Why did Grandma Dowdel take a smelly cheese to the creek in Richard Peck's novel A Long Way from Chicago?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 3, titled "A One-Woman Crime Wave--1931," of Richard Peck's novel A Long Way from Chicago, Grandma Dowdel puts some awful-smelling cheese into a gunnysack, cheese that "smelled bad enough to gas a cat"  and tells the kids they are going on a hike to escape the busyness of town. As Joey Dowdel narrates, he had begun to realize the cheese was the sort that "catfish consider a delicacy." Grandma had already packed a picnic basket full of canned tomatoes, canned peaches, beans, turnips, and cabbage and left Joey to be in charge of carrying it. They then headed out in the early morning.

They reach a barbed wire fence upon which hung a sign bearing the signature of the county sheriff:


The family follows Grandma who shimmies under the fence and heads to the creek, where she extracts a hidden rowboat. In the boat, Grandma rows up the creek until she stops and pulls something out of the water using a rod; the something turns out to be a trap full of catfish, "mad as hornets." Grandma drags the trap into the boat and fills a "wire-and-net contraption" at the bottom of the boat with the fish. She then takes the cheese from her gunnysack and puts it in the trap as bate for new fish. On the way home, they are pursued by the sheriff but escape and stop at a dilapidated home where they share the picnic basket and catfish with Grandma's elderly friend called Aunt Puss Chapman.

Hence, Joey had been correct when he had speculated early on in the chapter that the pungent cheese was going to be used as catfish bate.