Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Competition

By Richard Peck

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Chapter 4
Grandma Dowdel

"The best home-baker in the state of Illinois," Grandma said. "Him and me come up together out in the country, so I know."

Mrs. Weidenbach quaked. Even Mary Alice looked concerned.

"I'm a goner," said Grandma. (4.71-73)

The fact that Grandma knows her competitor makes the whole thing even more nerve-wracking. She knows that Mr. Pennypacker isn't some amateur baker. He's really good at what he does.

Grandma's sleeves were already turned back, or she'd be turning them back now. She pointed at me. "Scoot uptown and bring me a twenty-five-pound sack of sugar. Tell them to stick it on my bill. After that I want every gooseberry off them bushes out back." She turned on Mary Alice. "And you're going to learn a thing or two about pie crust." (4.39)

If Grandma Dowdel is going to enter the pie competition, then she's going to make sure that she wins. She's going to be baking pies up until the very last minute so that she gets the recipe just right.

Mary Alice Dowdel

"Shoot," Mary Alice said. "After all that pie crust I rolled out." In a way I was relieved. But then I saw my one and only chance for a plane ride crash and burn. (4.88)

Joey is quite dismayed by the appearance of this other beautiful pie, too. He doesn't necessarily care about the pie contest, but he does want to get a ride in an airplane—which is the prize if Grandma Dowdel's pie wins.

We tried and tried again. Grandma grew careful about balancing her ingredients, holding the measuring cup up to the light. She was like a scientist seeking the cure for something. I had to go back uptown for more sugar and then another big can of Crisco. And we had to sample them all in search for the perfect pie. Mary Alice says she's never since been able to look a gooseberry in the face. (4.42)

The kids help Grandma Dowdel with her gooseberry pie exploits, but it's not easy. She forces them to taste test so many pies that they've had enough pie for an entire lifetime…and can't stand the taste of gooseberry afterward.

When she got to her own pie, Grandma froze. Next to it was another lattice-topped gooseberry pie. There was no doubt about it. Only gooseberries are that shade of gray-green. And it was a very nice-looking pie. The edges of its pastry were as neatly crimped as Grandma's. Maybe better. (4.67)

To Grandma Dowdel's great dismay, there's another gooseberry pie in the competition—and it looks pretty darn delicious. This makes the whole family sweat; what if her pie isn't the best one?

Joey Dowdel

"And I thought you'd switched the card on Mr. Pennypacker's pie with yours so you could win with his pie."

She shot me her sternest look. But then easing back in the platform rocker, she said, "I did." (4.129-130)

At the end of the day, Joey confronts Grandma about having switched the two pies before the competition. She admits that she did do that…and thus reveals that if she had just stuck with her own pie, she would have won first prize.

Chapter 7
Grandma Dowdel

"You want me to swab out toilets while you run your old daddy for Oldest Settler and your nephew for public speaker. Or did my ears deceive me?" (7.73)

As soon as Mrs. Weidenbach asks Grandma Dowdel to clean up at the Centennial Celebration, she gets up in arms. She's not going to let this snooty woman and her family take all the prizes.

After a moment of stunned silence the crowd was on its feet. They were getting up on their benches and clapping over their heads in applause like summer thunder.

Grandma stood. Patting her back hair in a satisfied way, she said, "We don't need to stay to the end." (7.165-166)

When Mary Alice finishes her dance at the talent show, it's obvious from the thunderous applause that she's won. There's no doubt that she's taking home first place…and Grandma Dowdel is pleased as pie.

Of course Mrs. Weidenbach knew we were right behind her, crabbing her act with an older settler than her daddy. And her reciting nephew had finished out of the money at the talent show, so she was already upset and off her feed with us. (7.187)

Mrs. Weidenbach is a competitive woman, too, and she certainly does not appreciate Grandma Dowdel and her crew stealing all the glory. But there's nothing she can do about it; Grandma Dowdel has already made up her mind to win all the prizes.

All of Mrs. Weidenbach's friends stood to clap, and they were joined by everybody who owed the bank money. The boy kept bowing.

"That made me about half-sick," Grandma remarked. (7.156-157)

It's pretty pathetic to see everyone clapping for Mrs. Weidenbach's nephew at the talent show. It's obvious to Grandma Dowdel that they're only supporting him because they're afraid of the bank taking away their homes.

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