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In early October, Dicey finds a letter from Momma's hospital in the mailbox. She brings it in with trepidation to Gram, who sits down and, after reading the three-page letter through twice, pronounces only that Momma has not changed. Dicey expresses a desire to go see her, but Gram reminds her that they do not have the money to make such a trip. Sammy continues to pester Dicey occasionally, but Dicey decides that as long as Sammy is not getting into fights at school, she does not have to be concerned with him. James works on his report, and Maybeth happily brings home an invitation to a party. At school, Mina continues to make friendly gestures to Dicey, while Dicey, afraid of letting Mina get to know her, avoids her. She and the guitar playing boy introduce themselves to each other, and Dicey even sings with the young man, whose name is Jeff. When he compliments her singing, Dicey merely tells him that her sister is much better. At work, Dicey offers to help Millie fill out the order forms for the distributor when Millie becomes distraught over having ordered cornflakes instead of corn chips. She explains to Dicey that she never really learned how to read and how confusing and frustrating filling out the forms is for her. At home, Maybeth is patiently memorizing lists of words and consistently making mistakes, and Dicey is gripped with fear that Maybeth will become like Millie, passing from grade to grade because she is well- behaved, but never really learning. Dicey takes some solace from the fact that Maybeth is progressing quickly on the piano.
Dicey reads over James's report at his request and is highly impressed by it. James, pleased, has Gram read it as well. Meanwhile, Mr. Chappelle assigns a character sketch, for which each student must write about conflict in the life of someone he or she knows. Dicey, spurred on by James's excellent report, begins imagining all the possibilities for the assignment, and she is particularly interested in the idea of writing about Momma. After class, Mina approaches her, also excited about the assignment, and asks Dicey to talk with her about the assignment either after school or at home. But Dicey, to Mina's consternation, tersely replies that she cannot. As guarded as she is, Dicey grows used to seeing Jeff every day and often takes time to sing with him before rushing off to work.
One night in October, Dicey comes home to find Maybeth's music teacher, Mr. Lingerle, playing their piano. She cannot decide whether she is more astonished at his virtuosity at the piano or at his enormous fatness. When he finishes, he turns around and introduces himself, explaining he brought Maybeth home and wanted to talk to Gram. At that point, Gram marches in and asks him to stay for supper. Flustered, the man agrees. After supper, Mr. Lingerle explains to Gram that he wants Maybeth to have two lessons a week. Gram refuses, thinking they cannot afford another lesson, but when she admits that they cannot afford it, Mr. Lingerle exclaims that he wants to give the extra lessons for free.
Not long after, Dicey's first home economics project, an apron, is due. Dicey has done only the minimum requirements for the assignment, and when the teacher, Miss Eversleigh, asks the girls to don their aprons and stand, everyone begins to snicker at Dicey's deformed apron. Luckily, the bell rings and Dicey storms out of class, slamming the apron in the wastebasket before the angry teacher can approach her. Outside, when Mina teases her about the apron, Dicey snaps at her, and Mina snaps back. At home that night, Gram slams around the house, grimly preparing steak bought with their first welfare check. As the night deepens, however, her anger turns to worry as Maybeth, now more than an hour late, still has not returned home. The entire household is worried by the time Maybeth returns with Mr. Lingerle, who sheepishly explains that they got a flat tire and were not able to call, as the Tillermans have no phone. Gram admits her irresponsibility, announces her intention to install a phone, and invites Mr. Lingerle to stay to dinner.
The question of Momma underlies the early chapters of Dicey's Song. Momma is a vaguely articulated concern in Dicey's mind that comes to the surface regularly. In the first chapter, the subject of Momma arises when Gram and the children discuss adoption. It also comes up in the third chapter, when the letter from Momma's hospital arrives and Dicey considers writing about Momma for her character sketch. Momma's whole story lies buried within the narrative much as it lies buried within Dicey's mind. This aspect of Dicey's past is both painful and difficult for her to deal with, as there is nothing the pragmatic young woman can do to change it. Thus, Dicey rarely reflects on her Momma or her history. Accordingly, as a means of illustrating and representing Dicey's thoughts about her mother, Voigt gives the reader only momentary snapshots of Momma. We see her as if from a distance or through a haze, impressionistic, silent, and indeterminate, through the characters' reactions to the letters from Boston, and in the way they do not speak of her with each other. The way in which Dicey keeps this part of her closed off from herself manifests itself in the way she keeps herself closed off from outsiders. An outsider would want to know Dicey's past, which would force her to talk about Momma and thus see her history as a whole—something Dicey is not ready to do.
In this chapter, music begins to manifest itself as an important medium for one of the book's major themes, reaching out to others. Jeff's music causes Dicey to stop and engage in conversation with him, and little by little, it causes her to divulge information about herself and her family to him. Maybeth's skill serves not only as means for her to make sense of herself and build her fragile self- confidence, but also serves to draw Mr. Lingerle into their household. Mr. Lingerle's offer of extra lessons creates an even stronger bridge between himself and the Tillermans. Gram must swallow her pride and admit that they cannot afford more lessons. Thus, music is not only a chance for the family members and their new friend to put themselves aside and share time and creative energy with each other, but it also gives them opportunities for reaching out in other ways—in generosity, in conversation, in invitations.
The novel moves between two major spaces, school and home. At school, the four children face and deal with problems of relating to strangers and the demands of social conventions, and at home they work, sometimes alone, sometimes together, on how to face those problems. Each of the children brings a major concern to the home, which reflects their personalities. Dicey, dismissive of all her schoolwork, escapes from the outside world by working on her boat at home. James works on his report for his class, while Maybeth struggles with her lists of vocabulary words and with fractions. Only Sammy remains curiously unimpeded by problems and concerns and he has so much free time at home he uses it to pester Dicey. For Sammy, however, this lack of problems is in itself a problem, and Dicey misreads him and her responsibility to him when she dismisses his need for attention. Dicey reasons that as long as he is not getting into fights, she has no need to worry about him. However, Sammy's very silence and withdrawal into himself signals a sort of problem. Although he may not be causing trouble at school, he is not using the time he needs to be himself.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dicey's Song!