Reversing roles made this man think twice

Rusty Iron Spilled Milk

I stole the idea and most of the scenarios for this story from an old Irish tale by Brian O’Higgins, that was published in 1917.

Peggy’s Victory

Shortly after he returned from service in the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, Billy Bonham courted and married Peggy Anderson. Billy was 34 and his first wife and baby daughter had died of cholera during the war.

Peggy was nearly 15 years younger than him, but he treated her nice and she was anxious to get away from a drunken father. The couple settled down on a little farm in eastern Ohio and after a few months Peggy began to realize that Billy wasn’t quite as sweet as she’d thought at first.

Finding fault

He found fault with everything she did; this wasn’t done right, and that was all wrong. Who taught her to fry ham, and where’d she learn to make mush, and on and on. Then he never stopped growling about how hard he had to work in the fields and the woodlot, and how little Peggy had to do in the house — “a baby playing with his rattle had more to do,” he’d say.

Then he’d go on about the way men, and particularly him, had to slave and work their fingers to the bone to keep food on the table, while their lazy wives just lay around and gossiped all day, until Peggy couldn’t take it any longer and she’d give him the sharp edge of her tongue until Billy’d get up and stomp out of the house and Peggy’d fling the dish towel after him.

Well, it seemed to Peggy that things had to change or she’d go crazy, and one morning it did while they were eating breakfast. Billy was in a particularly bad humor that morning and he took it out on poor Peggy, who was giving their nine-month-old a bottle and who didn’t say anything for a while, but she had a strange look in her eyes.

Lazy women

He was going on growling about all that he had to do and the lazy ways of women and so on, when all of a sudden Peggy gripped his arm so tight it made him jump, and in an ominous voice she declared, “We’ll just put an end to all this growlin’ and grumblin’ once and for all! You stay in the house and do what has to be done and I’ll take care of the field work.”

Billy yelled, “All right! We’ll soon see!” and Peggy clapped on her straw hat, grabbed a hoe, and off she went to the cornfield. Billy sat down and lit his pipe for a quiet smoke before he started the “child’s play,” as he called the housework.

Chores to do

On her way to the field, Peggy stuck her head in the door and said, “Now listen, the cow needs milked, and them hogs need slopped, they’re squallin’ with hunger. Mind that red hen; she’s broody an’ if she goes off somewhere and lays, there’ll be no eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

“The churnin’ has to be done, so’s we’ll have butter for the weekend, an’ mind you, scald that churn good after. Wash up the breakfast things an’ sweep the floor an’ make the bed. Better bake some bread an’ then heat some milk for the child, not too hot or he’ll howl, an’ give it to him at eleven.

“Peel some spuds and put them on to boil about 11:30 for dinner.”

Quite out of breath, Peggy headed for the field.

“Well, that won’t be much trouble,” thought Billy as he chuckled, took a pull on the pipe, and wondered how soon Peggy would come crawling back, begging his pardon.

First, he tackled the dishwashing and did pretty well until Peggy’s prize cup, which had come down from her great-grandmother, popped out of his fingers and shattered on the floor.

“Oh well,” thought Billy, “couldn’t be helped.”

He then grabbed the milk bucket and headed for the barn. Rose, the old brindle cow, gave him the eye as he approached, but she let him milk her — until right at the end when she fetched him a kick that bruised his ribs, spilled the milk everywhere, and flattened the pail.

Well, Billy wasn’t chuckling now. By this time the pigs were screeching and Billy mixed up some slop and carried it into the sty. It was dark inside and Billy banged his head on the low roof and gashed his head on a nail.

Banged up

With blood running down into his eyes, our hero threw bucket and all at the hogs and ran for the house where he lay down with a wet cloth on his wound. The bleeding finally stopped and Billy tackled the churning and held the baby who was crying.

There was no water to wash the churn, so he took the baby and a bucket and trudged to the well, where he somehow slipped and fell in, still holding the child. By the time he got out and got back to the house with the water, and both him and the squalling baby soaking wet, he saw buttermilk running out of the kitchen door, which he’d left open.

Of course, the hungry pigs had got loose and upset the churn and were happily lapping up buttermilk. Billy tossed the child into the cradle, grabbed a spade that was standing by the door, and whacked the black pig just behind the ear. She gave a screech, staggered into the yard, and keeled over dead.

Just then, Peggy came in for dinner and stared unbelieving at the carnage — Billy beside himself with anger, frustration and fear of what Peggy would do, the baby on the verge of a fit, pig’s blood and buttermilk all over, the fire out and no dinner, and the whole place looking like a battlefield.

Billy sat down on the back stoop and started to bawl!

Keeping quiet

Well, Peggy nearly joined Billy, but she knew from looking at him that there would be peace from now on, so she never said a word, just got busy and fed and changed the baby, cleaned and patched Billy’s wound and sent him up to change clothes and lie down, and sent over for neighbor Jones who came and butchered and salted the hog, while she cleaned up the place.

From then on, Billy never complained nor said a cross word, and Peggy figured that peace and quiet was cheap at the price, although she did miss her great-grandma’s cup.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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