Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son
By Spencer Pink
Tom, Tom , the piper’s son,
Stole a pig and away did run:
The pig was eat, and Tom was beat,
And Tom ran crying down the street.
Good evening. My name is Tom, Thomas Arthur Stern the second, named after my father, hence the name Tom. I am 94 years old today as I tell my story for the first time. I have lived most of my life alone, ashamed, and wishing I could go back in time. I just wanted to change one moment, because in that moment I had believed that desperate times called for desperate measures, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Here is my story…
“Tom, Tom, it’s time to get up! There are chores to get done,” yelled my mother from the small kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. Mother always prepared a meager breakfast of one egg, half a potato, and a swallow of milk before father and I started out to do our 4:oo a.m. chores. I always got up quickly because as of lately you never wanted to keep my father waiting, if you know what I mean.
“Tom, Tom, Sadie needs milking right this minute,” Father said as he sat down to eat. I remember hearing him, yet I was very hungry that morning and continued to eat. Within seconds, Father had thrown my plate on the floor. I ran straight to the barn and began milking.
You see Father had been very angry lately. He had a family of ten to feed and it was getting harder to do everyday. He could barely put food on the table. It was potatoes three times a day and stale bread that the baker threw out each night. The chickens laid eggs of course, but we were down to just two because a hungry fox got the others. As for meat, well, my father wasn’t the best huntsman anymore. He might trap a rabbit or a squirrel, but shooting was out of the question. Father had been blinded in his right eye after being kicked by a horse when I was ten. His shot had been off ever since. Which is another reason why he was so angry. Lastly, our crops of wheat and barley weren’t doing so well either, as it had been a rainy and cold summer. It seemed nothing was going our way and Mother was getting more frantic by the minute.
“Thomas, the children are starving! We need more food,” cried my mother.
“What do you want me to do about it! I am working our farm, what is left of it. The Kingsman farm for just pennies, and playing my pipe like a beggar every night,” yelled my father.
“Maybe I can get a job cleaning for the Kingsmans?” my mother replied.
My father stormed out of the house, for no wife of his was going to support his family. Mother cried and cried as he left.
“Tom, Tom, let’s go. We have work to do over at the Kingsman’s farm. NOW!” snapped my Father. Of course, I knew all that had been said between my parents as I was listening and I also knew how desperate things were getting for my family. I knew I had to find a way to help my family survive no matter what.
The Kingsman family was what you called rich. My father was their handy man and literally worked for pennies a day. If I helped out I was given a few pennies as well which I kept in a mason jar under my bed. On this day my father was desperate and asked to speak to Mr. Kingsman.
“What is it, Stern?” said Mr. Kingsman.
“Mr. Kingsman, my family is starving. I have ten children and they go to bed hungry and wake up hungry. I was wondering about a raise or trade?” My father said:
“I know 20 guys who want your job. Take it or leave it. Now take care of my pigs and sheep,” shouted Mr. Kingsman.
“Let’s go, Tom, Tom. The pigs are hungry,” my father whispered.
Father and I went to the barn. We got the pig’s slop and poured it into the trough. There had to have been 20-30 pigs in that barn. They looked like bacon and ham to me, rather than a pink fat pig. Father was angry as he pitched hay and kicked pigs out of the way. As he was kicking a pig, he lost this footing and landed on a pitchfork. The pitchfork stabbed him in the back. I ran home for the horse and buggy. As I ran I heard Mr. Kingsman yell to my Father, “If you leave early you won’t get paid for a full day’s work, you know!” I was so angry now. I drove back and brought Father home where he was as mad as I had ever seen him. Mother put him to bed and I returned to the Kingsman’s.
I worked all the rest of the day. Mr. Kingsman said my father was just being lazy. I was so angry that before I knew it I had grabbed a pig and ran for home.
The pig squealed all the way home. I ran to the barn and butchered it immediately for my sisters and brothers were starving. When I entered the house, Mother of course asked where the meat came from. I told her the Kingsmans gave it to us on account that Father got hurt.
What a feast we had! Ham, potatoes, and wheat bread! Even Father enjoyed it, believing that it was a gift from the Kingsmans. He played his pipe for us after supper and that was the happiest he had been in weeks.
Later that week Father returned to work at the Kingsmans. Father was working the fields and I was shoveling pig manure when Mr. Kingsman came out.
“I’m missing a pig!” he said.
“And…” said Father.
“And, I am wondering what you know about it,” he said.
“ I know nothing,” said my father.
“Well, if I find out it was you or that boy of yours, you’ll pay. And you’ll lose your work here,” Mr. Kingsman said. Suddenly, Father put two and two together. He stared at me. He began to remove his belt. I got sick to my stomach.
“To the shed, boy,” my father said.
“Father, I had to! The children were starving,” I cried.
“ To the shed. I have never been dishonest in all my life. And no boy of mine will be either,” Father announced.
Father beat me for what seemed like forever. I knew I had disappointed him badly and that it might cost him his job. And then what would our family do?
So I took off running down the street. I couldn’t stop crying. I hurt all over, but kept going. I was 12 years old. It was the last day that I ever saw my parents and some of my brothers and sisters. I ran until I jumped into a train car and I rode all night. I got out in a small town called Lonesome Dove. I walked until I found an abandoned shed and there I stayed. I was too ashamed to go back. I had stolen a pig. I had disgraced my family. I decided I would be one less mouth to feed. I lived in that shed the rest of my days up until now. I lived as a hermit, eating whatever I could find and talking to God and nature. I was afraid to see people for fear I would run into family or old friends. My life has been lonely. I thought I was doing the right thing taking the pig. Father believed we would survive without stealing, my faith was not so good.
I am 94 now. I know my time on this earth is coming to an end so I crawled onto the train this morning. I rode to my hometown. I went to the homestead and there I found you two, my brother and sister. I regret living alone now. I should have asked for forgiveness. I was a coward.
“Father forgave you the day you left. He prayed everyday you would return. He never beat any of us after you left. Mother’s heart was broken, but she knew that you, Tom, Tom, were hurting more. So she forgave you for running off,” my younger brother said.
I replied, “I can die now.”
I am Tom, Tom, or Thomas Arthur Stern the second, my Father’s son.