Summary – Section Two, Chapters Twenty Six, Twenty Seven and Twenty Eight
Around this time, Dad was fired from his job and then from his second and third. He was also expelled from the union and the money from Grandma Smith had disappeared. Once again, they were scraping by.
Sometimes the only meal Jeannette had was at school and if she did not have a quarter to pay for it her kindly teacher said someone had already done so.
The narrative shifts to Maureen and how she had only imaginary friends. Mom decided she should attend pre-school, but did not want her to wear thrift-store clothes that the rest of them wore. Her solution was to take them shop-lifting. She wanted the children to cause a ‘ruckus’ while she hid a dress. This worked three or four times until she was asked to pay.
Their father was drinking heavily and if he came home in a drunken fury their mother would hide while the children tried to calm him down. That year, their mother said she had a good feeling about Christmas and from early December they bought gifts at the thrift-store and a tree at the gas station. They put the presents under it and decorated it with Grandma’s antique baubles.
Their mother said they could open the presents after Mass that night. Unfortunately, Dad had been drinking all day at home and at church he shouted, ‘“Mary was a sweet Jewish broad who got herself knocked up”’ and ‘“Jesus H. Christ is the world’s best-loved bastard”’. They were then escorted out on to the street.
At home, their mother gave him his present, which was a brass cigarette lighter from the 1920s. He flicked it a couple of times and then said, ‘“let’s really light up Christmas”’. He lit the lighter and thrust it into the dried out tree. It caught immediately and the ornaments exploded. They put the fire out, but smashed the ornaments and ruined the presents in the process. He sat on the sofa all this time, and laughed and told their mother that he had done her a favor as trees were ‘“pagan symbols of worship”’. Nobody said anything and Jeannette describes how they all used to close off when he behaved like this.
In Chapter Twenty Seven, Jeannette recounts how she turned 10 in the spring and although her parents took little or no notice of these anniversaries her father asked her that year if there was anything he could do for her now she was going to be in double digits. She knew he did not mean a present such as a pony, and although she was nervous she asked if he would stop drinking.
He said he wanted to sit alone and the next morning he told her that he was going to keep himself to himself in his bedroom for the next few days and wanted the children to steer clear of him.
On the second day of his abstinence, she could hear him groaning, and after a week his delirium stopped and he was pale, thin and shaking. He recuperated over the summer and by early fall he said they were all going on a long camping trip at the Grand Canyon. They all loved the idea and packed the car.
Out in the desert he asked Jeannette how fast she thought he could make the car go. She said ‘“faster than the speed of light”’ and saw the needle pass 100. Mom asked him to slow down, but this only made him go faster. Suddenly, there was a clattering noise and the engine died. He was unable to fix it and said they would have to walk back (80 miles). Around midday a car stopped and a woman gave them a lift. She referred to them a few time as ‘poor people’ and Jeannette said they were not poor. The woman replied quickly that she had not meant it in that way. Jeannette could tell she had, though, and nobody said much else for the rest of the journey. As soon as she dropped them off, their father disappeared. Jeannette waited on the front step until bedtime, but he did not come home.
In Chapter Twenty Eight, it is explained how Dad came home drunk three days later and wanted to know where their mother was. He became so angry that he pulled Grandma’s closet of china over and kicked Brian when he tried to grab his leg. He also smashed a chair and threw cutlery. He found their mother in the bathroom and he followed her out. She grabbed a knife and slashed at the air. The fight ended when he wrestled her to the floor and she finally agreed that she loved him. They laughed and hugged each other.
Now that he had started drinking again, their mother thought they should move back to his home town (which was Welch, West Virginia) as they might help keep him in line. He hated the idea and did not help, and she had to buy another car as they had not retrieved the one from their camping trip.
Jeannette’s mother had inherited some land in Texas and received checks from a company that was leasing it for drilling rights. She bought the car with this.
Even on the day they were set to leave their father still refused to come. It was only when Jeannette shouted from the car window that they needed him, and the others joined in, that he climbed in the car.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Twenty Six, Twenty Seven and Twenty Eight
Dad’s alcoholism and his attempts to stop drinking dominate these chapters and Jeannette manages to depict him as both monstrous and yet open to her and our sympathy. When he sets fire to the Christmas tree, his selfishness appears to be unforgiveable and yet Jeannette continued to have faith in him (which is made understandable as he behaved like a father in other ways).