The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 6 Summary
Swedish Cremes and Welfare Cheese
- Momma sends Byron and Kenny to the store to get some milk, bread, and tomato paste for dinner.
- Instead of giving them money, though, she tells Byron to sign for it. She explains that Mr. Mitchell (the owner) will allow them to sign for their groceries during the week and then pay the bill on payday.
- Byron panics and thinks this means they're on welfare: you know, when the government gives people money or free groceries to help them out.
- Byron and Kenny know that if other kids find out they're on welfare, they will really get teased at school.
- Byron mouths off to Momma about eating welfare food.
- Momma tells Byron that he's eaten welfare food before, and if necessary, he will again. But guess what, B Boy? This is not welfare food.
- She's getting mad, so Byron and Kenny hightail it to the store.
- At the store, Byron makes Kenny stand in line and sign for the food so he won't have to be the one embarrassed. Kenny tells Mr. Mitchell that the food has to go on the welfare list, but Mr. Mitchell explains that it's not welfare; it's just a way for Dad to pay the bill all at once at the end of the week. (Maybe it's just us, but isn't that exactly what Momma said, too?)
- Byron is so relieved they're not on welfare that he's in an unusually good mood on the way home.
- A week later, Kenny finds Byron behind Mitchell's store with a big bag of Swedish Cremes (really awesome cookies). Byron shares, but as you may have noticed, he's not known for kindness, so Kenny is immediately suspicious.
- Then Kenny notices that Byron has already eaten one whole bag of cookies by himself. Looks like this kid has been signing for food at Mitchell's without Momma and Dad knowing. Sounds like trouble.
- Kenny realizes he can't tell on Byron because he ate some of the cookies, too, so they just sit together under an apple tree and keep munching on cookies and apples. Kenny feels great about getting to be this friendly with Byron for once. But of course, it doesn't last.
- Byron points to a bird on a telephone wire and tells Kenny it's a mourning dove. He says nothing shakes up a mourning dove, and to prove it, he starts throwing cookies at the bird.
- The bird looks around, but doesn't move.
- Byron throws a fourth cookie hard at the bird, and it hits the bird smack in the chest.
- The bird sticks its wings straight out to the side, then slowly falls backward off the wire and crashes to the ground.
- Kenny can't believe what just happened. He says he's seen a million people throw things at birds and no one ever comes close to hitting one.
- Byron walks over and picks up the bird.
- Yup, it's dead.
- Kenny starts cheering, "You got a bird!" (6.70).
- Byron is not cheering.
- Byron brushes frosting off the bird's chest and then promptly starts throwing up.
- Kenny is stunned. Partly at how much vomit all those cookies and apples could make (gross), but mostly because Byron is crying over a bird.
- Kenny tries to comfort Byron, but Byron punches him in the arm and then starts throwing rotten apples at him—so Kenny leaves.
- Kenny tells us that it's hard to understand what's going on with Byron. Yeah, no kidding.
- Sometimes he hates Byron and wishes real bad stuff on him for being so mean. We feel you, Kenny.
- Later, Kenny goes back to the alley behind Mitchell's and finds that Byron dug a little grave for the bird and made a cross out of two Popsicle sticks.
- Kenny leaves feeling even more confused about how Byron can torture kids all day at school like it's nothing but then feel sorry for a little bird.
- Yup, we're baffled about that, too.
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