Part Two, Chapters 9–10
Dicey wakes the next day with a plan. She senses that, while their grandmother may not want them to go, she does not want them to leave. Dicey decides that if they start work projects around the house, their grandmother will let them stay, one day at a time, until she learns that the children are no trouble to her. Dicey tells herself that she wants the place more than the grandmother, and that if she wins her heart, the beautiful wooden sailboat will be her prize. Dicey wakes her siblings and sets them to work pulling honeysuckle down from the walls of the house. At breakfast, their grandmother blandly tells them to put the honeysuckle in the marsh, and the children know they have won the battle to stay at least for that day. They sing as they work, and their grandmother brings them melon to eat. At supper, their grandmother asks them if they will leave the next day, but does not object when Dicey names other jobs to be done around the house. As they clean up after supper, they sing Stewart's song and tell their grandmother the story of their trip from New Haven to Fairhaven, which impresses the grudging old woman.
Over the next several days, the children work diligently, and James, upon seeing the books in the dining room, engages their grandmother in a conversation about their grandfather, whom she says made a wall of books between himself and the world. That night, a storm breaks over the little house, and Maybeth comes to Dicey's room, complaining of a sore arm. The next morning, the children hurry to help their grandmother pick vegetables for canning, and by breakfast, Maybeth's arm is so sore that she spills her milk. Their grandmother first reacts angrily, but then quickly and capably bandages Maybeth's arm when she finds it is hurt. Sammy, grown restless from the rainy day inside, disappears into the afternoon without explanation and does not return until several hours later. Dicey chides him, but does not punish him when he explains that he went down to the dock to bail out the boat and check the traps, and their grandmother suggests the impulsive boy deserves punishment. Dicey considers her words carefully, but stands up to her grandmother, refusing to punish him.
On the next day, Will and Claire pay them an unexpected visit. Dicey introduces them to her grandmother hesitantly, and her grandmother, just as hesitantly, offers them food and drink. Their grandmother tells them that she threw the phone through the window of the phone office when the government had called to tell her that her son had been killed in the war. Will and Claire then take the children out to the station wagon to show them the bicycles they have brought for them. The children are overjoyed and immediately begin to ride around the yard. Will tells their grandmother about the children's close call with the nefarious Rudyard, and the seven eat lunch together happily. When Will and Claire leave, Dicey is overcome with sadness, but turns to James and tells him she is certain they will stay with their grandmother.
That afternoon, Sammy disappears until dinner time on his bicycle, and when he bursts back into the house, their grandmother scolds him soundly and tells him to go to bed without supper. Dicey, remembering the hunger and privation the children have experienced over the summer, defies her grandmother and says this is not an appropriate punishment. She tells Sammy to sit down and eat and that he is grounded from the bicycle for two days. Their grandmother is furious, repeating over and over that they are in her home. Dicey, resigned, asks if she wants them to stay, and her grandmother responds with a bitter no.
A necessary byproduct of the Tillerman's attempts to save themselves from abandonment is extracting their grandmother from her self-imposed isolation. When Dicey arrives at the farm, she notices how abandoned it looks. Subconsciously, at least, she understands that their grandmother is also in a state of abandonment. To earn their keep and trick their grandmother into letting them stay, the children engage in acts of repair and cleaning that symbolize their uncovering of their grandmother's secluded life. They peel layers of honeysuckle off the house, they clean the floors of the never-used rooms, and they scrub the windows. The children are literally and symbolically removing their grandmother's thick layers of covering, which have accumulated slowly over the years. They are stirring memories of her past she has long since laid to rest, and they are changing the way she looks at and interacts with the outside world. Cousin Eunice worked to fit the children into her own routine, having Dicey do the appropriate chores on the appropriate days, and feeding them the same food she ate. Their grandmother, on the other hand, begins to buy groceries and cook for the children and sits back, neither clearly pleased nor displeased, as the children breathe new life into her abode.
Just as Dicey repressed stories of Momma from the narrative, constraining the readers to understand Momma through the few, rarefied, and embellished memories Dicey allowed to surface, so the Tillerman children repress stories of their past from their grandmother. The stories bubble up piece by piece. James shares the story of their trip through New Haven, and Will shares the story of their encounter with Rudyard and their time with the circus. The grandmother's understanding of the children and their ordeal remains fragmented. In a characteristic gesture, she does not ask them for their stories and does not offer hers or that of their Momma. Their grandmother, still uncertain as to the role of these children in her life, keeps distance between them by refusing to fill the distance up with stories of the events that have filled the years intervening between Momma's childhood and that summer. Their grandmother's careful avoidance of the past signifies the depth of emotion and pain buried along with those memories.
Dicey's carefully considered decision to defy her grandmother could only have happened after the long summer that taught Dicey that adults do not always have the best intentions towards children and often abuse their power. In the final analysis, Dicey knows that she is responsible for the safety and well-being of her siblings, and that she cannot turn to another person to help her with this responsibility. As such, Dicey is the children's primary caretaker, and while she wants the long-term good of living with their grandmother, she finds she cannot sacrifice Sammy's immediate good to that long term one. During her time with the circus, Dicey learned that she must spend what she needs today and trust tomorrow to care for itself. Her decision to stand up to her grandmother clearly reflects that thinking.
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