Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649
Mance Deschênes, Jr., is an industrious ten-year-old paper boy who lives on Montreal’s Hutchinson Street with his alcoholic father and thrifty, caring, but tired mother. Mance works hard and does not think his life of poverty is a hardship. He enjoys going to hockey games and other simple pleasures in life. When his Aunt Lise Schmitz and Uncle Howie Schmitz, a successful dry cleaner with three stores, visit from New Hampshire, Mance begins to see his life in a different light. Howie and his wife always have a new car when they visit, and their children whine because they want things they do not have. Mance does not understand what his wealthy cousins could want when they have many wonderful possessions already.
Mance’s father is hired as a janitor for a new, sixteen-room apartment building that winter. He is paid well, and the family receives a free three-room apartment in a safer and cleaner part of the city. They formerly had lived in the damp basement of the last building in which he worked. Now that they are on the ground floor, however, Mance’s father is unhappy with the incessant ringing of the doorbell. His new income gives them a better standard of living, however, and the family even manages to save some money.
In the meantime, Uncle Howie and his family have packed up to leave their home and successful business in New Hampshire for North Hollywood, Florida. Soon afterward, the family buys a used Plymouth to make the long trip to Florida to visit the Schmitzes for Christmas at their request. Mance’s father has his brother Réal and his family move into his apartment to look after the apartment building during their trip. The journey takes much longer than the Deschênes family had anticipated, and they arrive in Florida with little money left, despite Mrs. Deschênes’s strict frugality. Before they arrive, Mance finds out that his father intends to sober up so that he can become the manager of one of the new Schmitz Dry Kleeneries that Howie plans to open in the North Hollywood area.
They arrive in time for Christmas week, but Mance has trouble enjoying the season as he normally does, because he is unable to fit into this foreign situation. He dreams of being back home with his ice rink and his hockey games, where he feels comfortable and complete. The Christmas carols here are in English and not his native French; there is no snow on the ground; it is too hot; and his father does not fit into the Florida scene with his blotchy red tan, his enormous hockey tattoo of Rocket Richard, and his ill-fitting clothes. Suddenly, Mance wishes that he were not a Deschênes, but sees himself becoming “Schmitz-like.”
Later that week, he sees his mother and aunt on the beach talking about the wonderful plan they have arranged for his father and uncle to be business partners. Unfortunately, the women’s planning turns out to be useless. Later, Mance watches his father and uncle walking on the beach and talking together, and he realizes that Howie is telling his father that such a partnership cannot work. Mance’s father finally tells his family of his failure and resumes his drinking.
Out of money, the family drive back to Montreal. The trip takes almost a month because they have to stop in Georgia for a time to work and then sell the car to get bus fare back to Montreal. On their return, they find that Réal has taken such good care of the new building during their long absence that he has taken over his brother’s job. Mance is surprised that his father takes the news so quietly, after trying the hardest he has ever tried in his life to do well, only to fail miserably.
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