Mary Alice pitched a fit. It meant another week of summer vacation away from her friends, Beverly and Audrey. Besides, she said she wasn't over last year's visit yet. (2.2)
In true little kid fashion, Mary Alice throws a tantrum when she learns that they're going to Grandma Dowdel's for a week again. She'd much rather spend her summer vacation in Chicago with her friends.
"I suppose it beats starving," Aunt Puss snapped. "But hop to it, girl. Stir yer stumps."
I thought I might faint again. Nobody could talk to Grandma like that and live. (3.105-106)
Grandma Dowdel doesn't accept disrespect from anyone, so the kids are horrified to see how Aunt Puss talks to her. But, it turns out, they've known each other for so long that Grandma lets her get away with it.
Mary Alice Dowdel
"A starved seventeen," Mary Alice said. "And she needs a friend." Then her jaw clamped shut in Grandma's own way, and she didn't say anything else all the way home. (5.44)
Even though Mary Alice hasn't ever hung out with Vandalia (and there's a big age difference between them), she still decides to befriend the girl. After all, Vandalia needs a friend more than anyone else right now.
"Vandalia. You've got her. She didn't come home last night, and she ain't at work today. She was seen comin' in this house. That girl done brought her." Miz Eubanks poked a finger in Mary Alice's face, which was frozen with fear. (5.100)
Again, Vandalia isn't an old family friend or anything…but Grandma Dowdel, Joey, and Mary Alice are still willing to risk their necks for her. She needs people who'll stand in her corner.
Grandma came to the depot with us on the day we were going home. But she wasn't there to see us off. She was there to meet Mrs. Effie Wilcox, who was coming home to her house. (6.153)
Grandma Dowdel is ready and waiting to welcome Mrs. Wilcox home when she gets her house back. She may not throw her a surprise party or bake her a cake, but she's there to help out when it counts.
But then somehow Mary Alice and I and our suitcase were on board, and Mrs. Wilcox was on the platform, and the Blue Bird was pulling out. Grandma didn't wave. Mrs. Wilcox was telling her something. (6.155)
It's obvious as the kids take off on the train that Grandma Dowdel and Mrs. Wilcox are totally happy to be reunited. They didn't want to spend the rest of their old age apart, forced to live in different towns.
But she wasn't there to meet us. She was seeing somebody off. A lady was climbing up into the car behind ours. We caught only a squint in the dazzling light, but knew the hat. It was Mrs. Effie Wilcox. With a powerful arm, Grandma swung Mrs. Wilcox's bulging valise aboard, then a picnic hamper. (6.2)
When Effie Wilcox is kicked out of her home because she can't make payments, Grandma Dowdel is the one who sees her off at the station…even though the two women have had their disagreements in the past.
"She's Grandma's worst enemy. She says Mrs. Wilcox's tongue is attached in the middle and flaps at both ends. The town'll be quieter without her, and Grandma will like that."
"You don't know anything," Mary Alice said. "Men don't have any idea about women." (6.11-12)
Joey has assumed that Grandma Dowdel hates Mrs. Wilcox, but Mary Alice sets him straight. He just doesn't get how female friendships work, and especially has no clue about the relationship between Grandma and Mrs. Wilcox.
Grandma turned to the other rocker. "Can I borrow Uncle Grady for the day on Saturday, Aunt Mae?" she howled.
"You sure can, honey," Aunt Mae said. "In fact, you can keep him!" She'd heard every word and grinned broadly. (7.136-137)
Growing up in a small town means that Grandma knows just about everyone and has long-established friendships with them. She even knows all the old people who haven't left their own homes in decades.
Grandma was there, watching through the watches of the night for the train to pass through. She couldn't know what car I was in, but her hand was up, and she was waving—waving big at all the cars, hoping I'd see.
And I waved back. I waved long after the window filled with darkness and long distance. (8.6-8.7)
Even though she knows that the army train won't stop as it rides through her town, Grandma stays up all night—and keeps all the lights on—so that she can wave at Joey. She wants him to know that she's watching for him…and that she loves him.