As I went down, losing my grip on the calf's neck, her hoof caught my shinbone and it really smarted. The only thing that made me get up and give the whole idea another go was when he bawled again.
I'd just wound up running away from Edward Thatcher and running away from the schoolhouse. I was feathered if I was going to run away from one darn more thing. (1.9-10)
As if dealing with a bully isn't enough for one day, now Rob has to act as midwife for a thousand-pound cow. But that's what this boy learned from Papa—you won't get anywhere by running away from things.
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. (10.29)
Oops. Can't let those sinful prideful thoughts take over your mind, Rob. Remember—plain is as plain does.
"Jacob Henry said that in one store in Learning they let you wear all the coats you want before you buy one. And you can put on any coat you want and walk around the store in it, even if you don't buy it. But you know what I'd do. I'd buy a red and black one, like Jacob Henry's. It would be my coat forever, and I'd never wear it out."
"Reckon you'd outgrow it before you outwear it."
"Probably would. But I sure do want a coat like that. Why do we have to be Plain People? Why do we, Papa?"
"Because we are." (12.83-86)
Wow, even the idea of wearing a fancy store-bought coat around in the store is enough to make Rob's head spin. But Papa knows that first and foremost, they are plain people, and they need to keep their priorities straight.
"I think I may need a new winter coat."
"Better speak to your mother to start stitching."
"I want a store coat. I need one."
"So do I. But one thing to learn, Rob, is this. Need is a weak word. Has nothing to do with what people get. Ain't what you need that matters. It's what you do. And your mother'll do you a coat." (12.77-80)
When you're as poor as the Pecks are, you need to know the difference between what you need and what you simply want.
"But you're a good butcher, Papa. Even Mr. Tanner said you were the best in the country."
"He say that?"
"Honest, Papa. He said he could look at half a pork and tell it was you that boiled and scraped it. He said you even had your own trade mark. When you kill pork and twain it, head to rump, you always do what no other man does. You even divide the tail, and half it right to the end. He said this on the way to Rutland."
"I'm sure glad to be famed for something." (12.62-65)
Although he might not be the richest man in town, or even the best farmer, Papa can lay claim to being the very best butcher. Even an ex-piggy's tail shows how dedicated he is. Why? Because he believes in the importance of doing a good job.
All this talk of hogs and dollars and meat and banks was rolling around inside my head with no direction. It didn't quite sound Christian to me, but then I suppose that everyone in the world didn't all live strict by the Book of Shaker.
"But we're Plain People, sir. It may not be right to want for so much."
"Nonsense, boy. Bess and I are fearing Christians, same as you." (13.68-70)
Rob isn't quite sure if it's okay to think about all the good things that may come his way as a result of Pinky's potential piglets. (Say that three times fast—we dare you.) Humility of all kinds—in dress, behavior, and even in thought—is one of the principles of the Peck family.
"Hard work. He ought to take it easy one of these days, now he's got you to man the place."
"Papa works all the time. He don't never rest. And worse than that, he works inside himself. I can see it on his face. 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." (13.45-46)
At this point in the story, Papa already knows he doesn't have long to live. But even so, he continues to live by the principle of hard work that is so important to him. Pretty impressive, don't you think?
Papa worked quiet and quick. The guts got drawed out and were there on the cold ground in a hot misty mass. Then we each put a hook in the jaws and dragged the bloody body into boiling water. It was boiled, scraped free of all hair and scurf, and sawed in half. (14.27)
Here we see—in graphic detail—Papa's skill at butchering. A tough job, but someone has to do it, and if it's Papa, at least you know it'll be done well.
Before I walked out of the tackroom, I noticed something I'd not took note of previous. It was the handles of Papa's tools. Most of the tools were dark with age, and their handles were a deep brown. But where Papa's hands had took a purchase on them, they were lighter in color. Almost a gold. The wear of his labor had made them smooth and shiny, where his fingers had held each one. I looked at all the handles of his tools. It was real beautiful the way they was gilded by work. (15.21)
Papa's hard work affects everything he touches, including his tools. The principles he lives by even seem to live on after he dies, "gilding" the tools he used every day. (P.S. Gilding something means to color it gold, but with the added sense here of making it more precious. Just like Papa.)
"Never miss a chance," Papa had once said, "to keep your mouth shut." And the more I studied on it, the sounder it grew. (10.13)
Oh, Papa. So wise. Shmoop sure could use that reminder once in a while. In fact, it reminds us of something Mark Twain once said: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt" (source). Zing!