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Joey Dowdel doesn't show up often in the story, but his absence is a big deal—especially since Mary Alice is used to going to visit her grandmother with him there for moral support. That's how it's been throughout their childhood, and she misses him terribly when she first goes to stay with Grandma.
This is exacerbated by the fact that Joey is old enough to take a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps and is all the way across the country:
My brother Joey—Joe—had been taken on by the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees out west. (P.8)
But despite the fact that Joey is so far away, he still loves his family and comes home to surprise them for Christmas. Mary Alice doesn't care that her clothes aren't as nice as Carleen Lovejoy's or that she doesn't get a lot of money for Christmas. She's just so happy to see her brother again:
It was Joey, fresh from the west, off the evening train. Grandma had sent him the ticket. That's where most of the fox money went. That's what it was for.
I had to turn away, quick. There was a lump in my throat and that would mean tears on my face, and I didn't want Joey to see them. (4.115-116)
Being able to spend time with Joey really does make Mary Alice's Christmas, and shows just how important family has come to be for all the Dowdels—especially in these hard economic times. It's their love that counts, not their material possessions.