Billy Goat Pie

Has anyone outside my family ever heard this phrase? (Referring not to a meat pie but a fable?) There’s no trace on the internet. Where did it come from, this story my Appalachian grandmother used to tell about Billy Goat Pie? As I remember, the story was that all the farm animals were sent out to pick fruit to make pies, but the greedy billy goat ate all the fruit he picked instead of putting it in the basket. So when the farmer’s wife brought out the pies, the others all got juicy fruit-filled ones and his was just crust with the inside empty. I guess it’s meant to teach delayed gratification.

I just read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, which is a tad hard on the undeserving poor of Appalachia, the South and the Rust Belt. He basically blames the lack of hillbilly grandmothers able to pass on these sorts of stories and provide tough love and moral guidance to young people. That’s what enabled him to pull himself up by his bootstraps and go to Yale Law School, so obviously anyone else could do the same if they were given the right support.

I can’t deny there is a problem in these communities with addiction and lack of motivation (as in many communities), but his conclusion that the churches should step in to take a more active part makes me shudder. Churches may teach delayed gratification, but they would have us delay it until we’re underground. He quotes a statistic which I found surprising that church attendance figures are lower in these hillbilly areas than in others, but according to Wikipedia, after Utah the top states are Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia and Louisiana, all with well over 50% of Christians attending church at least once a week. Sounds to me like Appalachia and the South go to church plenty, certainly more than places like Sweden where church attendance is closer to 5% but the social problems are fewer. The top 9 countries for church attendance, all with over 80%, are in Africa.

The difference seems obvious to me, that Sweden has less of a disaffected underclass because of less deprivation due to a more generous welfare safety net. Vance does mention income inequality, but to him economic deprivation seems a less significant factor than the predominance of single-parent families. FFS.

We all know that in reality some billy goats get more fruit than the rest of us in their pies, while for some dutiful animals the shell turns out to be empty. Hillbilly America has some serious problems to deal with, but I don’t see them being solved while we have the biggest billy goat of them all in the White House.



Filed under politics

3 responses to “Billy Goat Pie

  1. Susan McLean

    Mary, I think the story originally came from a collection of didactic stories for children. When I went to Google Books and put in the phrase “billy goat’s pie,” I got an excerpt from The Herald, which seems to have been a journal from 1943 and 1944 that included the very story in question. It was reproduced from the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village.

  2. Good detective work, Susan! That’s amazing. Maybe Grammy used that when she was teaching then rather than learning it as a child.

    • Susan McLean

      She was teaching during the Depression, so my guess is that it is a much older story and that she didn’t get it from The Herald, but that she and the journal probably both got it from a source that is so old that no version of it exists on the Internet.

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