What is a summary of Chapter 1 of Margaret McMullan's novel When I Crossed No-Bob?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 1 establishes the main characters through descriptions of their positions in life, clothes and actions. It establishes setting of time and general location through describing the physical characteristics, attitudes and past actions of peripheral characters, for instance:

[The men] all came back with the guns they kept even though they were supposed to give them up and promise never ever to take up arms against the government of the United States again. After the war almost every family was armed.

The first characters introduced are the narrator, the bride (Irene) and the narrator's Momma. Addy and her Momma are uninvited guests, looking in from out-of-doors, at the wedding of elegant Irene, who must have grown up with slaves ("Back when they had slaves"), to tall "happy-scared" Mr. Frank Russell. Both "have all their teeth," which constitutes the possible introduction of a "teeth" motif of riches versus want. Irene's and Frank's families are historically positioned in this part of the narrative in relation to the Civil War. Irene's uncle is giving her away, and contrast is made between Frank's "pa" with one arm and Frank's "ma" with "both arms."

Addy wonders how Mr. Frank, a thin man, could possibly have summoned enough courage to ask Irene's very large uncle--standing in for her father because her "pa died in the war"--for her hand in marriage. Frank's courage--the small facing up to the large--introduces a critical theme developed throughout the book. Addy wonders if "Mr. Frank will ever go away to Texas like" her "pappy" did, leaving Momma with a terrible attack of "misery" that changed the color of her blond hair to brown to white in one short year. Addy would have helped her Momma's misery with herbs and teas if she had known how--and if her Momma had just asked her once.

Addy and her Momma pretend to be happy along with the other guests who have spilled outside the church with cloths spread for feasting. Addy discloses their poverty by saying that they smooth their "thin brown calico dresses" before digressing to character development: she says how "O'Donnells all attend Sunday services" barefoot, with their guns left at the door. Addy sees children playing games all around her and sees the war crippled men; her pappy had told her "stories about the war and the world" before going to Texas with a promise, many years ago, to send for Addy and Momma. After the war, the men kept the guns they were supposed to hand over to the United States government, so nearly all families were armed. The wedding scene is "ten years later in [that] time called peace, when people still walk around ... half clothed, half fed" with ears "still ringing from the four years of war noise. Pappy said after the war, the light was different." Ruins greet people every dawn.

Addy uses the waiting time--waiting for food to be served or offered-- to tell about how people back away when they see her and Momma, about the "O'Donnel way" of ploughing without a mule, and about "No-Bob" land, land into which a "freed black man named Bob" had the misfortune of wandering, going straight "into O'Donnell territory," never to be seen again despite the sheriff's search party. Addy's attention goes back to Momma who instructs her to listen for silver jingling in "people's purses and pockets" and point them out to her. Addy also notices Momma talking to a man with a mule, telling about her woes and about Texas. When Momma looks at Addy again, she looks at her "differently, like [Addy's] a sack of bricks she's tired of hauling."

Addy finds food and sneaks off with it. She says "Hey" to the flower girl, Little Brit, who wanders by. The girls get to talking and meander down to the creek to eat the cakes Little Brit brings to share with Addy. At the creek, they see two Choctaw women on the far side cutting reeds ("cane") for basket weaving. The Choctaw are "squatters" since their tribal lands were taken from them through the "Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek." Addy has an unusual experience, for one of the Choctaw women, usually never looking over the creek, looks up at her, "and for a minute, it feels like [they] recognize each other." This is foreshadowing of future events, perhaps an ominous warning of what is to come for Addy. In the creek water, Addy sees her reflection next to Little Brit's. She notes the contrasts and ends the chapter by saying: "I am dirty, it's true and Little Brit has shoes and I do not."

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When I Crossed No-Bob

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