Chapters 23 through 26 take the narrative of Holes back in time one hundred and ten years, when Green Lake was an actual lake. In that distant past, the lakefront town always had a picnic on the Fourth of July. Everyone played games and ate pies and jams made from peaches, which grew all around the town. Every year, a woman named Katherine Barlow got a special award for spiced peaches. Katherine used a secret recipe to make these peach preserves, and everyone loved them.
Katherine was Green Lake’s schoolteacher. The school was rundown, but she was good at her job. She taught children all day, and in the evenings she held classes for adults. Many of her adult students were young men who wanted to date her. Everyone thought she would marry, Trout Walker, who was the son of the richest man in town. However, Trout was rude and loud in Katherine’s evening class; when he asked her out, she refused. Trout was very angry.
Sam, the onion man, always walked through town with his donkey, Mary Lou, selling fresh onions. He bragged that Mary Lou was fifty years old but still spry because she ate nothing but fresh onions. His onion patch was across the lake, but nobody knew exactly where it was. He rowed across the lake once or twice a week. It always took him a whole day to get across and another day to get back.
When people got sick, they always went to Sam, and he advised them to eat lots of onions. He also sold pastes and lotions made of onions, each of which cured a different ailment. The town doctor did not mind this because even though everyone bought Sam’s cures, they also bought the doctor’s medicines.
Like everyone else in town, Katherine Barlow always bought her onions from Sam. One day, when it was getting cloudy, she commented that the school roof leaked when it rained. Sam said he would fix the roof if she would give him some of her spiced peaches. He worked on the roof every day between the children’s classes and the adults’ classes. He was Black, so he was not allowed to attend the school, but he and Katherine Barlow became friends. When he was finished with the roof, she invited him to fix the windows, then her desk, then the door.
By the end of the semester, every broken thing in the school was fixed. This made Katherine Barlow sad. She missed having Sam around, so when she heard him outside selling onions, she ran out to see him. They ended up kissing, and they were seen.
By the end of the day, everyone in town knew that the White schoolteacher and the Black onion seller had kissed. The next morning, none of the kids came to school. A crowd arrived, led by Trout Walker. They called Katherine “Devil Woman” and said she was poisoning their children’s minds. They piled the school’s books in the center of the room, ready to burn them.
Katherine ran to the sheriff and asked for help, but he was drunk. He demanded that she kiss him just as she had kissed the onion seller. She slapped him, but he just mocked her. He said it was illegal for a Black man to kiss a White woman. The sheriff promised to hang Sam but not Katherine. “The law will punish Sam. And God will punish you,” he said.
Katherine ran to find Sam, and the two of them got in his rowboat, leaving the donkey Mary Lou and the onion cart behind. The townspeople shot Mary Lou, and Trout Walker caught up to Sam and Katherine in his motorboat. Trout shot Sam and rescued Katherine before she drowned.
Three days later, Katherine shot the sheriff. Then she put on red lipstick and gave him the kiss he had wanted.