I always enjoyed breaks in college, getting to go home to relax and see friends. I also enjoyed coming back to school after breaks, catching up on what had happened to everyone during the vacation. After one Thanksgiving break at college, my friend Bob returned with the story of Uncle Jim and the Flying Pig. It seems that Uncle Jim had gotten engrossed in the Winter Olympics the year before, and especially in the skiing events. As he sat watching the ski jump competition one evening, Bob heard him say, “I bet I could do that.”
Dot was in her chair reading. “You could do that and break both legs like an old fool and then I’d have to do all the work around here.” Uncle Jim didn’t say any more, but Bob could tell he was thinking about how he could learn to ski jump.
The next morning, Uncle Jim was involved in building what was obviously a ski ramp for a jump. As Bob helped him, he said to Uncle Jim, “I thought Aunt Dot said you wouldn’t be doing any ski jumping.”
“I’m not,” Uncle Jim answered. “At least not at first. I’m going to test it out on something else.”
“Like what?” Bob asked him.
“Well,” said Uncle Jim, “I’ve been reading how those rocket fellows needed a creature to test how a living thing would stand going into space. So they decided to use a pig. Problem was, the pig was lying down in the spacecraft on its back and pigs can’t do that. Poor thing died of fright or something.”
“So you’re going to test your ski jump on a pig.”
“That’s right. And instead of snow, which we don’t have, you and I are going to build one of those big air cushions like stunt men land on. The landing’s the hard part anyhow.”
Bob said he just shook his head. He and Uncle Jim finished the ramp, which was maybe 25 feet high, and then sprayed water on it so it would ice over. Then they took two big vinyl tarpaulins and glued and stapled them around the edges. When they stuck an air hose from a compressor in one of the seams, the homemade air cushion inflated but lost enough air that they knew it would give with the impact of the pig.
Bob did some skiing around the farm when there was snow, so he let Uncle Jim have his skis. Uncle Jim made up four trotter holders for one of the pigs from an old harness and fastened them to the skis. Uncle Jim, like most farmers had an affection for animals and would not mistreat them, although he was willing to make them into bacon or ground beef or chicken nuggets when the time came.
Uncle Jim wanted to be sure that the air cushion worked, so he and Bob hauled a hay bale up to the top of the ramp and sent it down. The bale flew off the end of the ramp, bounced once on the air cushion and then came to rest in the middle. The jump was ready.
Persuading a pig to the top of a ramp is one thing; fitting its hooves into the holders on the skis was another, but finally they succeeded. “Should we have a countdown?” asked Bob.
“Nah,” said Uncle Jim. “Just let her go.” They gave the pig a shove and she skied straight down the ramp for a few feet, squealing the whole time. Then, struggling to free herself, she turned sideways and started to roll.
The skis flew off on the first rotation and soon the pig was rolling rapidly down the ramp. She flew off the end, rotating like a sideways forward pass. She hit the air cushion, bounced high in the air, came down on all fours and ran off the cushion and across the fields.
“Wow,” said Bob. “When pigs fly.”
The pig came back after a day or so, but she wouldn’t come near Bob or Uncle Jim. Dot had to feed her.
As usual, Dot didn’t say anything about the incident, but at breakfast the next morning, Jim’s bacon came flying over from the stove onto his plate. “What was that?” he asked Dot, who had been the pitcher on her fast-pitch high school softball team and still had a strong, accurate arm.