One Crazy Summer Summary
When Delphine and her two younger sisters, Fern and Vonetta, head out to Oakland to meet up with their runaway mom after four years, they're not sure what to expect. Will Cecile greet them with a big hug?
Yeah, nope. In fact, she doesn't seem keen on getting lovey-dovey at all, instead sending the girls to Black Panther summer camp everyday. (Fun fact: This book is set in the 1960s.) This isn't your average foursquare-playing, lanyard-making, starting a vicious prank war against the cabin next door only to discover your long-lost twin lives there summer camp, either.
But it's not what the girls expect from the fighters for Black Power either. Delphine might have heard on the street that the Black Panthers are known for violence, but that's not what she and her sisters get a taste of at the camp. They join tons of other kids and a kind, welcoming teacher who teaches them lessons about unity and taking care of the planet. The closest to violence they come is learning to protect themselves against it and learning what their rights are in case someone (ahem, police included) decides to target them because of the color of their skin.
Which isn't to say it's all sunshine and rainbows. Members of the Black Panthers intimidate Cecile into using her little printing press to make flyers for them, and one of them incessantly makes fun of the girls for not being "black enough"—but they also provide a place for kids to go all day during the summer. They feed them, teach them, and keep them from getting into bigger trouble, which abounds in run-down Oakland.
Delphine isn't just surprised that the Black Panthers aren't who she expected them to be, though; her mom isn't who Delphine anticipated, either. Cecile sends Delphine out to the local Chinese food joint to get dinner every night instead of cooking for them. She's super particular about no one going in the kitchen—ever. She has a printing press in there where she prints her poems under the pen name Nzila.
Over the summer, Delphine wears Cecile down on her strict rules. She's not warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Delphine is allowed to venture into the kitchen and cook dinner every night so they don't have to eat greasy food anymore. Plus, Cecile gets the girls a radio to entertain them.
One day, Cecile gets arrested, simply for her poems. It turns out the police don't like people hearing how much power black people should have, so they lock Cecile up and throw away the key. Delphine and her sisters stay with a friend from camp until their mom is released from jail. They are performing at a big political rally on the weekend and have to rehearse anyway; together, they recite one of their mom's poems about black power. Everyone hoots and hollers, especially Cecile who's let out of jail just in time to see the girls have their fifteen minutes of fame.
Delphine and Cecile decide to keep in touch now that the summer's done. Cecile still doesn't really want to be a mom and take care of the girls, but Delphine isn't as angry with her anymore either. She knows Cecile cares a lot about Black Power and is working hard for the cause.
Cassius Clay Clouds
- We open on a plane. Delphine (our narrator) and her sisters are on a plane and it's a bumpy ride.
- The title of the chapter, it turns out, references the turbulence that they're going through.
- The narrator comforts her sisters, so we know she's the caretaker.
- The narrator has this idea that the clouds are causing the turbulence, and even though she knows she's not totally right about the clouds, she keeps on telling tall tales about fighting clouds.
- The narrator thinks about her caretakers, Pa and Big Ma (Pa's Ma), who will be worried about them making a "grand Negro spectacle" of themselves. You can almost reach out and grab the air quotes around that phrase.
- Delphine goes into a little thing about whether people call the famous boxer Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali, which sets our story firmly in the mid-1960s (he changed his name in 1964 (source)). Consider yourselves warned that names are a big deal in this book.
- Then Delphine remembers their dad dropping them off. Apparently they're off to Oakland to visit someone named Cecile.
- Pa's not too excited about it, though.
- The girls have high expectations of California. You know, sunshine, beaches, Disneyland, but there's some tension around Cecile, it seems. Big Ma, for one, doesn't feel great about the girls going out to see her (and that's putting it mildly).
- Then again, Big Ma doesn't like change.
- Cecile, it turns out, left Pa and the girls on their own back in Brooklyn. She's the girls' mom, but she hasn't acted like one.
- Delphine doesn't remember much about Cecile and really only hears about her from Uncle Darnell.
- Anyway, they've been put on the plane with $200 cash for Disneyland, emergency phone numbers, and lots of hugs and kisses.
- With that, we're all caught up.
Golden Gate Bridge
- The narrator reflects a bit on their flight: Fern's young, Vonetta's naïve, but Delphine? She's the responsible one—she looks way older than her mature age of eleven.
- Wait, eleven?
- Yep. She's wise and responsible for her years.
- But then the captain announces that you can see the Golden Gate Bridge out the window, and our narrator wants to squeal and act like a little kid again.
- The narrator tries to get Vonetta to look, but she won't do it. Stubborn kid.
- Fern, on the other hand, is more than happy to lean over everyone to take a gander.
- The airplane keeps circling and the narrator can't help herself—she leans over her sister to get a peek at the bridge.
- At this point we learn the narrator's name because Vonetta shouts it out in a fit: Delphine.
- The stir brings a stewardess (not "flight attendant") over to scold Delphine for not having her seat belt on and seat back in the upright position.
- With this, Delphine feels as if she has disgraced her entire race. Talk about pressure.
- As they head in for their final landing, we'd like to be the first to welcome them to Oakland.
Secret Agent Mother
- On the ground, Vonetta feels more comfortable than Fern and asks the million-dollar question that's on everybody's minds: What do they call Cecile?
- Mom? Ma? Cecile? Hey, you?
- Delphine has an answer of course: Cecile is "Cecile" and when they describe her to other people, they call her "Mother," a plain, dry, factual word.
- The girls wait with a stewardess for Cecile to pick them up, but it takes a bit longer than expected.
- While they wait, a large white woman comes by and praises them for being adorable and well-behaved.
- The lady even offers them money for being good. Delphine thinks this has more to do with race than anything else—in other words, the lady is surprised black children are behaving so well, which is super racist.
- The girls finally spot Cecile over at the cigarette machine (you know, since it's the 1960s so cigarette machines are all over the place, including inside airports).
- Delphine doesn't actually know what Cecile looks like, but she just has a sense that the woman lurking behind the smokes is her mother.
- Delphine is right; it is Cecile. No hugs or fuss from her, though—Cecile looks a little intimidating, especially because she's dressed like a secret agent. Or at least that's how Delphine describes it.
- Cecile doesn't offer to carry bags, or even slow down her walking to let the girls keep up. Not the warmest or most helpful of mothers…
- Cecile selects a cab whose driver is wearing a black beret. This is the standard garb for the Black Panthers.
- The driver even seems to know her, and calls her something like "Zilla." Wait a minute… We thought her name was Cecile.
- A short, silent ride later they get out and start walking.
- It seems like Cecile doesn't want to be seen with her daughters. Cue the sad awkward silence.
- Then they get on the bus.
- Cecile orders them to go sit in the back while she bargains with the bus driver over the rate.
- They have to spend a whole month with this lady, and already Delphine can't stand her.
Green Stucco House
- Delphine remembers another of Big Ma's descriptions of Cecile: that she lives on the street, and a park bench is her home.
- Specifically, Delphine remembers hearing this when she was six years old and wondering why her mother would rather live on a bench than at home with her.
- Delphine eventually learned that Big Ma's words were not to be taken literally, but she still expected that Cecile was in dire straights.
- That's why the girls are so surprised when they arrive at Cecile's big green stucco house. It isn't huge, and it certainly isn't opulent, but it's definitely worlds above a park bench.
- When they go in the house, Cecile points them in the direction of their room and then pretty clearly wants to be done with them. It's a bit cold if you ask us, and the girls certainly feel this, too.
- Delphine goes through a mental checklist all the new facts she knows about her mother—secret agent disguise, pencils in her hair (did we mention those?), prickly stucco house, cryptic dialogue, weird fake name (Zilla?) and generally defying all expectations her daughters have of her—and determines Cecile is crazy.
- The girls head to their room, pick beds, and then talk amongst themselves about their mother.
Mean Lady Ming
- What's that growl we hear? Yep, the girls are hungry.
- Sadly, Cecile is like a deer in headlights. It apparently hasn't occurred to her that she'll actually have to care for these… these… things…a.k.a. her kids.
- Luckily Delphine has learned to be pretty assertive over the years and demands food for her and her sisters.
- They haven't eaten all day, and airline food doesn't count, says Vonetta.
- Cecile knows Pa gave the girls some money and demands they hand it over so she can pay for their food. We're talking all of it, every penny.
- When the girls protest that the cash was for Disneyland, Cecile just laughs. They aren't going to the happiest place on earth.
- Delphine hands over the money, though not without a good old fashioned stare-down.
- With that, Cecile sends them off to Ming's, a nearby Chinese restaurant to get take-out.
- Now, Shmoop has nothing against Chinese take-out, especially for next-day breakfast, but Delphine makes a good point that this is not a very motherly thing to do. Can't Cecile make them some chicken at the very least?
- She drives this point home by once again pointing the girls in the right direction and telling them to find their own way.
- Delphine says they should call Pa to let them know they're in safe and sound, so Cecile directs them to a pay phone on the way.
- No food? No phone? No apparent concern for the girls' well-being? Delphine does not feel very welcomed. Can't say we blame her.
- Cecile also orders them to get paper plates and stuff because she doesn't want dirty dishes.
- Then she lets them know that none of them can step foot in her kitchen—no way, no how. Okay…
- On the walk the girls get to do some good people watching, at least.
- And if there's one thing you can say about California, the weather is great. You can't beat the weather.
- There are a lot of kids around, too.
- One kid in particular comes screaming by them on top of a "flying T."
- His speed makes the girls jump out of the way, which leaves a bad taste in Delphine's mouth (luckily, she'll be getting Lo Mein soon).
- Before going to Ming's, they head over to the pay phone, but it's occupied.
- Delphine discerningly (read: judgmentally) looks over the man in the booth, noting in particular his afro haircut.
- To her, this makes him look like a criminal (more on this over in our "Themes" section).
- So they walk into Ming's and a Chinese woman behind the counter immediately shoos them away, actually calling them "stray cats" and shouting something about no more free eggrolls.
- Needless to say, the girls are a bit confused—they never got any free egg rolls.
- Surprisingly, it's Vonetta and Fern who take charge. They step right up and order the food, heads held high, sure to point out that they never asked for free eggrolls.
- Apparently the woman is "Mean Lady Ming" and she marks the last straw for Delphine: She decides there is nothing and no one in Oakland to like.
- The girls leave Ming's and crowd into the now empty phone booth.
- Delphine talks to an operator and says she wants to place a collect call to her father, Louis Gaither. (She calls by name, not by number. Ah, the salad days).
- Big Ma picks up and immediately scolds Delphine for calling collect—that's when the person you're calling gets charged instead of you—and for being out by themselves without Cecile.
- Well, so much for comfort. But at least they called to check in, like they promised they would.
- Delphine cuts to being back at Cecile's, a tablecloth on the floor and Cecile doling out Lo Mein.
- Delphine is especially surprised when she sees Cecile break out some chopsticks and start eating with them. Successfully. She's never seen anything like it before.
- Dinner passes without conversation. Crickets…
- As Cecile cleans up, she's once again careful to tell the girls to stay out of the kitchen. (What is in the freaking kitchen?)
- Bang. A loud, foreboding knock comes at the door.
- Delphine doesn't see much before they're sent back to their room—just some people in dark clothes and Afros. Hmm… could that be the Black Panthers?
For the People
- The girls huddle against the door and try to listen in on what's going on. (Oh, come on—don't act like you've never done it.)
- Delphine hears Cecile frantically cleaning up all traces of having visitors (a.k.a. her daughters) around, more proof in Delphine's mind that Cecile doesn't want her and her sisters there.
- It's also further proof to Delphine that Cecile is a bit crazy; perhaps she's even hiding from someone.
- The girls glimpse three people wearing all black and black berets.
- They can't hear much, though, only tone of voice and a few words here and there.
- But Delphine gets the sense that the three are pressuring Cecile into doing something "for the people." Doesn't sound like a bad thing, right? But then again, the pressure is intimidating.
- The three say more about the people and Cecile counters with her art. These are, apparently, opposing viewpoints.
- Delphine starts to recognize these people as Black Panthers. She knows that the Panthers work to provide services like food and clothing to the black community—but she also knows that they carry rifles and people are afraid of them.
- Delphine notices that Cecile doesn't seem afraid, only annoyed that they want to use her materials and art for their purposes.
- Then Delphine hears them call Cecile "INzila," like when the cab driver called her "Zilla" back at the airport. Turns out Cecile is a Panther, too, with another name.
- The argument goes on, though we only get to hear what Delphine understands of it, which isn't everything.
- She gets the gist, though, which is that the Black Panthers are pushing an agenda for their cause, and Cecile doesn't seem to want to give into them.
- Finally she agrees, though, with one cryptic condition: that the Panthers have to take her kids. Whoa… what?
- The girls chat about it and guess that maybe they want Cecile to write a poem, using her fancy materials, about or for the cause of the people.
- Then they speculate that she's printing counterfeit money on a printing press in the kitchen, and that she bought the house with all that money. No wonder she wants them to steer clear of the kitchen.
- Everything is really jittery until the word "pokey" comes into the conversation and the girls laugh. The tension is eased… for now.
Glass of Water
- Since Cecile doesn't act like a parent to the girls, it falls to Delphine to go through the bedtime routine. She helps Fern and Vonetta bathe first, then takes care of herself. She cleans herself quickly, trying to finish before her sisters start fighting and they all wind up sorry.
- Once in their pajamas, Delphine reads Peter Pan as a bedtime story until her sisters fly off with Peter and Wendy to Neverland (or, you know, fall asleep).
- Then Delphine gets out the big guns for herself: Island of The Blue Dolphins.
- Delphine drifts off, but she wakes up when Fern wanders out to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
- The kitchen—gasp.
- Cecile is still out there and is, shall we say, stern in her response to Fern's request.
- She won't even say Fern's name, instead calling her "Little Girl."
- Delphine is angry at this but swallows her pride and asks politely for Fern's water.
- Cecile begrudgingly agrees and slinks back into the kitchen.
- She closes the door quickly, but not before Delphine catches a glimpse of a big pair of white wings hanging on the wall.
- The strange object is oddly comforting for Delphine, who remembers Cecile as being a bit quirky—at least she didn't leave the girls for a normal, boring life.
- When Cecile comes back she has a cup of water and fire in her eyes.
- This scares Fern a bit and there's a showdown when Fern doesn't want to take the water, but Cecile insists she does.
- Finally, Fern grabs the cup and proudly gulps it all in one swig, ready to head back to bed.
- All along, Delphine notices that Cecile never actually says Fern's name.
- She remembers how Big Ma said that Cecile left because she wasn't allowed to choose Fern's name, which Delphine never really believed.
- But now that she's seen this, Big Ma's story must be right.
- The next day, Delphine hopes Cecile will make them breakfast or at least hang out with them a bit.
- No such luck, though; Cecile tells the girls to scram and go to the "People's Center" for breakfast.
- What is that? Cecile doesn't tell them, and instead she just points them in the right direction.
- The main description is that there are a lot of black people wearing black clothes, and Delphine is worried about heading into the middle of what she thinks will be a militant crew.
- Then Cecile hands them a box to give to the Panthers, her contribution to the cause.
- Fern takes one last second to grab her doll, Miss Patty Cake, much to the chagrin of the ice-cold Cecile, and then the girls head out the door.
- Their mother's parting words? Take your time coming back.
- As the girls walk, they contemplate whether to call Pa and Big Ma to come get them.
- Delphine decides against it since she doesn't want another tongue-lashing from Big Ma for calling collect.
- The girls arrive at the People's Center to a sea of hungry kids, from young ones to teenagers, waiting outside.
- There are guards with rifles standing outside, too.
- Then a police car comes driving by.
- Delphine hands the box to the first Black Panther she sees and the girls head off in search of food.
- A few key figures stand out to Delphine: three girls who promise to be their rivals, as well as a lanky guy with an Afro—the same guy from the telephone booth the night before.
- He confronts them, too.
- Apparently he sees something wrong with the way Delphine and her sisters look, and he really doesn't like that Fern's doll is white. After all, why should a little black girl have a white doll? It's just wrong, he points out.
- Spunky little Fern doesn't take flack from anybody, though, and the other Panthers like her attitude when she shrugs him off.
- Some other members tell this guy—Crazy Kelvin—to back down.
- One of the people who stands up to him is named Sister Mukumbu.
- The girls get some food that reminds us of your classic continental breakfast at a roadside motel, cold scrambled eggs and all.
- While they still hear some ridicule from the other kids, the sisters stick together and stand up for each other. Go team.
Even the Earth Is a Revolutionary
- A bunch of the kids stick around after breakfast for what is called "the program."
- Turns out this is a class of some kind, run by Sister Mukumbu and another woman, Sister Pat.
- Sister Mukumbu is actually warm and welcoming; things are finally looking up a bit.
- The classroom walls are covered with photos of important black figures: Malcolm X, Huey Newton (the leader of the Black Panthers), and Muhammad Ali are the only ones Delphine recognizes, though there are many other men and women on display.
- The walls also have big pieces of paper with slogans, ideological values, and mission statements written on them.
- Right away, Sister M calls a child up for a demonstration.
- The student is Hirohito Woods, the very same boy that was on the "Flying T" last night—you know, the one Delphine immediately decided she didn't like.
- For the demo, Hirohito is the Earth, and Sister M is the Sun; Hirohito spins around while walking in circles around Sister M.
- For Delphine, watching Hirohito go through this humiliation is sweet revenge.
- But there's a message here, too: The Earth revolves around the sun. Revolve… revolution… revolutionary… See where she's going?
- This is a clever metaphor. Sisters Mukumbu and Pat name revolutionaries like Huey Newton and Che Guevara, people who made things change. They point out that things change over time, so it is natural for people's rights to be revolutionized, too.
- When it's time to talk about the kids' part in the revolution, Vonetta's hand shoots up.
- They didn't come for a revolution, she explains; they came for breakfast and to meet their mother.
- Suffice it to say, Delphine is embarrassed by this last bit.
Crazy Mother Mountain
- The girls return to the green stucco house around dinner, and Cecile has already picked up more Lo Mein from Ming's.
- Delphine comes straight out and asks why the Panthers call Cecile "INzila."
- Nzila, Cecile corrects her.
- And that's it—that's her entire response, just correction instead of an actual answer.
- Delphine notices how important that "Nz" sound appears to be, but also that it's not a sound she's used to hearing.
- Cecile finally answers: Nzila is a poet's name, and Cecile—ahem, Nzila—writes powerful political poetry.
- In an African language called Yoruba, it means "the path." That's why they call her Nzila.
- Nzila explains the ideology behind changing her name: It's a label for her true self, her identity; it's from their true ancestry and heritage; it's a name for the people and for the cause.
- But Delphine and her sisters don't buy it—or they don't really understand it. Either way, they kind of make fun of it.
- They challenge their mother's poetry by purposefully asking silly questions.
- In response to the questioning, Cecile half-jokingly accuses them of being from the FBI and COINTELPRO.
- And suddenly Cecile is ranting about this COINTELPRO, a secret organization that spies on groups like the Black Panthers. Apparently they interrogate and intimidate anyone—kids included—for information. Gulp.
- She even compares the situation they're in to the totalitarian tactics of Communist China, at least during the Mao years. The girls aren't really sure what to say.
- So, you know, this was a pretty normal family dinner.
Everyone Knows the King of the Sea
- What's in a name? Well, according to Delphine, a lot. And she doesn't appreciate how Cecile just went and transformed her name like she did, changing herself and becoming someone that's no longer their mother.
- Delphine remembers Cecile being around a bit before she high-tailed it to California, and has flashes of memory from when she was very young.
- Delphine was a good name, a unique name.
- That is, until Flipper came on the air—then kids found a way to make fun of it.
- Things got so bad that Delphine even beat a kid up for teasing her about her name.
- Then she marched straight to the library to look her name up in the Merriam Webster dictionary.
- (P.S. She thinks Merriam Webster is the name of a woman who wrote the dictionary.)
- Delphine was furious to find that her name is, in fact, in the dictionary.
- Why the anger? Because it means Cecile didn't make it up, so it isn't special; it isn't unique.
- Cecile turned her favorite singer, Sarah Vaughan's, name into Vonetta, and she made up a name for Fern that so amazing she left when she wasn't allowed to use it.
- But Delphine didn't mean anything to Cecile; it was just an already invented name that she got from the dictionary. Bummer.
Coloring and La-La
- The next morning the girls go back to the People's Center for breakfast.
- Things start to warm up a little.
- Delphine is surprised to see two white delivery men stay for a while and be all buddy-buddy with the Black Panthers.
- Meanwhile, Vonetta tries to become besties with the three anonymous rival sisters from the previous morning.
- Delphine is starting to think she likes this place… but then Crazy Kelvin calls the delivery men "racist dogs" and ruins it for her.
- After breakfast they go into the classroom where large posters crowd the floor.
- Actually, they're placards—big signs with slogans and protest phrases written on them.
- The assignment is to color them in and help with the cause.
- Delphine notices one that says "Remember Li'l Bobby," but since she doesn't know who Li'l Bobby is, she chooses the one that says "Free Huey."
- Vonetta decides to color the posters with the three sisters, whose last name is Ankton.
- When an Ankton girl starts making fun of Fern for carrying Miss Patty Cake around, Fern and Delphine block them out by singing the song they always sing to cheer themselves up.
- Part of it goes "La-la-la." You know the one.
- The Ankton girl keeps going and Delphine tells her to shut up. That's right—you heard her.
- But mostly she's angry that Vonetta didn't stand up for Fern first. Sisters have to stick together, after all.
- When the oldest Ankton sister fights back with more attitude, Sister Mukumbu steps in and breaks it up.
- She makes Delphine and Eunice (the older sister) shake hands.
- On the way back to Cecile's, Vonetta and Fern start to bicker, but Delphine utters another quick "shut up" and puts a stop to it all.
- Delphine realizes that Vonetta and Fern need some space, so she and Fern go get the Chinese take-out by themselves.
- Vonetta seems okay during dinner, but the girls soon find out that she has been up to no good.
- While alone, she colored in Miss Patty Cake's white face with a black marker, defiling the doll and taking sides against her sisters all in one fell swoop. Bold move, Vonetta.
- Fern and Vonetta start fighting so loudly that Cecile actually comes in and pulls them apart.
- She's not warm, she's not comforting, but at least she's willing to do something to care for her daughters. Sort of, anyway.
- Perhaps this is a step in the right direction?
Counting and Skimming
- Try as she might, Delphine just can't get that marker off of Miss Patty Cake.
- Some time passes, kind of like in fast-forward. We learn that Fern eventually stops asking for her doll when they go to the People's Center, and Vonetta grows increasingly distant as she befriends the Ankton sisters.
- Janice, the middle sister, is her new BFF.
- We get back to real time, and Delphine brings us to free time at the Center.
- The other kids run around and play in the park, but Delphine just offers to help Sister Mukumbu with classroom chores—she feels weird not having anything to do.
- Delphine and Fern, who's still not totally comfortable by herself without her doll, start counting and stacking Black Panther newspapers.
- Delphine starts skimming the headlines, seeing Huey Newton's face over and over as she stacks.
- He's everywhere, she notices.
- And she remembers that Big Ma thinks he belongs in prison. But Delphine doesn't just adopt they same point of view as her grandma anymore—she thinks Huey looks cool and revolutionary.
- There's an article about Li'l Bobby in the paper, too, and Delphine gets so wrapped up in skimming the news that she loses track of her chore and ends up buying a paper to read instead.
- Fern has a stomachache—like, a bad one.
- So bad that Delphine decides to take matters into her own hands and take charge of dinner tonight.
- All they've eaten for dinner every night since they gotten to California is Lo Mein.
- She leads her sisters to the grocery store and buys ingredients for cooking.
- Vonetta and Fern would have settled for pizza, but Delphine is determined to make "real food."
- Anyway, in order to cook, Delphine first has to get into the kitchen, which means it's time for another showdown with Cecile.
- This time, at least, Cecile and Delphine are calm, and when it's clear that Delphine's not backing down, she's allowed to enter (so long as she doesn't make a mess… or else).
- So Delphine sets to work with some baked chicken and potatoes.
- Even though Vonetta and Fern put up a stink about the food not being like Big Ma's, Cecile joins her daughters for the meal, nibbling every bit of meat off the chicken bones.
- And then she makes Delphine clean all the dishes, too. Gee thanks.
- Before Delphine can finish the dishes, Cecile gives her some final advice to be selfish once in a while.
- Today is sponge painting day at the Center.
- Delphine gets picked, along with Eunice and Hirohito, to help get some things ready.
- Hirohito is puzzling to Delphine. He has slanted eyes and straight black hair, but she knows he also has black heritage.
- She makes a big deal about the fact that he's Asian and black and doesn't know what to make of it. Delphine also wonders what it's like to be him.
- Hirohito catches her staring at him and she is super embarrassed, which she handles by getting him into a schoolyard argument. Nothing like some good old-fashioned tween flirting, right?
- But then things get serious: Delphine calls him "China boy," which rubs him the wrong way (and rightfully so).
- Hirohito is black and Japanese.
- That's when Eunice stands up and makes sure Delphine is made aware of her big-time ignorance. It's the perfect opportunity to put down her rival.
- Sadly, she also hints that Hirohito has a sad past. If Delphine knew about it, she says, she would just leave him alone. Oh, man.
Expert Colored Counting
- Vonetta and Fern are getting a little dissatisfied with the Oakland routine. It's boring.
- California promised them Disneyland, movie stars, and fun, but all they've gotten is the Center and tons of greasy Lo Mein.
- So Delphine—who now sees herself as a protester and revolutionary—sets out some demands from Cecile. As far as Delphine's concerned, Cecile is the "Establishment."
- On their list of demands? A TV.
- This is actually a big part of their routine and identity: Delphine and her sisters play a game where they count all of the black faces they see on television.
- Cecile counters all of their arguments by saying TV is big box o' lies, but the girls stand fast. They even sing the theme song from The Monkees just to get Cecile's goat.
- They next day, they find a radio in their room. It's not the same as a TV, but at least it's something.
- Monkees FTW.
- Today is civics day at the Center.
- But this is not the same civics lesson Delphine's been getting at school back home in Brooklyn—this day is devoted to telling the children all of their rights as citizens of the U.S. in order to protect them against unlawful searches or suspicious behaviors by the police.
- Unfortunately, Crazy Kelvin is helping with the lesson.
- He keeps trying to get the kids to call the police officers "pigs," and he starts picking at Hirohito, whose father was apparently arrested recently for no reason.
- Delphine starts to feel bad for the boy now.
- Sister Mukumbu is unhappy with how Kelvin is treating Hirohito, so she interrupts him and then shows him the door.
- Hirohito's story makes Delphine think about the one time she was truly scared for her father: They were driving down in Alabama visiting Big Ma when a police officer knocked on the car window and called Pa… well, he used a slur that Delphine doesn't even want to say.
- Delphine remembers that Pa described the experience as "'Same old, same old.'"
- That sticks with you.
Rally for Bobby
- Delphine finally learns who Li'l Bobby is.
- Bobby Hutton was one of the first Black Panthers, and he was only seventeen when he died in a shoot-out with the police.
- The story of his death made it to the news in Brooklyn. The police ambushed the Panthers who fled into a house for shelter, firing at the house; the Panthers shot back.
- Li'l Boby came out to surrender, even getting undressed to prove he wasn't armed. But the police shot him anyway.
- The story makes Delphine angry that things like this can happen. It doesn't seem fair to her.
- Plus she's afraid that it could happen while she's at the People's Center hanging around the Black Panthers.
- She's so busy thinking about how they might be safer just staying in the green stucco house with Cecile that she barely hears that there's going to be rally for Huey Newton and in memory of Bobby Hutton in just two weeks.
- They're going to change the name of a park to honor Bobby. There's a lot of preparing to do.
- Delphine sticks her hand right up and announces that she and her sisters can't go to a rally that could turn into an attack or a riot.
- Her sisters, of course, have something else to say about the matter—they want to go.
- After all, Fern and Vonetta want to be a part of the revolution. Or maybe they just have a case of not wanting to be left out.
- And the death knell for Delphine's protest of the protest?
- The children have been asked to perform. That's enough to get Vonetta and Fern there with bells on.
- All the kids start planning their contribution to the special performance, and Fern and Vonetta decide on singing a song.
- They suggest the La-la-la song (you remember the one, from when Fern was sad before?), but Delphine really doesn't like that idea.
- That's their song, the one that's just for them—it's about a mother leaving her child, after all—but the youngsters are hopeful that this performance will be the thing that shows Cecile how great they are.
- Delphine is doubtful, and says so, too.
- A little later, Sister Mukumbu takes Delphine aside to ask what's wrong.
- When she hears about Delphine concern for safety, she's responsive, but also says how important the cause is. Unity is the most important thing right now.
- Delphine doesn't like that answer.
- The next day, it's 9:00AM and they're still at the house.
- Cecile doesn't like this one bit.
- Delphine explains that she's scared that the girls might get shot at the Center.
- Surprisingly, Cecile responds pretty rationally, saying things get dangerous when guns are involved, but so long as no one points a gun at you, and no one puts a gun in your hand, you're okay.
- Delphine concedes to go back to the Center, but definitely not to the rally.
- To this end, she embodies Big Ma and uses her phrase that it's "a pot of boiling trouble cookin'" (21.18).
- Cecile scolds Delphine for talking back to her, though mostly she's upset that Delphine sounds like Big Ma. Cecile doesn't like Big Ma very much—or at all.
- Delphine dreads going back to the Center.
- She proudly said she wasn't returning, and here she is, the very next day.
- They totally told her so.
- Delphine calls her situation "eating crow," which sounds even worse than another night of Lo Mein.
- Luckily, everyone's pretty nice to Delphine. Sister Mukumbu and Sister Pat act as if nothing happened, and even Eunice, who mentions the outburst from the day before, doesn't say anything mean.
- She just sits down and chillaxes with Delphine, watching the young kids play little kid games.
- The two older sisters start bonding a little, particularly over their mutual disgust for Hirohito.
- Turns out, Eunice ain't half bad. She's just an oldest sister like Delphine, trying to look out for her family.
Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Vonetta chooses to recite Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool"for the performance. And she's good, too.
- She practices over and over, until Cecile stomps back to their room and tells her to quit it.
- According to Cecile, that's not even a real poem—she could have done that in her sleep.
- Delphine remembers a time when she bragged about her mother's poetry in school. The teacher didn't believe that her mother was a poet and punished her for telling lies.
- Vonetta is very upset about being told to stop.
- Delphine responds to her sister's upset by criticizing Vonetta for being selfish, saying she's just like Cecile. If Vonetta had to choose between being on TV and going to see her own hypothetical future daughter in a play, she'd choose TV every time.
- Vonetta, Delphine says, would care more about herself than about how her own kids would feel.
- Would not.
- Would too.
- You get the idea. We're betting this has more to do with some latent anger Delphine has at Cecile than her little sis.
- When Delphine comes into the kitchen to cook dinner, she finds a stool by the stove. A nice gesture from Cecile… who would've thought?
- Delphine sees this as an invitation to stay and hang.
- As long as she doesn't say or want anything, Delphine and Cecile get along just fine.
- Apparently that's how you get to be with Cecile: Act as if you don't exist, and you're in.
- But then Cecile offers to let Delphine help her with her printing press.
- This means that Delphine gets to read one of Nzila's poems, plus she and her mom are actually doing something together. So many firsts.
- Cecile teaches Delphine how to crank the press.
- It's not all warm and fuzzy, though: Cecile takes a look at Delphine's attempt at printing and calls it a waste of paper. Oh, snap.
San Francisco Treat
- There's not much to do on weekends in Oakland.
- The People's Center is closed, and Cecile won't take the girls anywhere.
- So they make do, playing cards, going to the park, going to the city pool.
- But this Saturday? This Saturday, Delphine is leading them on a trip to San Francisco. Woo-hoo.
- Unfortunately, visiting the big city costs some money, so Delphine has to ask Cecile for some more cash, which she dreads.
- She's pretty sure their mother won't care where they're going, but Delphine decides to spin some straw (that is, be sneaky) just in case.
- Cecile dumps a bunch of singles and lose change into Delphine's hands, and Delphine is so happy it's working out that she doesn't count it all.
- Don't worry, it's enough. Phew.
- As they walk out the door, Cecile warns them not to get arrested.
- The girls take this as Cecile's version on "Be safe!"
- Unfortunately, there's a lot to distract the girls on the way to San Francisco—stuff like parks, kickball games, and super annoying Hirohitos on flying T go-karts.
- Hirohito wants to show off for the girls, and Vonetta and Fern are more than happy to oblige.
- Delphine acts like she doesn't care, but inside she's just as thrilled watching him fly down the hill as her sisters are.
- Is she developing a little crush? Maybe.
- Finally, Delphine realizes they have go in order to make the bus to San Fran, so they make it past Hirohito and get on the bus.
- As they leave the neighborhood, Fern gets a big wide-eyed "I just saw somethin!" look on her face.
- Then she actually says those words, three times.
- But she won't say what she saw.
- Um, Fern? What did you see?
Wish We Had a Camera
- They get off the bus in San Francisco and are met by a crowd of hippies hanging around the station.
- The girls don't see many hippies back home in Brooklyn, so they stare big time.
- Delphine even wishes she could take a picture.
- One of the hippies flashes the peace sign, and Delphine instinctively answers with a Black Panther slogan: "Power to the people."
- Vonetta and Fern announce their support of the cause in turn.
- Then a flower girl—a real flower girl—dances by and gives them some daisies.
- They exchange peace signs and power signs, and the girls are on their way.
- First stop, China town. After some dumplings, tea and ten fortune cookies, they move on to window-shopping.
- Delphine gets distracted by a family of tall, blond, white people standing and staring at her and her sisters. These white people speak a different language.
- Delphine checks her schedule (of course she has a schedule) and moves them along to the cable car. They have to get on now or they'll miss it.
- They ride the car all the way to Fisherman's Wharf, wishing they had a camera the whole way.
- Delphine almost gets lost in smelling the sea air and hearing the gulls and staring at the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, but then she remembers that she has to take care of her sisters, so she snaps back into reality.
- She leads them to a gift shop, where the clerk starts eyeing them like he expects them to steal something.
- Delphine exercises her rights as a citizen, the ones she learned at the center, holding her head high to the clerk and leading her sisters right out the door without spending a cent.
- They buy some postcards as souvenirs elsewhere, and hop back on the bus to Oakland.
- As much fun as the day was, Delphine feels pretty good about heading back to a familiar place, where no one stares at you like you're a museum exhibit.
- They get some food from Ming's and head back to the green stucco house. They can't wait to tell Cecile all about their day.
- When they stroll up, though, there are three police cars outside—and Cecile is handcuffed.
- She's being arrested along with two other Black Panthers.
The Clark Sisters
- One officer notices Delphine and her sisters nearby.
- Cecile quickly denies they're her kids, saying she doesn't have kids and these are the Clark girls from down the street.
- There's something different about denying her children this time, though.
- Delphine picks up on that and continues the rouse, making sure her sisters also know that they are, for the moment at least, Vonetta and Fern Clark.
- Delphine can't understand why Cecile is being arrested—she just writes poems after all, and peaceful poems at that. It's not like she's hurting anybody.
- Once they're past the police, Delphine explains the whole "we're not her kids" charade to her sisters.
- They take a turn around that block and return to the house.
- There's not much wrong except in the kitchen, where paper is strewn about, ink is smeared on the floor, and the printing press letters are scattered all over the place.
- Sure, this might sound like your bedroom, but this pigsty is a lot more political.
- The girls place a tablecloth on the floor and get to eating dinner.
- Delphine decides to clean up the kitchen so it looks right for Cecile when she gets home.
- Though no one knows when—or if—she'll be coming home.
I Birthed a Nation
- Delphine wakes up early the next morning to get to work on the kitchen.
- There's so much to do, and she's the one (the tall one, the big one, the old one) who has to do it.
- But she gets to work like she always does.
- Soon, Fern and Vonetta join her and they sort out all the papers, poems, and letters with all kinds of fancy fonts.
- Vonetta picks out one poem in particular called "I Birthed a Nation" and guesses that it's about them: Cecile's daughters.
- They are so moved by this poem, which they interpret as the story of Mother Africa losing her children, just like Cecile lost them, they decide to recite it for the performance at the rally.
- Then there's a knock at the door.
- Knock, knock.
- Another knock.
- Feeling worried? Don't worry; it's just Hirohito with an "Oriental lady" (27.14). Spoiler: the woman is his mother.
- Delphine invites them in but says their mother isn't home.
- It's the first time she's called Cecile her "mother" to anyone but Vonetta and Fern, she realizes.
- Of course Hirohito and his mom already know that Cecile isn't there because she was arrested. Word travels fast in a tight-knit community like theirs.
- Hirohito's mom (Mrs. Woods) has brought dinner for them, which they eat hungrily.
- They have to stick together, Mrs. Woods says. They know the same things.
Stores of the No Sayers
- Back at the People's Center, everyone is super supportive of the girls.
- They go on with the cause, too, now more than ever.
- Cecile is considered a freedom fighter. Delphine knows this, too, and figures they have to go to the rally now to support her mother's fight.
- She decides not to call Pa or Big Ma to tell them about Cecile being arrested.
- First off, she feels safe in the community they've become a part of in Oakland, plus she's really not ready to hear Big Ma's I told you so about Cecile being no good and getting herself thrown in jail.
- Sister Mukumbu and Sister Pat try to explain why Cecile was arrested: Basically, the police were after the two Panthers that were with her at the time, but she was taken in, too, because she volunteered her printing press to the cause.
- Knowledge is power, after all, so keeping people informed is the same as giving them power.
- Let's just say the police don't want the cause to be powerful.
- Delphine knows that's a way of twisting the truth a bit, but she likes that way; she likes thinking of her mother as a fighter.
- Crazy Kelvin offers some support to the girls, too, but Fern just looks at him.
- She says, "What's wrong with this picture?" just like he said to her when he saw her white doll, then she calls him Fido and barks at him.
- We're not totally sure what this is about, by the way, but it's pretty cool to see Kelvin taken down a peg by little Fern.
- The she starts singing again, "I saw something!" like she did on the bus to San Francisco. Again, she won't tell us what it is. Out with it, Fern.
- The kids from the Center hand out flyers for the people's rally coming soon.
- They each take a turn asking storeowners to put the flyers up in their window; some say yes, some say no.
- Delphine and Eunice each challenge themselves to ask the owners who aren't a guaranteed yes.
- Delphine even tries the big Safeway store where they buy groceries, but the manager says no.
- Delphine walks out respectfully.
- She's been keeping track of all the no responses and vows never to spend another dime in those stores. You go, Delphine.
- The girls are staying with Hirohito and his mom while Cecile is locked up.
- Delphine feels weird not being the one in charge. Mrs. Woods even encourages her to play, which she's not so sure how to do.
- So she curls up with Island of the Blue Dolphins instead.
- Then Hirohito interrupts her to offer her a ride on his go-kart.
- Delphine tries to refuse—she's too big for this silly kid's stuff—but her sisters egg her on, too, until eventually she agrees, if only to prove that she's not afraid to go.
- To be clear, Delphine is totally afraid; she's certain she's going to crash and burn. She keeps her fear a secret, though.
- Hirohito assures her it's safe, saying his dad built it, which comes off as a genuine guarantee.
- Delphine can't say no to that.
- So Hirohito and her sisters give her a shove and she is off racing down a hill.
- Delphine feels time racing away and she screams, realizing that she has never actually screamed before.
- She feels like a kid—no cares, no responsibilities, no worries—and it is glorious.
The Third Thing
- It's the day of the rally.
- And it's bigger than Delphine would've ever expected; thousands of people have showed up.
- Black Panthers from all around the country are at this park, here for this cause.
- Police are lined up around the park, holding clubs in case it turns to a riot.
- But Delphine isn't scared. She's excited.
- She feels a part of it. She's partly responsible for it because she helped spread the word, and she's proud of that.
- The kids' performances are up first, and everything's going well.
- It looks like Vonetta is feeling super nervous, which makes Delphine nervous and a bit mad—she hopes her kid sister doesn't blow it in front of the huge crowd.
- But Vonetta swears she's ready to recite Cecile's poem just like they practiced.
- And Fern says she's ready, too, in a strangely giddy sort of way.
- Then she barks again. What's up with the barking, Fern, huh?
- They get up on stage and Vonetta introduces the poem as "I Birthed a Black Nation."
- Vonetta improvised the "Black." We don't think Cecile—ahem—Nzila will mind, and the crowd definitely loves it.
- When the sisters finish, the poem is met with lots of applause and the girls walk off stage. Well, two of them do, anyway…
- Fern stays behind. She has a poem to recite for Crazy Kelvin that no one else knows about. Delphine is about to stop her, but she doesn't.
- It's about what Fern saw on the way to San Francisco, and why she keeps barking. Finally, right?
- Apparently Fern saw Kelvin talking to a police officer from the bus, and not in a standing up for your rights kind of way.
- Nope, Kelvin was talking in an I'll-give-you-information-if-you-give-me-something kind of way.
- The barking? Well, the officer patted Kelvin on the back like a puppy.
- Oh man.
- Delphine says three things happened after that: The crowd went wild for Fern, Crazy Kelvin ran away, and a poet (Fern) was born.
- That third thing she learns from Cecile, in a letter she gets from her a month later.
- Yep, they keep in touch.
- Turns out, Cecile had been released just in time to make it to the rally.
- The girls see her in the crowd and go running toward her, happy she heard them recite her poem.
- It's weird, but Cecile seems different—she even compliments Vonetta and Fern (without actually saying Fern's name of course).
- But the crowd surrounds her before she can compliment her oldest daughter, which Delphine is sure she was just about to do.
- Then Cecile leaves. She's not one for the spotlight or rallies; she wants to go home.
- The girls, on the other hand, stay and enjoy themselves.
- They're flying back to Brooklyn tomorrow, so Fern and Vonetta play with the younger Ankton sisters, while Delphine and Eunice sit together, good friends now.
- Then Hirohito comes over.
- Eunice, perceptive as she is, calls him out for liking Delphine.
- And then Eunice gets Delphine by saying she likes Hirohito, too.
- This is when Delphine thinks of Eunice as more of a sister than a friend: No one has ever gotten her like this before.
- Instead of denying the crushes, Hirohito and Delphine both just say "So," which is as good as a marriage vow when you're eleven going on twelve.
- The girls tell Cecile all about their experience while she was in jail.
- Cecile shrugs off being arrested; she definitely doesn't consider herself a freedom fighter like Sister Mukumbu and the other Panthers do. She's just a lady trying to survive.
- The next morning, Delphine gets some quality time with Cecile in the kitchen.
- Cecile scolds her for not calling Pa when she got arrested and for trying to take care of her sisters all by herself. She's eleven, after all, not forty-five.
- She even explains how calling Pa would have been taking care of Vonetta and Afua.
- Afua? Who the heck is Afua?
- Before she questions the name, Delphine gets furious that Cecile criticizes how she takes care of her sisters. She's only eleven, and she does the best she can because Cecile left them.
- Cecile hears this, pauses, then tells Delphine to sit.
- She starts explaining her actions, starting with the fact that she left. Or if not explaining, at least describing what happened.
- Cecile was orphaned when she was eleven, taken in by her aunt, but then put out again when she was sixteen.
- She slept on the streets and read poetry to keep her spirits up.
- Cecile was always hungry. Sometimes she got food; other times, she didn't.
- Then Pa (she calls him Louis, though) found her sick on a bench one day and took her in. A year later, Delphine was born.
- Cecile was just seventeen.
- Then she had Vonetta, and Fern (though she's still not saying Fern's name).
- Her labor with Fern was so sudden and quick that Delphine had to help.
- Delphine doesn't remember this.
- Cecile's point?
- Delphine's life is hard, yes, but it's better than what Cecile could have provided—she just wasn't ready to be a mother. She's not trying to mean; it's just the truth.
- Surprisingly, Delphine isn't totally comforted by this. But she does realize that she's spent so much time taking care of her sisters that she's never let herself just be mad at Cecile.
- And she is mad.
- Then she asks about why Cecile left. Was it because she couldn't name the baby, like Big Ma said?
- Cecile describes the day she left Delphine, Vonetta, and Afua.
- And how the name is a part of it, but it's way more complicated than that; Delphine won't really be able to understand until she's older.
- Then she gives Delphine some sage advice: Be eleven while you can; be a kid.
- Delphine goes to sleep, but wakes with a start, finally wondering about this "Afua."
- Cecile calls to Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to wake up, saying all of their names, even Fern's.
- Fern is pretty psyched about this.
- But then Delphine brings up Afua. According to her, that's Fern's real name, the one their mother gave her.
- Fern's not so psyched about this one.
- Over breakfast Delphine contemplates names again, a little differently this time.
- And even though she thinks of Fern's name as Afua, she still says Fern in the narrative.
- They get to airport and Cecile gives Papa a call.
- Meanwhile a nice white man comes up and tries to take the girls' picture, like they're a museum exhibit. Gross.
- This time, Cecile is right there: She steps in front, chastising the man for treating her daughter like monkeys on display, defending them like a mother would.
- They sit silently until their plane is announced.
- Then the girls start walking to the plane, but to Delphine's surprise, Cecile sticks around and watches them leave.
- They're in line, ready to hand over their tickets, when Fern breaks away and goes sprinting into Cecile's arms. She jumps right on top of her.
- Delphine and Vonetta don't hesitate—they run right after her to hug their mother.
- The shocking thing? Cecile hugs back.