It was over 100 degrees in the Farm-in-the-Zoo. The sun was burning onto the stage where I stood and into the open tent where 13-year-old Jahdiel Smith was setting up his dissecting instruments. He pulled out three fetal pigs and waited for me, his 4-H leader, to announce his demonstration.
I had to wait for the musician to turn on the microphone. Finally I announced: "Jahdiel Smith, a member of the GBTO's 4-H club, is going to demonstrate how to dissect a fetal pig. He's in the open classroom tent."
Suddenly children from everywhere were running into the open tent to watch. Much more slowly, their parents followed.
Jahdiel took his safety razor and cut away at one of the back legs until a muscle showed through. Then he cut the muscle away with his surgical scissors.
"It stinks," one father said, taking his son by the arm and beginning to pull him away.
"I want to see," the son said. "I want to see."
The father walked to a bench and sat down in the shade by himself.
A day-camp group walked over to see what was going on. Jahdiel was taking out the fetal pig's intestines.
"These are chitlins," he explained. "See the green stuff? That's why your mother has to clean them so well whenever she cooks them."
"What's the green stuff?" one of the adults with the day campers asked.
"Oh," Jahdiel said louder, "that's their number two."
"I can't handle this. I'll be over there." The man pointed to the bench by the stage. All of the other adults with the day campers followed him.
"Now I'm going to show you how the brain looks." Jahdiel held up the fetal pig so everyone could see the thin white lines on the pig's scalp.
"Is he really going to take out the brains?" another parent asked. She mopped her sweaty brow with the back of her hand, became even more red, and said, "I'll be over there by that tree." She left her three children.
Another large day-camp group entered the farm area. One of Jahdiel's friends ran up to them. "Do you want to see a demonstration on how to dissect a pig?" she asked.
"No," the lady in charge said.
"No," the other leader repeated after her. Both of them looked at the crowd around Jahdiel.
"Too gross," they said together.
Jahdiel took his second pig and asked, "Who wants to dissect this one?"
Almost every child raised their hand. "OK," he said, pointing to a young girl. "Sit over here."
"Mommy, Mommy," she yelled and ran over to her mother on the bench.
None of the children laughed. Another child took her seat.
A third day-camp group walked over to the classroom tent.
"What's happening here?" one of the leaders asked me.
"He's demonstrating how to dissect a fetal pig."
"I've got to see this," he said.
"All right everyone. We're going into this tent to see how a pig looks inside."
Almost every child made a face, then a booing noise. "Then stay right here," he said. "I want to see this."
One of his coworkers watched him go. "Let's go to the bathroom. He'll be done by then. Everyone get their partners."
"Can I sit in this chair?" an elderly lady asked me.
"What's he doing?"
"He's doing a demonstration. He's dissecting a pig."
"I don't have to watch, do I?"
"Why a pig?" she asked. "He couldn't demonstrate something else? A painting maybe. How to make a salad. He's got to do a pig?"
"That's one of his projects."
"I don't have to look?"
She turned her seat away from the demonstration but turned her body so she could halfway see what Jahdiel was doing. She made a face and then turned all the way around until she could see all of the pig.
"I'm done," Jahdiel said. He carefully wiped the dissection instruments with paper towels, and then he said, "We've got to wash our hands. Thanks for watching."
He left the dissected pigs on the table. "Could some of you throw these pigs away for me?" he asked.
Two boys grabbed the pigs, wrapped them in the paper towels, and ran to their leaders with them. The leaders jumped and one of them screamed.
A few minutes later two farm workers came up to me. "You didn't give these kids a pig?" one of them asked. "He's scaring people with it."
The other worker looked at me angrily. "Dissecting an animal in the zoo," she said with disgust in her voice. Sweat curled down her forehead. "Don't you know how the world is today? We can't give kids any ideas. There's too many crazies as there is."
"See?" One of the workers pointed to the ground. "That's a piece of one there."
As I picked it up, the heat already making it stink, Jahdiel came running over. "I won. I won."
A small boy who was pulling his mother stood before Jahdiel and me. His eyes were wide open in awe.
"Yes?" we asked at the same time.
"Are you going to cut open anything else?" the boy asked.
"Not today," Jahdiel answered.
"Thank God," the mother sighed. "Let's get out of this heat."
As she slowly walked away, I could hear her mutter, "Sick. Truly sick. What's the world coming to?"
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.