The Watsons live in Flint, Michigan. As the story opens, as Kenny says, "it was about a zillion degrees below zero" (page 1). The family turns up their thermostat, but the furnace is making noises and seems like it's going to "blow up." To keep warm, the family is huddled together on the couch under a blanket. They are wearing scarves and other winter clothing. Outside is their car, a 1948 Plymouth (which is 15 years old), which they have named the Brown Bomber. The family is clearly close, and the father helps the family keep their minds off the cold by making jokes. Later, the family travels to Birmingham, Alabama, to bring their oldest son, Byron, to the house of Momma's mother, Grandma Sands, in an attempt to teach Byron how to show respect and manners.