Study Guide

A Year Down Yonder Principles

By Richard Peck

Principles

Chapter 1

"And you acted real nice to her too, Grandma. You gave her buttermilk and that big slab of corn bread."

"Oh well," Grandma waved herself away. "Didn't want to send her off hungry. I knew she had a long walk ahead of her." (1.126-127)

Grandma Dowdel may be out to teach Mildred a lesson, but she's not totally heartless. She knows that the girl will have a five mile walk home, and so she feeds her before sending her off. In her mind, this balances the scales.

Chapter 2

Grandma, who didn't know how to drive an automobile, aimed at the tree and hit it dead on, ramming it with the tire over the radiator. The tree reeled in shock, and pecans rained. It was a good thing I wasn't standing under it. A ton of pecans fell together, like a hailstorm. (2.62)

Technically, Grandma isn't going against what Old Man Nyquist said—which is that she can have any pecans that have fallen from his tree. But she does use a bit of ingenuity to make sure that lots of pecans fall out of that tree.

Chapter 3

In short, she got more than a dime off everybody, except from those she knew couldn't pay more. In some cases she could make change, in others she couldn't. Once, I saw her palm the dime back into the hand that offered it. (3.61)

Grandma Dowdel isn't extorting more money from people because she's greedy. She's taking the Robin Hood approach: demanding more from the rich and giving the poor some burgoo for free. And in the end, all the money that's collected goes to Mrs. Abernathy and her disabled son. So…it's all okay? Right?

Chapter 6

Grandma gave Arnold Green the bedroom facing the Wabash tracks. In its closet was the trapdoor to the attic. She provided a ladder so he could use the attic for an artist's studio. She was generous to a fault. (6.50)

Although she's asking for quite the steep rent money from Arnold Green, Grandma Dowdel isn't going to be a total skinflint. She'll let him use the attic to paint in, so that he can have his own little studio where he won't be disturbed. Surely that's worth the extra rent.

Grandma Dowdel

"That's too good a show for us to keep to ourselves," Grandma said.

With the thought, she was through the door and out in the front yard. Planting her house shoes, she jammed the Winchester into her shoulder, aimed high, and squeezed off both barrels. The world exploded. Birds rose shrieking from the trees, and the town woke with a start. (6.105-106)

Grandma Dowdel is never the kind of person who will let something this good go unacknowledged. She wakes up the whole town when Maxine comes running out of the attic buck-naked.

"Posing?" Grandma said. "Well, I better make a rule against painting pictures of naked women in my attic." (6.127)

Grandma Dowdel isn't actually scandalized by the fact that Maxine Patch was nude in her attic, but she does put her foot down and tell Arnold he can't do that anymore. Still, she's not going to try to run him out of town or anything. It takes more than nudity—and reptiles—to shock her.

Chapter 7

We left then, Grandma bustling to prove she hadn't given two hoots about Mrs. Wilcox. But I saw through that. I hadn't lived with her all year for nothing. Sometimes I thought I was turning into her. (7.64)

In classic Grandma Dowdel fashion, she denies caring about Mrs. Wilcox—even when she's just rushed over to check on her after the tornado hits. But Mary Alice can see right through it, and knows that they're best friends.

"Grandma, I don't want to go back to Chicago. I want to stay here with you."

She knew, of course. Dad was working now. They'd found an apartment up in Rogers Park. Mother was fixing up the second bedroom for me. They wanted me home as soon as school was out. It was all in the letter. (7.94-95)

Grandma Dowdel is definitely not an idiot—she knows that Mary Alice has been thinking about staying on. But she's not about to let her granddaughter sacrifice her own happiness to look after her grandmother, and so she refuses Mary Alice's offer. Not because she doesn't want her there, but because she knows it wouldn't be right for Mary Alice to give up other opportunities.

When I offered to give Grandma a hand, she snapped my head off. "Go on up to the house and study for them exams," she barked. Though we both knew no power on earth would save me in math. But she wouldn't even let me set the table for supper these nights. I took my sweet time figuring out what had come over Grandma. (7.75)

When Grandma suspects that Mary Alice is worried about her growing old, she starts doing some serious chores without help—just to show her that she's an independent old woman and doesn't need to be fussed over.

Chapter 8

It would have been easier to get married in Chicago. I'd held on to the apartment in Rogers Park and took the El every morning down to the Tribune Tower to my cub reporter job…Though it meant I'd have to ride the wartime version of the Wabash Blue Bird, sitting on my luggage in the aisle, I knew I wanted to be married in Grandma's house. (8.3)

What's easy isn't always the best thing for you. That's what Mary Alice finds when she has to decide where to get married. She doesn't want to do it in Chicago; she wants to be with family, and for her, that's Grandma Dowdel.

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