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Authors: Robert Newton Peck

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BOOK: A Day No Pigs Would Die
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“Pinky,” I said, “we’re at Rutland. Ain’t it grand?”

Right away quick we
got
Bob and Bib yoked and bowed. Bob was always left and Bib right. We went across an open show area, where some men were exercising some big
horses
with hairy hoofs, to find a photographer. We spent the better part of an hour getting our picture took. The man who owned the camera got up under a big black tent. His wife held a funny looking geegaw up in the air. It looked like some sort of snow shovel to me. But it was the first snow shovel I ever see explode. You never saw such a bang of light on a cloudy day in your life. I never
saw the World War but it sure must of been like that. I almost jumped out of my boots. Bob and Bib didn’t take kindly to it either. They backed into me, and started fighting the yoke. I tried to still ’em but I couldn’t see. When the snow shovel went off, I was looking right at it … and it was the last thing I saw for quite a spell. It was a tribulation to me, too. Because we come to Rutland Fair to see a lot more than a damn fool snow shovel go off.

It come time to show the oxen. You should of seen ’em. Big as August first. Mr. Tanner nodded to a yoke of Herefords and said they’d weigh up about a ton each.

“Will Bob and Bib get that big?” I asked.

“Bigger. On account that Bob and Bib are Holstein, and they’re the biggest and best.”

I sure was proud to hear that. Even prouder when we went to the ox pull. When there was a pause in the contest, the man (who was talking through a big thing
on
his mouth that made his voice louder) called out Mr. Tanner’s name.

“Exhibition only, and not for sale. From the town of Learning, a perfect yoke of matched yearlings by name of Bob and Bib, owned by Mr. Benjamin Franklin Tanner, and worked in the ring by Mr. Robert Peck.”

That was my cue to take Bob and Bib around
the ring three times and then out. But I couldn’t move. Until Mr. Tanner gave me a healthy prod in the backside with his goad and said, “Git!”

There I be. Me, at Rutland Fair, marching around a big sawdust ring with all the people clapping their hands and pointing at Bob and Bib. It made my heart pound so hard I felt it was going to pump out right there in that ring. I was wishing that Mama and Papa and Aunt Carrie could see. Pinky, too. It was sinful, but I wanted the whole town of Learning to see me just this once. If only Edward Thatcher could see. And Jacob Henry, and Becky Tate.

Parading my oxen around the ring and listening to the people clapping made me squint my eyes up tight. I could see all the folks I know, sitting there in those big circles of seats. “Manners,” I said to myself, and walked real tall. It was just like I was somebody.

A man leaned over the fence and said to me, “What’s their line, boy?”

“Out of Apron, Mr. Tanner’s prize milker,” I said. “The sire bull was his, too.”

“Beowolf?”

“Yes, sir.”

After three times round the ring, I touched Bib lightly on his right ear with my wand. The two little
oxen made a smart left turn, and out we went through the gate. The people were still clapping and yelling. Some even followed us along, asking questions about Bob and Bib as we walked ’em back to their shed.

Somehow, Bess Tanner was not about in the crowd. I figured she probably was taking another rest. I’d given her up for gone, when I looked up and here she was coming on a dead run. I could just see the top of her head and her big floppy hat with all the flowers on it that weren’t real.

Between her and us there was a passel of people, and they just seemed to melt out of the way for Mrs. Tanner. She was so short of breath when she got to us, she couldn’t talk. She needed a rest for sure. I kind of hoped that maybe she’d finally spotted a pervert, and was just itching to tell folks.

“Quick,” she said to me between her wheezes. “The 4-H Club men are judging the stock that the children raised up.”

“Hogs?” said Mr. Tanner.

“No, they’re looking the calves right now. But the hogs are next. I’ll pen up the oxen. You take Rob with you, because I can’t run another step in these shoes.”

“Let’s get Pinky,” said Mr. Tanner, and we were off. Over in the next shed, most of the stock was gone. Pinky was almost the only pig there. We
threw the bars open on her pen, and were just about to drive her out. That’s when I noticed that she’d been rolling in something that wasn’t very clean.

On her left shoulder and flank, she had a big dung stain. The rest of her was so clean (thanks to Mr. Tanner’s stock man) that the dirty spot stuck out like a mean tongue. I went down on my knees and attacked the dirt with my hands and fingernails. It not only looked bad, but it stunk worse. The strong smell of its freshness made my eyes sting.

“Boy,” said Ben Tanner, “that ain’t no way to wash a pig.”

“What’ll wash her?”

“Same thing as washes a dirty pig and a dirty boy. Soap and water. Find soap. I’ll fill a bucket and we’re in business.”

I must have turned Rutland upside down just trying to find some soap. I finally saw a bar of saddle soap in a tackroom, and made for it. But a man saw me and said, “Hey!”

“Soap,” I said. “I’ll buy your soap. My pig’s dirty and the 4-H people are judging and we’ll miss out. Here, all I got is ten
cents.
It’s in this hanky and you can have it all.”

I put the hanky (with Aunt Carrie’s dime inside it) into his hand, grabbed the soap, and ran out the door. The man just couldn’t say a word.

There went my ride on the merry-go-round. Into
a bar of soap. But I was too rushed to care. Mr. Tanner had a rag and in no time I got Pinky as clean as Christmas. Most of the water I managed to put on myself, and I was soaked through. And there was so much stink still on my hands, in spite of all the soap and water, that I figured I’d never would be able to eat a noon meal.

Mr. Tanner said that I took so long putting a scrub to Pinky that we’d never get there in time. But we did.

The kids were walking around an open ring, and each one had a pig. One boy had a real good-to-look-at Poland China, as white as Pinky but not as big. A girl who was taller than I was had a Spotted Poland, and a boy with red hair and lots of freckles had a fine looking Hampshire. It was coal black, with a white belt around it at the shoulder. Had it been a calf, it could of been a sister to Bob and Bib.

Some of the pigs were acting up a bit; not staying in line, and squealing all the time they was handled by the 4-H judges. The circle was just about whole when we got there, and Mr. Tanner almost threw me and Pinky into it just as another man closed up the gate.

My face was wet with the sweat of hurry. It feels worse, Papa always said, than the sweat of work. I didn’t have a hanky to use, so as I stood
there, I put my hand up to my brow. And right then I got such a whiff of pig manure I thought I’d pass out. Everything I ever ate went sour and wanted to come up my gullet. The judges were coming my way, but it just didn’t matter. All the noise of Rutland Fair, and all the music and dust of the place just seemed to float off in a big whirly dream. I didn’t need no ride on a merry-go-round, as all of Rutland was spinning about my head and taking me with it.

One of my eyes was closed shut. But the one that was part open got a quick look-see at a judge putting something on Pinky. Something blue. But when my whole entire world was green, I couldn’t of cared. I just couldn’t of cared if they’d put a pig sticker into both of us. The judge said something to me, and that’s when I did it. I just leaned my head over, pointed my face at all the little square chips of sawdust, and threw up. Some of it even went on his shoe.

The merry-go-round went a whole lot faster, and I’d a fall off for certain. But some big strong hands reached out and caught me, or over I’d a gone.

“He’s my charge,” I heard Mr. Tanner say. “I’ll take him.”

Next thing I knew, we were all back at Pinky’s pen. I was lying in fresh straw just outside it. Pinky
was inside. Mr. Tanner was standing close by, and Mrs. Tanner was washing my face with a clean towel.

“How could you let him get so dirty?” was all she seemed to say to her husband. Mr. Tanner bent down and put his hand under my chin.

“Rob, how do you feel?”

“Hungry,” I said.

“Look,” he said, pointing at Pinky’s neck. “Just look here.”

It was a blue ribbon! And on it, in gold letters, it said:

FIRST PRIZE FOR BEST-BEHAVED PIG

“It’s just about noon,” he said. “Let’s all put on the feed bag. What say, Bessie?”

Bess Tanner just sighed. “Start without me. I don’t want to put anything on right now. I just want to take off this cussed corset.”

Chapter

11

“Pinky won a blue ribbon, Papa.”

That was the first thing I said when Ben Tanner shook me awake that night to tell me I was home. I must of slept all the way, because I didn’t recall much of the trip back. Soon as it got dark I just went to sleep, sitting there between Mr. and Mrs. Tanner and holding on tight to the blue ribbon.

“Pinky won a blue ribbon. It’s for the best-behaved pig,” I said.

“And,” said Mr. Tanner, “he ought to have a second one for best-behaved boy. He worked my oxen like he was born with a wand in his hand.”

“How were his manners?” asked Papa.

“Thank you, Mr. Tanner,” I said quickly. “And thank you, Mrs. Tanner. I had a very good time.”

“Bless you, Rob,” she said.

“The stock’ll be here soon as the Fair closes,” Mr. Tanner said.

“I’ll send the boy for his pig,” Papa said, “and we’re beholding to both you folks, Brother Tanner.”

“We to you, Haven. I got offered five hundred for my yearling oxen. Five hundred dollars, and not even half growed. Thanks to your boy who helped born ’em, and work ’em at the Fair. But I won’t sell them two.”

“I’m glad he did you proud,” Papa said.

Ben Tanner turned his grays and off they went, Bess holding her hat on with the flat of her hand. I just stood there and watched them go up road into the dark, and until I could no longer hear their rig.

“Good neighbors,” I said.

“The best a man could have,” said Papa. “Benjamin Tanner will stand without hitching.”

Mama came running out of the house and toward the barn, holding out her hands. I ran to her and hugged her clean and warm and hard as I could. Aunt Carrie was there, too. I wanted to tell her (as I hugged her) as to how I spent the ten cents that she gave me, but I thought better of it. Ten cents for a used piece of saddle soap was a dear price.

“Mama,” I said, “looky here. Look at Pinky’s blue ribbon! She won it.”

“Of course she won it,” Mama said. “She’s the prettiest pig in Learning.”

“First prize,” I said. I remembered in a faint sort
of way that the other pigs that the kids had raised all had blue ribbons, too. But no matter. I was sure that only Pinky had won first prize.

“She’ll be home in a few days,” I said.

“I can’t wait,” said Papa, and Mama smiled.

“Into the house with you,” Mama said. “It’s way past your bedtime and you’ll never get up for chores.” That sort of stopped me.

“Papa? You did all my chores today.”

“Sure did. And butchered hogs besides.”

“Thank you, Papa. I’m beholding.”

“I accept your debt,” Papa said, “and come ’morrow, you’ll work double.”

“That’s meet and right,” I said. “I already owe you for the sorghum.”

“Three bags full,” said Papa. “I expect payment after your pig has a first litter.”

Mama said, “You men folk don’t know when it’s time for bed. How about some pie, Rob?”

“Please,” I said.

We all sat around the lammis table in the kitchen, eating blackberry pie, and hearing me talk about Rutland Fair. I told all I could tell and made up the rest, and never left out a word about the two main events: the showing of Bob and Bib, and the blue ribbon for Pinky.

I never let on that I got a touch of the vapors and
lost all my breakfast on the judge’s shoe. A tale like that would only distress Mama and Aunt Carrie, so why tell people what they don’t cotton to hear? Besides, they was enough good things to jaw on. Like when the whole state of Vermont watched me work the oxen in the show ring, and how the man shouted my name. I stood up and gave a real close copy of just how he done it. Even marched around the kitchen in a circle. Three times, just like at Rutland.

“Rutland,” said Papa. “I never went there, boy or man. And here
you
go, all that way by your lonesome with the neighbors.”

“It’s not
so
big,” I said. “What sets you back is the noise. It was as noisy at night as it was in the morning. And during Fair week, I guess it’s like a big brass band that can’t stop playing. Goes all the while.”

“Just like a mouth I know,” said Papa, “that’s got blackberry all
over
it.”

We all got a good laugh on that, before I went over to the sink pump and washed off. It sure was good to be home, and it was hard to believe that I was gone less than a day. It felt like I’d been to a star.

I’d a talked on about Rutland for the whole night through, but Mama chased me upstairs to bed. Once I was under the covers, she came into my room and
kissed me goodnight I was just about near asleep by the time she tiptoed out and shut the door.

BOOK: A Day No Pigs Would Die
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