Authors: Robert Newton Peck
“February,” I said, before Papa could answer.
“Plum forgot,” said Mr. Tanner. “In that case, I
owe you a sorry to be so late remembering. She’s your pig, Robert. And if I catch her on my land again, she’ll be bacon.”
Papa shook his head. “It’s not right.”
“Haven Peck,” said Mr. Tanner, “what I really come here for is to ask you to help me yoke these two demons come fall. Will you?”
“Yes,” said Papa.
“Good, good. That being the case, and not wanting the cloud of debt hanging over me, favor me by taking payment for your help as of now in the form of one newborn pig, just weaned, in pink of prime.”
“Done,” said Papa.
“Done,” I said.
At that, the pig and I both gave a squeal. She was mine, mine, mine, mine, m
Looking at her again, I could now see how beautiful she was. My pig. She was prettier than Apron, or either one of her calves. She was prettier than Solomon, our ox. Prettier than Daisy, our milk cow. Prettier than any dog or cat or chicken or fish in the whole township of Learning, Vermont. She was clean white all over, with just enough pink to be sweet as candy.
“Pinky,” I said.
“Fine name,” said Mr. Tanner. “And every whit as good as Bob and Bib.”
“Benjamin,” said Papa, “we’re beholding.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said. Papa’s sharp nudge in my ribs with the handle of his mattock helped my being so prompt and grateful.
“Welcome, boy. And if I ever need help again, with old Apron here in calf, there’s only one man I’d call to help her through.”
“Who?” I said, knowing the answer.
“You,” he said, pinching my stomach that I laughed so hard I almost dropped Pinky.
Watching our neighbor walk away, taking his cow and twin calves with him, I held Pinky close in my arms. She was the first thing I had ever really wanted, and owned. At least, the first thing of value. The only other thing I’d wanted was a bicycle, but I knew we couldn’t afford it, so there was no sense in asking. Besides, both Mama and Papa would have looked at a bicycle as a work of the Devil. A frill. And in a Shaker household, there wasn’t anything as evil as a frill. Seemed to me the world was full of them. But anything that Mama wanted and didn’t have the money to buy (or the goods to trade for) was a frill to her.
Well, nobody could call Pinky a frill. Anybody who had half an eye could see she was a pig. And what a brood sow she’d make. I counted the teat buds on her belly. Twelve. In a year or so, she’d be
lying in her crib with a dozen pigs sucking away for glory be.
“You’ll have to tend care of her,” Papa said.
“Care taking of a pig can keep a body as nervous as a longtail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. She’ll need a pen, and some straw.”
“’Course a pen. Where’d you think she’ll sleep? Under your pillow?”
“No. But I thought she could bed up with Solomon and Daisy.”
“Can’t keep swine and kine under the same roof. Says so in the Book of Shaker. That means that you, Robert, are going to make her a place.”
“Well, it won’t have to be very big.”
“Not today, it won’t. But do you idea how big she’ll get? Before you know it, she’ll weigh twenty stone.”
“Twenty stone. That’s a lot!”
“Durn right. She’ll go most three hundred. So best you put that pig down to earth, set that fence-post, and pen her up for night. Away from Daisy.”
“Close pork will curdle milk, boy. That’s plain common.”
“I wonder why that is.”
“It’s just a law.”
“Yes, but deeper than that. It goes back when Daisy and Pinky were wild. Daisy knows that Pinky and her kind have teeth. Tusk. And pigs are meat eaters, cows ain’t. The reason Brother Tanner give you that pig is maybe its mother ate all the rest of the litter. A sow will do that. Daisy won’t. Apron won’t. It’s like Shaker Law. It all goes way back.”
“Way back to what?”
“Back to reason. Something that modern townfolk don’t care a lick for. They don’t understand it, so they think it to be tomfool.”
“Back to reason.”
“That’s right as rain. It’s earthy reason. Solomon’s got it at sundown, and that’s the only time of day that big ox is ornery. Because once, long long ago, the wolves came at sundown. Even though Solomon never seen a wolf, he knows. He knows that workaday
over, and that he wants shelter. He wants a wall at his side so he can blanket one flank and look the other.”
“And that’s why Daisy won’t want Pinky near on?”
“That’s why. Because pigs are wild things. Were you to turn Pinky loose, she’d live in the hills. And she’d be wild. She’d even tusk, and they’d be long
and mean and sharp. And old Daisy knows it. And frets on it. She says it’s enough to curdle a girl’s milk.”
“If Daisy run off, would she be a wild cow?”
“Not old Daisy. If we left her, she’d head for another farm and another herd. She might make for Tanner’s place. You know what she’d do. She’d wait for night and then head for a lighted house. The orange window of home and hearth.”
“Well, you remember when we went camping out all night, all the way up on top of Lead Hill?”
“I remember. That was fun.”
“You recall our bonfire? How big it was?”
“What animal come to us in the night, just to share our flame, and you thought it was a bear?”
“You’d had a gun that night, you’d a shot some farmer’s sweet old cow right between the tits.”
“Papa, you recall what we did when that old cow stayed next to us all night?”
“Come firstlight, we milked a bit of her. So you could have a cup of fresh warm milk for breakfast. And I could have a spoonful for my coffee.”
“Was that stealing, Papa?”
“Not hardly. Were it my cow, I’d share with others. And we didn’t take but a glass. It weren’t as though we stripped her dry.”
“Do you think the Lord will forgive us?”
“I think so. Somehow, the Good Lord don’t want to see no man start a cold morning with just black coffee.”
Pinky sure got to be my pig in a heck of a hurry.
Papa and I had to finish our job that we started that Saturday morning, which was to reset the East fence. So after our neighbor, Mr. Tanner, took his leave, we worked for a piece.
All the time I was working, Pinky was smelling around near my heels, keeping her little pink nose to the ground as all pigs do. It was hard to get any work done, the way Pinky was rubbing against my boots. Just like a cat. And when we quit at church-bell for the noon meal, she followed us all the way across the East meadow to the house. I was going to bring her into the kitchen, but Mama put her foot down on that idea.
Before we ate, I mixed a bowl of milk and meal for Pinky to eat. It was real soppy and mostly milk. I didn’t think she was going to take it at first. But
after I dipped my finger in it and let her suck away on that, she went for the bowl. I made sure that the bowl I used was the cracked one, or I’d a got skinned.
Both Mama and Aunt Carrie confessed that Pinky was just about the prettiest pig they ever saw.
“Pinky’s a fitting name,” said Mama.
“Never heard of naming a pig,” Aunt Carrie said.
“But Solomon has a name,” I said, “and so do Daisy.”
“Let’s eat,” Papa said, “before we have to name every weed on the place.”
After meal, Papa headed out toward the barn with Pinky and me trailing along behind. He walked round the barn a yoke of times, and come to a final rest on the South side of it. He put his foot on a stump, elbow to his knee, and looked real hard at our old corn cratch.
“What you got a mind to, Papa?”
“Rob, that there crib would make a good house for your pig. ’Cept it’s a mite too close to the cow barn.”
“Close? It’s touching it, butt on.”
“Lucky, it’s on skids. We can drag her.”
“Papa, we can’t drag that. We only got one ox.”
“Solomon can do it, if we help.”
“We’re going to yoke us up next to Solomon?”
“No, Solomon don’t need muscle help. What we’re
going to give him, boy, is some extra thinking. We’re going to let Solomon use a capstan—just a great big crank.”
“Like you use at Aunt Matty’s to wind up the well water?”
“Like that. Go get Solomon, and mind his hoofs.”
I was bringing Solomon over to the barn, leading him with just my hand on his horn, and taking two steps to his one. Then I went round to the tackroom to get his yoke and stays. The yoke was solid hickory and it weighed near as much as me. I had to lug it round back in two trips, going back the second time for the oxbow and cotter. Papa showed up with two long poles, a chain, and a digger.
With the posthole digger (which looked to me like a big corkscrew) he twisted a hole into the ground, down the meadow a ways from the corn cratch. Using a pebble on a horsehair string, he dropped it deep in the hole and let it hung to see if the hole was plumb to the earth. Then deep into the hole he sunk one of the stout poles. So stout it was nigh to be a log. Papa said the post was about “three hands around.” This was the capstan’s axle.
Next came the tongue and this log would be the crank handle. Papa fit the handle pole into a hole (just up from ground flush) in the axle.
“That do it, Papa?”
“That do her. Solomon ready?”
“I need help, Papa. I can’t put the yoke up on his shoulders by myself. How much it weigh?”
“Oh, maybe six stone.”
“That’s as much as I weigh.”
Solomon was yoked and coupled to the capstan crank. We were ready.
“So,” said Papa, “you don’t guess one ox can pull that there crib?”
“No,” I said. “It’s too blundersome. Not even Mr. Tanner’s bay Belgian team could move it, if you want my study of it.”
Papa clucked to Solomon and he leaned into yoke. The crank began to turn. Around and around Solomon walked in a circle, and the chain drawed up real snug. When it was tight, it snapped up off the ground, but old Solomon never stopped walking. After just once around, Papa made a trench for the chain so Solomon wouldn’t have to step over it with every circle. The big ox needed no prodding. He walked the circle on his own, and the crib inched toward the axle post.
“Look, Papa. Solomon does it alone.”
“He does for sure. Solomon told me he don’t want no pig having sleeping quarters near his. He says he abides in Shaker Law.”
“Papa, do you believe all the Shaker Law?”
“Most. I’m glad it’s all writ down in the Book of Shaker.”
“How do you know it’s all writ down, Papa? You can’t read.”
Papa looked at me before he spoke.
“No, I cannot read. But our Law has been read to me. And because I could not read, I knew to listen with a full heart. It might be the last and only time I’d learn its meaning.”
“I don’t cotton to all those Shaker Laws. Especially one.”
“The one that says we can’t go to the baseball game on Sunday. Jacob Henry and his father always go. Why can’t we?”
“Rob, the Book of Shaker forbids frills on any day. And that goes double on Sunday.”
“But we wouldn’t be
baseball. Just watching. And I want to see the Greemobys play.”
“What’s a Greemoby?”
“It’s short for Green Mountain Boy. It got something to do with somebody called Ethan Allen. I guess he was once the captain. Or the shortstop.”
“I don’t understand one breath of it,” said Papa.
“I do. Our school library has this book
the history of baseball. There was a lot in it about Abner Doubleday, but it sure was skimpy on Ethan Allen,”
“I wouldn’t know one of them bascballers from the other.”
“Well,” I said, “if you put any stock in this book I read, it sure leads a body to believe that Ethan Allen wasn’t anyone at all. And that Abner Double-day did everything there was to be did. But that’s where I went sour on the history test that Miss Malcolm give us.”
“You told your Ma and me you got the highest in that test. Were you falsing a witness, Rob?”
“No, sir. I did get the highest mark. I got a ninety-nine. There was a hundred questions and I only missed one. It was something about which Vermonter
a key part in our history. The answer was somebody else. But since I read that book, I just put down the name of Abner Doubleday.”
“’Stead of Ethan Allen.”
“That’s right, Pa. How’d you know?”
“Just a guess.”
“Well, I took a guess too. And it sure was wrong. When Miss Malcolm handed the papers back, she was laughing.”
“At me and Abner Doubleday.”
Solomon kept walking his circle, pulling the old corn cratch closer to the capstan post with every turn. The post was now fat with the twines of black
chain. That old ox sure could pull aplenty. He wound up that big chain just like you’d wind a kite string around a spool.
“Papa, it sure is mirthful that somebody who knows history like Miss Malcolm knows it has never heard of a great man like Abner Doubleday. She even asked me who he was.”