Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Froze Up Southern Folks

  • According to Kenny, since Momma is from Alabama, she thinks the cold can kill you. She makes Kenny and Joey wear about five hundred layers, and Kenny says that by the time they pull on their last coat, they can't even bend their arms.
  • Joey complains that all the coats and scarves make her too hot. She whines the whole time Momma is getting her dressed and the whole time Kenny is getting her undressed at school, but it's no use because Momma won't back down. She says that the cold is dangerous and people die in it all the time.
  • One day, Kenny complains to Byron about Joey's complaining. Sheesh, maybe they should be called the Whiny Watsons.
  • Byron says he'll talk to Joey about it. It's unlike Byron to be helpful, so Kenny is a little suspicious.
  • On the way to school, Byron cooks up some story about how the garbage trucks they see in the morning aren't real garbage trucks at all.
  • Instead, he says, these trucks go around and collect all the Southern folks that froze to death in the night. Byron explains that only Southern folks freeze like that because they have thin blood, but since Momma is from the South, half of their blood is thin Southern blood and they might freeze without their winter clothes.
  • Joey believes every word of this crazy story and stops complaining about wearing so many clothes.
  • Kenny tells us that the only good thing about Momma's fear of the cold is that they get to wear real leather gloves with rabbit's fur lining. She buys them two pairs each winter. Fancy.
  • Kenny decides to give his first pair of gloves to Rufus. He tells Momma he lost them and she gives him his second pair. Now the two friends are both armed and ready for snowball fights.
  • Things are great for a few days until Kenny's new pair of brown leather gloves disappears from the closet at school.
  • Then mysteriously, Larry Dunn, who usually wears socks as mittens, starts wearing a pair of leather gloves just like Kenny's, only they're black instead of brown. Hmm, seems fishy.
  • On Friday, Larry stops Kenny and Rufus on their way home from school to administer something he calls a "Maytag Wash" (4.83).
  • Imagine a lengthy cycle of snow and ice being smashed into your face as if you are trapped in a frozen washing machine. Unpleasant.
  • After the Maytag Wash, Kenny and Rufus notice that the snow that Larry shoved in their jackets is covered in black shoe polish from his gloves. This proves what everyone already suspects: Larry stole Kenny's gloves and colored them black so no one would know.
  • Kenny feels helpless. He knows Momma is going to notice his missing gloves, but it's already his second pair. He starts to cry.
  • Byron sees Kenny crying and asks what happened. Not kindly, but he asks.
  • Kenny tells Byron that Larry stole his gloves, and Byron takes Kenny to find Larry. Uh oh.
  • Byron asks Larry for the gloves, but Larry says no.
  • Byron's answer? He asks again, this time hitting Larry in the head after each word. Then he takes the gloves and gives them to Kenny.
  • Kenny thinks the ordeal is over—but it isn't.
  • Byron tells Kenny to hit Larry. Hitting is not really Kenny's thing, so he just gives Larry a wimpy little slap. Byron isn't satisfied, so Kenny hits Larry a little harder.
  • Next up? Byron punches Kenny hard in the stomach. Kenny has so many jackets on that it doesn't really hurt, but he pretends it does. He's no dummy.
  • By now, a crowd has gathered, so Byron really has to show off for everyone. Kenny knows this isn't about protecting him anymore; it's just plain bullying.
  • Byron puts on an elaborate show, jerking Larry around, making fun of his ripped jacket and ratty shoes, and throwing him against a frozen chain link fence over and over. Yeah, ouch.
  • Kenny points out that Byron is the only person who could make you feel sorry for someone like Larry Dunn.
  • Kenny can't watch anymore, so he leaves with Rufus, wishing he hadn't told Byron about the gloves to begin with.
  • Big brothers sure are difficult, aren't they?

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