Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

The Ultra-Glide

  • Momma and Dad are acting strange.
  • Momma starts writing in a notebook, adding and subtracting a bunch of numbers.
  • Dad drives all over town buying stuff for the Brown Bomber (the car, remember?).
  • They get the old car all fixed up and clean and shiny, adding one of those pine tree air fresheners as a finishing touch.
  • That's nice, but what's this all about?
  • On Saturday morning, Dad goes out early and comes back with a surprise. He makes the whole family line up outside with their eyes closed.
  • Then he reveals the latest addition to the Brown Bomber: a record player installed in the dashboard.
  • Brief history lesson: a record is how people listened to music back before there were computers and CDs and cassette tapes. It's a shiny black disc the size of a dinner plate, so imagine a machine big enough to play one in the middle of your car. But in the 1960s, this was the height of cool.
  • Momma seems upset about how much money this must have cost (height of cool = expensive), but the kids are super excited—even Byron, who is usually too cool to be excited about anything.
  • Oh by the way, the record player is called the Ultra-Glide. It's the newest type of record player and it doesn't skip when the car goes over a bump.
  • Dad puts on a show for everyone, talking about all the great features of the Ultra-Glide. Byron goes to get some records and even Momma comes back out to join in the fun.
  • Dad starts pretending to be a disc jockey on the radio, taking requests. He's loving every second, really dragging out his performance, but finally he plays the first song. They are all amazed at how good it sounds and the whole family sits in the car for like two hours playing records.
  • Then Momma asks Dad if he told the kids yet.
  • Finally, we're going to find out what's going on!
  • Dad suddenly looks uncomfortable and doesn't want to tell them.
  • So yeah, it's not good news.
  • Momma says they have to tell them. Then she explains that they are going to take a trip to Alabama.
  • Well, that doesn't sound so bad.
  • And Grandma Sands is going to keep Byron for the summer.
  • Oh.
  • And if he doesn't straighten up, he'll have to stay there for the whole year.
  • Yikes.
  • Kenny is thrilled. Finally a break from Byron!
  • Byron is shocked. So shocked he can't even mouth off about it.
  • Momma explains that they've given him chance after chance, but he's just getting worse. He cuts school, starts fires, signs for food without permission, steals money from Momma's purse, sets mousetraps for birds, something about a cat and falling out of a tree, joined a gang (wait, what?), and then there's the thing with his hair... it's too much for Momma. So Grandma Sands is going to take over for a while.
  • Momma tells Byron that he'll like Birmingham. There are nice boys (no Buphead), and the town is peaceful and quiet. Grandma Sands says that the stuff on the news isn't happening near them. (She's talking about the civil rights protests—check out "Setting" for more deets on that.)
  • Apparently Momma and Dad have threatened to send Byron to Grandma Sands before, but the kids never believed they were serious.
  • Kenny says there are three reasons they figured this would never happen:
  • First, Birmingham is far away—two million miles away according to Kenny. (Actually, it's more like 800 miles, but it's a long drive none-the-less).
  • Second, Momma and Dad were always threatening Byron, but they almost never went through with any of it.
  • Third, the kids have heard so many stories about how strict Grandma Sands is that they can't believe Momma would really send Byron to live with her.
  • This time though, Momma means it.
  • Byron runs in the house, slams the door, and cusses real loud.
  • Yup Byron, you're in over your head this time.

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