. I quickly moved to snatch it from the weed, smoothed it as best I could, and got my glasses from my purse. It was an issue of The El Paso Times, dated the previous spring when I had been out of town.
"Oh, no!" I said aloud as I saw the headline: 'Secret Pig Colony Exposed By Website.' Somebody has squealed on them!"
Shaken, I sank to the ground and read further. It appeared that an extremist group, the BUBBAS, or the Brotherhood of Unsatisfied Barbecue Binge-ers on American Swine, had revealed on its website the location of several Hamms around the country. Fortunately, our local sheriff, even though he is a barbecue lover himself, was familiar with the Pigness Protection Program and vowed that BUBBAS were not welcome in El Paso. "This is still a free country," he had said, "And if these folks, uh, pigs, want to be left alone, the El Paso County Sheriff's office is at their disposal."
Clutching the brittle newspaper, I jumped to my feet and hurried to my car. I drove up and down the opposite side of the field, trying to find an opening, but no luck. As the sun set and darkness descended, I gave a silent prayer that the reason I couldn't find the Hamms was that through the help of the El Paso Sheriff and the Pigness Protection Program, once again they had relocated to somewhere safe.
Shortly thereafer, I decided to check out the local Vegetarian Society.
This little box was the setting. I don't remember where I got it; it's been around my workroom for a long time.
It was already stained, but a bit scuffed, so I gave it a dirty water wash to unify its sections. See that little ladder on the right? Originally I had thought I'd paint and distress it and lean it against the side of the adobe building, but the opening was not tall enough for it to work right.
I had to do something about that damaged portion on the back, so I just oozed some glue under the ragged places and weighted it down with heavy books.
When it had dried, I glued a piece of matboard over the entire back and stained it to match - not that anybody would necessarily see it, but I thought maybe I might use it freestanding instead of hanging it on the wall (and you know how people always look underneath and at the back of things).
This box worked nicely for the small figures, which are about three-quarter scale. I planned to use one section for Taylor, one for Miz Delly, one for Uncle Boyle, one for the little piggies, one for the kitchen, and one for the exterior at sunset.
I had some small rustic furniture pieces that were in scale with the pigs.
I planned to use one opening for six scenes. Here you see the early stages, where I was experimenting with possible furniture placement.
This was before I had finished working over the furniture. Here I have added a piece of matboard to smooth out a rough top and front on the side table, which I later painted. The shallow wooden bowl was later glued to a lower shelf of the desk.
Here I was deciding what to use with Uncle Boyle.
I had planned to use this little wheelbarrow and pots, but it made the Uncle Boyle section too crowded, so I only used the cat and the books.
You can see tutorials on this scene in preparation at Reworking Inexpensive Furniture and Working with Pigs.
I am embarrassed to say this, but now I cannot find a picture of the entire finished box, even though I went back to check my stored floppies. I took photos of each scene as I went along, and I would have sworn I had an overview, but ...
Oh well, the box has now become the setting for another story.
FURTHER NOTES FEBRUARY 2016:
In an impulsive moment when someone wrote me enthusiastically liking Taylor Hamm, I sent him to her as a gift. I wish now I hadn't, because I don't think she ever used him. You can't keep everything, though, and at least he still exists in my story and the images here.
I didn't recall where or when I had gotten these little piggy people. Miniaturist Jyl Adams was downsizing in the winter of 2016, and lo and behold, among the items she was selling were Piggy People. Made of poly stone, hand painted. each marked with @1991 /1992 J.C.; set of 12, sizes ranging from tallest at 2 1/4 inch to 1 1/4" seated. She still had the original box, although not in good shape, she said, and the were my pigs, including a farmer pig wearing a bandana - my Taylor Hamm!