Part One, Chapters 9–10
As Dicey knocks on the door of Aunt Cilla's house, she realizes they are completely empty-handed: they no longer even have a map. The house, however, is empty, and the children settle uneasily on the steps to wait. When Maybeth asks Dicey why Momma left, Dicey does her best to explain that Momma must have been overwhelmed and eventually gotten lost inside her worries. As Maybeth considers this answer, Dicey has the unsettling realization that she is no longer in charge and now she must wait and see what happens. The day passes, and finally a gray-haired woman in black timidly approaches the children on her steps. When she hears they are looking for Cilla, she seems relieved and explains that Cilla, her mother, died in the spring, and now only she, Eunice, lives there. She ushers the children inside, and when Dicey explains who they are, Eunice explains their relationship: Cilla is Abigail Tillerman's sister, and Abigail Tillerman is Momma's mother. Dicey turns to Sammy and carefully tells him that Momma is not there. When Eunice leaves the room to call Father Joseph for advice, the children, by now certain Momma is not there, quickly confer. James suggests they leave and fend for themselves until they are grown up, but Dicey hushes him as Eunice returns to the room.
Dicey finds herself awash in an inexplicably sadness—she finds herself missing Windy and Stew and the ocean. After the younger children have gone to bed, Dicey confers with Eunice and Father Joseph. Father Joseph insists that the younger children enroll in school camps and he emphasizes that their presence in Eunice's house must be temporary, referring vaguely to plans that Eunice has. In their attempts to plan their next steps, the three piece together Dicey's ancestry. Eunice again mentions Abigail Tillerman, who lives in Crisfield, Maryland, and Dicey firmly commits information about her to memory. Father Joseph and Eunice both express shock and disapproval when they hear that Dicey's mother and father were not married, and Father Joseph implies that the children do not all have the same father. Indignant, Dicey defends her Momma, but Eunice asks how a good woman could abandon her children. That night Dicey sleeps repeating her grandmother's name and hometown over in her head.
Eunice awakens Dicey early the next morning, explaining that she is going to mass before work. She asks Dicey to clean and shop, and Dicey agrees obediently. She cleans before the others are up, and prepares breakfast for them. Father Joseph picks up the younger children to take them to camp, and Dicey finds herself alone and idle in the house. Not long after, Father Joseph returns with a police officer, who asks Dicey for information about her mother. Again, the men express subtle disapproval when Dicey tells them her parents were not married. The policeman assures Dicey that if her mother is dead, they can probably find out within a week, though if she is alive, it may be hard to locate her.
At the end of the day, the children return from camp. James is patently excited at the prospect of learning, but Sammy and Maybeth are more reserved in their descriptions of their day. Eunice arrives at home from her day's work at the textile factory, and she and Dicey discuss the work that must be done the next day. Eunice's ability to deal with change is clearly taxed by the children's presence, and Dicey's uneasiness grows. Before Eunice leaves for a religious class, she offhandedly mentions to Dicey that her friends had told her that they would have turned the children over to social services right away, but Eunice insists that taking them in is the Christian thing to do.
When Dicey arrives at Eunice's, she finds herself in an emotional limbo. First, her arrival necessitates giving up the fantasy that they would be reunited with Momma. She dissolves this fantasy when she responds carefully but honestly to Maybeth's question regarding Momma's motives for abandoning them, and when she explicitly tells Sammy that Momma is not there. Dicey had used this hope to move the children and herself to Bridgeport. Up until this point, Dicey and her siblings had a clear goal and reason for doing what they did, but now their situation is less clear. Second, perhaps because Momma's whereabouts are still uncertain, Dicey does not yet feel ready to give up her journey, and consequently feels sad that it has ended. Dicey cannot yet allow herself to mourn her mother, because that would mean she is completely lost. Dicey's sadness at leaving Windy and Stew and her sorrow at being so far from the ocean may in part be her repressed mourning for the loss of her mother. More than anything, Eunice's niggling charity and clear consternation at the children's arrival makes Dicey uncertain that they have come home. Thus, she recites her grandmother's name like a mantra, foreshadowing another the journey to come.
The adults around the Tillermans continue to display hostility and suspicion towards children. Eunice is almost too frightened to approach the house when she sees the children waiting for her; Father Joseph and the policeman dismiss Dicey's interpretation of her mother's life; and Eunice's friends advise her that social services is the appropriate place for orphaned or abandoned children. Somehow, the grownups fear what the children represent: a loss of control, lifestyles, and values different from their own. They also represent the need for human connection. The children threaten to undo the carefully maintained, factory-like existence of the adults around them, and consequently, the adults communicate their displeasure to the children through their disapproval and worrying.
Dicey's ancestry is almost as foggy and tenuous as her memories of Momma, underscoring the Tillerman children's lack of roots. For the children, the family circle first and foremost protects them from the threats of the outside world. The predominant threat the children face is the dissolution of their family and the subsequent loss of their family identity, and to a lesser extent, their individual identity. Their family circle faces repeated assault: first their father leaves, then their mother. In their desperation, the children cling to the name of a distant relation, but this relation feels little obligation to embrace them and their identity. Eunice can barely remember her mother's sister, and can only remember that there was a break in the family. She and Dicey have trouble articulating their exact relationship to each other. Sensing that Eunice will not help them hold out the threats of the outside world, Dicey focuses on the next remote familial hope, their grandmother. Dicey's quest is not so much about finding a home that already exists, but about reconciling herself with a home that has come apart, while finding the resolve to build a new home for her and her siblings.
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