Chapter 1 Summary
Granny Blakeslee died three weeks ago. Today, Grandpa Blakeslee comes to the Tweedy house for his usual “early morning snort of whisky” and sends fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy to get his Aunt Loma and his mother. The fifty-nine-year-old grandfather has something to say and he only intends to say it once.
It is July 5, 1906. It is one day after the first Fourth of July celebration held in Cold Sassy, Georgia, since the War Between the States; it is three months after a big earthquake in San Francisco. It is a year after Tweedy’s great-grandmother “died for the second and last time” and six months after Tweedy’s best friend burned his hand on one of the firecrackers he got for Christmas and died of lockjaw ten days later.
In the three weeks since his wife died, Blakeslee “had sort of drawn inside his own skin.” Today Blakeslee stalks through the Tweedy house to get to the corn whiskey he openly stashes here because his wife would not have it in her house. Usually Blakeslee gives Tweedy and his younger, redheaded sister, Mary Toy, a penny candy stick as he passes, but today he simply tells the boy to gather the two women. After hearing the summons, twenty-year-old Loma puts on her black mourning dress and grabs her sleepy baby, Campbell Junior. At the Tweedys’, she gives the baby to Queenie, the cook, and hurries to her father.
Tweedy is surprised at how disheveled and unkempt his grandfather looks after just three weeks of living as a widower. He only has one hand, so his wife had always kept him looking neat and tidy. His daughters have offered to help, but he will not let them. Tweedy’s mother, like her own mother, is not a fancy dresser like Loma, but she does take off her apron for this impromptu meeting. She sends Tweedy out to gather eggs, but Blakeslee stops the boy, saying he wants Tweedy to hear what he has to say, too. The women wait, “puzzled and uneasy,” and their father delivers the speech he obviously rehearsed.
He tells them that he and Mattie Lou had thirty-six good years together and he will never forget her; however, she is gone, just like his hand. (His shirt is knotted just below the elbow of his left arm, as usual.) Blakeslee opens the door, as if he is preparing to escape. Though he will never forget his wife and intends no disrespect, he announces his intent to marry Miss Love Simpson. The girls are stunned. Eventually, Mary Willis respectfully reminds her father that Simpson is young enough to be his daughter. Mary Willis is worried about what people will say. Blakeslee is only worried about not being a burden to his family. Loma cries and says her mother has only been gone three weeks. Blakeslee thunders back at her, saying, “She’s dead as she’ll ever be, ain’t she?”