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A soft knock wakes me up. Blearily, I open my heavy eyelids, disoriented. My eyes take in the darkened room, the colorful homemade quilts piled on the narrow bed, and the small blonde girl next to me, taking up most of the meager mattress space. Where am I? Finally, it clicks. I’m in Carey, Idaho, a tiny farming town with a population of about 500 people. I’m visiting my relatives: my aunt, uncle, and 13 year old cousin, Zina. Zina is the little girl next to me, groaning as she wakes up. I look around some more, and more facts come back to me. The person knocking on my door is my aunt, Sarah. The reason it’s so dark is that it’s 5:30 in the morning. We’re getting up to wash Zina’s two pigs so they can show in the county fair.

Reluctantly, I sit up as my aunt comes in. “Time to get up girls!” she chirps. She’s always cheerful. My aunt is one of the sweetest people you will meet. People who don’t know her well would think that this means she’s a pushover, but she’s not. I’ve spent the last week being stuffed to my eyebrows with food, my protest that I’m not hungry falling on unbelieving ears.
I grin at this memory as I haul myself out of bed, my feet protesting at taking my weight so early in the morning. I struggle into a fluffy blue jacket, and head out the door to put on my boots. The boots are new, a present from my aunt so that I can help with the pigs without worrying about getting my other shoes, as well as my pants dirty. This is a good thing, because my shoe collection consists mainly of flats, which would perish tragically at even the thought of going near all that mud. The boots are sleek and green, and are stiff as I slide my feet into their depths.

Once Zina, my uncle, and I are all jacketed and booted up, we trek out to the car. We make the ride to the fairgrounds without a word, still too tired to think properly. The only sound is the radio, blaring country songs to fill the silence. When we arrive, we pile out and head to the pig pens, stumbling slightly on the uneven ground.

As we enter the barn, the smell hits me, a mixture of musty hay, dusty sawdust, and warm animals. Reaching the right stall, we stare down at the pigs, Ruby and Olive, fast asleep in the sawdust. Around us, sheep bleat and pigs grunt, but Ruby and Olive are unmoving. Climbing into the pen, Zina and I work to wake them up. We slap, pull, push, threaten, and cajole the pigs as we try to heave their ponderous bulks up and out of their pens. “Come on, piggies, wake up!” Zina calls in a singsong-y voice. Finally, the pigs get up. We herd them out of the pen, blocking them with our legs when they try to go the wrong way, and slapping their bristly backs and faces to show them where to go.

Eventually, we get them into the washing pens and close the metal doors, latching the attached carabiner to the wall so they can’t get out. “Do you want to take Ruby?” Zina asks. I nod, and we each climb into our respective pens and turn on the hoses. The icy jet of water quickly drenches the shivering pig as she crowds against the side of the pen trying to avoid it. Ruby is a good pig. She doesn’t make a fuss about the washing. Other pigs are not so well-behaved, and their unhappy squeals can be heard through the entire barn. Once the pig is successfully soaked, I take the long-handled scrubbing brush and squirt a jet of viscous dish soap onto the bristles. Setting the brush against the pig’s back, I start to scrub. Ruby likes this, and she leans against me, thoroughly soaking my jeans above my boots. So much for protection. Frothy white lather gradually covers the pig as I dig the brush in to get out all the dirt. I use my fingernails to scratch off some scaly brown bits of skin. Finally, Ruby is clean, and so is Olive, We shower them with compliments, telling them that they are the most beautiful pigs in the world, and promising to bring a mirror when we get back, as we herd them back to their pens where they’ll wait until they show.

As we walk out of the barn, Zina yells the goodbye she’s said so many times that I can recite it with her by now, adding in the parts she’s misses. “Goodbye piggies! Eat eat eat and drink drink drink! Don’t fight and don’t climb!

“And stay clean!” I add as an afterthought.

We pile back into the car just as the sun is starting to come over the horizon, shooting rays of light in every direction. I’m exhausted, wet, and I smell like a pig, but I’m happy. Maybe getting up so early isn't always so bad. We drive away from the fairgrounds and head back to get ourselves ready for the fair.



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