PROSPECT, Conn. — It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Monday. About 50 children sit in the community room of the Prospect Fire Department. Well, some are sitting: There’s also some squirming, and talking, and waving to parents across the room.
But most kids only have eyes for the show: a 6-foot-tall man and the 87-pound potbellied pig in a stroller next to him. “Do you guys wanna hear what Daisy did this morning?” Paul Minor asks, pointing to the pig. “Yes!” comes the response.
Daisy the pig, sound asleep with her tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, doesn’t seem to mind the hubbub. Paul “Farmer” Minor, a spry 70-year-old in a red plaid shirt and overalls, has enough energy for both of them. After explaining Daisy’s morning routine, he launches into his next bit with the same eagerness that he’s kept up for more than 19 years. “Daisy,” he begins, pointing to the pig, “is the most famous pig — in the world,” and pauses for effect. “We’ve been to all 48 continental states.”
“Even to Ohio!” a young boy yells out.
“Yes,” Minor responds solemnly, nodding. Since he started doing shows full time in 2000, the Bristol, Conn., native has driven all over the country, pig in tow. This summer, he’s traveling up the East Coast, with stops in Virginia, Connecticut, and Maine. Next year, he’ll go on his sixth national tour, including shows in Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.
It’s all part of his mission to get kids to “pig out on reading,” Minor says. Minor and Daisy perform about 300 shows each year, at libraries, schools, camps, and nursing homes around the country. In the 45-minute program, which Minor has fine-tuned over two decades, he tells stories about Daisy, reads a pig-themed book, and lets kids pet and hug the pig on the condition that they pledge to read more. Often, as a bonus, a librarian or teacher will lean in to give Daisy a kiss on her bristly snout, to general glee from the young audience.
Raised on a dairy farm in Bristol, Minor graduated from Virginia Tech in June 1970. That fall, he married Victoria — “Mrs. Minor,” as he refers to her. The couple moved to Connecticut, where Minor worked at a telephone company for 29 years.
The Minors had two kids, a boy and a girl. After their youngest, Jessica, left for college, Victoria looked for something to fill her empty nest. A sign on the side of the road — piglets for sale — caught her eye. Bringing home the runt of the litter, she named her Daisy.
“Daisy was like our new baby,” Minor said over the phone, laughing. She slept in bed with the couple, and they upgraded to a king-size mattress to accommodate. “She was the most spoiled pig,” he said. “Spoiled rotten!”
Daisy’s first show was in the spring of 1997, Minor thinks, although it’s tough to keep track. A friend at the Hartford Public Library asked him to bring Daisy in for a program on a Saturday morning, and he obliged. “You’re meant to be doing this,” Minor remembers the friend telling him.
He did shows part time for a few years, until he retired from his desk job in 2000 and went all in. When the first Daisy died in 2009, the Minors adopted another potbellied pig from a farm in Texas and named the pig Daisy II (Datu for short). This pig is a boy, but Minor found it easier to streamline his narrative for his young audiences. He began referring to Daisy II simply as Daisy, and as a “she.”
Minor eventually sold the family farm and retired to Florida with Victoria, but “retirement” is a relative term: He now spends 10 months of the year driving to shows in his 34-foot-long motor home. In recent years, two new animals have joined the act: 13-year-old Lily Pug and 8-year-old Dixie Cup, two tiny pugs that share a stroller and cuddle with Daisy on long car rides.
On the road, the pets rise at 5:30 a.m. and oink (Daisy) or whine (the pugs) until Minor wakes. He’ll feed them, let them out of the trailer, then let them back inside, where they usually fall right back asleep. “They’re so rotten,” he said over the phone, chuckling.
Daisy I and Daisy II have been the subject of YouTube videos, TV segments, and countless articles, which Minor clips out and pastes to posterboards that he sets up before every show. He’s also framed the library cards that Daisy I and Daisy II have accrued over the years: more than 1,400 of them. Daisy II’s library, a selection of which Minor totes along to each show in his RV, includes hundreds of pig-themed books, including copies of “Charlotte’s Web” from Thailand, Croatia, and Sweden. The pig has been awarded five keys to cities from mayors and has kissed countless businessmen, mayors, teachers, and librarians.
“I’ve seen lots of storytellers in my career,” Kathleen Bailer said over the phone. “Farmer Minor is just a good, old-fashioned storyteller. And we don’t have a lot like that anymore.”
Bailer, the principal of John Ashley Kindergarten in West Springfield, kisses Daisy at a school-wide assembly every May. Minor has been visiting John Ashley for 16 years. When Bailer was hired five years ago, the previous principal included it in the job description — “It was like, ‘Oh, and you’re going to kiss a pig,’ ” Bailer recalls.
Minor’s end-of-the-year visit gets kids excited about reading, Bailer said.
“He really understands young children. And he understands how to talk to them. And he just talks to them,” she said. “The only other person I’ve ever seen be able to do that is Mr. Rogers.”
Minor schedules appearances mostly by word of mouth, or at places he’s been going for years. He conducts business by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, where he often signs off “Hogs and Kisses.”
A show costs from $175 to $275. He’s not in it to make money. “I just feel like I’m called to do this,” Minor said. “I try to make a difference and it’s something that I feel I was meant to be doing.”
At the fire department, Minor shows no signs of tiring. He matches the restless energy of the crowd with his own: waving his arms, making funny faces, and reading in a clear, loud voice, while Daisy and the two pugs snooze behind him. Daisy wakes up when both Veronica Clark, the assistant director and youth librarian for Prospect Public Library, and Prospect’s mayor, Bob Chatfield, kiss the pig on her mouth, to “ewwws” and applause. They wipe away the frothy white stuff left from Daisy’s mouth and smile. The audience loves it.
After the show, almost everyone waits in line to meet Daisy and the pugs up close. Joanna Dunne, an elementary school teacher from Prospect, stands in line with her son, Matthew. “I loved it,” she says of the show. “I think he did too,” she adds, pointing to Matthew, who peers around the side of his mom’s shirt.
Most kids that day sat in the front, near the action. Matthew, 3, chose to hang out near his mom. “He’s pretty shy,” his mom says.
When it’s Matthew’s turn, Farmer Minor smiles and shows him how to hug Daisy. “Get right up close, she won’t hurt,” he directs gently, and the little boy complies. “Face this way!” Minor says, motioning to mom, who has her phone ready to take a picture. “Do you want to kiss her?”
Matthew considers it. Then he leans in and gives Daisy’s bristly side a tiny, tentative smooch.