In a dramatic twist (pun fully intended), a tornado hits Grandma Dowdel's small town, throwing into sharp focus what really matters to the characters. Instead of staying at school, Mary Alice runs home because she wants to check on her grandmother. And she's touched when she finds that Grandma has grabbed the cats so that they won't get hurt…even though she won't admit it aloud:
"Grandma, you saved them."
She shrugged that off. "I happened to be down in the cobhouse when the siren went."
That was a whopper. We both knew it. (7.22-24)
And afterwards, Grandma Dowdel doesn't just stay put and clean up her own house. She immediately goes out to take care of her neighbors—even the horrible Old Man Nyquist who no one wants to approach. She saves him from being trapped in his bedroom, even though she gets nothing but abuse for it:
"You old busybody buzzard," he growled at Grandma. "How'd you get in?" (7.37)
This is all Nyquist has to say after Grandma and Mary Alice pry him out from under his bedstead. Sheesh. But despite the abuse, Grandma and Mary Alice keep on truckin'.
We walked on toward the Wabash tracks, keeping an eye out for downed wires. Now I knew where we were heading next. (7.47-48)
The next step is to go see Mrs. Effie Wilcox. Of course, Grandma refuses to admit that she and Effie are best friends. But it's clear as day to Mary Alice—Grandma Dowdel cares about her family and friends, and she'll always go the extra step to make sure they're safe and sound.