Summary – Section Three ‘Welch’, Chapter Twenty Nine, Thirty and Thirty One
Their new car, which was an Oldsmobile, is described as ‘a clunker’ from the time they bought it and they had to tie the hood down to stop it popping up. They had to sleep in the car and Jeannette was embarrassed when they woke to find people surrounding the car and grinning. Mom told her to enjoy the ‘comic episodes’ in life more.
They reached Welch in November and at the house of the grandparents a large woman answered the door. She welcomed her son without a smile and said to Mom that it was nice to see her grandchildren before she died. When Jeannette called her ‘“Grandma”’, she snapped back that her name was Erma. Grandpa and Uncle Stanley introduced themselves and Jeannette could see no similarities between these people and her father.
There were three bedrooms upstairs, but Erma said nobody had been up there for around 10 years because of the rotten floorboards. Uncle Stanley gave them his room in the basement and said he would sleep in a cot in the foyer.
After dinner, Mom and the children went down to bed. They heard a noise upstairs and Mom went to investigate. She came down and said Erma asked for the children to not laugh while they were in the house.
In Chapter Thirty, their father showed them around Welch the next day. They looked at the river Tug and Jeannette said in the summer they might go fishing and swimming in it. He said no, as the county had no sewage system and when people flushed their toilets the matter went straight into the river. He also told them that this river ‘had the highest level of fecal bacteria of any river in North America’.
The poverty of the town is evident and Dad said the bad times came in the 1950s. President Kennedy had come to the town shortly after being elected and handed out the nation’s first food stamps there.
Chapter Thirty One is concerned with the following day when Mom took Brian and Jeannette to see the principal at Welch Elementary School. She told him she had not had time to pack their school records and birth certificates, but assured him they were ‘exceptionally bright, even gifted’. However, because of their differences in accents, he could not understand them and they could not understand him. He decided they were ‘a bit slow and had speech impediments’ and placed them initially in a special class for students with learning disabilities.
Jeannette was now in the fifth grade and in the first classes the teachers were awkward about introducing this stranger to the rest of the group. In English, the teacher belittled her and goaded the children to join in. At lunch, she was surrounded by girls and beaten.
Analysis – Section Three ‘Welch’, Chapter Twenty Nine, Thirty and Thirty One
The move to Welch is central to these chapters as is the introduction to Jeannette’s paternal grandparents and her father’s home town. The references to Erma are ominous and the descriptions of Welch are woeful as the poverty and pollution in the area are outlined. It is also at this point that one begins at last to have some understanding why her father drinks so heavily, and why he was so reluctant to return there.