Study Guide

Homecoming Family

By Cynthia Voigt

Family

"Do you remember him?" James insisted.

"A little."

"Tell," Maybeth asked.

Dicey gathered together her few memories, like scattered marbles. "He was tall and dark-haired, with hazel eyes like Momma's. We all have eyes like theirs. James reminds me of him, and I guess I do too. You little ones look more like Momma. He had a skinny head, like James and me. He had a big, loud laugh. He built our beds for us."

"I know that," James said.

"I remember him picking me up and sitting me on his shoulders. He'd call me his little only. I don't know why." (1.3.121-126)

Remembering is an important part of family. Dicey is the only one old enough to remember their father, so she tells the little kids about him so they can have a connection with him, too, even if it's only via someone else's memory.

"What do you think I should do if—"

His eyes turned to her. "I honestly don't know. Except stick together, all of you. That's the most important thing."

Dicey agreed.

"If you can," he said. "If you are able to. You might not be able to." (1.8.163-166)

Stewart is pretty smart. The kids have each other and they need to hang onto that. Sure, they might not be able to, but they've got to do their darnedest to stay a family. Heck, that's what this trip was all about, right?

What was wrong with her grandmother? Dicey didn't ask aloud. She sat silent for a while. "What a family," she finally said.

"You shouldn't judge unless you've been there and known what actually went on," Father Joseph said.

"Come on," Dicey protested. (1.11.50-52)

Well, Dicey is kind of right—their family is pretty messed up, and the kids are the ones who have to pay for it. We say judge away, girl.

"You will be like a family of my own. If I'd had a daughter, she might be just your age. You'll grow up and have children of your own. So that when I'm older, I won't be alone. Just as Mother wasn't alone. In a way, I'm glad about this. Aren't you? And you children will have a good mother."

We already have a good mother, Dicey said angrily to herself. (1.11.178-179)

Cousin Eunice may be a relative, but she's not the kind of family Dicey and her siblings need. Sure, their mom might be negligent, but they aren't looking for a replacement for her. And, of course, Eunice just can't help but make this all about her. 

"Why do Tillermans always live alone?"

"We don't. We live together."

"Together, but all alone together," James said.

"Maybe every family feels that way," Dicey said. "Maybe that's what families are."

"I don't know," James said. "I don't think so."

This is a really interesting exchange. People are alone, but they live together. Dicey wonders if loneliness isn't just part of life. But, James isn't so sure—maybe their family is unique in being so messed up. There may be a chance for them yet.

"We can't stay here, you said so. So there's no point in hanging around. I've got my family to get back to."

"I said sleep. There's no reason not to sleep here, is there?"

"Yes," Dicey said. "I think there is." Why should James and Maybeth and Sammy have to be disappointed.

"I'm family too," her grandmother said. (2.8.26-29)

Dicey has an obligation to her family, but as Abigail points out, she's family, too. Hmmm… we'll see how this turns out.

"Are you the grandmother?" Sammy asked.

Their grandmother nodded.

"What am I s'posed to call you?" Sammy asked.

Dicey hadn't even thought of this. Neither, apparently, had their grandmother. She didn't answer Sammy. She pretended she hadn't heard him. "Let's get back," she said. (2.8.71-74)

Okay, so Abigail is family, but she's not exactly cozying up to the whole <em>grandma</em> label. She's looking to keep these kids at a distance and it would help if she could deny that they were her flesh and blood for just a little while longer.

"Paper mulberry," her grandmother answered.

Dicey noticed from above what could not be seen from below. There were strong twisted wires running around the tree. "Why is it wired?" she asked.

"Because paper mulberries are fragile," her grandmother answered. "It's the way they spread out at the top, it's the way they grow. If you didn't brace it, the weight of the leaves and the growing branches would pull the tree apart. Like families." (2.8.127-129)

Yup, the Tillermans sure have fractured. Maybe Abigail will try to keep this family together after all, just like that old paper mulberry.

Her grandmother was looking at her. "Doesn't he get punished?" she asked.

Dicey wanted to go along with her, so that she would like the Tillermans and let them stay on her farm. She wanted to agree so badly that she had trouble saying the words to argue. But she had given Sammy her word, and Maybeth. She had said she'd stand up for them. And she had learned that she had to do what she thought was right for her family, not what someone else thought. (2.9.225-226)

What's even more important than finding a home? Family. Dicey learn with Cousin Eunice that she needs to stand by her siblings, so she won't just go along to make her grandma happy. She has to stick by her nearest and dearest instead.

But do you know what I said to her, just before she left this house? She was twenty-one then and her father couldn't stop her. I said—'We don't want to hear anything from you until we hear that you've been married.' He was right beside me then and I knew it was what he would say. So I was the one to say it, because I didn't want her thinking I wouldn't stand by him. I had to stand by him—he was my husband. Do you know what she said? She said, 'I'll never get married.' She wasn't angry. She never fought, not your mother. She was gentle—like Maybeth. Your father wasn't a fighter, either. I don't know where you get it from because you are."

Dicey knew where she got it from, but she had a more urgent question. "Why didn't Momma want to get married?"

"She had seen what happens. She didn't want to give her word, like I did. We keep our promises, we Tillermans. We keep them hard." (2.11.37-39)

And a messed up family claims another victim. Abigail had to cast her daughter off because of the promises she made to her husband, and that's why Liza never wanted to get married. She didn't want to choose her family and then come to regret it like her mother had.

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