Eastern United States
in the Summer of 1981
places they go. The
Tillermans travel far and wide in their journey to find a home and someone to
care for them, and in the end, they've learned the difference between a place
to live and a place to call home.
Home Sweet Home
Life for the Tillerman kids starts out at their home in Provincetown.
Sure, it's a little rundown, but it's right by the ocean, so Dicey loves it:
but our house was out in the dunes. We had the ocean. Our house was nicer than
the ones other people wanted."
"The bathtub was
in the kitchen," James reminded her. "It was small, even smaller than
would have lived in it. Only us. Some of the kids said their parents thought it
should be torn down."
"What do I care
what people say?" Dicey asked.
"They called it a
shack," James went on.
"I liked it,"
Dicey said. "The ocean's better than fancy bathrooms, any day." (1.2.88-94)
Dicey insists time and again that their home was happy.
Other folks might not feel content with their families, but Dicey always did,
so even though the house was small and awkward inside, they have good memories
of the place. In Provincetown, Dicey learned that a house doesn't make a home—you
can live in a shack and still feel loved and happy.
Moving on Up (Sort
Cousin Eunice's house in Bridgeport is a let down right
away. Dicey imagines that it's a "big white house that face[s] over the
water" (1.7.9), but it doesn't turn out to be any of those things. The
house is small—probably too small for four kids to live in—and nowhere near the
ocean. Oh, man:
It was one
of a long row of houses that stretched down treeless streets. It was a small
house, shingled with gray asphalt. Three concrete steps led up to the plain
front door. On one side of the door, two windows faced the street. There were
thin curtains on the windows and you couldn't see in. The house looked
flat-faced and empty. (1.8.174)
Not exactly a welcoming façade, is it? And the inside is fussy. Eunice lived
with her mother, so everything is a bit outdated, and there are little
religious icons everywhere. Eunice is also funny about when and how each room
should be cleaned—she likes routine and order and the house is a reflection of
that. Eunice also doesn't want the Tillerman kids disturbing her home, so they
need to be careful and not break anything or be a bother.
Wow, it doesn't seem like this lady has ever even met a kid.
Home at Last
Abigail's house in Crisfield is a whole different story.
Sure, it's rundown and neglected, but Dicey sees the potential right away:
sat behind a small orchard, and beyond it, a barn was slowly falling down. The
house was faded white clapboard, two stories high, and had a screened porch all
along the front that ran around the sides . The roof, gray slate, slanted down
in four directions from a central peak. Two chimneys stuck up through the roof.
The house was silent,
vacant, neglected […]
One larger tree grew
right up in front of the house, hiding the front door, shading the lawn. This
tree looked like an umbrella, held overhead by four trunks that spread out from
their common source. Its broad leaves made a green canopy against the sunlight.
It wouldn't be a good climbing tree, Dicey thought, walking up to it and past
it, but you could make a platform tree house to rest on the four trunks and
build steps out of pieces of wood to go up one trunk. Then, you would have a
house like a boat, almost floating on air, and the long, leafy branches
stretching above like sails. (2.7.117-119)
The house is big and has enough bedrooms for all of them, there's
a barn with a sailboat inside, there are fresh crops growing, it's right by the
water, the kids can catch crabs in traps… This place is like a dream come true.
When Dicey and her siblings make a plan to win over their
grandmother so she'll let them stay, they start with the house. The whole place
has been neglected and shut out from the world—just like their grandmother (for
more on this, read up on honeysuckle over in the "Symbols" section).
If the kids can rehab the house, surely they can rehab this old lady.
The contrast between a setting like Cousin Eunice's house
and Abigail's house underscores Dicey's connection to the outdoors, especially
the ocean. When the kids walk down highways and through commercial districts,
they see everything as dirty, gray, and impersonal—but their mood and their luck
improves when they're in the woods or by the water. Nature brings them joy, so
you know the only place they can really find a home is some place where nature
has had a chance to run a little wild. Abigail's house fits the bill perfectly.