I’ve had some interesting experiences in my years as a reporter. Aside from the big stories - hurricanes, a presidential debate and various investigations - some things have been just plain weird.
In North Carolina, when a strip club opened up in the “extra-territorial jurisdiction,” meaning neither the city or county knew just what to do about zoning, the community went crazy and I told their stories. That led to a call from one of the female employees of the establishment, who chose to give me the what-for. It was one of those moments where you hang up and say to yourself, “I went to college for this?”
When I was still an intern in Illinois, I raced halfway across the state to a courthouse bombing and wound up running to the scene - which I do not recommend - so I could get there in time for a press conference. I made it.
Every job has had its moments, but the bear in Hogansville on June 18, not to mention the hours-long standoff and waves of spectators, ranked right up there.
A bear sighting in a mill village is unusual, but I guess to me it didn’t seem like the kind of event that should attract crowds. We live in Georgia. Bears live in Georgia. It makes sense then, that every so often, the two shall pass.
Maybe the “wildlife” I was exposed to as a child in Illinois desensitized me to bears. At our little house in the country, we had our fair share of animal visitors. Most numerous were field mice - we were surrounded by fields, after all, and our cat Sherman was scared of mice. Bless his heart.
There was the bat that took up residence on our porch for a number of days. I remember getting only one good look at it - all I knew about bats was that they shouldn’t be out in the daytime and the sight of that rat with wings scared me, I’ll be the first to admit.
Of course we had deer, birds, coyotes and rabbits - I now have the cast iron “Bunny Crossing” sign my dad had planted in the front yard.
But the most famous animal story in Shrader family lore wasn’t a wild animal at all. It was a farm animal from across the street.
Not only was our house surrounded by corn and bean fields, even though we didn’t farm, to the northwest of our house was a hog confinement operation. Yes, the smell is unmistakeable. Once I moved away for good after college, the only time I came home was during the winter, when the odor is tamped down some. The exception was the last trip I made to the old house for Mom’s auction in August 2005. It was hot. It was humid. The neighbors were on the lawn checking out the merchandise and the stink was in the air.
I turned to my best friend from high school and said, “Did it always smell like this?”
“Yes,” he laughed. He has a farm now, himself.
Maybe the smell disturbed me because it brought back memories of our “visitor” from the hog farm. I don’t remember how old I was, except I should say now that I was very young and I don’t react this way to farm animals as an adult. My parents had put an addition on to our antique shop (an attached garage on to the attached garage) and we were moving items from one side to the other.
With an armload of (thankfully not breakable) antiques, I came around the corner and smelled … that smell. As I kept walking, there was a giant sow standing in the doorway of our new garage. I did what any young child would do: dropped whatever was in my arms, ran into the other room, climbed up on a workbench and yelled, “PIG!!”
A pig in an antique shop is akin to a bull in a china shop, so dad hustled into the addition and slammed the garage door down on the sow before she made her way inside. Then he got on the phone to ask the neighbors to come and get their, uhh, investment.
We thought the situation would be resolved quickly. We were wrong. It was several hours before our neighbor called one of his hired hands, from more than 20 miles away, to lead the sow back across the road with a bucket of slop.
In the meantime, we were held hostage in our house as she had her way in our yard and left her indelible mark on our front windows, which wound up staying there for quite some time. Mom did not “do windows.”
Dad, who was a fairly decent shot, was angry with the sow and the neighbor and it’s lucky one never got loose after that day. It wouldn’t have ended well for the pig.
“If it happens again,” Dad said, “We’re going to be eating ham all winter.”