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Dicey stares at Momma, who is thin and pale on the bed. She feels herself shaking inside and breaking up into pieces, and only after a few moments does she notice that Gram crying, holding Momma's hand, and talking to her. Dicey becomes angry with herself for feeling upset, reasoning that she knew for a long time that Momma was lost to her. Still, the reality of Momma dying on the bed before her fills her with sadness. Dr. Epstein comes and Gram leaves Dicey with Momma for a few moments. Dicey, like Gram, takes her hand and begins talking to her. When Gram returns, she sends Dicey out to go Christmas shopping. The doctor stops her in the hall and explains lamely how Momma had never seemed to try to get any better. Dicey looks at him intensely, wheels around, and leaves.
Outside, the cold winter air braces Dicey, and she storms angrily through the gloomy streets, letting her anger well up against everyone: herself, the other pedestrians, Momma, the doctor, Gram. She heads down a street lined with shops, and a pair of leather gloves in a shop window catches her eye. She enters the warm store and buys the gloves for Gram. Next, she buys a toy airplane for Sammy in a bright toy store, and then proceeds to buy Maybeth a large book of songs at a used bookstore. Finally, she enters a store selling products made of wood. She feels at home in the store immediately, and asks the man behind the counter if he has chess sets. The man is a woodworker, who responds to all her questions with slow deliberation and has hands covered with tiny scars. He shows her relatively cheap sets from Mexico, and then a beautifully carved set, worth six hundred dollars, that he made himself. She then turns her attention to bracelets, noticing how each, though exactly the same shape and size, is different because of the coloring of the wood. She selects one for Maybeth, and notices beautifully crafted wooden boxes and then a little wooden figurine of a chicken. She admires the figurine, thinking of Sammy, and the man tells her that he had meant to carve a blue jay, but the wood wanted to be a chicken.
The woodworker asks her about her shopping, and Dicey ends up telling him that Momma is in the hospital and not going to recover. He speaks to her seriously, musing that life is like wood, coming out the way it wants to and not necessarily you want it to. Dicey shares with him the inscription on the gravestone in Connecticut, which she has pondered ever since the summer about coming home. With this, she decides that Momma must come home with them. She stops at the hospital, sending Gram out to eat supper. Gram stays at the hospital overnight, and Dicey sleeps at the hotel. When Dicey arrives in the morning, Momma is dead. Dicey kisses her and whispers goodbyes from her and all the children, and then approaches Gram and hugs her. Gram speaks hoarsely about the importance of letting go of Momma, and Dicey, suddenly remembering, presents Gram with the gloves she bought the day before. Gram, pleased, tries on the gloves, and then speaks with resolve about getting home as quickly as possible.
When Gram and Dicey finally see Momma with their own eyes, they are both seized with the same impulse. They take Momma's lifeless hand and begin talking to her, reaching out to her both literally and figuratively. They both begin, almost instinctively, to narrate all that has happened to them since they last saw Momma. Gram begins when Momma left home as a young woman and Dicey begins when Momma left her and her siblings in the mall parking lot the previous summer. Thus, both Gram and Dicey try to fill in the gap of time that separates them from Momma, seeking to build a bridge between the present day and their last moment with Momma. The act suggests that reaching out consists of sharing oneself, one's history, and one's stories with another. Gram and Dicey reach out to Momma for their own sakes, and regardless of whether Momma hears them or understands them. It is important for Dicey and Gram to feel as though, at last, they have their hands extended to Momma.
Dicey finds comfort in finding presents for her siblings, and she feels particularly secure in the wood shop. Throughout the book, Voigt uses wood as a symbol for holding on, and in this chapter, when Dicey is so overcome with grief, the wood shop symbolizes the process of holding on to her family and taking strength from her love for them. The three most salient characteristics of the wood are its beauty, its uniqueness, and its unpredictability. Dicey notices the way the wood glows with light, or the way in which it seems to sing. She appreciates the way that the grain and color of the wood make each piece distinctive, though it may be identical in shape to many others. Finally, Dicey muses with the woodworker over the way in which a piece of wood has its own inherent shape or even spirit, coming out the way it has to come out and not necessarily the way the woodworker wants it to come out. Likewise, holding on allows Dicey to appreciate the way in which the people around her and the surprising twists of life have an inherent beauty and a delectable particularity. Holding on, she has found, also means not knowing what to expect and being able to accept disappointments, problems, and surprises.
Hands and arms, both as physical parts and symbols of reaching out, appear throughout the chapter, emphasizing the importance, in the midst of such a loss, of reaching out and holding on. First, Gram and Dicey feel compelled to hold Momma's hand, and once holding it, feel compelled to talk. Second, Dicey, after noticing Gram's cold, pale hands on the way to the hospital, surprises Gram with a new pair of leather gloves. Dicey not only wants to protect Gram's hands from the cold, but wants to protect her from emotional loss and cover the resourceful woman's hands so that she is still able to reach out. Third, Dicey finds herself noticing the woodworker's hands as well, which are covered with cuts and scars from working wood. Earlier in the book, after Mr. Chappelle accused Dicey of plagiarizing her essay, Gram encouraged Dicey to keep reaching out even when her hand was slapped back. The woodworker's hands bear scars from working the wood. These scars symbolize the pains and injuries that come with being engaged in the processes of reaching out and holding on. Dicey looks at these hands with admiration, understanding the beauty of putting one's hands to such use. Finally, after Momma has died, Dicey and Gram hug each other for the first time in the novel and take comfort in the strength of each other's arms. Thus, throughout the chapter, while Dicey is facing the cruelest loss of her life, she reaches out to those around her and draws them close to her.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dicey's Song!