There once was a very special pig and his name was Dashiell Hammett (emphasis on the Ham!) From the time he was a piglet every animal in the barnyard knew that he was unique. You see, Dashiell was both witty and wise.
This extraordinary combination of virtues made him a very desirable friend. In point of fact, on any given morning passersby would see a line of animals that wound around the silo, through the hen house and past the stable—all waiting for a chance to visit with Dashiell in his sty.
Upon entry, each would be treated as if he or she were the most important creature Dashiell had ever met. The smaller animals would jump on top of him and he would walk with them about the yard as they talked. Thus began the current practice of “piggyback riding.” The adolescent groupies called him the “Divine Swine” and made him a folk hero.
Conversations with Dashiell ranged from “egg”istentialist discussions with the chickens about whether they or the eggs came first to inane babblings with the ever-silly geese. Cows came to him worried about giving fat-free milk, for light mocha lattes. A typical conversation might transpire like this one which was overheard one evening between Dashiell and the farm’s infamous Billy goat.
“Mr. Ha-a-a-ammett,” queried Billy, “why a-a-a-am I so unpopular with the sheep?”
“How do you know that they don’t like you?” responded Dashiell.
“Well, they’re always sitting around in circles knitting sweaters and when I come along and start to play, they get all ma-a-a-ad and leave.”
“And just what games do you play, Billy?”
“I just see how high I can butt their a-a-a-angora into the air.”
“Billy, Billy, Billy, why don’t you ask the goats what they would like to do instead of assuming they’d like flying through the air dropping stitches right and left. Think more about others and less about yourself and things will work out.”
And so Billy did just that and soon the sheep were using his short horns to hold their skeins of yarn as they wound it into balls. Billy was a little bored but very loved and attributed his popularity to the sound advice of the pig.
Not all of Dashiell’s visitors were so self-centered. Often Dolly the llama would come by and she and the pig would spend hours trying to comprehend the concept of eternity.
One of the most poignant of Dashiell’s discussions was with a group of calves who feared that they might be sacrificed to make veal.
“Why, Mr. Hammett?” they asked in innocent despair. “Why would they butcher us when we are so young?”
The saddened pig knew that there was no conscionable explanation for man’s inhumanity to the young beasts. He called together the other animals and orchestrated a barnyard protest. The chickens laid no eggs; the cows gave no milk; and the pigs, including Dashiell, began a starvation campaign. The farmer, knowing who was the leader of the passive resistance, approached the sty to confront his adversary.
Dashiell explained the issue:
“Mr. Farmer, we may appear to be dumb animals to you, but we have an intuitive level of knowing which exceeds all your reason. We know that we will ultimately become food, clothing or other products consumed by man. We have accepted this as our fate, but we refuse to allow our children to be taken before their time.”
The farmer explained that the country was in a depression and that he needed the money that the calves would bring both as veal and as leather goods to feed his own children. Dashiell knew that he and all the other animals would rather die than comply. They would die so others could live. He contemplated the paradox. Then he looked into the farmer’s eyes and through them into his soul and he found a good but desperate man. They appeared to be at an impasse. Slowly, a light appeared in Dashiell’s mind and it brightened like the morning sun that gradually wakes the rooster. And all at once he crowed, “I have it!” To the startled farmer he said, “I pledge to you that every animal in this yard will increase its productivity by 20% and together we will make up the money you will lose by not killing the calves. We’ll call it a total quality farm.” News of the compromise spread rapidly from barn to coop and there was a great celebration.
What the animals did not realize was that as Dashiell signed the treaty with the farmer, he was also signing away a portion of his life. In order to meet the promised 20% he had to eat, and eat quickly and thus he was ready for the market sooner than he had hoped.
When the inevitable day came that Dashiell Hammett was no longer in the yard, the other animals were distraught. So devastating was the thought of living without their friend that they erected a cement monument in his likeness which they displayed prominently in the yard. Thereafter an amazing phenomenon occurred. A solitary duckling wandered up to the stone pig and began talking to it as if it were alive.
“Hi, Mr. Hammett,” said the duckling. “I’m worried because one of my feet isn’t webbed and I’m afraid others will laugh at me.” Just then Dolly the llama came by and said, “If Dashiell were here now he would say, ‘Think more about others and less about yourself and things will work out.” The other animals overheard the llama and soon they all chimed in quoting Mr. Hammett’s timeless adages. Then a few lambs and chicks climbed upon the back of the cement pig and imagined themselves on one of Dashiell’s wonderful journeys. Not only had the animals reproduced the physical image of their friend, but with their collective memories they had also resurrected his spirit. Once again the lines began to form around the silo, through the henhouse and past the stable to seek the wit and wisdom of Dashiell Hammett.
While stone and water make monuments to life, it is compassion and valor that make lives monumental.
The Tail of Dashiell Hammett was written and narrated by Julie Reder Fairley. Character voices were provided by Matthew Linden, Anthony Reece and Evelyn O'Dwyer. This parable is dedicated to the memory of Phyllis Prescott.