Part Two, Chapters 11–12
Dicey wakes in the middle of the night, her head heavy with plans of returning to Bridgeport and a fantasy of living in a tent with her siblings until she come of age. She stares out angrily into the night, certain that she belongs on this land, near the sea and among the fields. She notices a light on in the kitchen and goes downstairs to investigate. She finds her grandmother writing a letter to Eunice, telling her of the children's predicament in Crisfield. Her grandmother gamely apologizes to Dicey for being so angry at dinnertime and suggests that she and her siblings find Will, but they both realize this is not really an option. Then her grandmother tries to explain. She has very little to live on, and she does not want to give up the freedom and independent lifestyle she so recently won when her husband died. More than anything, she does not want to fail her grandchildren as she feels she failed her own children. Dicey's grandmother explains that her own resolve to stand by her unbending husband resulted in a suppressed anger that always crept out and saddened her children. When her grandmother had resolutely told Momma never to write or call until she was married, Momma stated she would never marry, because she saw how unhappy marriage had made her own parents. She tells Dicey that, unlike Eunice, she likes and wants to keep the children, but feels she cannot. With that she sends Dicey back upstairs, where Dicey cries at the injustice of it all. The next morning, Dicey tells her grandmother she is prepared to leave, but her grandmother reasons that first she must send the letter to Eunice and determine whether the children should return to Bridgeport. Over the weekend, the children tell their grandmother the rest of their story, and Dicey gives up her fight, sadly resigning herself to enjoying the fleeting pleasure of these days as a family.
When Tuesday comes, their grandmother, neatly dressed and made up, takes the children into town to register for school. She complains to them about the expense of taxes, and James immediately provides her with several ways of bringing in more revenue: growing Christmas trees, raising chickens and selling the eggs, raising cows and selling milk and butter. The school counselor, after retrieving their records from Provincetown, assigns them to their classes and asks James and Sammy to leave and meet their teachers, but has Maybeth stay behind. Maybeth, she explains, must take several tests to determine whether or not she is ready for the third grade. Dicey expresses her desire to stay with the frightened girl during the test, but her grandmother forbids it. Dicey's grandmother kneels down to tell Maybeth that difficult situations lay before her, today and tomorrow when she starts school, but that she must summon her courage and face them. The girl timidly consents, and Dicey and her grandmother leave her for the grocery store.
After making their purchases, the children congregate at the store. Maybeth brings good news: she had passed the tests. As they clamber into the boat, Sammy asks their grandmother how they should address her. She tells them to call her "Gram" and admits, when Sammy asks, that she likes them. Dicey realizes that Gram has forgotten to mail the letter to Eunice, and after a brief hesitation, tells her so. Gram, surprised, walks over to the mailbox, but Dicey stops her with a defiant stare, finally telling Gram that she thinks Gram should let them stay. To her surprise, Gram relents, asking if that is what she wants. Dicey turns this around, asking Gram if it is what she wants. Gram replies that it is not what she wants, but that she has been "worn down" and will learn to live with it. Before climbing into the boat, Gram rips the letter to Eunice into shreds. The family sets out, finally, for home.
The Tillerman's arrival at Gram's and their gradual acceptance by Gram forms a mirror image—similar but reversed—of their departure from their initial home. The Tillerman children began their lives near the sea with a single female caretaker, their Momma. Gradually, Momma became overwhelmed by the responsibility for raising them and wandered off, abandoning them. Gram, on the other hand, begins her acquaintance with the Tillerman children warily, uncertain of her ability or desire to take responsibility for them, but she warms to them, and takes them into her home. Thus, the Tillerman children, who have been abandoned, are taken in. They have lost their mother but found a substitute for their Momma in her own mother. They have lost the dunes of Provincetown, but gained the shoreline and fields of Crisfield. Thus, Dicey completes her quest. She has undergone separation, faced trials, and returns to a home that closely resembles her first home in an altered, more adult role.
The children's very journey possesses a similar symmetry. Momma drives them on the first leg of their journey to Peewauket, and then they walk to New Haven where they receive help from Stew and Windy, who drive them to the midpoint of their journey, Eunice's landlocked and citylocked home in Bridgeport. From Bridgeport, they begin the second leg of their journey on a bus (paid for by the sale of Momma's car) to Annapolis, from which they sail and walk, until find help in Hurlock, from which Will drives them to their destination, Crisfield, which is, like their home, in the countryside and on the shore. The similarity in the physical setting of their starting point and ending point plays a crucial role for Dicey. At the beginning of Chapter 11, she decides she must convince Gram to let them stay because she feels the place belongs to her. The geography of Gram's house reinforces the fact that the Tillermans have truly found a home in Crisfield, which contrasts sharply with the confining and dingy surroundings of Bridgeport.
The homecoming of the book's title itself, like the children's journey, is double. The children are coming home both to a place they can love and to a woman who can take the place of their Momma. Moreover, the children's arrival in Crisfield constitutes a homecoming for Gram as well as for them. On their long journey, Dicey has come to realize that family itself is a type of home, and when the children bring themselves to Gram, they are bringing her a new home. While Gram has a physical home, her bitter relationship with her husband and her resulting estrangement from her children left her psychically homeless. Her emotional homelessness manifests itself in ways that resemble the manifestations of the Tillerman's physical homelessness: they are wary of others to the point of hostility, highly secretive, and at the same time, fiercely independent. The Tillerman children's arrival catalyzes Gram's emotional transformation. She chooses to reach out to the children and, in a sense, relive her past. The children have given her a second chance to have a family and to relinquish the anger and sadness that she has been harboring over the decades.
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