Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Community

By Richard Peck

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Chapter 1

The story of Shotgun Cheatham's last night above ground kept The Coffee Pot Cafe fully engaged for the rest of our visit that summer. It was a story that grew in the telling in one of those little towns where there's always time to ponder all the different kinds of truth. (1.87)

The great thing about the story of Shotgun Cheatham's wake (and how Grandma shot him after he moved in the coffin) is that it's one of those tall tales that will inevitably get passed around town for years to come—until it takes on a mythical quality.

The Coffee Pot was where people went to loaf, talk tall, and swap gossip. Mary Alice and I were of some interest when we dropped by because we were kin of Mrs. Dowdel's, who never set foot in the place. She said she liked to keep herself to herself, which was uphill work in a town like that. (1.9)

The thing about being in a small town is that everyone knows each other—and they all talk about each other constantly. There's plenty of gossip to catch up on at The Coffee Pot, which is the most hoppin' place in town.

Grandma Dowdel

"They're pulling your leg, sonny. You drop by The Coffee Pot and tell them you heard that Shotgun's being buried from my house with full honors. He'll spend his last night above ground in my front room, and you're invited." (1.54)

Even though Grandma is rarely involved in all the gossip and hoopla around town, she decides to host Shotgun Cheatham's wake at her house. This surprises just about everyone because they all know how much Grandma likes to keep to herself.

Chapter 2

You had to study hard to see any expression at all, but it was a look I was coming to know. She appeared pretty satisfied at the way things had turned out. And she'd returned law and order to the town she claimed she didn't give two hoots about. (2.234)

Grandma Dowdel pretends that everyone in town annoys her and that she could do fine without any of them around, but she totally cares about keeping the community safe and sound. She just doesn't like to be called out on it.

Chapter 3

"What did she pay you, Grandma?"

"Pay? She didn't pay me a plug nickel. But she fed me." I thought about that.

"And now you feed her," I said, but Grandma didn't reply. (3.113-115)

It doesn't matter that Aunt Puss never paid Grandma Dowdel for her work. She took Grandma in when she really needed it, and now Grandma Dowdel is going to take care of Aunt Puss—to make sure that she doesn't starve.

Grandma Dowdel

"O.B. Dickerson, the sheriff," she said, "and them drunk skunks with him is the entire business community of the town."

Mary Alice gasped. The drawers on some of the business community were riding mighty low. "They're not acting right," she said, very prim. (3.75-76)

Grandma Dowdel and the kids aren't too impressed when they see all the "distinguished" men from town drunk and acting silly. These are the guys that are supposed to be the guardians of the town? What a joke.

Chapter 4
The Weidenbachs

Mrs. Weidenbach sighed. "Mrs. Dowdel, these are desperate times. Don't hide your light under a bushel. It's up to you to hold high the banner for our town."

Grandma putting herself out for the fame of the town? I thought Mrs. Weidenbach was on the wrong track. On the other hand, Grandma liked to win. (4.29-30)

Joey knows that Grandma doesn't care at all about representing the town with her pie, but she does care about winning. By appealing to her spirit of competition, Mrs. Weidenbach can convince her to enter the pie-making contest on behalf of the town.

Chapter 5
Grandma Dowdel

"There's no private matters in this town, Merle," Grandma said. "Everybody's private business is public property."

"Yes, and you've stuck your nose in ours!" Mrs. Stubbs said, speaking up sharp. "You got that Eubanks gal upstairs this minute." (5.137-138)

The thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows everyone else's business—and that's definitely the case when Mary Alice sneaks Vandalia into Grandma Dowdel's house.

Chapter 7

The stage was the bandstand in the park, lit with headlights running off car batteries. We chose a back bench because nobody wanted to sit behind Grandma. And we could see everybody from here. The audience was mostly town people because the farmers had all gone home to do their chores. But there was a good turnout. (7.144)

Despite her reservations about the whole thing, Grandma Dowdel does go to the Centennial Celebration with the kids. And it turns out that a lot of the other townspeople are out and about, too. They're all ready to celebrate with one another.

Grandma Dowdel

"The Centennial Celebration? Nothin' but an excuse for people to mill around, waste time, and make horses' patooties of themselves. I hope I never see another one." (7.8)

Grandma Dowdel is not the kind of person who is into fairs and big celebrations. She loves her community, but she's not into big shows or lots of activity; she'd rather just carry on with her everyday life.

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