Dad lost his job, so we'd had to give up the apartment. He and Mother were moving into a "light housekeeping" room. They could get it for seven dollars a week, with kitchen privileges, but it was only big enough for the two of them. (P.7)
When Mary Alice's parents move into a tiny room, they have to send her to Grandma Dowdel's to stay until they're all back on their feet financially. It's the only option they have, and it's probably because Mary Alice knows this is true that she goes along with it so easily. It's hard to imagine a modern teenager making such a sacrifice without complaint, isn't it? Or are we being uber-judgey? How would you react in this situation?
Oh, didn't I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad's Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma's town. The sandwich was still crumbs in my throat because I didn't have the dime for a bottle of pop. (1.1)
Even the trip to Grandma Dowdel's is miserable, and Mary Alice can't help but feel sorry for herself. After all, she doesn't even have enough money to buy a drink on the train. Can you relate? Have you had a similar experience?
Mary Alice Dowdel
"It doesn't matter, and there's plenty of room for you. High school's getting to be a luxury in times like these. So many boys have dropped out entirely, I don't know where I'll find five to play basketball, come winter, or to field the Christmas program." (1.43)
Clearly, Mary Alice's family isn't the only one that's hurting financially. When she registers for school, the principal mentions that high school has become a luxury. A luxury! Is that the way you view high school education?
Shamed though she was, Maxine had to go back to work at the post office. From the stamp counter she sent forth word that Arnold Green had deceived her. Her reputation was in ruins, and he'd have to marry her. (6.132)
Because Arnold Green has ruined Maxine's reputation, she thinks that he should give in and marry her to make it all right. What do you think? Is it only fair to expect him to make that kind of sacrifice? Did Maxine make a sacrifice when she agreed to pose nude for a portrait? As you think about this, consider the era. Does it make a difference that this happened in 1937? Why or why not? Does Grandma Dowdel think Arnold owes Maxine a proposal?
Spring and I stirred. For my sixteenth birthday present in March, Mother sent me a dollar, all folded up. I don't know where she got it. (6.1)
Mary Alice knows how hard her parents are working and how little money they have. Sending her a dollar must have meant some serious scrimping and saving. It's an enormously generous gift. How much would a 1937 dollar be worth today? We bet you can find out pretty fast if you want to.
I couldn't wait to get out of there. A block away I said, "Grandma, Old Man Nyquist's mean."
She nodded. "Nobody'll go near him. He'd have been wedged under them bedsprings till the next Republican administration."
Nobody'd go near him but Grandma. (7.45-47)
Grandma Dowdel doesn't like Old Man Nyquist anymore than the rest of the town does—but she's not going to let him rot away in his house after the tornado. She'll take one for the team and go save him, even if won't say one word of thanks. By the way, if it's 1937, how long will it be till the next Republican administration? Why does Grandma think it might be a while?
That meant I could come back whenever I could manage it. And she was telling me to go. She knew the decision was too big a load for me to carry by myself. She knew me through and through. She had eyes in the back of her heart. (7.107)
Because it's so hard for Mary Alice to make the choice to leave, Grandma Dowdel steps in and makes it for her. She tells her to go home to Chicago, and that she'll always have a place here if she wants to come and visit.
I wanted to explain to Grandma how she needed me here. I'd fuss about her if I wasn't here to see how she was. But she'd just spent days working herself into the ground to prove I was only in her way. She'd been helping me leave for a week. (7.96)
Grandma Dowdel has already anticipated what Mary Alice is going to say—and her reasons for wanting to stay. So she makes it a point to show her granddaughter that she's still as strong and hardy as ever, and doesn't need her help. Even though there's a big part of her that would love to keep her granddaughter around.
Mary Alice Dowdel
"Grandma, was I too much trouble?"
That went too far. But I was her granddaughter, and she'd taught me everything I knew, and I liked to win…
"What would your paw think if I kept you?" she said finally. "I don't want your maw after me." (7.100-103)
Mary Alice is her grandmother's granddaughter, and she's not about to give up so easily. She guilts her grandmother into telling the truth (more or less)—that she doesn't want Mary Alice to leave, but that she knows it's better for her to go home to Chicago.
It was in the last year of the war, and you can't imagine how things were then. The war scattered people to the four winds. Joey was flying B-17 Fortress missions over Germany, and so my heart lived in my mouth. Dad was doing work with Boeing out in Seattle. He and Mother were living there. Travel was next to impossible, so they couldn't be there. Even the bridegroom's family couldn't come to the wedding. (8.2)
The war makes it so that Mary Alice can't have her whole family there for her wedding—and neither can the bridegroom. (Psst! It's Royce!) But they'll take their lumps and move on, because they have no other options. When life gives you lemons? Get married. And serve lemonade at the reception.