Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6227
Robert Newton Peck has written more than sixty books, including the popular Soup series. A Day No Pigs Would Die (1972) is the first book he published. It and its sequel, A Part of the Sky , tell the story of a boy growing up on a Shaker farm in...
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Robert Newton Peck has written more than sixty books, including the popular Soup series. A Day No Pigs Would Die (1972) is the first book he published. It and its sequel, A Part of the Sky, tell the story of a boy growing up on a Shaker farm in Vermont.
At school today, Edward Thatcher made fun of Rob’s clothes at recess; now Robert is thrashing a tree with a stick, pretending it is the cruel Thatcher boy who does not understand Shaker ways. It is April in Vermont, and Rob suddenly hears the sound of an animal in pain behind him. It is the neighbor’s prize dairy cow, Apron, and she is in the process of giving birth to a young calf, which has one hoof and his head protruding from its mother. The thousand-pound cow moves quickly away from the hundred-pound boy, still in pain and straining to give birth. Robert has already run away from one battle today, and he refuses to walk away from this one.
He tries to grip the calf but is unsuccessful; he decides he needs a rope to tie around the calf’s neck to help him pull. The calf may die, but Rob is determined to try to save it. He strips off his pants and manages to tie one leg around the calf’s neck and the other around a small dogwood tree. This stops the cow from moving, but she does not continue either to strain against the pressure or to push. Rob hits her, throws stones at her, and kicks her—many times, hard—but she is unmoving. Finally she moves forward, straining against the makeshift rope. Robert hears a tear and is then covered with the calf and very messy fluids. The next minute Apron is alternately licking the calf and the boy, but she is also gasping for air, and Rob wonders if the very large cow will fall and flatten him. Apron suddenly quits breathing and falls over; her head lands on the boy’s chest. He realizes something is obstructing her airway and reaches into her mouth to dislodge an apple-sized object. Although he has always been told cows do not bite, Apron crunches down on his arm and pulls him with her, dragging him, as she heads home. Her hooves are doing serious damage to the boy. Soon he blacks out. He awakens to find himself in bed, covered with a wool blanket, and in significant pain.
Mr. Tanner found him and brought the barely recognizable boy to the Peck home; now it is time to examine his injured arm. First, someone removes a hard ball of something from his hand. They are all dumbfounded, and Mr. Tanner explains that it is a goiter. After cleaning the bite wound, Rob’s comforting mother sews the gash. The pain is excruciating, but the twelve-year-old boy does not let out even a whimper. Haven Peck, his father, takes him upstairs to his comfortable bed, and his mother, who smells like lavender, tucks him in and gets him settled. Robert tells her about the calf up on the ridge that Mr. Tanner will want to check on soon; he also apologizes that she will have to make him some new trousers. She smiles and tells him she would rather mend pants than a son.
After he has slept for some time, his mother brings him something to eat; at bedtime, his father brings him one of the last winter apples from the cellar and then sits next to the bed. He gently chides his son about leaving school in the middle of the day, and Rob gets the point. Haven offers him a slice of spruce gum, straight from a tree, and shows him a fine piece of sumac, which will make a great whistle when the bark has been stripped. His father clarifies what happened on the ridge, then he pulls the blankets clear up to Rob’s chin before leaving. Rob recognizes the smell of death on his father’s hands; this scent rarely goes away except a little on Saturday nights when father scrubs the smell of blood and death from his body. The scent is to be expected, though, from a man who kills pigs for a living.
It is almost a week before Rob gets out of bed. It is a Saturday, which is just how Rob planned it, so he can have two free days before returning to school. Haven Peck notes his improvement and puts him to work helping him mend the fence between their property and Mr. Tanner’s. Rob ponders fences, which keep even friends apart. His father tells him that animals’ marking their territories is a kind of fence building and that fences are not signs of war but a way of keeping peace.
They hear a rustling around them and look up to see Mr. Tanner leading a motley procession. Behind him is Apron, all cleaned up and looking perfectly healthy. Behind her is a black calf with the same white “bib” markings, and nearly getting trampled under her is an identical black calf. Mr. Tanner is hopeful the twin bull calves will do their town of Learning proud at the fair next year. He tells the Pecks their names are Bob (as a tribute to the boy) and Bib; and he offers a thank you to Robert in the form a newly weaned, little, pink pig. Haven is reluctant to accept any kind of remuneration for doing something any farmer would have done for a neighbor and an animal in need. In the end, though, Rob keeps the pig and names it Pinky. Haven tells him he must build a pen for the pig, though Robert had figured Pinky would share the barn with their cow and their ox. His father explains that Shaker Law says pigs are wild animals by nature and must not be kept with other animals. Besides, this tiny pig will one day be a breeding sow weighing as much as three hundred pounds. Rob is fascinated by this beautiful gift.
It does not take long for the piglet to grow attached to his owner. As father and son continue working on the fence, Pinky follows Rob everywhere. When they go back to the house, Pinky still tries to follow him. Mother will not have an animal in her house, though she does think Pinky is the most adorable pig she has ever seen. His mother’s sister, Aunt Carrie, says she has never heard of naming a pig before, but the subject quickly gets changed. Pinky eats a deliciously sloppy milk-and-meal mixture from one of Rob’s mother’s cracked bowls. After lunch, Mr. Peck tells his son the old corn crib might make a good pen for Pinky. With Solomon’s help, they are able to move the crib with minimal effort.
Robert wonders about Shaker Law, something his father strongly believes in although he cannot read. The Shaker Law was read to him, and he says he listened with his whole heart since he knew he may never hear it all again. Rob is dismayed with the Law, especially the part that prevents them from attending baseball games on Sundays. Mr. Peck explains that the Book of Shaker and their own hard work is all they need to be successful and content in life. Robert says his teacher talks often about being proud to be a Vermonter, about being able to vote and choose good men to live in the White House. Mr. Peck says he cannot vote for any man because he cannot read and write, even though everyone in the town of Learning knows he builds with beams that are true, has straight rows of corn, and butchers their pigs faithfully and well. One day soon they will own their land, he reminds his son, and they are blessed in all ways.
That night Rob sleeps with Pinky in his new pen and thinks he is the “luckiest boy in Learning.” Sunday morning the Peck family goes to church, and Robert is thrilled because he is able to sit in a place where he can see Becky Tate but she cannot see him. Sunday afternoon is spent in a leisurely fashion. Rob and his pink companion head to the ridge, where Pinky roots up some butternuts she is not yet strong enough to crack. Robert cracks them open for her. Pinky is scolded by a crow, surprised by a frog, and pinched (in the snout) by a crawdad. Rob tells her he is named for Major Robert Rogers, a brave Shaker man who dressed like an Indian and fought bravely against them. There is even a monument to him near Ticonderoga. When it is time to head home for chores, the boy runs just to see if the little pig can keep up with him. She can. Mother calls Robert to the barn when he arrives to show him Miss Sarah’s (the barn cat’s) new kittens. It is “always a wondrous thing,” says Mrs. Peck, and Rob holds Pinky up so she, too, can see the miracle.
June has arrived, and it is finally the last day of school. Rob races home with his report card in his pocket until he spies his house and the corn crib in the distance. When he is close enough, the boy calls out to the pig and she comes running. In the ten weeks since he got her, Pinky has grown to the size of her owner. They enjoy rolling around in the field for a few minutes until Robert knows he must go home; Pinky follows, but her size has certainly slowed her down.
As Rob approaches the house, his mother beckons him to come inside. There sits Aunt Matty. She is not his real aunt but is his mother’s cousin, twice removed; however, she comes to visit twice a month, and his mother always uses her best teacups for the visit. Today Robert makes a big mistake. He pulls out his report card to show his mother. She cannot read, but she does know what an A looks like, and there are many of them on his report card. In fact, they are all As—except for a D in English. Aunt Matty hones in on the D, and she nearly faints from the disgrace of such a mark. She offers a remedy—a tutor. When he hears the word, Rob is relieved, for his friend Jacob plays a “tooter” in the band—only he calls it a cornet. Although the cornet sounds bad when Jacob plays it, Rob is sure it is better than any medicines he has had to swallow (followed by many, many trips to the outhouse). Aunt Matty suggests that she will be his tutor, and Rob immediately bursts into peals of laughter at the image of this rather eccentric woman marching in a parade, blowing her cornet. She is not amused by his laughter, predicting he will earn an F for Failure next time; she must do everything she can to keep that from happening and she will begin tutoring him immediately. The imposing woman in the flowered dress, colorful beads, and “big old floppy pocketbook” marches him into the parlor.
Aunt Matty tells him she used to be an English teacher. She is not surprised his grade is so low, considering he has been raised in a Shaker home. If he had grown up in a Baptist home, this never would have happened. Now Robert is really frightened, for he knows all about Baptists. They nearly drowned people by ducking them under water three times. If the person died in the process, he would go to Hell; even worse, if the person lived he became a Baptist. The thought of a large woman holding him under the water makes him nervous and breathless.
After digging into her oversized bag for pencil and paper, Aunt Matty quizzes the boy on the correct use of who and whom. He is still in shock and cannot answer her at all. The problem, says the former teacher, is that he does not know how to diagram. Diagramming is the answer to everything when it comes to grammar. She poses a sentence to Rob and tells him to diagram it, which he is unable to do. Bracelets jangling, Aunt Matty creates a whirlwind as she draws a magnificent diagram and ends with a flourish. She tells Rob to place it on his wall, which he says he will do. He has to go do his chores, and his mother reminds him to thank Aunt Matty for tutoring him, which he does. As he is leaving, he hears his mother ask how it went. Next time, says Aunt Matty, she will teach the pig.
One summer night after evening chores are finished, Rob and Pinky are lying in a field of purple clover. Overhead, Rob sees a hawk seeking its prey. Suddenly the bird stops in mid-air, then drops like a rock to the ground. There is a tussle in the tall grass; Rob then hears the piteous sound of a rabbit crying out for help. That is the only sound a rabbit ever makes, and he does so only at his death. Rob and Pinky take several steps toward the bird and its prey, but the hawk flies off, limp rabbit in his strong talons. Rob thinks of the delicious rabbit pie his mother makes and wonders if Pinky would ever eat a rabbit. He knows sows will eat their young, so he figures she probably would. He feeds Pinky very well, hoping she will not need to search for other food. He keeps track of how much he feeds her; he would give up breakfast every morning if he could grow as fast and as much as Pinky (who also drinks about ten gallons of water every day). He tells the pig she will soon be mated with Mr. Tanner’s boar, Samson, and she will live a long and prosperous life as a brood mare; there will be no butchering for her. They return to the house. Rob sits on the front porch with his father, kitten on his lap, and watches the glorious sunset. He tells his father there is nothing he likes better than the sight of the heavens at sunset; his father agrees and says he reckons it is just as good a place to go as it is to see.
It is raining hard one night when Robert hears the sound of visitors downstairs. He gets up and peers over the railing to see what the commotion is; he sees his mother and Aunt Carrie pulling Mrs. Hillman, holding a lantern, inside the house. They are trying to calm her, and Rob can only catch part of what is being said. Her husband, Sebring Hillman, has taken the horse and carriage and is heading to dig something up tonight, when no one would hear or notice. Rob also hears something about another woman, kin to his family, and birthing and dying. He just settled back into bed when his father calls him downstairs. They hitch up Solomon and head to town; Rob holds the lantern. His father does not say much, but he does say they are not going to let Sebring Hillman desecrate what is theirs. Soon Robert hears the sound of a shovel hitting wood, though there is no lantern near the sound. Haven gets out his gun and makes it clear that his cousin Letty’s grave will not be touched. The crazed man says he is digging for something else, and soon he is holding a small box close to his chest. He says he did not step forward and claim it before Letty drowned her, but he wants to do so now. He wants to bury her in his family’s burial site and apologizes to Haven for not claiming the child sooner and perhaps preventing Letty’s untimely death. Haven understands the sentiment, and they replace the earth over her grave. When they get home, Mrs. Hillman is still there. Mother offers Mr. Hillman a hot cup of coffee. After Robert is dried and warm, he heads back to bed; as he walks through the kitchen, he sees the couple get into their wagon together, a baby’s coffin riding in the back.
Robert overhears his aunt and his mother talking one day as he is giving Pinky a bath. Aunt Carrie seems to be “het up” about a scandal, and her sister is trying to be reasonable. The scandal is that Widow Bascom and her hired man are living under the same roof—without the blessing of marriage. Much of Aunt Carrie’s information has been gathered from Aunt Matty, and it appears that the widow and her hired man (who is a year older than the widow) have been giggling and laughing in the dark. Mrs. Peck is happy to hear this because Mrs. Bascom has been widowed for several years.
Robert ponders two encounters he had with the widow. He and Jacob Henry ran through her strawberry patch, and she gave them each a good whack in the shins with her broom handle. Neither boy told his parents about the incident. Another day he walked by the Bascom place and the widow asked him to help her move several heavy flowerpots. After looking warily for that iron-handled broomstick, Robert helped her move the pretty flowers—pretty kind of like Mrs. Bascom. She brought him a cold glass of buttermilk and some large gingersnaps, and her hired man, Ira, soon joined them. He was a very big man, and it seemed to Robert that he ate five of the gigantic cookies in one bite. They commended Robert on saving Mr. Tanner’s calf and cow. Robert got so flustered he spun around in circles, and they all began laughing for no particular reason. Ira asked if he was planning to go to the Rutland Fair when Mr. Tanner shows his calves; Rob said he would like to show Pinky at the fair, but they do not have a horse with which to make the journey. It was a pleasant passing of the time, as Robert remembers. Now he is washing Pinky, pretending he is cleaning her up for her imaginary showing at the fair. When his father walks by, he asks Robert if he thinks he can “keep both...feet out of trouble” if he sends him to the fair. Robert is dumbstruck at the thought, and his father explains that Mrs. Bascom told Mrs. Tanner how much he wanted to go to the Rutland Fair. Mr. Tanner needs a boy to walk in the ring with his twin calves because he is too big and would look silly with the young calves. He even invited Robert to bring Pinky along, if he wants to show her. When Robert says he sure does want to go, his father tells him there will be no spending money; he will eat the food his mother will prepare for him. Robert must not be a nuisance and must help the Tanners all he can and always look for ways to be helpful. Most importantly, the boy must not wear his parents out in the week before the fair by talking it to death. And if the pig judging happens at the same time as the calf judging, his first obligation is the calves. Robert agrees to all of it, and it is decided. Aunt Carrie is hesitant at first, but then she promises to give him a whole dime to spend if he does not tell his parents and if he promises not to lose it. That night Robert sleeps with Pinky and tells her all about the exciting things ahead. He tells his pet that having a hired man in the house may be sinful, but it sure has done wonders to improve Widow Bascom.
His mother gives him an overflowing basket of food, his Aunt Carrie slips him a dime tied up in a hanky, and his father takes him to the Tanners’ farm with the one-word admonition: “manners.” It is a short drive to Rutland behind the matched gray horses Mr. Tanner is so proud of owning. In school Robert learned that London, England, is the largest city in the world. When he arrives in Rutland, he is sure London cannot be much bigger than this. Everyone in Vermont is there, it seems to Robert, and he can hardly take it all in, though he certainly tries. After a quick stop at what Mrs. Tanner calls a “rest room” (though Robert saw no one resting there), the three of them go to the pens where the animals are kept. He is thrilled that Pinky’s temporary home is only one shed away from where Bob and Bib are staying. They yoke the twin calves and take them to the exhibition ring. When their names are called, Robert is dumbstruck at the magnificence of it all and does not move until Mr. Tanner prods him into action. The crowd loves the spectacle of a young boy leading a pair of perfectly matched and yoked oxen, and Robert wishes everyone in Learning could see him now in all his glory, especially Edward Thatcher and Becky Tate.
Once they leave the ring, they spy Mrs. Tanner flying toward them in a spectacular rush of color and fake flowers. She tells them the judging for animals raised by children has begun and they will be at the hogs soon. While she puts the calves away, Mr. Tanner and Robert head toward Pinky’s shed. Pinky is nearly the only animal left, and she has obviously rolled in her own dung since she was last washed and cleaned. Robert searches everywhere for some soap and finally finds some saddle soap. When he grabs it, a man protests and tries to stop him; Rob throws him the handkerchief with the knotted-in dime and apologizes that it is all he has. They have to rush, and they fear they will be too late; however, they manage to get Pinky where she is supposed to be before the judges arrive. Robert is a mess and still has the stink of pig manure on his hands as he wipes the sweat from his brow. Other animals are acting up for their owners as they stand in a circle around the arena, but Pinky is content to stand calmly next to her owner. Robert’s nerves plus the stench cause him to vomit into the sawdust near the judge’s shoes just as he is placing a blue ribbon on Pinky. He then faints, and Mr. Tanner gets both pig and boy back to the shed. When Robert wakes up, he sees the blue ribbon: First Prize for Best-Behaved Pig.
It is an uneventful ride home, as Robert sleeps nearly the entire way. Once home, he thanks the Tanners for taking him along with them, and Mr. Tanner tells the Pecks their boy is a fine young man. The stock animals, including Pinky, will arrive as soon as the fair is over. As he heads for his own bed, Robert realizes his father had to do all his chores plus his butchering today, and he tells his father he is beholden to him. Mr. Peck accepts the debt from his son and tells him he will be working double tomorrow. Robert says he could add it to the cost of the sorghum he has been feeding Pinky, to be paid off from her first litter. They laugh and Robert regales his parents with stories—some real and some made up—about the Rutland Fair. After his mother tucks him in for the night, Robert hears his father ask how the boy is. Mother smiles and says he is “back from a dream.”
Morning arrives right after he shuts his eyes to sleep, or so it seems, and Robert and his father are in the barn doing chores. Mr. Peck carries a dead chicken to the house for supper, and then he shows Robert the weasel that did the damage; it is now tied up in a burlap bag. Robert tells his father that Ira Long, hired hand to Widow Bascom, has a terrier dog that has not been weaseled. His father tells him to offer the opportunity to Mr. Long; later that afternoon, man and dog arrive on the Peck farm. Rob asks why a dog must be weaseled, and his father explains that once a dog has a run-in with a weasel he will always want to seek out, track down, and destroy any weasel that comes near the chicken coop. Any farmer who has hens needs a good weasel dog.
When they enter the barn, the weasel in the burlap bag begins squirming and fighting to break free, and the terrier (named Hussy) in the boy’s arms is shaking as if she knows what is ahead for her. Neither animal can see the other, but they are both aware of the other’s presence. Ira places Hussy in a barrel, and Mr. Peck releases the weasel into it as well. Robert is to hold the lid down, and the other two men have to help keep the barrel upright as a vicious war rages inside it. Both Robert and his father are distraught at this task, but soon there is silence. When the lid is removed, the weasel is nothing but chunks of bone, skin, and flesh. The barrel is full of blood and Hussy is alive...barely. The young dog is torn and bloody and whimpers pitifully. When Ira reaches in to retrieve her, the dog bares her teeth and bites his hand. Robert is sickened at what has just happened, and he tells Ira to kill the dog and put her out of her misery—and if Ira does not do it, he will. The hired man begins to grow outraged, but Mr. Peck agrees and gets his rifle. When the deed is done, Robert’s father vows upon the Book of Shaker and all that is holy that he will never again weasel a dog. Robert sadly digs a hole for the dead dog and buries her in a restful place.
When Pinky arrives home, Robert proudly shows her the blue ribbon she won at the fair; Pinky is not particularly interested. Mr. Peck has arrived home from a day of butchering, and he is a bloody, smelly mess. Dying, like birthing, is often messy work. When Robert tells his father he is so glad Pinky will never have to be butchered, Mr. Peck does not readily agree with him. After an examination, he tells the boy Pinky should have come into heat by now and that she may be barren. Robert is so upset at the thought that he beats his fist against the fence and cries. Finally he runs to the top of the hill, where his mother asks him to get her a squirrel. After much patient waiting near a stand of hickory trees, Robert shoots a plump gray squirrel. He takes it back to the kitchen stoop and cuts out the stomach pouch, careful not to slice it until he is inside. There he and his mother spread out all the chewed-up nutmeats to dry. Robert knows there must be a chocolate cake or his mother would not have requested a squirrel. His father has cleaned up and they are waiting for supper. Robert says it is not fair that Pinky should be barren, and his father reminds him life is not fair.
They make plans to harvest this year’s small apple crop. Too many of the buds had been eaten in the spring because Robert failed to check the direction of the wind when he mixed the lime and ash and smoked the trees to prevent the spanner worms from ruining the crop. Mr. Peck reminds his son that “one chore done good beats two done ragged.” He points out the precision with which Mr. Tanner farms his land, but Robert says he would rather be a farmer like his father; Mr. Peck says he would not wish this “on a dead cat.” He tells his son he will do a better job because he will be able to read and write and cipher; one day he will use the latest technologies on the crops. What Robert will not have to do is leave his farm to go work for another man, as his father must do.
Mother calls them in, and they wash properly before going into the house. Mr. Peck wistfully remarks that no matter how much he washes, the smell never leaves him; however, his wife has never once complained. In fact, the one time he brought it up, she said it was the smell of good, honest work and there is no need for an apology. He never mentioned it or apologized for it again. They enjoy a tasty meal that ends with a chocolate cake sprinkled with the nutmeats from the gray squirrel.
After the meal, Robert and his father sit by the fire. They know winter is coming soon but do not really care in this warm, cozy setting. Robert expresses his need for a new coat and his desire that it be a store-bought one for once; his father tells him that need is a weak word. If he wants a coat bought from a store he will have to wait until he is old enough to buy it himself. Then Mr. Peck quietly tells his son he is certain this is the last winter of his life, though he has not seen a doctor. Robert’s four older sisters have gotten married and are now living on their own land, and his two brothers were born dead; that leaves him to take over the family farm. It will be theirs outright in just five years, he tells his son, so it is important that the boy learn all he can in the short time they have left together. Robert says he will quit school so he can work the farm, but his father insists he must finish his schooling. He will soon be a man of thirteen who must care for the women rather than a boy who the women must care for all the time. After everyone else has gone to bed, Robert stays up and watches the fire die so it “would not have to die alone.”
It is now November, and Robert has done all his father suggests to try to prompt Pinky into heat, but to no avail. When he sees Mr. Tanner out hunting, Rob relates his efforts with Pinky and asks if he thinks Pinky is barren. Mr. Tanner says he will come see her in the morning, which he does. In the back of his cart is Samson, his prize-winning boar; the plan is to place him in a pen with Pinky to see if there is any heat in her. Nothing happens at first, and Mr. Tanner asks after Rob’s father’s health. Robert cannot meet his neighbor’s eyes when he says his father is fine. Samson finally makes his move to mount Pinky, and Robert is sickened by the sights and sounds of the ordeal. When it is over, Robert is ready to get into the pen to comfort Pinky; Mr. Tanner stops him from getting hurt by the prize-winning boar.
Now that Robert is nearly thirteen, he must pay more attention to the ways of farming; his father must slow down a bit, and Rob must shoulder more of the farm work. Robert tells his friend and neighbor that his father
works all the time. He don’t never rest. And worse than that, he works inside himself.... Like he’s been trying all his life to catch up to something. But whatever it is, it’s always ahead of him, and he can’t reach it.
Mr. Tanner praises him for such an astute observation. Robert’s teacher told him he could be more than a farmer, but Mr. Tanner says there is nothing better than being a steward of God’s land and creatures. That is the same kind of thing Rob’s father says, and he is surprised because the Tanners are not Shakers, as far as he knows. When he asks, Mr. Tanner blusters that he is a foot-washin’ Baptist, and Robert laughs inside about how wrong and foolish a young man can be about some things.
The apple crop is as bad as they expected, and winter comes in cold and blustery. Mr. Peck does his best to shoot a deer, but he has a rather primitive rifle and has to get too close before he can shoot. One day he sits out in the cold rain for four hours but comes home with nothing to show for his efforts except a cough. From then on he sleeps in the barn with the animals because it is warmer than the house.
Pinky is barren, and Robert knows it is too expensive to keep her as a pet. One day his father simply says they should get it done, and Robert knows just what he means. After gathering all the necessary equipment, the boy tries to sound normal as he calls Pinky into her pen. She wags her tail at him, and he knows pigs do have feelings, no matter what others say. He whispers apologies into her ear, and then his father tells him it is time. Robert cannot look, but he hears the bone-crunching sound of a crowbar on Pinky’s skull. As soon as she is down, he must step in to help his father do the bloody business. The man works quickly and efficiently from years of practice, and the boy simply stares mechanically at nothing as he helps his father butcher his pig. He hates this business and even his father for doing this job. When it is over, Robert is sad that he has lost the only thing he could ever really call his. His father tells him he is sad, too, and lets the boy cry. He tells him that what a man must do is what must be done, and he is proud of Robert for understanding that. Father puts his rough, smelly hand to his son’s cheek, and Robert is moved by the gesture. He forgets about the stink and the pig blood and simply kisses that hand as a sign that he forgives his father. The older man wipes his eyes with his sleeve; this is the only time Robert has ever seen his father cry.
Mr. Peck lives through the winter and dies in his sleep in the barn on May 3. Robert finds him, and without getting too close he knows his father is gone. He goes about the business of farming: feeding and watering the animals, collecting eggs. When he takes the eggs to the house, Robert hugs his mother and his aunt and tells them Haven will not be coming in for breakfast, now or ever again. He is now the man on the farm, and he makes plans to go to town to do the business that needs doing. He will tell a few others along the way. The women say they will be fine and will gather his best clothing, which has been prepared for quite some time. Robert will write letters to each of his sisters, telling them of their father’s death. The simple Shaker preparations and farewells are made, and Robert digs a grave for his father.
When he is finished, he heads to the barn looking for something to occupy the time. He sees his father’s tools, the handles worn to a burnished gold by his steady and consistent hands. He also finds an old box in which is some paper. His father had been practicing writing his name and had got it nearly perfect. Robert has nothing special to wear for such an occasion and laments being poor. The Tanners arrive, and Mr. Tanner tells Rob that his name is Benjamin and all his friends and neighbors call him Ben. Several others arrive, including Mr. and Mrs. Ira Long, the Hillmans, and the man Mr. Peck worked for along with several of his coworkers. This is clearly a day no pigs would die. The son is happy for his father; although he was poor he was rich in friends and respect.
The service is simple and soon the coffin is buried; no marker is there to tell what this man accomplished in his sixty years of living. The neighbors and friends all leave, offering their help as needed. Both women are tired and go up to bed; Robert, though, knows he will not be able to sleep. He goes to the barn and begins the task of maintaining a farm, as a man would do. He walks to his father’s grave and tells him goodnight.