Summary – Section Three, Chapters Forty Seven and Forty Eight
That year, Jeannette started working for the school newspaper, The Maroon Wave. She had wanted to join a group where she felt she would belong and no money was required to join as it was for the track team (as she would have had to have bought a uniform).
Jeanette Bivens was a school teacher and also the faculty adviser for the newspaper. She had been the English teacher of Jeannette’s father and according to him she was the first person to show any faith in him. She had encouraged him to write and submit a poem to a state wide competition. When it won first prize, one of his teacher’s wondered aloud ‘if the son of two lowlife alcoholics like Ted and Erma Walls could have written it himself’. He walked out of school because of this, but Miss Bivens convinced him to return to earn his diploma. He named Jeannette after her, and her mother added the extra ‘n’ to make it sound ‘more elegant and French’.
She was the only seventh grader who worked there and started as a proof reader. She worked in the office of the local newspaper, which is where The Maroon Wave was printed, and kept warm at the same time. One of the women complained about the smell (coming from her) and on Miss Bivens advice Jeannette tried to keep cleaner. This meant going back to Grandpa and Uncle Stanley’s home for a weekly bath, and giving the latter a wide berth.
While in the office, she watched the reporters and editors going about their business and their jobs appealed to her. Until then she had thought of writing as working in isolation as her mother did.
When she finished what she had to do, she also read the stories on the wire service. Previously, she had only known what was going on in the world through her parents. Now she felt as though she was ‘getting the whole story for the first time’.
In Chapter Forty Eight, Jeannette outlines how at times she felt she was letting Maureen down. For her seventh birthday, she, Lori and Brian saved to get her a special present to make up for this. They also used to tell her about California as she could not remember it and loved to hear their stories. She longed to live there and thought of it as a magical place of light and warmth.
Despite this longing, she appeared to be the happiest of the siblings and spent most of her time with the families of her friends. A lot of these were Pentecostal and their parents tried to save her soul.
The narrative switches to Mom and how toward the end of the school year she had ‘a complete meltdown’. Instead of writing the students’ evaluations she had been painting and now could not bear to face the principal. Jeannette could not believe she was acting like this at 38 and promised herself her life would not be like this when she was this age.
Lori thought their mother had it tougher than the rest of them as she was married to their father. Jeannette disagreed and thought her mother should be stronger as a strong woman would be able to ‘manage’ him. She had a chance to test this theory that summer because her mother went to Charleston to renew her teaching certificate and Lori went to a summer camp ‘for students with special aptitudes’. This left Jeannette as head of the household.
Her mother gave her $200 and this was to pay the bills and buy food for two months. For a week this was fine, and then her father started to ask for five dollars and then twenty and she did not like to refuse him.
On the Saturday, he said he had to earn some money and wanted her to accompany him on a business trip. He borrowed a car and drove them to a roadside bar at a nearby town. He bought them both a beer even though she wanted Sprite and he then went to play pool. A man called Robbie joined her and he said how he thought she was 17. She smiled and they danced together and also expected her father to tell him off. He did not do this, but did ask him to play pool.
Her father held back at first but then raised the stakes and started winning. Robbie danced with her after every game and this went on for a couple of hours with Robbie getting increasingly drunk. After he had lost $80, he said he had had enough and said he wanted her to come upstairs to his apartment to listen to a record.
She was uncertain, but her father just told her to ‘holler’ if she needed him and winked. This wink implied that he thought she could look after herself. With this ‘blessing’ she went upstairs. Two other men were there and they grinned ‘wolfishly’ at Robbie. She and Robbie danced, but after this he pushed her on his bed. She was so angry with her father she did not shout for his help, so she showed Robbie her scars and he let her go.
On the way home, her father took out the money he won and counted off $40 for her. She felt like throwing it at him, but also knew they needed it. She told him how Robbie tried to attack her and he said he was sure he just tried to paw her. He then compared it to the time he threw her in the spring to teach her to swim and knew that she would be okay.
Analysis – Section Three, Chapters Forty Seven and Forty Eight
Once more, Jeannette portrays herself as being more level-headed and sensible as a young teenager than either of her parents. In the instance where her father played pool for money and used her as a kind of sweetener in the beating he gives Robbie (at pool), he came extremely close to pimping her out. As in other examples of parental negligence that are listed through this work, she refuses even now to overtly condemn him or even initiate a debate that would attempt to explain his actions. Instead, the descriptions of what happened are laid out, according to Jeannette, and the readers are left to puzzle over such gaps.