Many hundreds of years ago there was an old woman who lived in a shoe, but she doesn’t concern us here. Our present discussion concerns her neighbor, who bought an ignorant, stubborn pig and then had to practically set the world on its ear to get the thing to climb a stile so she could get home that night. What, you ask, could she teach us in a world where even the elderly won’t go to market, to market jiggity-jig without a 16-gig iPod in hand?

Our librarian tells us that it was in 1697 that Charles Perrault published a collection of moral tales called “Contes de ma mère l’Oye” or “Tales of my Mother Goose.”

Why have these stories, ostensibly written for children, lost none of their popularity over the years and what can they teach us today?

Internal evidence tells the literary scholar that the stubborn pig story has been around for a long time; it’s probably been more than 200 years since you could buy a pig for sixpence. And, at the time these nursery rhymes were written down, revised, updated and then published, they were probably already very old.

Although their political connotations have been long forgotten, their social message is as valid as ever. When I was a boy, however, every child read these stories at their face value. Little did we know that what awaited us in later life was there before us in 24-point allegory, illustrated and in brilliant color.

Human nature doesn’t change, and it is an exceptional adult who isn’t often in the position of the woman with the stubborn pig.


You might recall, when the pig wouldn’t climb the stile, she tried to strike it with a stick. You could get away with that kind of thing in the 17th century. But stick wouldn’t hit the pig, so she asked fire to burn stick. Fire wouldn’t burn stick, so she asked water to put out fire. Water wouldn’t put out fire, so she asked ox to drink water. And so on.

This is called an “accumulative” tale, where one thing piles on or is contingent upon another. The word should quickly come to mind should you discover your car will no longer fit in your garage.

Back at the stile, the sun was setting, supper was getting cold at home on the table, but the woman was stopped dead in her tracks because of a pig unwilling to take one tiny step on the stile toward his inevitable piggy destiny. No pig who has traveled the entire length of that road could blame him.

A completely true-to-life story: No one was willing to help the woman unless they first got a little piece of the action, and a first-time reader was led to believe that she stood a good chance of bivouacking by a stile with a surly swine.

How often do this woman and her intractable piggy come to mind when I set out to do anything? Let me count the ways.

Needing a new piece of gutter for the henhouse, I looked in the back garage. An end of gutter was sticking out of the overhead, and I went to fetch my old wooden stepladder so I could reach it. Halfway up the ladder, I noticed that two rusty screws at the top were loose and that the other two were missing.


The last time I used this ladder I was lighter than a mosquito, and would have been able to run to the top and back before it had time to collapse, but things have changed.

I took out the two screws, found two more of a similar size and, after spraying them with silicon to facilitate their entry, repaired the stepladder. Which left me with just enough time for an afternoon nap.

So the only thing I accomplished for one whole day was putting six screws in an old wooden stepladder.

The next day, needing a staging so I could attach the new gutter to the henhouse, I planned to fill my pockets with bread crumbs and venture deep into my woods in search of long spruce staging poles.

But there is a leak in the power steering line on my tractor, so before I can cut and drag staging poles out of the forest primeval, I’m going to have to re-flange the leaking end. There is no doubt but what I will have to go to town to get a new flange tool and that, before I can go to town, a flat tire will need to be fixed on my truck.

For years, my day-to-day life has made the pig-owning old woman look like an organizational genius.


Would you agree that there is as much wisdom in the story of the old woman and her pig as could be found in any pronouncement by Solomon?

Or don’t these things happen to you?

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

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