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7.10.20 The Farmer Takes a Wife

We’ve entered into “Summer Camp” at my house. My daughter helped me chart some themes for this month to help guide our activities. We launched into farm time, focusing on pigs, horses, cows, and tractors. A little bit of focus can go a long way.

Logic puzzles. How to hide the three pigs under the houses?
A train circles our little farm–complete with unicorns.

A socially distanced trip to Clark’s Elioak Farm meant that we got to take a hay ride (minus the hay) pulled by a tractor, feed goats, and visit the Enchanted Forest.

It was hot as blazes, but we made it with frequent trips to the shade. One thing I wasn’t expecting was to start psychoanalyzing nursery rhymes. Among the play scenes was “Peter, Peter, Punkin Eater.” You may recall he “had a wife but could not keep her.” He “Put her in a pumpkin shell. There he kept her very well.”

Here is a photo of my kids peering into the pumpkin shell where the wife is all dressed up and looking in the mirror. After reciting the poem, I didn’t have a good explanation truly about why she was in the pumpkin shell.

Warning: this is about to get morbid.

Peter, Peter

When I looked up possible origin stories, none of them were awesome. I found this on Bustle: “The wife that “couldn’t be kept” in this rhyme didn’t keep running away or anything — rather, she was supposedly a prostitute. Historians believe that Peter the pumpkin-eater tired of his wife’s extra-curricular activities, then murdered her and hid her body in a pumpkin. An even more outrageous interpretation is that it’s about the 13th century English King John, who famously bricked a rebellious noble’s wife into a wall to starve to death.” 

Interesting what story and songs pass generationally. Perhaps the narrating of history is just as garbled and often as sinister as the rhymes and fairy stories of centuries past. At a time when I am thinking seriously about miseducation and the whitewashing of history, it doesn’t hurt to take a critical lens at the most seemingly elementary of entry points.

What is this pumpkin story communicating today? Why would a women be caged away in an absurd cell? Likely even murdered and dumped there. In the origin story it describes her as being a cheater ala “Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater,” but we might also suppose that a woman can be engaged in all kinds of things that need to be suppressed. Voting? Seeking a living wage? Running away from enslavement? Decrying domestic abuse? Speaking one’s mind? Immigrating? Protesting? I won’t link stories of women thus slain, but they are out there in abundance.

A sobering thought to navigate the patriarchal pumpkin shell! I’ll have to figure out a way one day to talk more candidly about Peter, Peter’s intentions. Keeping my eyes open to the messages that enchant us.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,      Had a wife but couldn't keep her;      He put her in a pumpkin shell      And there he kept her very well.

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Rev. Claire Matheny View All

Pastor | Kittamaqundi Community Church | Columbia, Maryland

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