Getting Mother's Body

by Suzan-Lori Parks
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Getting Mother's Body Summary

Getting Mother's Body is the first novel by Suzan-Lori Parks. It tells the story of Billy Beede, a pregnant black girl in 1960s Texas.

  • Billy discovers that Snipes, the father of her unborn child, is already married.
  • Along with her uncle and cousin, Billy drives to Arizona to dig up the body of her mother, Willa Mae, who was buried with "treasure." She is followed by Laz, a boy who loves her, and Dill, her mother's former lover, whose truck she stole.
  • Willa Mae is exhumed. Laz takes her ring, pretends to sell it, and marries Billy, later returning the ring to her.

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Last Updated on March 18, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1224

Billy Beede is sixteen years old and five months pregnant. Her boyfriend, Snipes, sells custom coffins and is not overjoyed at Billy's pregnancy; he does, however, propose to her and suggest that they get married quickly. Laz, whose parents own a funeral parlor and a formalwear store in town, has always loved Billy and is devastated that she is to marry Snipes.

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Billy has her mother's knack for identifying and exploiting weaknesses in people and is able to convince Laz's mother to sell her a wedding dress for only the $63 Snipes gave her. When she returns home to her aunt June and uncle “Teddy” Roosevelt’s house, she finds that they have received a letter from Candy, who owns the land in Arizona where Billy's mother, Willa Mae, is buried. She has now sold the land. Candy's daughter, Dill, was previously in a relationship with Willa Mae and is the only person who knows that she was not buried with "treasure" as rumor has it. On the contrary, Dill herself took Willa Mae's pearls, which she has been selling one by one, and diamond ring, which she still has.

Billy takes a Greyhound bus to Snipes's house in expectation of marrying him. On the bus she speaks to a woman, Myrna, who has five children and tells her about an abortionist she knows. Billy insists that she isn't "in trouble" but upon arrival is greeted by Snipes's wife, Alberta, whom Snipes had said was his sister. The pair have six children, and Alberta is pregnant again. Billy sets fire to her wedding dress, then stamps out the fire and leaves. She hoodwinks a gas-station worker into buying the empty box that held her dress for ten dollars, then hitches a ride to the office of the abortionist, Dr. Parker. Dr. Parker says she will soon be too far gone to be helped, but she gives him her ten dollars as a deposit and then an additional ten, which he offers her in return for the pearl earring she wears on a chain. She then returns home.

Billy returns to the Jacksons' and tries to return the slightly burned dress to get her money back. She lies and says that Snipes had a "woman, not a wife" who tried to kill her and burned the dress, but Mr. Jackson insists that the dress cannot be refunded.

Dill is at the barber's when she sees Billy return, clearly unmarried. She recalls how she met Willa Mae years ago, when she had arrived in town having convinced two boys to push her car to the filling station for her. The men in the barbershop, North, Little and Spider, discuss whether one of them should marry Billy or kill Snipes. They describe Dill as Billy's "father figure."

Billy returns to Ruth's House of Style, where she used to cut hair. Ruth takes her back, as she herself is suffering from shaking hands and has lost business since Billy left her job. Billy wants to make enough money to pay for her abortion. Laz realizes she is back in town and offers to marry her, but Billy refuses him, saying she intends to go and find her mother's treasure instead. She asks Dill for the bus fare, but Dill refuses. Dill feels that she is entitled to Willa Mae's ring in recompense for the way she was treated by her, Willa Mae having cheated on Dill with Billy's father, Son.

Billy lies to Teddy and June, saying that Dill gave her thirty dollars for bus fare. They tell her that they will all go to LaJunta on the bus, and Billy tells them to be ready to leave the next morning. Billy then appears with Dill's truck, the keys to which she has stolen.

The group stops at the home of Teddy's cousin, Estelle, who lives in a well-to-do white neighborhood. Outside in the truck, Billy tells June that she plans to abort her baby. Inside, Estelle tells the group that her son, Homer, is enrolled in college; she finds the idea of there being "treasure" with Willa Mae's body ludicrous and is glad when the group leaves.

Dill at first thinks white boys have stolen her truck before realizing that it must have been Billy. She swears to kill her when she returns. Homer declares that he would like to accompany the treasure-hunting party, on the condition that he receive a proportion of the profits. June and Teddy agree that help with digging would be useful, so Teddy and Homer continue in Homer's car. Homer suggests to Teddy that possibly he could marry Billy, before the car is pulled over by police.

June and Billy continue in the truck. They see Teddy and Homer being arrested by white policemen, who say that the women are welcome to follow them to the jail. The policemen steal Homer's watch. The women sleep outside in the truck, as there is "no colored hotel" in the town. Billy refuses to go into the jail, having been in multiple jails with her mother. The men are released the following morning, and Teddy is sad to find that the church he once owned and preached at has been torn down.

In the car with Billy, Homer makes a sexual advance, which Billy does not immediately reject. They stop at a gas station for pie, and Homer kisses Billy's hand, while Billy continues to be noncommittal.

Laz and Dill set out for El Paso. Laz asks Dill what it is like to sleep with a woman. He is intrigued that Dill "pees standing up."

The gas station belongs to Uncle Blood Beede and his wife, Precious. Teddy and Homer borrow her ring to perform a "ring trick." This is a scam in which a woman pretends to have lost her ring and offers a reward for it; an accomplice then "finds" the ring, whereupon a bystander offers the finder money for the ring so as to claim the larger reward amount.

Dill and Laz arrive at El Paso, at Candy's motel. Dill plans to prevent the Beedes from digging. Laz loses his virginity to Dill's sister, Even.

Billy pulls the car over because Homer has touched her inappropriately. She tells June that he is "toying with" her. When they arrive at the motel, Dill makes to shoot them; Homer returns to the car rather than cause a disagreement by trying to dig. Teddy goes to speak to Dill in an attempt to resolve the stand-off. Homer returns to challenge Dill, who punches him. Later, Dill lies down on Willa Mae's grave. In the morning, when Billy returns to begin digging, Dill surprises her by getting up and digging, too.

The coffin is dug up and opened. When there is no jewelry to be found inside, Dill accuses the undertaker of having stolen it. When the body is lifted out of the grave, Billy begins to cry, to everyone's surprise. Laz says he will pay for Willa Mae to be taken back to Lincoln and buried. Then he finds the diamond ring in the hem of Willa Mae's dress. The ring Dill stole was a fake.

Laz pretends to sell the ring and returns with over $1,600. Five years later, when they are married, he gives the ring back to Billy—the money had been his savings.

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