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ONLINE NOTES - A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE BY ROBERT NEWTON PECK
Robert is outside bathing Pinky. He hears his mother and Aunt Carrie inside the kitchen talking. Aunt Carrie is carrying on about how shameful it is that the Widow Bascom and her hired man, Ira Young, are living together in sin “under our noses.” Mama answers, “Maybe our noses are where they shouldn’t be.” Aunt Carrie goes on complaining, saying that Vernal Bascom is “not yet cold in his grave.” The practical Mrs. Peck reminds her that he has been gone for two or three years. She adds that the hired man seems to be a good worker, for the Bascom place has never looked better.
Hume Plover has told his wife Matty all about the widow’s affair; in turn, Matty has told Aunt Carrie. Hume was driving past the Bascom place late one night and heard such a “carrying on that he wanted to whip his horse all the way to the churchyard and wake up Vernal.” Mama laughs at her own mental image; Hume Plover, a dull man who never smiles, is in the cemetery whispering to Vernal, to whom he never spoke when he was alive. Aunt Carrie chastises Mama for her laughter, but Mrs. Peck defends herself saying, “There’s little enough to snicker at in this old world. . .if Iris Bascom and her man giggle in the dark, they can have my blessing.”
Hearing this talk about the Bascoms, Robert remembers his run-in with the widow. When he and Jacob Henry ran through her strawberry patch, she chased them with a broom and whacked them until they could not take a step “without weeping.” Robert still has a scar on his leg to remind him of the incident. Mr. and Mrs. Peck know nothing about the boys’ encounter with the widow; Robert has kept it a secret, for he knows that he would get “a second birching” from Papa, who frowns on trespassing.
Robert had a second meeting with the widow only two days ago. As he walks by her place, she asks him to help her move some heavy flower pots. He agrees since the Book of Shaker has taught him “to do a good turn and neighbor well.” After he moves the pots, Mrs. Bascom gives him buttermilk and gingersnaps. While having his treat, Ira Long, the hired man, enters. Robert is amazed at his large size and pleased that he knows about his helping Apron give birth to the calf. Ira tells Robert that Mr. Tanner is going to take the twin calves, Bob and Bib, to the Rutland Fair. The mention of the fair makes the boy’s heart jump, for he has always wanted to go, especially since he has never been outside Learning. This year he would particularly like to go and take Pinky, but he knows there is not a chance, for the Pecks have no horse to carry them so far.
Robert’s mind turns back to bathing Pinky, the task at hand. He is amazed at how large she has grown and how dirty she gets. Washing her is now a difficult task. When Papa comes by, he remarks to his son, “You’ll wash that pig away. Won’t be nothing left of Pinky ‘cept a lump of lard.” Robert says he wants her to be really clean so that he can pretend he is taking her to Rutland. Papa then tells him that Ben Tanner has offered to take both Pinky and Robert with him to the fair. Mrs. Bascom has told Mrs. Tanner how badly the boy wants to go, and Mr. Tanner is in need of some help in showing the calves. Robert is afraid that his father is teasing him, for the news is almost too good to be true. Mr. Peck assures his son that the invitation is real. He tells Robert, however, that there will be no money to spend at the fair; he also makes Robert promise that he will mind and help Mr. Tanner, seeing things to do without being asked. He finally says that Robert must not talk about the trip incessantly before he departs in a week and must do some extra chores before he goes. The happy boy gives his solemn promise, saying he will do well on the trip and make everyone proud. He also agrees to go and thank Widow Bascom for “putting the bug to Mrs. Tanner’s ear.” When Aunt Carrie hears about Robert’s special journey, she promises to give him a dime to spend on the merry-go-round or other ride; however, she makes him promise not to tell his mother or father about the gift, for they would think it a frill.
Robert sleeps out in the corn cratch with Pinky since
she is so clean. Before going to sleep, he puts his arms around the pig’s neck
and tells her all about going to Rutland, saying she is sure to win a blue ribbon
there. He also tells Pinky about the Widow Bascom and Ira Young. He says that
“having a big hired man around like Ira may be sinful. But I say the Widow Bascom
is some improved.”
This chapter adds to both character and plot development. Much is learned about Robert’s mother. When Aunt Carrie gossips about the Widow Bascom, Mrs. Peck tells her not to be nosy. When Aunt Carrie says that Vernal’s grave is not yet cold, the practical Mrs. Peck reminds her the man has been dead for over two years. When she has a mental image of Hume Plover going to the cemetery to talk to the dead Vernal about his wife’s affair, Mrs. Peck cannot help but laugh. When Aunt Carrie criticizes her laughter, she defends it, saying there is too little in life to snicker over. She also blesses the fact that the Widow Bascom can giggle in the dark with her hired hand. It is obvious that Robert’s mother is not nearly as stern as his pa.
More is also learned about Robert. The boy, who normally tries to mind his parents and be a good son, also gets into mischief. Even though he tries to follow the Book of Shaker and do a good turn and be a good neighbor, he is not always perfect. When he runs with Jacob Henry through Widow Bascom’s strawberry patch, she whacks both of them with her broom. He hides the incident from his parents, not wanting to be punished twice for the same “sin.” Robert also promises Aunt Carrie not to tell his mother and father that she is giving him a dime for the merry-go-round at the fair; both of them know that the Pecks would consider such a thing a sinful frill. Robert is also pictured as a dreamer. Although he has never been out of Learning, Vermont, the boy longs to go to the Rutland Fair. In fact, he dreams about it and then washes Pinky in order to pretend he is taking her to the fair. When his father tells him that Mr. Tanner has invited both Pinky and him to go to Rutland, Robert is afraid to believe the news, which seems too good to be true.
In characteristic fashion, Mr. Peck warns his son about several things: there will be no money to spend; the boy must work hard for Mr. Tanner, putting his needs above those of Pinky and looking for ways to help before he is asked; he must behave and mind his manners at all times during the trip; he must not drive everyone crazy with incessant chatter about the fair before his departure; he must do extra chores before leaving; and he must go and thank the Widow Bascom for her part in the invitation. Robert promises to follow all these directions and to make his parents proud. He can hardly believe his good fortune, which he is eager to explain to his pig.
Since the novel is about Robert’s coming of age, this chapter develops the plot, for Robert learns several things. First he overhears the gossip of Aunt Carrie about Widow Bascom and Ira Young; it is a lesson in sexuality for him. Next he learns that he is going to the Rutland Fair, a piece of news that is almost too good to be true; but the good fortune is accompanied with demands from his father. Robert must learn that even good times carry responsibility. The trip to Rutland is sure to be a learning experience for the young boy, who has never before been out of Learning.
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