We come, my mother explained early, from a long line of pigs.
Actually, it’s one particular pig, the Pig Aunt, of whom she spoke. (But over-dramatization, you’ll soon see, is a trick of which my people, my mother included, never tire.)
The Pig Aunt was born in our village in Casamassima, in the province of Bari. This is also known as Apulia, the region famous for tasty fish dishes and Moorish flavorings and i trulli -- conical-shaped ovens.
The Pig Aunt then is indeed locatable outside myth, kind of on the boot heel of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea in the little Casamassima village on Garibaldi Street. And she came into the world in the normal way, not Cesarean or anything -- which I guess is more a Roman birth method, isn’t it?
I’m joking already, digressing.
Anyway, her name was Ada Posa and she had, at birth, boar bristles running up and down her infant spine. And she looked more four footed, more like a little pig with pink trotters than a human girl with hands, toes, etc.
Everyone was upset. Santo Rocco is the patron saint of Casamassima and he has a sidekick which is a little dog, sort of a spiritual form of Buster Brown and Tige.
The women there pray to Saint Rocco first, then to the Virgin. When, however, they saw Ada emerge into the world, some went all the way to God. That is to say they behaved like Protestants.
It was not expected, this kind of a baby. One with six toes, maybe. But this -- Jesus!
A lot of people knew great-aunt Ada’s mother had probably sinned to get this kind of baby. She’d probably considered abortion, since it was her eleventh pregnancy, and this was the payback. God sent a pig to give her a clue about right thinking.
Or maybe it was because she was so good, the other theory went. She got the pig because God knew she could take anything he gave her. And keep smiling. Boils, scrofula -- just like Job, the luckiest of mortals: sometimes being cursed meant you were in favor -- in REVERSE.
Suffering, see, it’s really about being LUCKY!
Who really knew, God being so unfathomable. That’s finally what people said to great-aunt Ada’s mother when they wanted to be politically correct.
“Who knows what God had in mind,” they’d say, “up His sleeve, on the back burner of grace...”
Quite obviously, though, it was a pig.
Great-aunt Ada was given a half-crib, half-manger type sleeping arrangement. And everyone wanted to see her, roiling limply there in the straw. Some were a little hesitant, but curiosity won over good manners, introversion, and everything else.
The village beat a path to little Ada’s door. Just as if there were a dark star shining over her manger, if you catch my comparison.
They all went to see her under the flimsy pretext of comforting her family, meanwhile pirouetting with the lust for sensation and the delicious misfortune of SOMEONE ELSE.
Of course, this kind of madcap fun couldn’t last.
The Pig Aunt died after only fourteen years. But all the while she was alive, people came from all over Apulia -- and farther -- to gawk at her.
“To the credit of your good family,” my mother pointed out, “no admission charge was ever considered. Not even for a minute!”
My mother would cluck and go, “Peccata, Peccata!” Poor Thing! Poor Thing! when she’d describe Aunt Pig’s wake.
“She was covered up in a white, embroidered sheet -- ironed just beautiful, starched nice, with just her shriveled little snout protruding. Oh God, she suffered the pains of hell, that poor Pig.
“And they made her a little cap because she was still like a child in size. A little white lace cap. Can’t you just see how pitiful it looked on her grey head? Oh God. So pathetic. No real hair, just a thick strand here and there -- bristles -- very sparse on her skull. Oh, God.
“And muscles? No way. She’d never been able to stand up or walk. Oh God, I don’t want to talk about it. Please God, take her sufferings from my mind. Sweet innocent pig. Why do we suffer so in this life? Why? I better shut up before God sends me worse. Who am I to question Him?”
And, as she’d describe the scene, my mother would close her eyes and for good measure cover them with her hands, trying to banish Aunt Pig.
“Oh God,” I’d say too, even as a child. “I wish I could’ve helped her. I’d have picked her up and put her in a carriage and shown her stuff. I’d have LOVED her.”
“No, are you crazy?” my mother’d say, all disgusted. “She had to stay on her side; her bones were brittle. No one could pick her up. She suffered the PAINS OF HELL!”
It was so disconcerting, Aunt Pig’s plight. But even worse, my mother always capped the story off with the real kicker.
“You’ve got the pig genes in your family, little girl. You see how hairy we all are? Cousin Tanny has a beard even now. Doesn’t shave, though I think it’s disgraceful. Actually, it might grow in thicker if she did, but she should do something. Uh...um... It runs in the family is the point. So don’t feel too smart about your looks. We’re not out of the woods with this pig business yet. A pig could show up again.”