The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 7 Summary
Every Chihuahua in America Lines Up to Take a Bite out of Byron
- Kenny and Momma are in the kitchen when Byron walks in the back door, then immediately turns around to walk back out.
- Momma stops him and tells him not to wear his hat in the house.
- Byron tries to leave real fast, but Momma knows something is up, so she demands he take off his hat and come inside.
- Byron takes off his hat and stares at the floor. Under his hat, he's wearing a handkerchief tied around his head.
- Momma starts freaking out.
- It's a handkerchief. What's the big deal?
- Then Momma rips off the handkerchief and Kenny tells us, "Byron had gotten a conk! A process! A do! A butter!" (7.21).
- Uh oh.
- A conk is a hair treatment where lye (a nasty chemical) is used to straighten hair.
- Byron's hair looks ridiculous, stiff and straight and sticking up like a porcupine.
- It seems Momma and Dad have strong feelings about using these chemicals on your hair. She asks Byron if he really thinks this straight hair is better than the hair that she and Dad and God gave him.
- Byron says he wanted Mexican-style hair. Mexican-style?
- He thinks it's cool.
- Momma sends him upstairs to wait for Dad. She doesn't even seem that mad which has Shmoop a little worried.
- Kenny and Joey go up to see Byron. Kenny takes advantage of the situation and teases Byron, knowing Byron can't get him back because he's already in such hot water.
- Joey, ever the sentimental sister, takes pity on Byron. She wants to help him wash the chemicals out before Dad gets home.
- Byron explains that it can't wash out; it has to grow out. He seems pretty satisfied with himself that Momma and Dad won't really be able to do anything about his hair other than let it grow.
- Meanwhile, Kenny is cracking jokes every chance he gets about Byron being on death row.
- Joey gets mad at Kenny for being mean to Byron when Dad is about to kill him, and Kenny is tired of Joey always protecting Byron. (Remember how she saved him from the matches?)
- Byron confesses to Joey that Buphead gave him the conk. We might have guessed.
- Kenny keeps up with the jokes until Byron turns on him. He says this is just like how a pack of wolves waits for the top wolf to show a sign of weakness so they can jump on him. He says that Kenny and "every other punk Chihuahua in America" is just waiting to take a bite out of him now that he's down.
- Byron is really getting going with this little speech when they hear Dad's car in the driveway. Dun dun dun.
- Joey asks Byron why he never thinks about what's going to happen to him before he does something to make everyone mad. Yeah, we're wondering the same thing, dude.
- The kids hear Momma and Dad in the living room. Dad asks what's new and Momma says Byron has a surprise for him. Then she calls Byron downstairs.
- Kenny gets in one more death row joke on the stairs and Byron hits him hard in the ear. Kenny wasn't ready for it, so the punch really hurts.
- Kenny and Joey stay on the steps to listen to what happens to Byron.
- At first Dad is silent.
- Then he starts talking calmly to Byron about how the hair treatment is permanent. He repeats everything Byron says, which apparently means there's Real Big Trouble coming.
- Suddenly Dad has an idea. Oh boy.
- He takes Byron into the bathroom and locks the door, but Kenny spies by peeking through the crack under the door.
- Dad is whistling a song called "Straighten Up and Fly Right" (appropriate for Byron) while cutting off all of Byron's hair. Yes, you read correctly. All his hair.
- When Byron finally comes out of the bathroom, his head is shaved completely bald and shiny and the whole family laughs at how far his ears stick out now that he has no hair. So much for them not being able to do anything about it, huh Byron?
- Then Dad promises that this is the last straw. This time, Byron really has it coming. But he doesn't say what exactly is coming.
- He and Momma send the kids away and have an adults-only talk.
- Later, when Kenny and Joey come back into the living room, Momma and Dad are on the phone with Grandma Sands (Momma's momma) all the way in Alabama. Hmm, wonder what they have planned for Byron.
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