Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Chapter 3

By Richard Peck

Chapter 3

A One-Woman Crime Wave (1931)

  • The following year, the kids go to stay with Grandma again. This time, it's the midst of the Great Depression, and there are signs around telling drifters to keep moving on.
  • Mary Alice checks out Grandma's cobhouse (her little building outside the house) and says that something has died in it…but Grandma says that's just the smell of the cheese. As usual, she doesn't elaborate on this strange tidbit of information.
  • Usually, Grandma's house is really quiet at night, but this year, they can hear the sounds of people walking down the street.
  • There are lots of drifters passing through town, and the sheriff's men are herding them along so that they don't stop and go begging for food.
  • The next morning, Grandma wakes them up at 5 a.m. and announces that they're going on a picnic. She has Joey carry a hamper filled to the brim with food and carts along a bag of cheese.
  • She takes them onto some land with a "no trespassing" sign and then gets on a boat…one that's definitely not hers. The children follow her because they don't know what else to do.
  • As they're riding down the creek, a snake falls out of a tree and lands inside, causing Joey to faint. When he comes to, Mary Alice informs him that Grandma just grabbed the thing and killed it.
  • Grandma just carries on down the river and fishes, catching all sorts of catfish with cheese as bait. The kids can tell that what they're doing is illegal and resolve never to tell their parents.
  • They pass by the Rod & Gun Club, which is the name of the business that owns this land, and find that there's a bunch of men sitting around drunk as skunks…including Sheriff Dickerson.
  • He spots them and freaks out because that's his boat they're riding down the creek on—and they didn't have his permission.
  • But Grandma doesn't stop; she just keeps rowing along as if she didn't hear him. And finally, they reach a dilapidated old house where an old woman named Puss Chapman lives.
  • It turns out that Puss used to be Grandma's employer and fed her when she didn't have anything in the world…and now, Grandma comes by to feed her.
  • The kids realize that Grandma goes to feed Puss once a week but that she never told anyone because she considers it her private business.
  • By the time they get home that night, the kids are exhausted from carrying the big picnic basket (which is still filled to the brim, with catfish).
  • But instead of letting them go to bed, Grandma tells Joey to go fetch her homemade beer and says that she and Mary Alice will prepare the catfish and potatoes.
  • When it's all ready, they lug the food and beer outside and set it up on a card table along the track where the drifters will pass through that night.
  • The sheriff is completely annoyed when he sees that Grandma intends to feed the drifters, but she's adamant. She's going to give them something to eat because it's been a while for some of them.
  • He is all enraged because she's feeding the homeless and stole his boat earlier, but she warns him that she could tell everyone about seeing him drunk and dancing at the Rod & Gun Club—and being awfully undignified for a man of the law.
  • The sheriff has nothing to say to that, so Grandma, Joey, and Mary Alice feed the drifters until all their food is gone…and then, they pack it all up and go back inside.

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