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."
"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
We already have a good mother, Dicey said angrily to
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
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
"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.
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?"
"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
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."
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.