Part Two, Chapters 7–8
Finally, Will gathers the children and amid the good-byes of all the circus workers, he drives them off to Crisfield. On the way, he convinces Dicey to call him if they need help, explaining that they have become a part of his life. Dicey agrees, and Will leaves them outside of a grocery store in Crisfield. Dicey immediately goes inside and looks up Abigail Tillerman, but she is not listed. The shopkeeper, a heavy woman named Millie explains that Abigail no longer has a phone and lives, completely isolated, on a road seven miles outside of town. Dicey decides that she must go alone to meet their grandmother. She leaves Maybeth and Sammy in James' charge, echoing exactly the words Momma spoke to Dicey when she left them in the care in Peewauket. When Dicey reaches the farm, she looks grimly at the run-down buildings and unkempt fields. With a quaking heart, she approaches the house, momentarily noticing a huge tree in the front yard perfect for a tree house. When she knocks, no one answers, so she doggedly walks to the back yard, where she finds her grandmother.
Dicey uncertainly addresses her grandmother as "Mrs. Tillerman" and asks her to hire Dicey to work around the farm. Mrs. Tillerman marches inside the house, and Dicey follows, watching in consternation as she begins to cook canned spaghetti without a word to Dicey. She brusquely asks Dicey to join her, and over lunch, Dicey listens with horror as her grandmother wonders if people, especially babies, would be good to eat. She talks about how people decay after they die, and then suddenly asks Dicey her opinion about death. Dicey offers the inscription from the gravestone near the Connecticut River, and this seems to satisfy her grandmother. Abigail goes on to say that she might be crazy, and that she was relieved when her husband and children died. With that, Dicey decides to leave and call Will, but as she strides out of the house, her grandmother tells her she knows who she is, and that she cannot stay.
Dicey's grandmother tells Dicey of the letter she received from Eunice, and asks scornfully about Maybeth and Momma. She asks where the children are sleeping and briskly accuses Dicey of lying when she tells her they have a place to stay. When she tells Dicey they should sleep there that night, Dicey refuses, and the two glare at each other fiercely until her grandmother laughs, and Dicey relents, softened by her laughter. They stride through the fields to the dock, where Dicey and her grandmother climb into a small motorboat to fetch the other children from town. When they reach town, however, the children are not there, and Dicey's blood runs cold. Soon, however, Sammy runs up, explaining that James took Maybeth out to the farm on foot, convinced that they should get to meet their grandmother as well.
Upon their return, Dicey races out to the road, where she finds James and Maybeth and tells them about what happened. The children approach the house timidly and find Sammy already swinging in the branches of the huge tree in the front yard. Their grandmother sends Sammy and James to empty the crab pots for supper and sends Maybeth and Dicey upstairs to prepare the bedrooms. Dicey and Maybeth enter the bedrooms gingerly, trying to imagine Momma and her brothers in the rooms. The only traces of the children are a few drawings on the wardrobes and walls. From the second story of the house, Dicey sees that the mulberry tree in the front yard is wired together, and her grandmother explains that this type of tree grows top-heavy and splits itself apart if not tied by wire, "like families." With pleasure, Dicey notices that she can see the water from the second story as well.
When Dicey goes out to the barn to get potatoes for supper that night, the sight of a beautiful old sailboat on the barn floor electrifies her. Her grandmother tells her it belonged to her uncle, but snaps that it is none of Dicey's business. Suddenly, Dicey is resolved that it is her own business, and they will stay with their grandmother. Their grandmother cooks the crabs efficiently, slamming the lid of the pot of boiling water over the scrabbling creatures and staring pointedly at the children. Dicey meets her gaze with determination. Over dinner, their grandmother interrogates them about Momma, and after dinner, the children run down to the dock to swim. That night James and Sammy agree that they want to stay. The four children softly sing themselves to sleep.
Will and Claire, who help the children during their last steps toward Crisfield, mirror the characters of Windy and Stewart, who helped the children during their last steps towards the house in Bridgeport. Both Stewart and Will saved the Tillermans at crucial points in their journeys, when the children were utterly defeated or overwhelmed. Both pairs generously offered the Tillermans food, shelter, clothing, and transport. Both Will and Stewart testify to the goodness in the world and the fact that, even though the children were abandoned by both of their parents, the Tillermans can still afford to trust the universe to take care of them. While the Tillermans have suffered great losses, they have also experienced great blessings in the form of gifts of food and shelter, sailboat trips, clothing, and good weather. Moreover, the help of these men, at such crucial points in their journey, underscores the way in which the Tillermans are building a "home" in their relationships with those around them even as they move tumultuously from place to place in search of an elusive physical home.
As the Tillerman children approach their grandmother's house and make their first entrance into her life, tropes and bits of dialogue from earlier in the novel surface again. When Dicey leaves her siblings to wait for her while she makes an exploratory foray to their grandmother's house, Dicey leaves the younger children in James' charge, using exactly the words Momma used to leave the children in Dicey's charge. This repetition emphasizes the fact that even as they reach out for their grandmother's help, the children are re-experiencing the moment of their abandonment and are feeling the anxiety that they will once again be abandoned, in the form of their grandmother's rejection. So strong is this anxiety that James takes Maybeth out to their grandmother's farm himself, perhaps half afraid that Dicey will abandon them as Momma did. Similarly, when Dicey returns and finds her siblings missing, the cold realization of her deepest fears of abandonment washes over her as she desperately searches the docks and surrounding sidewalks.
In keeping with the parallel between the beginning of the book and the first meeting between the Tillerman children and their grandmother is the recurrence of the Hansel and Gretel trope. After Momma left them in the station wagon, James told the younger children the story of Hansel and Gretel, evoking their soon-to-be-realized fears of hostile and predatory adults. Their grandmother, with her disconcerting talk of eating babies and her pointed gaze at the children as she steams the crabs, explicitly suggests the image of the child- eating witch of Hansel and Gretel. Her curt refusal of the children once again represents the inhospitableness and hostility of the adult world toward children.
At the same time, the return of all these tropes and structures do not foreshadow the same type of outcome as before. Dicey has come close to understanding and mimicking Momma, but has clearly and consciously put that possibility away from her. Her grandmother, with her sharp tongue and forthright ways, is no Cousin Eunice. Indeed, as she and Dicey square off, stubborn and proud, we see that Dicey has met her match in her grandmother. This realization, along with the freedom the children experience so close to the sea, convince Dicey that, whether their grandmother knows it or not, this place is right for them. They are no longer the children that Momma left in the parking lot, and they will not be abandoned or rejected so easily this time.
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