A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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Chapter 4 Summary

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Chapter 4: "The Day of Judgment—1932"

By 1932, Joey and Mary Alice realize that they actually look forward to their annual visits with Grandma. On their first morning there this year, they awaken to find Grandma busily at work in the kitchen, making her famous gooseberry pies. Pompous Mrs. L. J. Weidenbach drops by, with a clear purpose in mind. She wants Grandma to enter one of her renowned pies in competition at the upcoming county fair, to give their "small community" the opportunity to "make its mark."

Ordinarily, Mrs. Weidenbach's own bread-and-butter pickles take first prize at the contest, but this year, in the midst of the Depression, negative public feeling is running high against the bankers. Mr. Weidenbach wants to keep a low profile until times are better, so he has asked his wife not to enter her pickles at the fair this year. Mrs. Weidenbach is determined that the community should have a good showing, however. She has come to try to convince Grandma to enter one of her pies instead. Grandma relents when Mrs. Weidenbach agrees to drive her and the children to the fair on prize day in her Hupmobile.

A flurry of activity ensues as Grandma and the children bake countless pies in search of one worthy of a blue ribbon at the county fair. When the big day finally comes, Joey and Mary Alice are dumbfounded to see their normally plainly-clothed grandmother all decked out in a ready-made dress covered with flowers and a wide-brimmed hat decorated with blue ribbon to match. When they arrive at the fair, Grandma insists that they explore the grounds before going to the culinary competition. Joey, whose hero is Charles A. Lindbergh, is particularly captivated by a biplane that awaits in an open field. The pilot, Barnie Buchanan, will take passengers for a ride for the exorbitant fee of seventy-five cents, but he is offering to take every blue-ribbon winner up for free.

Joey is filled with hope that Grandma will win first prize and let him have her plane ride "because she [is] too old and too big" to go up herself. When they arrive at the Domestic Sciences tent to enter her gooseberry pie, however, they find another "very nice-looking entry" already on the table. Grandma reads the name card attached to it, then turns to stare at a tiny, middle-aged man standing nearby with his formidable, ancient mother. She recognizes him as an old acquaintance, Rupert Pennypacker, "the best home-baker in the state of Illinois." She mutters under her breath, "I'm a goner."

Barnie Buchanan's plane thunders overhead, and everyone instinctively looks upward. Joey is not sure, but during this brief moment of diversion, he thinks he sees Grandma surreptitiously switching her pie's card with that of her competition. The judging seems to go on forever, and when it is over, Grandma receives the results of the contest impassively. She has won a red ribbon for second place, and Rupert Pennypacker has won the blue.

Joey is crestfallen, but surprised when, on their way out of the fairgrounds, Grandma makes a detour toward the field and the biplane. She boldly approaches Barnie Buchanan and, showing him a crumpled ribbon balled up in her fist, announces that she is a blue-ribbon winner and has come to collect her free plane ride. As Barnie and three members of the American Legion hoist Grandma into the front cockpit of the plane, Joey notices that the blue ribbon which had adorned her wide-brimmed hat is missing.

Grandma is "a tight fit" in the biplane. Though it...

(This entire section contains 771 words.)

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makes a valiant effort, the little contraption cannot get off the ground. As she is being pried back out of her seat, Barnie apologizes, but Grandma tells him, "You can take my grandson instead." Before he quite knows what is happening, Joey finds himself up in the biplane, flying just below the towering white clouds. It is the experience of a lifetime.

Back at home that evening, Joey has a couple of things on his mind. He asks Grandma, "You never did expect [the plane] to get off the ground, did you?" She responds, "Lands no...I just wanted to see what it felt like sitting up there in that hen roost." Joey understands that, though she does not come right out and say it, Grandma had meant for him to have the ride all along. Emboldened, he then apologetically admits that, for a moment, he had thought she had switched the name cards on her pie and that of Mr. Pennypacker. Grandma shoots her grandson a stern look, then relaxes, responding tersely, "I did."

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