Walk Two Moons Summary
Salamanca Tree Hiddle tells us about a road trip she recently took with her grandparents (Gram and Gramps Hiddle) from Ohio to Idaho. In the car, they are headed west to find Sal's mother in time for her mother's birthday. Over the course of the trip, Sal tells her grandparents about her friend Phoebe's own missing mother. As you can see, there are lots of delicious stories wrapped inside of other delicious stories here.
But let's rewind a bit and give you some background information. Sal is a thirteen- year-old farm girl from Bybanks, Kentucky. Her mom recently left her and her dad, and we don't know why. When this happened, Sal's dad decided to rent out their farm in Bybanks, and he and Sal moved to Euclid, Ohio. Sal wasn't happy about this move. Euclid is bo-ring.
While in Euclid, Sal makes friends with Phoebe Winterbottom, a girl with a vivid, vivacious imagination. Phoebe's family is kind of stiff and proper. One day, Phoebe's mother disappears. Sal helps Phoebe try to track down Mrs. Winterbottom. She enjoys having this mystery to work on, because it helps distract her from how much she misses her own mother. Also, she misses her farm in Bybanks, like whoa.
Eventually, Phoebe's mother comes back home. And, well, we could tell you what happens and what she's been up to, but we're not going to. This book is too good for us to spoil all of its surprises. Just trust us when we say that Phoebe's mother is full of juicy secrets.
Sal tells her grandparents the story of Phoebe's mother as they drive across America. They stop at all of the towns and landmarks that Sal's mother recently visited. For example, they see Pipestone, Minnesota, Old Faithful in Wyoming, and the Badlands (head over to our "Setting" section for more dirt on these places). At one point, a venomous water moccasin bites Sal's grandmother while they are swimming in a river, and she has to go to the hospital. Sal's grandmother is never quite the same after this.
Just when they are about to arrive at their destination in Idaho, Sal's grandmother has to go to the hospital again. She has had a stroke. Sal is really sad – not only is one of her most favorite people in the world sick, but she might not make it to Lewiston, Idaho in time for her mother's birthday.
Sal's grandfather does what any grandfather would do. He gives Sal the keys to his car. That's right, he gives his thirteen year-old granddaughter the keys to his car. It turns out that Sal's a really good driver already. Sal drives the winding roads to the place where her mother is. And that's all we're going to tell you. We're not going to spoil what happens next, no way. You just have to read this book.
One quick thing before you do: we should tell you that Sal's grandmother sadly dies. Eventually, Sal, her grandfather, and her father move back to her beloved farm in Bybanks. At the moment Sal is telling us this story, it is summertime. Her new friends from Euclid are going to be visiting her in a few weeks.
Okay, now go read this book. Seriously.
A Face at the Window
- Our narrator doesn't waste time kicking this story off. She's full of vim and vigor, and according to her Gramps, she's "a country girl at heart" (1.1).
- We learn that she is a thirteen-year-old from Bybanks, Kentucky. Bybanks is on the Ohio River, and it sounds pretty awesome.
- About a year ago, her dad "plucked" her from Bybanks and took her 300 miles north to the town of Euclid, Ohio. She had to leave behind some of her favorite things in Bybanks, and she's not too happy about it. Our narrator takes us back to the moment she first arrived in Euclid. It is not a happy memory, but here goes…
- Compared to Bybanks, Euclid is totally gray and boring. She and her dad arrive on a street where the houses are all jammed together like "birdhouses," and the sidewalk and the road look grey. Worst of all, there are no trees.
- They stop in front of one of these "birdhouses," and a lady named Margaret with big red hair comes out.
- Our narrator looks at the second story window of a house next door, and she sees a little girl with her faced pressed against the window. She didn't know it then, but that little girl is Phoebe Winterbottom, who would soon become her closest friend.
- We jump back in time again, and she and tells us that not too long ago she was "locked" in a car with her grandparents for six days. During this trip, she told her grandparents Phoebe's story.
- When she finished telling her grandparents Phoebe's story, our narrator realized that Phoebe's story and her own story were connected.
- Our narrator says that Phoebe's story "was like the plaster wall in our old house in Bybanks, Kentucky" (1.12). Okay, so what's this all about?
- She explains that one April morning her mother went away, and her father chipped at a plaster wall in their house. When they got news that her mother was not coming back home to Bybanks, her dad chipped harder and harder at that wall. Eventually, he discovered a fireplace hidden beneath the plaster.
- And there you have it: "The reason Phoebe's story reminds me of that plaster wall and the hidden fireplace is that beneath Phoebe's story was another one. Mine" (1.15).
- It's okay if you're a little lost at this point: it will all come together soon enough.
The Chickabiddy Starts a Story
- In this chapter, we learn more about how our narrator ended up on a road trip with her grandparents, Gram and Gramps.
- It turns out that it was only after our narrator had tons of adventures with Phoebe that Gram and Gramps drove up to Euclid from Bybanks to see their granddaughter.
- From Euclid they decided to take their favorite (and only) grandchild on a road trip. They would drive 2,000 miles west to Lewiston, Idaho.
- She was totally not excited to go on this road trip, but she had to do it. Her dad, on the other hand, was glad that our girl was going, because her grandfather has a hard time reading maps. If that sounds like a silly reason to you, well, you're not wrong.
- But our narrator knew the "real reasons" why everyone wanted this road trip to happen:
- 1. Gram and Gramps wanted to see Momma, who was resting peacefully in Lewiston, Idaho.
- 2. Gram and Gramps knew that I wanted to see Momma, but that I was afraid to.
- 3. Dad wanted to be alone with the red-headed Margaret Cadaver. He had already seen Momma, and he had not taken me. (2.5)
- Our narrator tells us that her dad had yet another reason to be happy she was tagging along for the ride: her Gram and Gramps had a knack for getting into trouble.
- Once they decided to go on this trip, it felt like they were racing toward a finish line or something. They felt like they needed to hurry to get to Lewiston. What's the rush, guys?
- Turns out our narrator believed that she needed to get to Lewiston in time for her mother's birthday (in seven days).
- When they started the road trip, our girl was totally terrified that they were going to get into an accident. She hates cars and buses, so she prayed to the trees to keep her safe.
- Our narrator tells us that her name is Salamanca Tree Hiddle (finally, a name!). Her mother loved trees so much that she wanted the word "tree" to be part of her daughter's name. Most everyone calls Salamanca "Sal" for short.
- On the first day of their road trip, Gramp asked Sal to "spin us a yarn," meaning tell them a story (2.17).
- That's when Sal decided to tell them about the adventures of "Phoebe Winterbottom, her disappearing mother, and the lunatic" (2.22).
- Intrigued yet? So are we.
- Now Sal begins to tell her grandparents the strange story of Phoebe Winterbottom. She starts with the first time she ever saw Phoebe: the day she and her dad first arrived in Euclid, Ohio.
- It's pretty clear that this memory is going to last a while, so we're going to tell it to you in the present tense. Here we go.
- Margaret Cadaver (the red-haired lady whose house Sal and her dad are visiting) is trying really hard to be nice to Sal, but Sal doesn't like her.
- Mrs. Cadaver asks Sal's dad if he's told her yet how they met, but Sal's dad says Sal doesn't want to know. She just doesn't give a hoot.
- After a short little visit, Sal and her dad drive two blocks away to their new house. It's nothing like her old house in Bybanks: "tiny, squirt trees. Little birdhouses in a row – and one of those birdhouses was ours. No swimming hole, no barn, no cows, no chickens, no pigs. Instead, a little white house with a miniature patch of green grass in front of it. It wasn't enough grass to keep a cow alive for five minutes" (3.6). Yuck.
- The house is tiny. Sal is not pleased. Her backyard is tiny, too, and there's a big fence around it. The movers cram their furniture into the house.
- Three days later, Sal starts school. Her classmates are fascinated by her long hair, so they ask her annoying questions about it. The other girls all seem to have the same haircuts, the same new clothes, and braces.
- Sal meets a whole boatload of fellow students. There's Mary Lou Finney (who says, "the most peculiar things"), jumpy Megan and Christy, "moody" Beth Ann, "pink-cheeked" Alex, and Ben, who draws cartoons all the time (3.12). Oh, and Sal's "peculiar" teacher is named Mr. Birkway.
- Finally, she meets Phoebe Winterbottom for the first time, and she tells us that "Phoebe was a quiet girl who stayed mostly by herself" (3.14).
- Sal and her dad eat over at Mrs. Cadaver's house three times that week. Ugh. While they are there, Sal sees Phoebe peeking out of the same next-door window a lot. She tries to wave at Phoebe, but Phoebe doesn't respond. Strange, right?
- Then, one day at school, Phoebe sits down next to Sal and tells her how brave she is. Sal is totally surprised to hear this. Brave? Really?
- Apparently, Sal saved a spider the other day in class and set it free outside. Her classmates were super shocked and impressed that she wasn't creeped out by the creepy-crawly.
- At this point in Sal's story, Gram Hiddle interrupts to tell her just how brave she is and that the Hiddle family tree is full of brave people, like her father and her mother.
- But Sal reminds them that her mom isn't a "true Hiddle." She remembers her mother used to say, "'You Hiddles are a mystery to me. I'll never be a true Hiddle.' She did not say this proudly. She said it as if she were sorry about it, as if it were some sort of failing in her" (3.25).
- Sal takes this opportunity to tell us about her mother's parents (her other grandparents) who are very different from Gram and Gramps Hiddle. Her mother's parents are super stiff and very worried about being "respectable" all the time.
- We learn that Sal's mother is named Chanhassen, which is "an Indian name, meaning 'tree sweet juice,' or – in other words – maple sugar." People call her mother "Sugar" for short (3.28).
- Sal tells us that her mother is nothing like her mother's own stiff parents. She only gets a little rigid every once in a while.
That's What I'm Telling You
- Back to the story. The day that Phoebe tells Sal how brave she is, she also invites Sal over for dinner.
- Sal is pumped, because it means she can avoid eating over at Mrs. Cadaver's house. She doesn't like watching her dad and Mrs. Cadaver being all nice to each other. Frankly, she just wants things to go back to the way they were, back in Bybanks.
- On their way home to Phoebe's place, Sal and Phoebe pass Mrs. Cadaver's house.
- Mrs. Cadaver's elderly mother, Mrs. Partridge, is sitting on the porch. The girls say "hello," and Mrs. Partridge guesses Phoebe's age correctly by feeling her face. Impressive, huh?
- Back at Phoebe's house, her mom, Mrs. Winterbottom, is making blackberry pie. Blackberry pie makes Sal very sad, because it reminds her of her own mother.
- Sal tells Phoebe and Mrs. Winterbottom that Mrs. Partridge is blind (that explains the whole face-feeling thing). Phoebe and Phoebe's mom are shocked to hear this news.
- It turns out Mrs. Cadaver and Mrs. Partridge moved in to the house next door only a month ago, so the Winterbottoms don't know much about them.
- Phoebe tells Sal that she's scared of Mrs. Cadaver. She's scared of the fact that her last name means "dead body," and she's scared of her red hair. All good reasons, Phoebster.
- Plus, Phoebe points out that Mrs. Cadaver goes by Mrs. Cadaver, but that she's never seen her husband. She's got a theory about what happened to Mrs. Cadaver husband, "'and it is awful, purely awful'" (4.57).
A Damsel in Distress
- Gram interrupts Sal's story again to say that she has a friend named Gloria who reminds her a lot of Phoebe. Gloria sees the world as an exciting and scary place, just like Phoebe does.
- Gramps is tuckered out, so they take a break at a rest stop, only three hours into their road trip.
- Sal then tells us readers about all of the ways her grandparents have gotten into trouble in the past. They get into a lot of sticky situations.
- While they're waiting, Gramps tries to help a lady whose car has broken down. But it seems like he might be doing more harm than good: he starts yanking things out of the engine willy-nilly.
- Eventually, the lady calls a mechanic, and Sal, Gram, and Gramps get back on the road.
- All right everyone, back to Sal's story about Phoebe.
- Just as Phoebe is about to tell Sal what happened to Mrs. Cadaver's husband, Phoebe's dad (Mr. Winterbottom) comes home from work. The Winterbottoms (including Phoebe's sister, Prudence) and Sal all sit down to have a nice, normal dinner.
- This family reminds Sal a lot of her grandparents (on her mom's side). They are very polite and very worried about being respectable all the time.
- No surprise here: dinner is full of super healthy food. The Winterbottoms are concerned about eating too much cholesterol, so they don't eat meat or butter. That's no fun.
- Sal learns that Mr. Winterbottom makes road maps, and Mrs. Winterbottom is a homemaker (an unhappy one at that, it seems to Sal).
- Poor Mrs. Winterbottom tries to make conversation, but her husband and daughters don't really respond. Sal thinks all this silence is kind of weird.
- Even when Mrs. Winterbottom announces that she'll be going back to work as a receptionist at Rocky's Rubber, nobody says anything.
- Okay, Sal notices quite a few things about this family.
- First, Mrs. Winterbottom is "used to being plain and ordinary, that she was not supposed to do anything too shocking" (6.10). "And Mr. Winterbottom was playing the role of Father, with a capital F" (6.11). He's very formal, and he looks way older than thirty-eight years old.
- Prudence Winterbottom, too, is just as prim and proper as the rest of her family. The only one with any quirks, it seems, is Phoebe.
- When Phoebe walks Sal home that night she tells her that she thinks Mrs. Cadaver killed her husband, chopped him up, and buried him in the backyard. She tells Sal how strong Mrs. Cadaver is – how she's seen her chop down trees and stuff. Yikes.
- That night, Sal thinks about this theory. To tell you the truth, she kind of wants to believe it.
- Then something entirely different pops into her brain. When she thinks of the blackberries at dinner, Sal is reminded of a time when she and her mom would pick blackberries back on their farm in Bybanks.
- They wouldn't pick the blackberries at the very bottom of the bushes (those are for rabbits) and they wouldn't pick the blackberries at the very top of the bushes (those are for birds).
- This reminds Sal of how much her mom loves nature and all living creatures.
- Time for some more info on Sal's mom. Sal thinks back to a time, a few years ago, when her mom was pregnant.
- One morning, when she and Sal went into the kitchen to get their breakfast, they found that Sal's dad had left a flower for each of them before he went to work in the fields. How sweet.
- Sal's mom was so delighted by this that she decided to go find her husband in the fields and thank him. Sal was totally excited by the idea of this little adventure. She imagined they would sneak up on her dad and give him lots of hugs and kisses.
- They found her dad in a field, and his back was to them as they sneaked up on him.
- But just as they were about to pounce, her dad turned around, and her mom froze and forgot to say anything.
- Suddenly, her mom started to cry, and said, "oh, you're too good, John." Her dad hugged her mom, and Sal was totally confused. Sal thought this was supposed to be a happy moment full of love and fun, but it winds up being really sad instead (6.27).
- The next morning, Sal remembers, she and her dad found a bowl of glistening blueberries at their places at the kitchen table. Her mother came in and kissed her father in a very romantic way. Then her mother said, "'See? I'm almost as good as your father!'" (6.32).
- Sal tells us, "I felt betrayed, but I didn't know why" (6.32). Frankly, we don't either.
- Back on the road, Sal, Gram, and Gramps drive across the Illinois state line. It's a beautiful and sunny day, and they stop to dip their toes in Lake Michigan. It is such a big lake that Gram thinks it's an ocean at first.
- That night, they stay at a Howard Johnson Motel on the outskirts of Chicago. As Sal tries to fall asleep, she thinks about what Lewiston, Idaho might be like. That's where her mother is, after all.
- But of course she can't really imagine a place she's never been before.
- Sal remembers how hard it was when her mom left home in April, just a few months before. The two of them were really close. When her mother was sad, she was sad. And when her mother was happy, she was happy, too.
- The weeks after her mother left were a tough time for Sal, because she didn't know how to feel about things. She had lost the person that she had always tried to be like.
- Then, one day in Bybanks, Sal watched a baby calf being born. She suddenly felt happy all on her own. At this moment, she realized she could be happy without her mother. "It seemed a mean thought and I was sorry for it, but it felt true" (7.14). Gosh, these are some confusing feelings, huh?
- The next day, Gramps has trouble getting out of the city of Chicago. Finally, they find a road that heads west. Onward!
- Their plan is to drive through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and end up in Idaho. As it turns out, they're following in the footsteps of Sal's mother, recreating the trip she took to get to Idaho.
- It's time to jump back into Phoebe's story.
- One day, Sal is hanging out at Phoebe's house when Mary Lou Finney calls to invite them over.
- Phoebe has to go around checking and double-checking to make sure all of the doors and windows are locked, because none of the other Winterbottoms are home. Neurotic, much?
- The doorbell rings, and they see a young man (about seventeen or eighteen years old) waiting at the front door. He seems very nervous, and he asks if Mrs. Winterbottom is home. Phoebe tells him she's not.
- When he asks her name, Phoebe tells him. Then Phoebe asks if she can give her mom a message from him, but he says no and leaves.
- Convinced that this guy is a lunatic, Phoebe makes Sal run with her all the way to Mary Lou's house because she's afraid the "lunatic" will ambush them.
- Practical Sal believes Phoebe's imagination is overreacting. Uh, you think?
- Mary Lou Finney and Ben Finney (the one who draws cartoons all day long) are cousins. Ben is staying with her family temporarily. Mary Lou also has an older sister and three brothers.
- It's pandemonium. The boys run around squirting people with squirt guns, playing with basketballs, footballs, asking questions, you name it. Mr. Finney is reading his book in the bathtub, with his clothes on. Mrs. Finney is taking a nap on the roof. Hmmm.
- Uptight Phoebe disapproves of this chaos (no surprise there), but Shmoop thinks it sounds kind of fun.
- Meanwhile, Ben draws a picture of a salamander with long flowing hair and shows it to Sal. That's kinda sweet, right?
- Phoebe and Mary Lou leave the room, and just as Sal is about to follow them, Ben leans in and kisses her collarbone. Hold up. Her collarbone? Sal doesn't know what to make of this at all (and can you blame her?). In fact, she is totally surprised. Did he mean to kiss her on the lips?
- In all this confusion, she notices that his hair smells like grapefruit. Then, Ben takes the picture of the Salamander and flees the room without saying a word.
- Later, when Sal and Phoebe get back to the Winterbottoms', they tell Mrs. Winterbottom about the "visitor" who came by earlier that day asking for her.
- This news really disturbs Mrs. Winterbottom. She tells Phoebe not to tell her father about the visitor.
- But why? wonders Phoebe. Sal guesses her mom is just protecting her from getting into trouble for talking to a stranger.
- On the front porch, Phoebe and Sal discover an envelope with a small strip of blue paper in it, which says, "don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins" (9.28).
- (Check out the "In a Nutshell" to find out where our author got that idea!)
- This message totally confuses Phoebe and her parents. They try to figure out who the message is for and who sent it in the first place. They have no idea, but it seems a bit sinister.
- Mrs. Winterbottom, in particular, is quite upset. Sal knows that she thinks the message is from the "lunatic" visitor who stopped by earlier that day.
- As Gramps pulls into Madison, Wisconsin, Gram says that she feels sorry for Mrs. Winterbottom. She doesn't think Mrs. Winterbottom sounds very happy. "'Being a mother is like trying to hold a wolf by the ears,'" she says (10.3). Wait, it's like what?
- They have a hard time finding a place to park (ugh, don't we all?), so Gramps has to be aggressive. Uh oh. Sounds like that trouble we've been hearing so much about.
- He doesn't have any money for the parking meter, so he leaves a note for city of Madison explaining who he is.
- He tells them he's a World War II veteran with German shrapnel in his leg. When Sal asks her grandfather if he really does have shrapnel in his leg, he doesn't really respond, which we take to mean, "the shrapnel was imaginary" (10.10).
- Madison, Wisconsin is alive. Sal feels like the whole city is on vacation. People are biking, feeding ducks, windsurfing, and more.
- The trio gets some delicious lunch at a deli, raspberry ice cream at a parlor, and some lemon tea and blueberry muffins at a café.
- This all sounds like tons of fun, but Sal is itching to get back on the road. She has this strong urge to get to Idaho A.S.A.P.
- Gram asks Sal if she'd like to send a postcard to anybody, but Sal doesn't like postcards, because her mom sent her loads of postcards after she left.
- She remembers, "The last postcard arrived two days after we found out she wasn't coming back. It was from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. On the front was a picture of a beautiful blue lake surrounded by tall evergreens. On the back she had written, 'Tomorrow I'll be in Lewiston. I love you, my Salamanca Tree.'" (10.17)
- Back on the road, they drive for a few more hours until Gramps gets sleepy. They stop in Wisconsin Dells, a city in south-central Wisconsin known for its beautiful gorges cut by the Wisconsin River.
- As Gramps takes a nap, Sal and Gram explore a fort and watch Native American dancers and drummers. Sal falls asleep on the grass, and when she wakes up, her grandparents are nowhere in sight. It's a scary moment, because she's worried they've left without her.
- Then, she sees Gram dancing in the middle of a huge dance circle, shouting, "'Huzza, huzza'" (10.27). Phew. And… what?
- The next day, Sal, Gram, and Gramps drive through the lower rim of Minnesota. It's beautiful, with lots of trees that make the air smell like pine. Now that they're driving again, it's time for more Phoebe.
- The Saturday after she and Phoebe meet the "lunatic," Mary Lou Finney invites them over to her house again. As they are leaving Phoebe's house, they discover yet another message on the Winterbottom doorstep. This one says, "everyone has his own agenda" (11.6).
- At the Finneys' house, Phoebe, Sal, and Mary Lou try to figure out what these messages mean and who they are for, but of course, no one really knows.
- Sal tells them that she has heard her dad say, "don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins" before. She tells them that it means, "don't judge a person until you've walked in their shoes."
- Then, our resident cartoonist, Ben, draws a picture of two moccasins with moons in them. Sal's shocked – that's exactly what she used to picture when she heard this phrase.
- They all go to the drugstore with Mary Lou's two brothers (Tommy and Dougie) and Ben. Tommy and Dougie are full of energy.
- The whole time they're at the store, Ben walks behind Sal, smiling. At one point, Sal loses her balance, and Ben catches her on her waist. He keeps holding on to her, even after it's pretty clear she's not going to fall. Smooth moves, Ben.
- Sal smells the grapefruit smell of his hair again, and tells him to "let go." She doesn't know what to make of this situation. Boys are so confusing.
- Uh oh: Sal and Phoebe see the "lunatic" buying things at the register. He is looking at them, but by the time they tell Mary Lou and Ben to check him out, he's gone.
- Just to be safe, Ben decides to walk Phoebe and Sal back home to Phoebe's house. Along the way, he asks Sal why she flinches every time someone tries to touch her.
- Sal flatly denies that she does this. So Ben touches Sal's arm, and she manages to catch herself before she gives him the satisfaction of flinching.
- Ben keeps his hand on Sal's arm, and Sal feels tingly in her spine. (Aw!)
- Then he asks her where her mom is. He's quite nosy, this Ben character. Sal tells him she's in Lewiston, Idaho, and then she realizes that she doesn't know where Ben's mom is either.
- Ben touches Sal's arm again, and, this time, she flinches. Gotcha. Then Ben touches Phoebe's arm, and Phoebe totally flinches, too.
- This is not a good sign, guys. Is Sal becoming like Phoebe and the whole Winterbottom family? She doesn't want to be stiff and cold like them. Her family used to be a hugging family. They loved each other a lot, only now, something has changed.
- When they're almost home, Phoebe, Sal, and Ben see Mrs. Cadaver unloading things from her car. Ben is friendly and offers to help her, but Phoebe tries to warn him not to. Ben disappears inside Mrs. Cadaver's house. Uh oh.
- Back at the Winterbottoms', Phoebe shows her mom the newest message that she found on their doorstep, and Mrs. Winterbottom starts to flip out a little.
- When Sal gets home, she asks her dad what it means if someone flinches when someone else tries to touch him or her.
- He doesn't respond, but he looks like he's been crying, and he wraps Sal up in his arms.
- This time, she totally doesn't flinch.
The Marriage Bed
- Gram and Gramps become more and more interested in the story of Phoebe Winterbottom. But they're quite kooky, so they interrupt a lot to ask questions or to give Sal kisses.
- Near the South Dakota border, Gramps decides to take a slight detour north Pipestone, MN. At the national monument, they learn all about the sacred rock that American Indians have quarried (cut) for centuries to create sacred pipes. Gramps, Gram, and Sal share a peace pipe with someone.
- While she's there, Sal asks a man if he is Native American. The man tells her he is a person.
- Sal doesn't quite catch his drift, so she asks him again if he is Native American, and he responds by telling her he is American Indian. She is, too.
- Aside from this strange encounter, though, everyone is very friendly in Pipestone.
- That night, they stay at a motel. Sal tells us that every night, Gramps pats the bed that he will sleep in and say, "'well, this ain't our marriage bed, but it will do.'" (12.13) What's this all about?
- Apparently, Gram and Gramps' bed in Bybanks has been around for a really long time. It belonged to Gramps' parents before it belonged to him and Gram. He and all of his siblings were born in that bed, and his children were born in that bed. That's some serious history.
- This story gives Sal an opportunity to tell us a little bit about how Gram and Gramps met, so we flash back to the olden days in Kentucky.
- In the flashback, Gram is a wild thing who runs free in the fields and meadows. Gramps sees her one day and just knows she's his true love.
- He chases her around for twenty-two days, and on the twenty-third day, he asks her father for permission to marry her. Her father says he can go right ahead if he can manage to catch her. So Gramps proposes to Gram on the spot.
- Her response? She asks him if he has a dog. We're sure that's not the answer he's looking for, but he plays along anyway, and tells her he has a beagle.
- So Gram asks Gramps how he treats his beagle, and Gramps tells her how much he loves and adores his beagle. Right then and there, Gram agrees to marry him. Guess she likes dogs.
- On the night of their wedding, they return to the little cabin that they've just built and that will be their home, and they find a bed. It turns out, Gramps' father and brothers sneaked the bed in during the wedding party as a surprise present. This bed has been in Gramps' family for a long time, and it is now their "marriage bed."
- After that little trip down memory lane, we're back on the highway and back in Sal's story.
- Our girl tells Gram and Gramps about Mr. Birkway, her English teacher.
- If you had him, Mr. Birkway would totally be one of your most favorite teachers. He's crazy and full of energy and enthusiasm. He thinks each of his students is a genius, and he totally loves what he teaches. Sounds pretty great, huh?
- On the first day of school, Mr. Birkway collects his students' journals. Sal's classmates are very nervous about this – they don't want anyone to read what's in their journals. It's private!
- Sal tells Mr. Birkway that she doesn't have a journal, and he tells her he'll think of something else instead.
- These journals are bad news, Sal warns her grandparents.
- And now back to Phoebe.
- One Saturday (not long after the journal incident), Sal is over at Phoebe's house. The two see Mrs. Cadaver digging up a rhododendron bush in her backyard.
- Paranoid Phoebe is more convinced than ever that Mrs. Cadaver is an axe-murderer and that she's got a backyard full of dead bodies. Sal still kind of enjoys thinking that Mrs. Cadaver is evil because hates how much time her dad is spending with the woman.
- Then, to their huge surprise, someone pulls up in Mrs. Cadaver's driveway. Guess who it is? Mr. Birkway, their English teacher. Small world!
- While Mr. Birkway helps Mrs. Cadaver dig up the rhododendron bush, Phoebe and Sal continue to spy on them, totally mystified.
- Mrs. Winterbottom returns home from doing errands, and it looks like she's been crying. (There sure is a lot of crying in this book.)
- Sal suggests they help her put her groceries away, but Phoebe just tells her that her mom really enjoys doing work like that. Sal, for one, isn't so sure because Mrs. Winterbottom looks really sad, and really, who enjoys putting away groceries?
- Later on, Mrs. Winterbottom asks her daughter Prudence, "do you think I lead a tiny life?" (14.25). Geez, have you ever heard a sadder question? And asked to her daughter, no less!
- Instead of answering her mother, Prudence just asks her mother if she has any nail polish remover and could she please hem her skirt. Kind of rude, we think.
- Honestly, it seems like Sal is the only one who really sees how down and out Mrs. Winterbottom is.
- When Sal gets home that night, her dad gives her a present from Mrs. Cadaver. Ugh – great. Sal doesn't want anything to do with it, and when she tells him this, he says that there's something he's been meaning to tell her about Mrs. Cadaver.
- Sal rather harshly tells him she doesn't want to hear it, and she realizes that she is starting to sound exactly like Phoebe. Gulp.
A Snake Has a Snack
- When Sal, Gram, and Gramps cross over into South Dakota, they decide to stop and take a swim in the Missouri River. It's super refreshing, and Sal likes how her long hair floats in the water.
- Suddenly, a young man shows up out of nowhere. He tells them they are on private property, and he pulls out a knife. This cannot be good.
- As Gram, Gramps, and Sal wait, terrified, in the river, the young man looks through Gramps' clothes, hoping to find his wallet.
- Just at that moment, a water moccasin (a snake!) swims by and bites Gram on the leg. Yikes: this just keeps getting worse and worse. See what we mean about Gram and Gramps getting into all kinds of trouble?
- Gramps carries Gram to the car, and the young man, who turns out to be a pretty good guy, uses his knife to cut into the place where the snake has bitten.
- He sucks the venom out of her wound and spits it out. He does this repeatedly, and in between sucking and spitting (ew ew ew), he gives Gramps directions to the nearest hospital.
- Not surprisingly, Gram is not doing well. Water moccasins can be deadly, after all.
- She spends the night in the hospital, and Gramps sleeps in her hospital bed with her, even though the nurses try to kick him out. Guess we know where Sal's stubborn streak comes from.
- Sal tries to give the young man some money from her grandfather, but he won't take it.
- The guy (still a stranger) sleeps all night in a chair in the waiting room, and at one point, tells Sal that he likes her hair.
The Singing Tree
- The next morning, Gram is feeling much better. She is ready to roll again. Huzza, huzza! To be fair, she's also a little short and "cantankerous," because she's probably still in pain.
- The young man introduces himself to Sal as Tom Fleet. He gives her his address in case she ever wants to contact him. What a strange way to make a friend.
- As they are leaving the hospital, Sal hears a beautiful birdsong coming from a tree. It reminds her of her second favorite tree back in Bybanks: an aspen tree.
- She used to stand under that tree for hours trying to catch a glimpse of the bird that lived there, but she could never see it, so it was almost like the tree itself was singing.
- On the day she found out her mom was never coming home, that aspen tree didn't sing like it usually did. On that sad, sad day, Gram and Gramps came to stay with her. They put sleeping bags under the tree, but the tree didn't sing one peep all night long.
- Gram, Gramps, and Sal get back on the road, and they drive through the Badlands of South Dakota. Sal suddenly doesn't feel like rushing anymore. She's no longer in a hurry to get to Idaho. In fact, she wants to go as slowly as possible.
In the Course of a Lifetime
- Back to Phoebe's story.
- Phoebe wants to know why Sal hasn't told her dad that Mrs. Cadaver is an axe-murderer. Where will Sal go if she loses her dad? She tells Phoebe she will go live with her mom, even though she knows in her heart that this could never happen.
- Mrs. Winterbottom is still very unhappy, and Phoebe and Prudence are still completely blind to this. In fact, they get super annoyed when their mom tries to help them figure out their lives and their problems.
- Yet again, Phoebe finds a secret message left on the doorstep. This one says, "in the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?" And yet again, Mrs. Winterbottom is totally upset.
- As Sal heads home, she realizes that in the course of a lifetime, it matters how you treat your mom. She realizes how shallow Phoebe and Prudence are, and how ignorant they are of their mother's pain.
The Good Man
- All right, awesome readers, it's time for Sal to give us the scoop on her dad.
- Her dad is Gram and Gramps' only living son. They had three other sons who each died young.
- Her dad is a good guy who loves the simple life. He's loves flannel shirts and taking care of the same car for 15+ years.
- He is incredibly thoughtful, she tells us, and he's always on the lookout for things he can do for other people. Once, he dug up a flowering bush in a field and brought it home for his mother.
- Because of all this good deed doing, Sal's mother always felt like she had to keep up with her husband in the generosity department. She never felt like she was as "good" as he was.
- Right before she left, she would say things to her husband like, "sometimes, I don't think you are human." (18.8), which made Sal mad, because it seemed like her mom wanted her dad to be "meaner."
- As it turns out, this is all related to the reason Sal's mom has peaced out. She decided to leave so that she could clear her mind and heart. "She needed to learn about what she was" (18.13).
- Sal's mom didn't even say goodbye to Sal, because saying goodbye to her was so hard. So she wrote her a letter instead and told her she will be back soon.
- But when they found out that her mom wasn't ever coming home, Sal's dad started chipping away at the fireplace he discovered behind the plaster wall. He carved his wife's name, Chanhassen, into the cement.
- Soon after this, he started receiving letters from Mrs. Cadaver. Sal didn't like this one bit, so she started throwing some major tantrums. We're talking whoppers.
- After a while, her dad decided to sell the farm. Sal acted out even more, so he agreed to only rent the farm out to other people, rather than sell it. That way, they could move back if they wanted to.
- But he told Sal he needed to get out of Bybanks where he was completely haunted by her mom.
- Sal agreed to temporarily move with him to Euclid, but she didn't understand what was brave or courageous about this move.
- Despite all this, Sal didn't want to know anything about Mrs. Cadaver, or even think about the fact that her dad had been corresponding with her.
- Honestly, Sal kind of wished her dad weren't such a good guy so that she could blame him for her mom's leaving. After all, she doesn't want to blame her mom.
Fish in the Air
- Back to Phoebe's story. Man, we sure are jumping around a lot.
- One day, Sal warns her dad about Mrs. Cadaver, but he doesn't really buy her suspicions. He tries to tell her something about Mrs. Cadaver yet again, but Sal won't have any of it.
- Back at school, Mr. Birkway gives Sal an assignment to write a mini-journal.
- As she and Phoebe walk back from school, they run into… the lunatic.
- Screaming and wailing, they book it back to Phoebe's house where Mrs. Winterbottom tries to calm them down. But Mrs. Winterbottom seems really shaken up, too. What's her damage, anyway?
The Blackberry Kiss
- When Sal starts to write in her new journal, she writes about her mom.
- She remembers how she used to watch her mom when her mom thought no one was looking. Her mom would plop a few blackberries in her mouth and kiss a tree. It's a little weird, but we'll go with it.
- Sal would go to the very same tree later on and could almost see a purple stain where her mother had kissed it. And ever since then, Sal loves kissing trees. No matter what species, they always taste like blackberries.
- In English class the next day, they read e.e. cummings' poem "the little horse is newlY." Sal really likes this poem, even though she's not quite sure what it means.
- After school, Ben tricks Sal into thinking he can read palms. Really, he just wants to hold her hand.
- She storms away from him, but he continues to follow her until she gets to Phoebe's door. Then, he kisses her on the ear. Seriously? Her ear? We're thinking he might have a bit of a problem with his aim.
- At Phoebe's, Phoebe and Sal find there are three notes from Mrs. Winterbottom: one for Phoebe, one for Prudence, and one for Mr. Winterbottom. Sal and Phoebe read the note for Phoebe, which simply tells her to lock all the doors.
- As the evening wears on, Sal and Phoebe discover that Mrs. Winterbottom has gone away for several days. Phoebe totally freaks out because she believes that the lunatic has kidnapped her mother.
- Later that night, Sal tells her dad about what has happened at the Winterbottom house, and he tells her that people usually come back, which makes Sal hopeful that her own mother will come back home, too.
- The next day, Sal notices how sad and nervous Phoebe is. Phoebe tries really hard to cover up what is going on at home.
- In English class, Mr. Birkway asks everyone to draw their souls in fifteen seconds. What, is he crazy or something?
- When they're done, the students discover that their drawings all look very similar. They each have kind of a circular shape with a design in the center, but all the designs are different.
- Except for two, that is. Sal and Ben draw the exact same thing: a circle with a maple leaf in the middle of it. Can you say soulmates?
- That night, Sal sleeps over at Phoebe's house because Phoebe is feeling pretty crummy without her mom. So crummy, in fact, that the next morning, Phoebe tries to convince her dad that she's too sick to go to school.
- Everyone – Phoebe, Prudence, Mr. Winterbottom – is missing Mrs. Winterbottom hardcore. The household is barely functioning and everyone's on edge.
- At school, Phoebe invents all kinds of stories about where her mom might be. Her classmates keep trying to pry the truth out of her, until Sal lays the smack down, telling them, "everyone has their own agenda."
- At this point, Phoebe is absolutely positive that the lunatic kidnapped her mom, so, like a little Nancy Drew, she searches the house for clues.
- They discover that Mrs. Winterbottom has left a bunch of frozen meals in the freezer for them so that they don't have to worry about cooking for themselves. Mr. Winterbottom points to this as evidence that Mrs. Winterbottom has not in fact been kidnapped.
- As Sal heads home that night, Mrs. Cadaver sees her and invites her to have dessert with her and her dad. Sal doesn't feel like it (what a shock), so Sal's dad decides to skip out on dessert, too, and he walks home with her.
- Along the way, Sal poses the possibility that maybe her mom was forced to go to Idaho (just like Phoebe's mom might have been kidnapped by a lunatic). She tells him that maybe they should have stopped her from going. But Sal's dad says that you have to let a person do what they want to do.
- They sit on their porch and watch the sunset, and they're both totally down in the dumps.
- Having reached the Badlands, Sal, Gramps, and Gram stop to look at the beautiful scenery.
- We finally find out that Sal's mother wanted to go to Lewiston to visit a distant cousin of hers. She wanted someone to remind her of who she was/is.
- Gram is having trouble breathing, so Gramps spreads a blanket for her to rest on.
- Meanwhile, Sal sees a pregnant woman, which totally freaks her out. Pregnant women make Sal think of a painful memory. Are you ready for it? Okay, here goes:
- One time, while her mom was pregnant, Sal was playing in the fields. She climbed a tree, but fell off and got knocked out. Her mom found her and carried Sal to safety, even though she probably shouldn't have be doing any heavy lifting in her condition.
- Later that night, Sal's mom went into labor early. They called for a doctor, but the doctor arrived too late, and the baby died, choked by the umbilical cord around its neck. Sal's mother has to have a hysterectomy.
- Sal is full of guilt. Is it her fault that her mother lost her baby? Her dad tells her it is not her fault at all, but she just can't shake her guilt.
- Sal remembers a Native American story her mom used to read to her about Napi, the creator of human beings. Napi chose whether to let humans live forever or die by throwing a stone at the water. If the stone floated, humans would live forever. If the stone sank, humans would die.
- Sal knows that, obviously, people die because, obviously, stones sink. But still, it's a hard thing to accept. We're with you, Sal.
Birds of Sadness
- Gram, Gramps, and Sal spend the night in a hotel with… waterbeds! Sal dreams she is floating down a river with her mother.
- The next day, Sal dives right back in to her story about Phoebe.
- Phoebe finds another message on the doorstep: "you can't keep the birds of happiness from flying overhead, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair."
- At school, Phoebe is spinning lots of yarns about her mother and where her mother is.
- Ben gives a report about Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans. To punish him, Zeus chained him to a rock to have his liver pecked out by birds forevermore. Zeus, it turns out, also sent a troublesome woman, Pandora, to stir things up among the humans.
- That night, Sal has dinner at the Finneys, and her dad has dinner with Mrs. Cadaver.
- Things are as chaotic and energetic as they usually are at the Finneys' house, where Phoebe and Sal have stopped by for dinner. The boys are running around, Mr. Finney is making dinner – the house is buzzing with activity.
- We hate to say it, but Phoebe acts like kind of a brat at dinner; she chastises the Finneys for eating food that is so full of cholesterol (like fried chicken).
- Our gal Sal is pretty embarrassed by her friend.
- Mrs. Finney is annoyed, but good-naturedly gives Phoebe a bowl of Muesli for dinner. We'll take the fried chicken, thank you.
- As they walk home, Sal asks Phoebe to spend the weekend at her house. Aw, that's nice of her.
- Super excited by this, Phoebe instantly asks Mr. Winterbottom for permission.
- Mr. Winterbottom doesn't look too happy. In fact, he's pretty much a sight for sore eyes, wearing a frilly apron and doing the dishes all by himself. Nevertheless, he gives Phoebe permission.
- Totally oblivious to how sad her dad is, Phoebe asks him if he has called the police yet.
- Later, Phoebe calls Sal to tell her that she saw her dad crying on the couch. But then she backtracks and says that that's impossible – her dad never cries.
- When Phoebe comes over that Saturday, she wants to be given the royal treatment because she is the guest. Sal is super annoyed; she thinks Phoebe is being totally ridiculous.
- They go over to the Finneys to see Mary Lou. When they get there, Sal sits on the porch with Ben and has a strange urge to touch his face.
- After a while, she goes inside and watches Mr. and Mrs. Finney climb a ladder to the roof where they can be alone and kiss. This reminds Sal of her parents.
- At home, Sal sleeps on the floor that night so that Phoebe can have the bed. Phoebe cries herself to sleep, and Sal lets her because she's familiar that feeling of being so sad that you don't know what to do with yourself.
- She knows that it's best to leave Phoebe alone.
- The next day, Sunday, Phoebe goes home, where Mr. Winterbottom tells her that her mom called Mrs. Cadaver to tell her that she is safe and sound.
- This makes Phoebe think that Mrs. Cadaver has kidnapped and murdered her mom. She tells her dad they have to call the police.
- Mr. Winterbottom agrees to call the police if they haven't heard from her mom by Wednesday.
- At school on Monday, Phoebe gives a report on Pandora. She attacks Ben's mythology presentation for being full of errors and false information, and tells the class the Pandora was in fact a good, positive gift from the gods to humans.
- The gods made Pandora an incredibly curious creature, and then they gave her a box and told her not to look in it. She opens the box (of course) and unleashes all of the evils of the world.
- But, in addition to the evils of the world, the box also contains hope.
- As she tells this story, Phoebe infuses her description of Pandora with descriptions of her own self. Strange.
- Sal imagines another box – one filled with all the good things in life. And if that box has one evil thing tucked away at the bottom of it, it would be worry.
- That night, Sal wants to call Phoebe and tell her that Mrs. Winterbottom left for her own reasons, reasons that had nothing to do with Phoebe.
- At this point in her story, Gram and Gramps chime in and agree with Sal – that Mrs. Winterbottom's leaving had nothing to do with Phoebe.
- Sal realizes that the same might be true of her own mother. Maybe her leaving had nothing to do with Sal, either. This is a big realization for our girl.
The Black Hills
- All of the sudden, Sal feels the need to rush toward Idaho again. They drive on through the beautiful Black Hills, which look magical.
- They stop at Mount Rushmore, which they don't like at all. Sal wonders how the Sioux people feel when they look up at the faces of four American presidents carved into their holy land.
- They don't stay there long, because Sal really wants to get a move on. Gramps jokes that maybe Sal could take the wheel for a bit. It turns out he taught her how to drive back in Bybanks.
- Despite Sal's big rush, Gram and Gramps really want to stop and see the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone.
The Tide Rises
- Of course we're not done with Phoebe's story yet, so let's dive back in.
- In English class, Mr. Birkway reads William Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" out loud, and asks the students for their interpretations.
- Sal thinks that the poem is about a man who dies. Phoebe agrees with this and adds that he dies a horrific death. But Ben, on the other hand, thinks the man in the poem dies a normal death. Sal responds by saying that death is never, ever normal, to which Ben responds that sometimes even the most horrible things are normal. (What are your thoughts on this debate?)
- After school, Phoebe and Sal go to the police station to report Mrs. Winterbottom's disappearance to an officer named Sergeant Bickle. Sergeant Bickle calls Mr. Winterbottom who comes to pick the girls up.
- At home, Phoebe tells Mr. Winterbottom that her mom would never leave her because she loves her too much. Right then and there, Mr. Winterbottom cries, which never happens.
- Sal and Phoebe notice that Mrs. Cadaver is leaving home to work the late shift (she's a nurse, remember?), so they decide to sneak into Mrs. Cadaver's dark house while she's out.
- This can't end well.
- In the living room, they come upon Mrs. Partridge reading in the dark.
- While Phoebe inspects the living room for any sign of clues, Mrs. Partridge tells Phoebe that she's met her brother. Well that's weird – Phoebe doesn't have a brother.
- On their way back, Sal tries to tell Phoebe that her mom might not have been able to tell her the reasons she had to leave in person. She tries to tell Phoebe that her mom might not come back at all.
- This does not go over well; Phoebe totally freaks and tells Sal to shut up.
- That night in bed, Sal thinks about Longfellow's poem, the way Mr. Winterbottom cried, and about how she used to obsess over things that had once belonged to her mom.
- When she wakes up the next morning, she calls Phoebe and tells her they simply have to find Mrs. Winterbottom.
- The next morning, Phoebe finds a brand new secret message at her front door: "we never know the worth of water until the well runs dry."
- At school, Sal talks to Ben at her locker and tries to kiss him, but she ends up kissing his locker instead. These two just can't get it together.
- Mr. Birkway decides to read aloud from everyone's journal, which his students do not like one bit. Though he changes people's names, everyone knows whose journals belong to whom. Everyone wrote very honest and revealing things about each other. Needless to say, Sal's class is in an uproar.
- After school, Sal and Phoebe go back to see Sergeant Bickle at the police station. Sal notices a family photo on his desk, and when she takes a closer look, she realizes that the son is the very "lunatic" that Phoebe and Sal have been seeing in their neighborhood. Crazy, huh?
- We should point out, though, that Phoebe doesn't notice the photograph, because she's too busy storming out in frustration at Sergeant Bickle for not helping them.
Chicken and the Blackberry Kiss
- Gram, Gramps, and Sal speed through Wyoming until they get to Yellowstone, but it's nighttime, so they check into a motel.
- But Gram is so excited to see Old Faithful in the morning that she can't fall asleep. She asks Sal to continue Phoebe's story as they lie in bed.
- So Sal keeps going.
- When she sees the picture of the lunatic on Sergeant Bickle's desk, she marches straight out of the police station and straight to Phoebe's house. Unfortunately, Phoebe isn't home.
- Mrs. Partridge calls over to Sal. Mrs. Partridge is all dolled up and ready to go somewhere. Just then, Mr. Birkway pulls up. Wait, what's he doing here?
- Apparently, Mr. Birkway is Mrs. Cadaver's twin brother. The plot thickens.
- The next day at school, Sal tries to tell Phoebe about everything she's learned and discovered – about both the photograph, and Mr. Birkway's family – but Phoebe totally gives her the cold shoulder.
- In English class, Mr. Birkway continues to read aloud from students' journals. Everyone is petrified at what might be revealed this time.
- Mr. Birkway reads from a journal that is clearly Sal's. He reads a passage in which she describes her mother's blackberry kiss and Sal's own blackberry kisses. Everyone giggles, and Sal is, of course, completely mortified.
- Then Mr. Birkway reads from another journal. In it, the writer (who is clearly Phoebe) writes about her suspicions that her next-door neighbor is a murderer. Mr. Birkway stumbles while reading this journal, probably because he recognizes his sister's name in the entry.
- Everyone in class is super intrigued about who this murderer really is, but they won't find out because class ends just then. Saved by the bell!
- Gram and Gramps still can't fall asleep, so Sal goes right on telling Phoebe's story.
- That night (after Mr. Birkway reads from Sal and Phoebe's journals), Sal goes over to Phoebe's house for dinner, and while she's there, Mr. Birkway comes to visit the Winterbottom household. Whoa. Why?
- He tells them he wants to apologize for reading Phoebe's journal out loud. He tells them the truth about his sister, Mrs. Cadaver: her husband died when a drunk driver hit him while he was in a car with Mrs. Partridge. He didn't survive, but Mrs. Partridge did. Mrs. Partridge lost her sight as a result of the accident.
- Mr. Birkway tells them that his sister was the nurse on duty in the emergency room the night that her husband and her mother were hit by a drunk driver. Can you imagine how horrible that must have been?
- After their teacher leaves, and Phoebe has lost another lead in the case of her mother's disappearance, Sal tells Phoebe the thing she's been trying to tell her for a while now: the lunatic is in the family portrait on Sergeant Bickle's desk.
- They devise a plan to track down the lunatic using this new lead.
- That night, Sal can't sleep. She's thinking about Mrs. Cadaver and how horrible she must have felt the night that her husband died and her mother lost her sight.
- Well wouldn't you know it, Sal has started to walk in Mrs. Cadaver's shoes.
- But she's done with the story of Phoebe Winterbottom for the night. Gram is still not sleepy, but she tells Sal to go to sleep anyway, and reminds Gramps to say the thing about the marriage bed.
- Finally! Gram, Gramps, and Sal get to see the Old Faithful geyser in Old Faithful, Wyoming. (Take a look yourself!)
- At first it's just a pitiful spit of water, but then it looks like a whole river shooting up from the ground. Gram is totally excited to see this geyser. She can't stop smiling. In fact, just about everyone there is really happy. Huzza huzza, indeed.
- Once they finish watching the geyser, Gram, Gramps, and Sal get back on the road. Gramps wants to get to the Idaho border by before nightfall.
- Gram, Gramps, and Sal drive through the windy, steep Rocky Mountains. Sal is terrified that they are going to crash, so it comes as a relief, and no great surprise, when Gram asks Sal to keep the story coming.
- At school, everyone is still really upset that Mr. Birkway read their journals aloud. They all are eager to know who wrote about the murderer. Mr. Birkway apologizes to his students for reading their journals.
- At the library that day, Ben tries to kiss Sal several times, but she keeps skittering away. Near-miss kisses abound! Geez, kissing is tricky.
- After school, Sal and Phoebe bolt home and look up all of the Bickles in the phone book. They call each of the numbers they can find under that name. At first, it doesn't look like their plan to find Sergeant Bickle's number will work. But then, at the very last minute, they get through to Sergeant Bickle's house. The person on the other line tells them that Sergeant Bickle is at work, so they decide to call later on when he is home.
- That night, Sal calls Sergeant Bickle's number. She is very nervous but totally determined. She pretends to be a friend of Sergeant Bickle's son (the lunatic) and asks for his address, explaining that she needs to return a book to him.
- Sergeant Bickle gives her his son's address, not suspecting a thing.
- After this, Sal feels like pretty much the coolest person ever. Because she totally is.
- The next day, Sal and Phoebe put their plan to find the lunatic in action. Thanks to Sal's amazing detective work, she has the lunatic's address. Turns out, he goes to college in a nearby town called Chanting Falls.
- They're going to take the bus, and when they get to the stop, they run into Ben.
- Ben is also taking the bus to Chanting Falls, but he's not going to the university. He's going to the hospital to visit someone, but he won't say who.
- Phoebe is super annoyed that Ben is on the bus, too. Sal is nervous because her arm keeps rubbing up against his arm. Sparks are totally flying: "Every time I was with him now, my skin tickled and my brain buzzed and my blood romped around as if it were percolating" (36.10).
- When they arrive, they go to the freshman dormitory where Mike Bickle, the lunatic, lives. It's a very crowded, busy three-story building, and there are college students everywhere, which means that Phoebe and Sal stick out like sore thumbs.
- The man at the front desk is very friendly and tells them where they can find Mike Bickle's room.
- Phoebe freaks out and tells Sal she can't go through with this – she can't confront the lunatic. What if he slits their throats? So Sal finds a nice bench out front for them to sit on where they can calm down.
- And that's when they see it: Mike the lunatic and Mrs. Winterbottom are hanging out on the lawn together. Mrs. Winterbottom kisses Mike on the cheek.
- Phoebe stares at her mother and Mike the lunatic in disbelief.
- Sal, on the other hand, cannot watch. Instead, she bolts, heading for the bus stop. But she's so flustered, she goes right past it, and somehow ends up at the hospital. On a hunch, Sal asks a nurse where she can find Mrs. Finney.
- The nurse tells her that Mrs. Finney is in the psychiatric ward and cannot accept visitors, but that Sal might be able to find Mrs. Finney and Ben on the lawn out back.
- Out on the lawn, Sal finds a scene much like the one she has just left at the university. People are milling about, sitting on benches, walking on paths. The only differences are that no one is studying here, and some people are wearing hospital gowns.
- And there he is, our oh-so-dreamy Ben. He's sitting with a woman who turns out to be his mother.
- Ben's mother does not acknowledge Sal, and wanders off in different directions across the lawn. Sal and Ben follow her meandering path. Mrs. Finney's mood and demeanor remind Sal of how her own mother behaved after losing the baby.
- After a while, Ben and Sal look at each other, and suddenly, everything comes together. They share a meaningful kiss.
- Best. Kiss. Ever. For real.
- Ben asks Sal if the kiss tasted at all like blackberries to her. So cute!
- Gram is totally thrilled by the kiss between Sal and Ben. She's been waiting for it for ages.
- But Sal is determined to finish telling Phoebe's story to her grandparents, so she keeps right on going.
- After kissing Ben at the hospital, Sal goes back to the bus stop where she finds a very moody Phoebe. She is mad that Sal left her there at the university, staring at her mother and the lunatic.
- Sal doesn't tell Phoebe where she's been or the fact that she's been kissing Ben Finney.
- She does, however, ask Phoebe what she's going to do now that she knows where her mother is.
- But Phoebe's too mad to deal with the whole thing. She tells Sal that she doesn't care about her mom anymore: "'I'm sick of it. My mother can stay there for all I care. She doesn't need me. She doesn't need any of us'" (38.11). Ugh, poor Phoebe.
- When they get back to Euclid, Prudence tells Phoebe that her mother has finally called home. Mrs. Winterbottom has told Prudence that she's coming home tomorrow and that she's bringing someone with her. Mrs. Winterbottom asks Prudence to tell Mr. Winterbottom not to make any "prejudgments." What in the world does that mean?
- Phoebe is sad and angry and doesn't tell her sister or father what she's seen that day.
- When Sal comes home, she finds Mrs. Cadaver and her father on the porch. Mrs. Cadaver tries to sweet talk Sal, but Sal won't have it.
- Mrs. Cadaver leaves, and Sal tells her father about Mrs. Winterbottom. Sal's dad says he's glad Mrs. Winterbottom is coming home, and then he stares out the window in a sad kind of way, probably thinking about her mother, his wife.
- The next day, Phoebe begs Sal to come over to her house to be a "witness" to her mother's return. We can't imagine actually wanting to be a fly on that wall, but Sal's game.
- At the Winterbottom's house, Prudence and Mr. Winterbottom are cleaning everything from top to bottom. When the house is spotless, they decide to mess it up a bit so that Mrs. Winterbottom won't think that they can survive without her.
- Mr. Winterbottom is very nervous. He changes his shirt several times, paces around the yard, and wipes the counters continuously. Poor guy.
- Finally, a taxi pulls up and Mrs. Winterbottom arrives with the lunatic. Mr. Winterbottom is totally confused at first. Who is this guy that she has brought with her?
- Plus, something else has changed. Mrs. Winterbottom looks amazing. She's cut her hair in a very stylish way and she's wearing a stylish outfit. She's like a whole new woman.
- Mrs. Winterbottom breaks into tears, explaining to her family that Mike the lunatic is her son.
- Whoa. What?
- She tells them that she had Mike before she married Mr. Winterbottom and gave him up for adoption. She's been trying so hard to be "respectable" that she hasn't ever told Mr. Winterbottom about Mike.
- When Mike tried to find her, she was scared at first, but then she decided she wanted to reconnect with him.
- Everyone is stunned. Shocked. Dumbfounded. Except for Phoebe, who is just plain angry.
- Mr. Winterbottom wants to know whether his wife plans on leaving them for good. Shallow Prudence, on the other hand, just flirts with Mike. What a mess.
- Mrs. Winterbottom tells them that she doesn't intend to leave unless they want her to leave, so Mr. Winterbottom shakes Mike's hand and proposes that they all sit down and talk things out. Aw, what a nice guy.
- Phoebe is so ticked off by her family, she decides to leave with Sal.
- Just as they open the front door, Sal and Phoebe discover Mrs. Partridge leaving a message in white envelope on the Winterbottoms' front porch. Dun dun dun.
- At this point in Sal's story, Gram, Gramps, and Sal have just crossed the border into Idaho. Gramps decides to push onto Coeur d'Alene where they can stay the night.
- Tomorrow, August 20th, is Sal's mom's birthday, which means they are making good time. From Coeur d'Alene it's an easy drive to Lewiston, where Sal's mom is.
- Gram doesn't look too good, though. Worried, Gramps and Sal try to figure out how she is feeling, but Gram just tells them she wants to push on to Coeur d'Alene. Her breathing is raspy and she looks kind of sick.
- Sal finishes telling Phoebe's story. So she and Phoebe discover that Mrs. Partridge has been leaving the secret messages on the Winterbottom doorstep all along: "'I thought they were grandiful surprises for you—like fortune cookies, only I didn't have any cookies to put them in'" (40.21).
- A very angry Phoebe decides to spit in the street. Sal joins her. It feels really good to spit, like a satisfying little rebellion. Maybe we should all take a spitting break right now. (Just make sure there's no one around first.)
- And we're back.
- After spitting with Phoebe, Sal feels courageous. She visits Mrs. Cadaver and talks to her for a long time. She learns all about how Mrs. Cadaver met her father. We readers don't get to hear this story, but we do know that Sal cries quite a bit when she hears it, and it helps her finally understand why her father likes to hang out with Mrs. Cadaver.
- When she gets back home, Sal finds Ben waiting for her. He has brought her a present: a chicken named Blackberry. They kiss (Ben and Sal – not the chicken). Best present ever!
- This concludes Sal's story of Phoebe.
- Gram is starting to really look pale now, and her breathing is really raspy, so Gramps steps on it. They need to get to Coeur d'Alene, and fast.
- Gramps and Sal take Gram to the hospital as soon as they get to Coeur d'Alene. Gram is unconscious, slumped over. This is so not good.
- The doctors tell them that Gram has had a stroke and that she can't hear them, so he doesn't need to stay in the room. Here's Gramps' awesome response: "'Sonny, I've been by her side for fifty-one years, except for three days when she left me for the egg man. I'm holding on to her hand, see? If you want me to let go, you'd have to chop my hand off'" (41.3).
- Sal stays by herself in the waiting room while Gramps stays with Gram.
- Someone comes in with an old beagle dog, but the receptionist won't let him bring the dog in the hospital, so Sal offers to take care of the dog while his owner visits the hospital. We think that's something her mother would have done.
- The dog is really cute, puts his head in Sal's lap, and reminds her of her old dog, Moody Blue.
- It's around midnight when Sal is finally able to see Gram, who's still unconscious. There are lots of tubes and wires connecting her to machines. Gramps leans over her, whispering things to her.
- The nurses tell Gramps that Gram can't hear him, but Gramps tells them that she can. He also tells Sal that they are going to be in the hospital for a while, which poses a bit of a problem.
- He hands Sal the car keys and some money and tells her to go do what she has to do.
- Sal goes out to the car, holding the keys. She studies the map several times, counts the money Gramps gave, and then practices driving around the parking lot a bit.
- Finally, she pulls out of the hospital parking lot and begins the journey to Lewiston all on her own. It's pretty reckless, we've got to admit.
- Sal is nervous, but she feels good, too. She knows she can make this journey, because she knows how to drive. But still, just in case, she prays to the trees that she passes on the windy road to Lewiston.
- It takes her four hours to drive from Coeur d'Alene to the top of Lewiston Hill. She pulls into an overlook. Far below is a valley where the Snake River winds. The road down the hill is one of those terrifying mountain roads with all kinds of twists and turns and cliffs.
- She tries to see something in the valley below, but it's still nighttime and everything is pretty dark.
- Sal gathers her courage and drives into the valley. It's the most terrifying drive ever. The road is narrow and there isn't much space between the road and giant cliffs.
- At the next opportunity, Sal pulls into another overlook to take a break. While she's there, another car pulls up, and a man steps out asking where the rest of her family is.
- She tells him they're "around," and the man assumes they're peeing in the woods close by.
- The man points out a huge metallic object through the treetops. It is glowing in the moonlight.
- "'A bus went off the road here—a year or more ago," he said. "Skidded right there, coming out of that last turn, and went sliding into this here overlook and on through the railing and rolled over and over into those trees. A helluva thing. When I came home that night, rescuers were still hacking their way through the brush to get to it. Only one person survived, ya know?'" (41.35).
- Sal knows.
The Bus and the Willow
- Sal-the-brave hops right over the railing and climbs down into the thick forest below.
- She finds the bus on its side. It's a big old mess, with twisted wheels and metal, and huge holes in the side. The seats are all jumbled together, and there's absolutely no way Sal can walk around inside.
- Still, she scours the whole scene, hoping to find something, anything. Eventually, she climbs back up the hill to the car.
- The cops are there. Ruh-roh.
- First, they scold her for climbing around the bus and the scene of the accident. Then they ask Sal where "the others" (a.k.a her family) are, so she tells them that her Gram and Gramps are in Coeur d'Alene.
- The cops want to know who drove her there on that dangerous road. Sal tells them the truth – s he drove herself. The cops are totally shocked (who wouldn't be?) and tell her to get in their car.
- Sal is absolutely sure she's going to the slammer forever.
- But instead of to jail, the cops drive her to a cemetery in Lewiston by the Snake River, where they lead her to a grave overlooking the valley. The gravestone says Chanhassen "Sugar" Pickford Hiddle and has a picture of a maple tree beneath. (Are you as surprised as we are?)
- Sal realizes for the first time that her mother really and truly is never coming back.
- But then something amazing happens. Sal hears a birdsong. A real, true birdsong. It's coming from a willow tree near her mother's grave.
- Sal kisses the willow tree and says, "happy birthday" to it.
- Then she hops back into the police car and tell the cops that they can take her jail now.
- The cops do not take Sal to jail (phew!). Instead, they drive her back to Coeur d'Alene.
- During the ride there, the sheriff lectures Sal about driving without a license. He makes her promise him she won't drive by herself until she has a license.
- Sal asks the sheriff if he was there the night of the bus crash, and he tells her he was but he won't go into the details of it. He doesn't think she'd want to hear about everything that happened that night.
- Still, she wants to know more, so Sal asks him if he remembers Mrs. Cadaver, which he does. He also remembers Sal's dad.
- When she hears this, Sal tells him (and us) about the conversation she had with Mrs. Cadaver before she left. You know, the one we readers never really got to hear about? Apparently, Mrs. Cadaver was the only survivor of the bus crash. She and Sal's mother became friends on their long bus journey to Lewiston. Sal's mother told Mrs. Cadaver all about Sal and Bybanks and her whole family. Mrs. Cadaver held Sal's mother's hand in the final hours of her life, after the horrible bus crash. They had been sitting next to each other the whole ride.
- So when Sal's father came to Lewiston to say goodbye to his wife, he visited Mrs. Cadaver in the hospital after learning that she had sat next to his wife before the crash. They talked for six hours straight. Sal's father maintained a connection with Mrs. Cadaver because she had been with his wife during the last hours of her life. Oh, how sad.
- Sal falls asleep during the last bit of the journey to Coeur d'Alene, and when she wakes up, she is still in the sheriff's car, which is parked at the hospital.
- The sheriff comes out of the hospital and gets back in the car. He gives Sal an envelope.
- Inside, Gramps had left a message for her with the name of the motel where he is staying. He tells her that Gram died at three o'clock in the morning.
- Sal hugs her grandfather when she gets to the motel. He tells her how much he misses Gram. When Sal notices a scribbled note on the table, Gramps tells her it's a love letter he had written to Gram that night.
- Sal learns that Gram's body is being sent back to Bybanks where her father will meet it, and she and Gramps will return to Bybanks the next day.
- This is probably the best chapter in the history of chapters. You should really go read it right now. And then read it another three times. You won't be sorry.
- Basically, we learn all about Sal's life in the present:
- She and Gramps are back in Bybanks, and Gram has been buried in the aspen grove where she and Gramps were married.
- Sal tells us that she thinks that just as there was a fireplace buried behind the plastic wall in Bybanks, her mother's story was buried underneath Phoebe's. And underneath both those stories is the story of Gram and Gramps. See? Everything is connected.
- In other news, Sal has written to Tom Fleet, the boy who robbed them and who saved Gram's life in Minnesota. In her letter, she tells him Gram has died. Tom has written back, too, telling her that he is sorry to hear about Gram and that he'd like to visit her someday.
- Sal is practicing her driving with Gramps on his old farm, and Gramps has new beagle puppy that he has named Huzza Huzza, in memory of Gram. Sometimes, the two of them play something called the moccasin game, which involves imagining what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. Sounds like fun to Shmoop.
- Sal realizes that the trip to Lewiston had been a gift from Gram and Gramps to her, so that she could say goodbye to her mother. Plus, she finally understands why her dad didn't take her to Idaho in the first place – he was too sad and too heartbroken.
- Sal tells us that Phoebe's family helped her understand and come to terms with her own family, and our girl's grateful for that.
- This prompts her to offer us some really amazing nuggets of philosophy. She tells us she realizes that though there might be horrible things in the world (like axe murderers, war, and brain tumors), most of us have a lot in common and are just trying to get by. You can choose to focus on all of the horrible and scary things in Pandora's box, or you can focus on the other box – the one with all of the beautiful, amazing, hopeful things in it.
- Sal still looks at her mother's postcards and mementos, and she hears the singing tree sing all the time these days.
- Still, not everything is perfect, which she totally admits. For one thing, Sal is jealous of three things:
- That Ben Finney wrote a journal entry about a girl that he liked (before he had met Sal).
- That her mother wanted to have more children. Wasn't she enough?
- That Phoebe's mother came back but hers did not.
- But she is also able to see the other side of the story when it comes to thinking about these jealousies, because she is getting really good at walking in other people's moccasins.
- Sal tells us that Phoebe, Ben, Mrs. Cadaver, Mrs. Partridge, and possibly Mr. Birkway are coming to visit next month in August. Sal is super excited about this. She and her dad are getting ready for these guests to arrive.
- "But for now, Gramps has his beagle, and I have a chicken and a singing tree, and that's the way it is.
- Huzza, huzza" (44.26-27).
- Huzza, huzza, indeed.