Strong hands were touching my legs now, and then my ribs. I tried to say something about not being in school. Somebody had some warm water and washed my face with it. The water had lilac in it, and smelled right restful.
"We're beholding to you, Benjamin Tanner," said Papa, "for fetching him home. Whatever he done, I'll make it right." (2.8)
This is the first time we encounter Papa in the book, and we immediately get a strong sense of his character and his priorities. It's clearly very important to him that he "make right" whatever bad thing he thinks Rob has done. In the world of A Day No Pigs Would Die, that's just a father's job.
You just smell like hard work. (2.91-92)
Aren't you glad your dad doesn't come home smelling like a dead pig every day? However badly Papa stinks, though, the important thing is that he's doing what needs to be done: working hard to support his family. Even if you'd really rather not sit next to him at dinner.
"As to the work, what matters is that we have the back to do it. Some days I get the notion that I can't knife even one more of Clay Sander's pigs. Yet I always do, 'cause it's got to be done. It's my mission."
"Papa, is that the mission they preach on at Meeting?"
"It is. And every man must face his own mission. Mine is pigs." (4.107-109)
Mission: Pigs. It's no Tom Cruise flick, but for Papa, it's the real thing. Without his duty to slaughter pigs, his family wouldn't be able to survive.
</em>"Come on, Pinky," I said. "It's getting close to chore time. I got to feed you and Daisy and Solomon. And if'n I'm not to home come chore time, Hell won't have it. Papa gets mighty stirred up over that. Right he should. Chores are my mission, not his." (5.33)
Like Papa, Rob has his own mission in life. Kind of makes you look at chores a whole new way when you think of them as your "mission," huh?
I sure fed Pinky good. Just to make sure she got to grow right, I give her as much corn, wheat, barley, rye, oats, and sorghum as I could work out of Papa or Mr. Tanner. She also got some of Daisy's good fresh milk. Any time I went fishing, she got fish. And all the soybean meal and alfalfa I could muster. Mama said, "Rob, you feed that pig better'n you feed yourself." I guessed it was true. She was my pig. Mine. And I was going to be dogged if she'd eat improper. (7.18)
Seems like part of Rob's mission is taking care of Pinky, too. Responsibility to others—especially those who are dependent on you—plays a large part in Papa's concept of duty, and Rob has taken this lesson to heart.
The grass was high now. And seeing as I'd worked all day on the hay wagon with Papa, it sure felt good just to know that evening chores were done, and I could lie on my back in the soft grass and do nothing except wait for evening. (7.2)
Having done his duty and fulfilled his mission, Rob takes the opportunity to lie in the grass and rest. It's almost as though the relaxation feels better to him since he also has the satisfaction of his work behind him. That's why we always wait until we finish our work to have that tub of Ben & Jerry's.
"Mama will make you a lunch basket that'll be breakfast, dinner, and supper. And you're to do all the Tanners ask of you. And see things to be done before they ask."
"Yes, Papa. I'll sure do good."
"If they judge hogs and judge oxen at the same time, your place is with Tanner's yoke and not your own pig. Promise me, boy."
"I promise, Papa. I'll do proud." (9.108-111)
Wow, talk about pressure. It's not enough to do your duty when it's pointed out to you. You need to go looking for responsibilities that haven't even come your way yet, too? Hey, no one ever said life on the farm was easy.
My face was wet with the sweat of hurry. It feels worse, Papa always said, than the sweat of work. (10.53)
Here at Shmoop, we're thinking all sweat pretty much smells the same. But Papa's point is that the sweat of work is honest sweat, so it isn't that bad.
"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. (11.21-26)
Whoa. Even when he's been away at the fair all day, Rob's still racking up the debt because Papa has done his chores for him. Papa wants payback, too. These guys sure take responsibility seriously.
"Help me boy," said Papa. "It's time."
He put his tools on the ground, keeping only a three-foot crowbar. Neither one of us wore gloves, and I knew how cold that crowbar felt. I'd carried it, and it was colder than death.
"Back away," he said.
"Papa," I said, "I don't think I can."
"That ain't the issue, Rob. We have to." (14.16-20)
Here we get a look at a critical moment in the book. It's time to take out Pinky, and Rob says he just can't do it. Papa reminds him, though, that when duty calls, "can't" just isn't an option.