The last thing anyone wants to do in cold weather is deal with self-centered, rambunctious, barnyard pigs. At least that’s what Gayle tells me.
Try to imagine this scene: Gayle is standing in a hog pen, wearing her nightgown, slippers, and a winter coat, swinging a garden rake at a bunch of pigs. Why, you might ask?
Let me back up.
Earlier that morning, Gayle’s neighbor Rob was feeding his pigs. The excited pigs acted like they hadn’t eaten in a decade—even though Rob had fed them hours earlier. They rammed Rob against the fence.
They knocked him down and trampled his leg. He screamed. And he discovered he’d broken his leg and couldn’t walk.
Luckily Rob had his cellphone. He called Gayle, his closest neighbor, while he was lying in the mud. He barely knew her, but she was closer than a hospital.
Gayle answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Gayle,” he said. “It’s your neighbor, Rob.”
“Hi, Rob, what’s up?”
Rob, lying in the mud, glanced at the greedy pigs, eating slop over his limp and lifeless body. “Oh, not much,” he said. “What have you been up to lately?”
“Not much. How are you?”
“Can’t complain. Hey listen, are you busy?”
At the time, she was babysitting her daughter’s children. She was making breakfast, baking cookies, doing grandma things.
“A little busy,” she said. “Why?”
“No reason,” he said. “I’ve broken my leg and I think I’m dying.”
She threw the kids into the truck, then raced to Rob’s house. She found him lying in the pen, covered in muck.
“I don’t know how Gayle did it,” Rob explains. “I thought I was hallucinating, I mean here comes this crazy lady in a nightgown, fighting pigs with a garden rake, lifting me into the truck all by herself.”
But Gayle’s not crazy. Not technically. She was a fifty-seven-year-old, independent, and tough woman. She’d survived one husband and raised three adult children.
Lift a full grown man? Gayle could have carried two. On her shoulders. Uphill. Blindfolded. Walking backward. While reciting the Gettysburg Address. In Latin.
She says, “Adrenaline just takes over.”
Rob was trying to be manly about things, and keep a stiff upper lip. By this I mean that on the way to the hospital he passed out on Gayle’s lap and drooled all over her nightgown.
“I barely knew him,” says Gayle. “I’d seen him at church a few times, I knew he lived alone, but that was about it.”
She helped him into the emergency room. Rob, still trying to act as masculine as possible, screamed in a tone of voice most often used by schoolgirls and pre-pubescent boy bands.
The triage nurse looked at his muddy leg and said, “What happened to him?”
“It was his pig,” Gayle said.
“His what?” said the nurse.
“That musta been some pig.”
That’s when Rob calmly pointed out, “GIVE ME SOME FREAKING PAINKILLERS!”
They rushed him to a room. Gayle stayed with him all night while doctors cared for him. For supper, Gayle and Rob ate from hospital trays. The meal was ham, potatoes, and gravy.
Rob laughs. “I couldn’t believe they served ham, of all things.”
“Revenge is sweet,” adds Gayle.
Or at least in this case, it was hickory smoked.
When they released Rob he was pretty loopy from medication. Gayle says he was mumbling things like:
“You’re so pretty, Gayle. Have I told you how pretty? Please do pretty stuff tomorrow. I have to puke now, okay? God bless you, Gayle, you’re a great American.”
Gayle drove him home. But she couldn’t leave him at his house. Not in his condition. Besides, he DID say she was pretty. And Rob was kinda cute. So, forced to make a decision, it appeared as though Gayle had no choice, being the Samaritan that she was, but to lock Rob in her spare bedroom without his verbal consent.
Gayle darted into his house, packed his toothbrush, a suitcase, and his clothes. Gayle placed Rob in her spare bedroom. For two weeks she cooked for him, read him books, and controlled his meds.
Each day, she waited for Rob to say something else about how pretty she was, but he didn’t. So she upped his medication to speed things along.
“My kids didn’t like it,” Gayle admits. “They were like, ‘Mama, you don’t even know this stranger in your house.’ But I knew he was a good guy.”
During those weeks, Gayle and Rob became friends. They had long conversations that lasted into the nights. They shared suppers together. Watched television. She told him about her kids, and her late husband. He told her about his childhood, and how he’d once been married to a woman who, in the end, turned out to be a psychopath.
“We played a lotta gin rummy,” Rob tells me. “I lost a lot.”
Eventually, he was well enough to walk. And when it was time to leave, it was awkward saying goodbye.
Gayle says, “I didn’t want him to go. So I just kissed his cheek and told him that he was pretty. And we just laughed.”
And he left.
When Christmas came, Gayle’s family was pleased to see Rob knocking on the door. He brought wine, and his leg was wrapped in a hard plastic boot. She welcomed him inside her home. And after thirteen years of marriage, she’s been stuck with him ever since.
“I sold the pigs,” Rob says.
“Yep,” Gayle adds. “And on our wedding night, I carried him over the threshold.”