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Even though it is a stiflingly hot and dry June day, Robert is delighted, for his summer vacation from school has just begun. As he approaches home, he calls to Pinky, who comes out to meet him. Robert is sure he sees a smile on the pig’s face. Even though Robert has owned Pinky for only ten weeks, she is already the size of the boy. As a result, she does not run as fast as she used to, but Robert is proud of her weight. He thinks Pinky is a wonderful and beautiful pig.
At home, Robert finds Martha Plover, a friend of his mother whom he calls Aunt Matty. She lives in the town of Learning and comes for a visit with Mrs. Peck about once a month. On this June day, Aunt Matty is wearing a big dress patterned with large, colorful flowers, which makes her look larger than she already is; she also wears a jangle of bracelets and a lot of perfume, the smell of which makes Robert feel sick. After greeting Aunt Matty, Robert proudly pulls out his final report card of the year; it is a move he soon regrets. In fact, he says, “It could of been my big mistake of the whole darn summer.” Robert’s grades are all A’s, except for a D in English. Mama and Aunt Carrie see the A’s and praise him as a good boy. Unfortunately, Aunt Matty also looks at the report card. Since she reads better than the other two women, she quickly spies the D in English and is horrified. Robert says that “the way Aunt Matty took on, it must have been the first D anybody ever got. . .I thought she was going to die from the shock of it. Like she seen a ghost. . .She let out a gasp, and her hand went to her throat like she was spasmed.”
To improve the low grade, Aunt Matty suggests a “remedy,” a word that strikes fear into Robert. To him a remedy is a spoonful of medicine that “made you go to the backhouse a lot.” Then Aunt Matty says the remedy is a tutor. Robert erroneously thinks she is suggesting a “tooter,” like Jacob Henry’s cornet. Even though a “cornet was bad, the way Jacob played it...it sure beat a remedy that you had to swallow now and run after.” Aunt Matty then volunteers to “tutor” Robert herself, since she used to be an English teacher. At this suggestion, Robert “busted out laughing fit to kill,” for he has a mental picture of Aunt Matty, big and round and flowered, blowing on a cornet until her cheeks puff out. To Robert, “it was more than ribs could take.”
Aunt Matty thinks that Robert is laughing about his low mark in English. She exclaims that a D in English is no laughing matter and decides to start tutoring him immediately. She grabs Robert with one of her chubby hands, drags him into the parlor, and pushes him into a chair at the table. Robert still believes that Aunt Matty is going to play the cornet. Instead, she tells Robert that they are going to work on grammar. She rudely adds that “it’s a wonder you can talk at all...living in this house and all its Shaker ways. You’d get better than a D in English if you were a fearing Baptist.” At these words, Robert’s heart almost stops beating. He has heard about the Baptists, who “put you in water to see how holy you were. . .If you didn’t come up, you got dead and your mortal soul went to Hell. But if you did come up, it was even worse. You had to be a Baptist.” Being a Shaker boy, Robert knows nothing but rumors about the Baptist religion; as a result, he is greatly afraid of it and its participants. Now he is particularly fearful of being in the room alone with Aunt Matty, a staunch Baptist. At least he feels thankful that there is no pond in the parlor, for he cannot imagine anything worse than being held under the water by her. Just the thought of it makes him literally gasp for breath.
Aunt Matty begins to quiz Robert on grammar, and the boy has no clue about the correct answers; therefore, Aunt Matty decides that Robert must learn to diagram, believing it will help him to understand sentence construction. She gives him a sentence and asks Robert what the subject is. In all sincerity, the boy answers, “English is the subject I got a D in,” an answer that causes Aunt Matty to wipe the sweat from her face and sigh. She does, however, tell Robert that she “does not lose her temper, no matter how stupid her pupils are.” Robert is greatly relieved at the news, for he cannot imagine how he “could fend off an angry Baptist.”
Aunt Matty begins to draw her diagram with “a zig-zag here, and a crazy elbow joint there. There was ovals and squiggles all over.” Robert thinks the drawing is “the fanciest thing I ever saw,” and Aunt Matty is obviously very proud of it. Robert is wise enough not to question her or laugh at the drawing, for “only the foolish defy the Dark Spirits.” He then remembers the story of the Learning witch, who could burn down a barn by looking at it or dry up a creek by cracking her knuckles. Robert thinks the witch must have been a Baptist.
Aunt Matty sends Robert off to pin the diagram on the wall of his room so that
he can study it. When the boy returns, Mrs. Peck reminds him to say thank-you.
Robert obeys and then, with great relief, goes off to do his chores. As he leaves
the house, Robert hears Aunt Matty say sarcastically to Mrs. Peck that next time,
“I’ll teach the pig.”
Chapter 6 is filled with simple, light-hearted humor, largely caused by Robert’s misunderstandings and the picture that he paints of his “Aunt Matty,” who is really only a friend of his mother. Martha Plover is a large woman, who looks even bigger because of the full, flowered dress that she wears. She obviously thinks she is attractive, for she is adorned with a jangle of bracelets and a lot of strong-smelling perfume. Robert finds her strange in both appearance and behavior, and his description of her is truly funny.
Robert makes a big mistake by showing Aunt Matty his report card. Even though his mother and real aunt are proud of his five A’s and call him a good boy, Aunt Matty, a former teacher, is horrified that the boy has also received a D in English (the only grade that is not an A). She, however, has a “remedy” for his low mark. Her choice of words strikes fear in Robert’s heart, for a remedy to him means a spoonful of medicine that causes diarrhea; therefore, when she says she is going to tutor Robert, he feels greatly relieved, thinking she is talking about a “tooter,” better known as a cornet. When he imagines large Aunt Matty, blowing on such a horn, Robert cannot help but laugh. Thinking that he is laughing at his low grade, Aunt Matty decides to tutor Robert immediately and drags him into the parlor.
When Robert cannot answer any of her questions on grammar, Aunt Matty decides to show him how to diagram. Robert’s description of her “zig-zags and squiggles” is truly humorous. The boy has no idea what she is trying to teach him. When she talks about the subject, he assumes she is speaking about English, the subject in which he received the D. Aunt Matty, totally frustrated, tells Robert she never loses her temper, even when her students are stupid. Robert feels relieved, for he cannot imagine handling an angry Baptist. As a good Shaker boy, nothing is more fearful to him than a Baptist, who dunks you under water to see if you are holy. To Aunt Matty nothing is worse than a boy who cannot learn. Before she leaves, she tells Mrs. Peck that it would be easier to teach the pig than to teach Robert.
Robert’s naiveté, lack of understanding, and total honesty create the humor and endearing quality of the chapter. The fact that the entire Aunt Matty incident is told from the boy’s first person point of view and in his country dialect adds to the humor. Additionally, the sensual images created by the author are outstanding. The reader can almost see Robert’s mental vision of the rotund Aunt Matty blowing on the cornet with her cheeks puffed out and feel his fear over being trapped alone in the room with a Baptist who is bent on teaching him how to diagram.
It is important to notice how much time has passed in the novel. It is now June, the last day of the school year, and Robert has owned Pinky for about ten weeks. She has grown as large as he is, a fact that makes Robert proud even though the weight slows her down.
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