Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Family

By Ruth White

Family

Even though Aunt Belle was Mama's sister, I had seen very little of her and Woodrow in my whole life. I had the idea from somewhere that there had been some kind of rift between the two sisters years ago, but when I asked Mama about it, she said, "Of course not! We were close. We loved each other." (1.21)

Families are complicated. Even though Belle and Love grew up with each other and were close, they haven't been able to mend their rift since Love married Amos… who was Belle's boyfriend first.

"Can we do this on my birthday?" Woodrow suddenly blurted out when there was a quiet moment.

Then, seeming to regret his boldness, he ducked his head into his plate and blushed scarlet.

There came a chorus of replies:

"Certainly!"

"Of course!"

"Naturally!" (4.37-42)

Woodrow is embarrassed that he asked for his own birthday celebration, but the family jumps in to let him know that he's one of them. They're happy to bring him into the fold and make him feel loved and cared for.

Granny and Grandpa stood up and greeted Uncle Everett and offered him a seat, which he took. At least he took the edge of it, where he perched, and didn't appear any too comfortable. I could barely remember him being in this room once… maybe twice before, and it occurred to me for the first time that it could be Uncle Everett felt self-conscious with us, just like Woodrow had felt that day in his oversized pants with the rope holding them up, and me in my frilly dress. (9.13)

Even after all these years, it's clear that Uncle Everett doesn't really consider himself a part of Belle's family. He gets awkward and self-conscious every time he's around them, even when they're being nice.

"Then Woodrow was born, and we went to see him. She was nicer to us, so we went back now and again. And we would give her books, because that was the only thing she would take from us.

"We figured out she was embarrassed with her living conditions, so we didn't go as often. Ever' now and then we'd bump into her and Woodrow down on Main Street doing some shopping, and she was friendly enough. Then one Decoration Day the two of them came to the ceremonies at the cemetery to put flowers on the family graves." (13.51-52)

It takes a long time for Aunt Belle to become friendly with her parents and sister again. And she never quite gets to the point where she can feel comfortable being close with them again. The whole thing with Love and Amos has hurt her too much.

"Well, let's see. You remind me a whole lot of your Aunt Belle, the way you're so talented with music."

It was the second time that summer I had heard that, and it tickled me.

"And you're wonderfully imaginative and creative like her. But she was mad at the world because she wasn't Love. You're also a fine person in your own right. Nobody can outshine you if you can just be yourself. Belle never learned that, and it caused her a lot of grief." (16.116-118)

Because Gypsy never got to know her Aunt Belle well, she's happy to hear about how they are similar in temperament and talent. She can even learn from her aunt's mistakes.

"Porter Dotson?" Mr. Collins said. "Yes, he is one person I have met since I've been here. A very fine man."

"Not as fine as my real daddy!" (17.81-82)

Whenever someone says a nice word about Porter Dotson, Gypsy has to come in and defend her real father. It's almost as if she feels that by letting him into her family, she's being unfaithful to her father's memory.

Later Grandpa came over to see me in my room and brought me a big piece of chocolate cake and a glass of milk. He didn't even mention my hair, but he confided in me that Woodrow had thrashed Buzz soundly, and it was about time somebody did. We were proud of Woodrow, but we decided to keep it a secret, because you couldn't let a thing like that leak out. (19.26)

Gypsy and her family remain tight-knit, supporting each other even when one of them does something that's technically wrong. Grandpa even tells her that he's proud of Woodrow for getting into a fight at school.

I caught Woodrow's eye and gave him a quick wink. A funny smile was playing around the corners of his mouth, and I could almost hear him saying, "Nice goin', Gypsy."

I think in that moment I knew me and Woodrow would be friends for life. We had something. We understood each other. (20.51-52)

The nice thing about having family is around is that they're going to be there for life. Gypsy knows that having a cousin like Woodrow is definitely a gift—these two just understand and support each other no matter what.

"Boys at the hardware store is like family to me," Benny said. "I live in a room up over the store, y'know. I have your mama and poppy to thank for that, Gypsy." (21.25)

Blind Benny is so loyal to Amos because he gave Benny what he'd never had before—a caring family. Even though the guys who work at the hardware store aren't actually related to Blind Benny, they're the closest thing he has to a real family, and they look after him no matter what.

"I want to propose a special toast to Mother Ball, my good mother-in-law and granny to these children. Then I have an announcement. The toast first: Here's to a fine woman, wife, mother, homemaker, and a talented music teacher! We salute you, Mother Ball," he said. (22.12)

How can Gypsy even pretend that Porter isn't a part of the family? He's obviously proven himself not just as a husband to Love, but as a caring son-in-law to Love's parents and a patient stepfather to Gypsy. He's a good egg.

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