After numerous visits to her grandmother's rural southern Illinois home, Mary Alice becomes conspiratorial in her relationship with members of the local community. When Mary Alice and her brother Joey make their annual visit in Chapter Five, like her grandmother, Mary Alice displays her solicitude for members of the community, and like her grandmother, Mary Alice proves to be "tough as an old boot."
In 1933, Mary Alice and the narrator, who now wishes to be called Joe rather than Joey, visit their grandmother once again in the summer. They stop at the Coffee Pot Cafe where Mary Alice has made friends with Vandalia Eubanks, a rather pale, thin, seventeen-year-old who works there as a waitress. As the girls talk, Mrs. Eubanks enters and demands her daughter's wages. Disturbed by the woman's conduct, Mary Alice tells her brother, "Vandalia's mother is like a jailer, and she tries to run her life." That night, Joe hears a shuffling sound coming from Mary Alice's room, but after he knocks on her door, she tells him she is befriending a puppy.
As it turns out, Mary Alice has allowed Vandalia to secretly stay in the bedroom with her until she can "steal away" with the young man that she loves, Junior Stubbs. Their plans are delayed for a while as Mrs. Eubanks comes roaring up in her buckboard, seeking Vandalia. But, when Vandalia's mother props a ladder against the house so that she can peep into the bedroom of Mary Alice, Grandma warns her never to come back after the ladder tumbles to the ground. In the meantime, the parents of Junior have also been deterred from visiting Grandma to accuse her of meddling with their boy.
The couple do elope as Joe disguises himself as a railroad worker in the night with a lantern and the Wallbash train slows long enough for the couple to jump into one of the cars. Mary Alice has never said anything to her grandmother or Joe, but they have figured out the situation, just as she and Joe have understood so many times what their grandmother plans as she aids others.