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Jun 10, 2006

Sy Montgomery with Chris as a young adult resting on the Pig Plateau and enjoying a belly rub. (Photo: Ian Redmund)

Living on Earth’s commentator, Sy Montgomery’s famous pig, Christopher Hogwood, has passed on. But he left his owner with enough fond memories to write a book. And that’s just what she did. Sy Montgomery joins us to talk about her most recent book, The Good Good Pig.

Christopher has since gone to hog heaven. And his owner, Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery, has written a memoir of all his misadventures. She joins me now with her new book, "The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood." And what a life it was! But Sy, maybe you should start from the beginning and tell us all, who exactly was Christopher Hogwood?

MONTGOMERY: Well Christopher Hogwood still actually is a famous conductor after whom we named a runty spotted pig who we adopted when he was so little he fit in a shoebox. He was a runt half the size of all the other runts at this piggery, in the year 1990. It was a very bad year for this poor little pig, because it's hard enough being a runt, but being a runt half the size of the other runts he really had almost no chance of surviving. And he had every kind of disease possible. It was like George Burns on "The Simpsons," you know?

Anyway, this pig was so sick and so runty that the people who own the piggery, who are friends of my husband and I, when I was in Virginia caring for my sick father, who was dying of cancer, they called my husband and said 'How'd you like having a runt pig move in with you?' And Howard said 'normally I wouldn't even tell her that you called, but her father's dying, it's a very hard time for her, and I think she'd really be cheered up by a sickly little pig.' And so that's how he came home to us.

CURWOOD: And that's how Christopher Hogwood came into your life. And of course you tell his story in your new book. You call this the "Good Good Pig." And it's pink, your book, by the way, Sy Montgomery. It's pink!

MONTGOMERY: Yes, and I've got to show you the very best part of it. If you take the paper cover off you'll notice in the lower right-hand corner is a snout print embossed onto the cover. And I swear that's exactly what Christopher would have done. Because he left his snout print on almost everything.

CURWOOD: Now this snout print, as you call it, is about the size of a quarter. Christopher Hogwood was on the, shall I say, large size.

MONTGOMERY: Yes. After he came home in a shoe box he grew to an enormous size nobody expected. He eventually got to be 750 pounds. And he lived to the very ripe old age of 14, and most pigs live to be six months. Of course, that's because they quickly turn into bacon or salami or something like that. But because I'm a vegetarian and my husband is Jewish, that was not going to be his fate.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) A Kosher pig.

MONTGOMERY: Yes, he was.

CURWOOD: And if he got to 750 pounds, did you have to put him on a diet?

MONTGOMERY: Yes, that happened. It was a terrible thing to separate him from what we really considered his higher power, his muse – his slops. But when he got old, you know, just like people, pigs get diseases like we do, including arthritis. And he got arthritis and that weight was just too much on his joints. So the vet came over and gave us the bad news – we were going to have to reduce his food.

And this was dreadful, because he was getting food from all over the place. People used to save their slops in the freezer for him and drive it in from other parts of the country. Some people actually mailed him slop. And we used to pick up these wonderful gourmet slops from Fiddlehead's Café. We would lift the lid of the slops and out would waft the scent of balsamic vinegar and lovely delicate marinades and imported olives...

CURWOOD: Oh my gosh, this pig was eating out every night!

MONTGOMERY: Yes he was. And when we would go to some event in town, you know, a wedding or a reception or something, it was usually catered by Fiddlehead's, and we'd find that we were eating the same stuff the pig was. But the presentation, of course, was different.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now, in some ways Christopher was something of an experiment, wasn't he?

MONTGOMERY: Well we were really pushing the boundaries of porcine knowledge. No one really knew how long pigs lived. And we certainly didn't know how big he'd get. We thought he might stay small. We were told by the folks who owned the piggery that there was a good chance that he would stay small, but the miracle of a swine warmer combined with Schlitz beer, which was one of his favorite things to drink, just – he grew very quickly. And so did his circle of friends.

CURWOOD: Along the lines of an experiment, so just how did your pig behave, you know, a little bit tight with all this beer?

MONTGOMERY: Ah! Well, we never got him drunk. I mean, he was just so big you couldn't give him enough. He just loved the taste. But then he loved the taste of many things. And he had good taste in music, too, Steve. Pigs actually have quite a refined sense of many of the great fine things in life. They really can be quite sensitive, quite delicate. They're very emotional creatures, and very kind at heart. They have a great sense of humor, Chris certainly did, and he was a sensitive soul.

CURWOOD: And a smart soul at that.

MONTGOMERY: Yes. Pigs are incredibly smart. Very few people realize that. But they're so smart that in past centuries people who couldn't afford hunting dogs used hunting pigs, and they would act like pointers. Quite a number of researchers have tested pigs' intelligence, and they generally come out smarter than dogs. But my husband and I think that they actually – at least Chris did – come out smarter than us, because he got to have two college-educated people working full time for him for free.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Eating the best food in town!

MONTGOMERY: That's right.

CURWOOD: Now of course your book is not just about your relationship with Christopher Hogwood, your pig, but it's about your life and your relationships and what's going on in your family, particularly with your mom and dad. How did this pig, Christopher, influence those relationships?

MONTGOMERY: Well, when Chris came into my life my father was dying, my family was pretty much in shatters. I was an only child, and my parents had disowned me because they didn't like who I married. And I married the greatest guy, but he was Jewish, and my mother was raised Methodist and she didn't like that at all. So this book is really a book about family. I built another family when my family disowned me. And it was a multi-species household and it included people who weren't genetically related to me, lots of kids who weren't genetically related to me.

CURWOOD: So how does a pig bring together a community?

MONTGOMERY: (Laughs) Well, first of all he was like our ambassador of the barnyard. I don't know. I mean, I'm really kind of a shy person. Chris introduced me to my neighborhood. How? By busting out and running down the street and getting rescued by people who I hardly knew. We'd only been living there for a few years by the time Christopher came into our lives. But boy, I'll tell ya, there's nothing that's going to get you to know your neighbors faster than a black and white spotted pig rooting up their lawn. So he introduced me to a lot of people in that way.

He also introduced me to children. When I was growing up, as I was a child I didn't have friends who were children. I didn't get along with other children for various reasons. But once I got Chris I had more friends who were children than I had in my entire childhood.

CURWOOD: What's your favorite story about Christopher Hogwood?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, wow. Well, I just loved the performance art that he did of eating. And I loved how much he meant to people. And when he finally died, I'd never seen such an outpouring from people. And remember, he outlived my mother and my father, so I had been to funerals of people that I loved and people were very generous and kind to us. But when the pig died, the house was so full of flowers we filled up every single vase and every single pickle jar. We got cards and letters and phone calls and emails. People brought food, just like they do when a person died.

And some stories about him I found out after he died, of why he meant so much to so many people. And that 'why' was all over the place. In some cases people just loved the idea of Yankee thrift, that you could bring your garbage and he would eat it. In some cases people just loved him when he was tiny and he was so adorable and then he was so huge, he was so much fun.

But in other cases people told me stories, really heart-wrenching stories, of how Chris kind of completed a sad story and made it better. Or how Chris kind of redeemed a pig that one person had once had who she loved very much but who got shot, essentially by mistake by the butcher. Another person told me the story of why his wife loved the pig so much. And it was because she had been an orphan with a terrible childhood, and Chris had been an orphan too. But his childhood had been a wonderful, charmed childhood, and she loved him to bits because it was like her story rewritten and come out right.

CURWOOD: Sy Montgomery is the author of "The Good, Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood." Thanks so much, Sy.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Steve.

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Posted: Saturday June 10, 2006, 2:11 pm
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Past Member (0)
Saturday June 10, 2006, 4:28 pm
Awwww....sigh. Rest in peace, sweet piggie. :)

Fran Takacs (84)
Saturday June 10, 2006, 6:40 pm
great pig! I wish I could have known him.

Simone D. (1477)
Saturday June 10, 2006, 9:15 pm
That's lovely to hear about a pig that lived a wonderful life and was much loved. Rest in peace beautiful boy.

Yan K. (75)
Sunday June 11, 2006, 8:20 am
Awwww, I am so glad that Piggy had you in his life! R.I.P. Piggy...

Past Member (0)
Sunday June 11, 2006, 11:24 am
Sorry for your loss...pigs are one of the most endearing creatures on this were lucky to have him and he was lucky to have you!

Eva L. (190)
Sunday June 11, 2006, 8:13 pm
Thank you for sharing, Roy. I adore pigs and this sounds like a must read!

Linda J. (160)
Tuesday June 27, 2006, 11:56 am
Awesome pic... I have a 150 lb pig his name is Piglet, and he's Awesome. if you go to my page you can see a pic I have to take a better pic of him when I was trying to take that pic he kept comin at me to eat the camera hehehe so it was real hard to take his pic. Piglet is 9 years old now.

Leonora Obed (0)
Thursday June 29, 2006, 10:58 am
As one who was born in the year of the pig 1971 I find that after having read about Chris Hogwood I now understand my own pig qualities better. I appreciate the fact taht pigs are adventurous, sociable, gourmand connoisseurs with impeccable taste. Our work ethic is of a different nature, in that we may offend many a Puritan purist, but we're very good at bringing people together, living in the moment, and encouraging others to be outrageous, joyful, exuberant. God bless you, Christopher Hogwood, as you conduct your eternal symphony of joy! Leonora Obed, W. Trenton, N.J.

Inge Joergensen (132)
Wednesday July 19, 2006, 7:58 am

Karen Natale (0)
Monday September 18, 2006, 6:02 pm
I bought your book as a gift for a friend who is a true lover of pigs. Before sending it to him I decided to read some of it. It was marvelous!!! I cried and cried at the end. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish I had known of him while he was alive. Hancock is not far from where I live and I would very much have enjoyed meeting him. Thank you again for sharing your joy with us.

Sandra Carr (57)
Friday March 7, 2008, 11:25 am
Marvelous story! Wish I could have met Chris!


Roy M.
male , married
Medford, OR, USA
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