Groundhog Day gets a Lexington-style update with pig

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

OK, so who would believe that a pot-bellied pig, f’goodness sakes, not an honest-to-goodness groundhog, is going to peek at the weather at first light next Friday, that all-important Feb. 2, and give us his word on whether or not more bad weather is in store for us?

Bob and Nancy Lent will have to speak for her, of course. But that’s all right.

They’re the parents, so to speak, of that pot-bellied pig.

Bob called the other day to remind me that I’d written a story about him delivering flood relief to upstate New York when floods actually wiped out several little towns last year, and he wanted to talk about another story now.

Namely, February and Groundhog Day.

His family’s pet pig has been playing like the groundhog in Lexington, where they used to live, for three years now.

“If that pig sees her shadow on Feb. 2,” he says, “or if she doesn’t see her shadow, she’ll tell us what the weather is going to be like. If she does see her shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. If not, spring’s just around the corner.

“Usually groundhogs make the call, but we called them woodchucks when we lived up north.”

But now they call groundhogs and woodchucks pot-bellied pigs because their own beloved 2-foot, 100-pound pig does the honors in the Lent household since they moved to Salisbury — and in Lexington.

“My wife and I and our youngest son, Tommy, and our niece, Shai, go to Lexington every Feb. 2,” he says, when the question is settled. Will there be more bad weather or not?

“We’ll be up there probably about 6, but Lil’Bit comes out at 7 a.m.”

By now, everybody knows Lil’Bit isn’t Punxsutawney Phil, the true groundhog who is an American forecasting tradition.

“But Lil’Bit has put Lexington on the map,” Bob says. “She’s in e-mails and newspapers all over the world now,” even if she is a pot-bellied pig.

“This will be her third year doing the groundhog thing for Lexington.

Lexington, Bob explains, came up with the idea of using the groundhawg (note the spelling) because Lexington considers itself the barbecue capital of the world. Its tourism revolves around barbecue.

And last year, he added, a pretty little girl from the Salisbury Post came to his house to meet Lexington’s official groundhog because he belongs to the Lent family of Salisbury.

That pretty little girl, of course, wasn’t me. It was Kirsten Valle, who worked for the Salisbury Post at that time and wrote a wonderful story about Groundhawg Day and the Lent family’s pig, who was Lexington’s official groundhog stand-in.

But Kirsten has moved on to the Charlotte Observer. So Bob called and asked me to make sure that everybody knows that Groundhog Day is coming up.

And I was thrilled.

Groundhog Day — even if it’s spelled Groundhawg Day — comes from an old European tradition where halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, people used just about any animal to predict the weather, Kirsten wrote last year.

Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil popularized the groundhog tradition, but nobody knows what’s become of him.

Meantime, Kirsten went to see the Lents and met Lil’Bit. And she learned that the Lent family — Nancy and Bob and their sons, Tommy and Ryan — got their first pot-bellied pig, who was named Blossom, about four years ago. Then came Lil’Bit, who was a “rescue.” Her owner couldn’t keep her and was going to take her to the pound.

The pound?

Nancy and Bob stepped in and offered adoption. And they know she likes their home much better than the pound because she’s spoiled rotten — and her future is much safer.

“Lil’Bit goes to school,” Nancy says. “She’s been to several schools for educational purposes. She’s been to the Greensboro Children’s Museum, and for two years in a row she’s been a feature at the High Point furniture market.”

But that’s not all.

Two more pot-bellied pigs also live with the Lents — Sallie Mae and Ladybug, who’s only been part of the family for about two months.

“I have a tendency to get involved with animal rescue,” Nancy says.

But their friends know she and Bob and the children aren’t just partial to pot-bellied pigs.

Nancy admits they rescue all kinds of animals. On board right now are eight dogs — Bear, Diva, Max, Princess, Sassy, No. 2 Spot, Marshmallow and Buddy — and eight cats — Pumpkin, Smoky, Spock, Belle, Louie, Domino, Oreo and Buffie.

“I have two dogs and three cats inside,” she says, “but all the rest are outside.”

And she loves it.

It’s amazing to have that many pets, she admits, “because I’m a city girl. I was born in Albany, New York, and here I am, living in the country with all these animals.

“It takes a good 45 minutes to feed them, but I wouldn’t trade them for nothing.”

Her favorites are Lil’Bit and Blossom, her pigs.

Lil’Bit’s first taste of fame came during show-and-tell at Tommy’s elementary school. That was just the beginning, and may be what prompted a Lexington television show to do a feature on her and, eventually, the city board approached the family and asked if Lil’Bit would be it’s official “groundhawg.”

And was she ever a hit!

A huge crowd, Kirsten reported, came to see her strut out of the Old City Barbecue, and a politician’s wife got down on her hands and knees in her fur coat to get a kiss from the pig, and the news made it to the Tonight Show, the Weather Channel and ESPN.

The Lents also received e-mails from as far away as China and Germany.

And last year she was supposed to wear a pink harness when Bob Lent and Tommy wore tuxedos to march outside on Feb. 2. Trumpets sounded, and a group performed a ballad, “The Legend of Lil’Bit.”

Did all that attention go to Lil’Bit’s head?

Well, maybe.

She liked the camera that afternoon, Kirsten reported. And gave slobbery kisses for cookies.

And she’ll probably give slobbery kisses for cookies again this year, but she’s changing locations. She’s going to come out of the Avon Store on Lexington Square at 7 a.m., and everybody’s going to be watching to see whether or not she can see her shadow.

If she does, you’d better not put your coat away.

And the Lents will be pleased.

A pot-bellied pig, Nancy Lent says, is no problem to own, and her family expects to have Lil’Bit for a while yet. Pot-bellied pigs live up to 30 years.

This one has learned to ride in a car, she’s fascinated by cameras and, the Lent family swears, she’s learned to say “mama,” “hungry” and “love you” — and even said a cuss word once, reported Kirsten.


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