Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

And You Wonder Why We Get Called the Weird Watsons

  • So, it's cold. Super-duper, spit freezing cold. And according to our narrator, Kenny, you would be stupid to go outside. In fact, it's so cold outside that it's also cold inside, and Kenny's family is huddled together on the couch, trying to keep warm.
  • While they're huddling and shivering, we learn that Kenny's family consists of Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta (Joey), and big brother Byron (an official teenage juvenile delinquent). They live in Flint, Michigan where the whole family was born. Oh, except for Momma, who is from Alabama and doesn't seem too happy about this cold, northerly weather.
  • To distract everyone from the cold, Dad starts telling the story of how Momma almost married Moses Henderson instead of him. Dad thinks this story is hilarious.
  • Momma points out that if she'd married Moses, at least they'd all be warm and living in Birmingham where "life is slower, the people are friendlier" (1.25). Dad is quick to remind her of the "Coloreds Only" bathroom in downtown Birmingham. The what bathroom?
  • Dad seems to know this conversation is about to become an argument, so he calls Aunt Cydney, who has a brand new furnace, to see if they can spend the night.
  • Then he sends Byron and Kenny out to scrape the ice off the Brown Bomber (it's what they call their car... and we're beginning to see the weird).
  • Outside, Kenny and Byron are each scraping one side of the Bomber when Byron starts mumbling Kenny's name. Now, Byron is a known and ruthless prankster, so Kenny ignores him, assuming it's a trick. Our man Kenny's been around the block once or twice.
  • When Kenny finally does take a look, he finds that Byron's lips are stuck to the side mirror on the car. That's right; his lips froze to the mirror. How did his lips, of all things, get stuck to the car?
  • Well, Kenny doesn't stop to wonder and he doesn't pull any pranks (even though Byron would have certainly pranked Kenny if he was the one stuck); he just runs inside to get help. That Kenny is one of the good ones.
  • The whole family follows Kenny outside to see Byron. Momma screams and nearly faints. Joey starts crying. Dad starts laughing and making jokes—he figures out that the only way a person gets his lips stuck to a mirror is if he was making out with his own reflection. Nice one, By.
  • After some debate, the Weird Watsons decide to try pouring hot water on the mirror to unfreeze Byron's lips. The trouble is, it is so super-duper cold outside that the water freezes as soon as it touches the mirror. Uh oh. What now?
  • Momma starts freaking out and demands that Dad take Byron to the hospital. Dad points out that Byron would have to run alongside the car for that to work. Not an option.
  • Momma sends everybody inside to call the hospital and ask what to do. Dad and Joey go inside, but Kenny senses Momma is up to something, so he stays.
  • Momma starts talking real nice to Byron, saying she loves him and she'd never hurt him. Now Byron is suspicious too and he starts yelling for help as Momma grabs his head and yanks him off the mirror. Ouch! Byron runs in the house crying.
  • In the car on the way to Aunt Cydney's, Kenny finally takes advantage of the situation and invents a superhero called the Lipless Wonder in honor of Byron. The whole family cracks up, except Byron of course.
  • This round goes to Kenny.

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