The Contrary Wife!

A tale adapted from a Finnish folktale

as told by Eldrbarry

The Contrary Wife

There was once a farmer who thought he married the pleasantest woman in the world. But it was not long after Matti married Liise that her true character began to show. She was as headstrong as a goat and set on having her way! He had been brought up to know the husband was to be the head of the house and the wife was to obey. But Liise was the most contrary wife in the world.

If Matti expected Liise to say, "Yes," she would always say, "No," and if he expected her to say, "No," she would always say, "Yes." If he said the soup was too hot, Liise would instantly insist that it was too cold. She would do nothing that he wanted her to do and she always insisted on doing everything that he did not want her to do. He patiently put up with her ways as best he could though his friends insisted he was henpecked.

One year as Christmas was coming, he thought to himself that he would like to have a big dinner party for all his friends. But if he asked her to prepare a feast, she would insist on a fast. Then he had an idea . . .

A few weeks before Christmas he remarked casually: "Christmas is coming and I suppose everyone will expect us to have fine white bread. But I don't think we ought to. It's too expensive. Black bread is good enough for us."

"Black bread, indeed!" cried Liise. "Not at all! We're going to have white bread and you needn't say any more about it! Black bread at Christmas! To hear you talk people would suppose we are beggars!"

The farmer pretended to be grieved and he said: "Well, my dear, have white bread if your heart is set on it, but I hope you don't expect to make any pies."

"Not make any pies! Just let me tell you I expect to make all the pies I want!"

"Well, now, Liise, we can have pies, but I don't think we ought to have any wine."

"No wine! Of course we'll have wine on Christmas!"

The farmer was much pleased but, still pretending to protest, he said: "Well, if we spend money on wine, we better not expect to buy any coffee."

"What! No coffee on Christmas! Who ever heard of such a thing! Of course we'll have coffee!"

"Well, I'm not going to quarrel with you! Get a little coffee if you like, but just enough for you and me. I don't think we can expect to have any guests."

"What! No guests on Christmas! Indeed and you're wrong if you think we're not going to have a houseful of guests!" "Well I could invite a couple of the neighbors."

You will invite All the neighbors, and all your friends, and all our the relatives too!"

"Even the ones who don't get along? Your sister and my brother always get into a fight!"

"Every one of them!"

The farmer was overjoyed but, still pretending to grumble, he said: "Well maybe we will have the pies and wine, we could just invite them for a dessert."

"Dessert! DESSERT! We will invite them for dinner."

"Well I could kill a couple of small chickens."

"A couple of chickens won't feed all those people. You will go get us a big turkey."

"A turkey would be a lot of work. Couldn't we just have a small pot roast?"

"No! You will go to the butchers and get us a fat turkey and the biggest roast he has!"

"If you have the house full of people, you needn't think I'm going to sit at the head of the table, for I'm not!"

"You are, too!" screamed his wife. "You are the head of the house. That's exactly where you are going to sit!"

"Liise, Liise, don't get so excited! I will sit there if you insist. But if I do you mustn't expect me to pour the wine."

"And why not? It would be a strange thing if you didn't pour the wine at your own table!"

"All right, all right, I'll pour it! But you mustn't expect me pour very much. We will need that wine to get us through the winter."

"Listen to me, you miser. You are going to eat and drink with our guests until food is gone and every bottle is empty. And you will enjoy every minute!" She shouted.

This was exactly what the farmer wanted his wife to say. So, you see, by pretending to oppose her at every turn he was able to have the big Christmas party that he wanted and he could to feast to his heart's content with all his friends and relatives and neighbors. And it was all her idea!!

And what a feast it was. There was a huge turkey, huge roast beef and a candied ham as well. There were big bowls of potatoes and carrots and turnips and rutabagas. There were loaves of white bread with fresh butter and fruit preserves. And wine and coffee.

And the smorgasbord afterwards covered the table with sweets and cookies. Summer Sausages and cheeses. Krumkaka, Yulekaka, Lusikkaleivati (Finnish spoon cookies), Piperkaka (gingerbread) and Lefse. And the pies! There were Mincemeat and squash and apple pies topped with lots of whipped cream! And more wine and coffee, of course.

There was great feasting and they shouted and sang around the table and the farmer made more noise than any of his friends. So much so, that before the feast was over, the wife began to suspect he had played a trick on her. Preparing that feast was expensive and a lot of work! Though outwardly she seemed pleasant, it made her furious to see him so jolly and carefree.

Time went by and Liise grew more and more contrary if such a thing were possible. She became practically impossible to live with. While Matti would occaisionally use his trick to get his way, he did not do it too often, lest she catch on.

Summer came and the haymaking season. They were going to a distant meadow to toss hay and had to cross an angry little river on a footbridge made of slender planks. As he crossed he noticed the thin planks had rotted. The farmer crossed in safety, then he called back to his wife: "Walk very carefully, Liise, for the boards are rotted and the planks are not strong!"

"I will not walk carefully!" the wife declared. She flung herself on the plank with all her weight and when she got to the middle of the angry little stream, she jumped up and down just to show her husband how contrary she could be. Well, the plank broke with a snap, Lisse fell into the water, the current carried her off!

Her husband, seeing what had happened, ran madly upstream shouting: "Help! Help!"

The haymakers heard him and came running to see what was the matter.

"My wife has fallen from the bridge into the river!" he cried, "and the current has carried her away!"

"What ails you?" the haymakers said. "Are you mad? If the current has carried your wife away, she's floating downstream, not upstream!"

"Any other woman would float downstream," the farmer said. "Yes! But you know Liise! She's so contrary she'd float upstream every time!"

"That's true," the haymakers said, "she would!"

So all afternoon the farmer and haycutters searched upstream for his wife's body but they never found her.

When night fell, he went home and had a good supper of all the things he liked to eat which Liise would never let him have.

This tale is a humorous Finnish Droll Tale. Versions are found in Mighty Mikko: A Book of Finnish Folk and Fairy Tales by Parker Fillmore and in Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales by Claire Booss. Some versions change her name to Mary - "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary."

The big dinner with a that even bigger smorgusbord to follow is a Scandinavian Custom. My description is based on a number of dinners my wife and I attended in rural North Dakota - there were many Norwegians there. The farmer's wife and a friend would stay in the kitchen and cook and serve through the feast. Usually she and her husband would soon be guests of one of her guests as another feast would be prepared a few days later.
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