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...
(The entire section is 6,326 words.)