A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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Chapter 6 Summary

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Chapter 6: "Things With Wings—1934"

Grandma is at the depot when Joe and Mary Alice arrive this year, but she has not come to meet them. Instead, she is seeing somebody off. Mrs. Effie Wilcox, her "sworn enemy," is moving away because the bank has foreclosed on her house. That day at noon dinner, the children regale their grandmother with the exciting news about the killing of the notorious John Dillinger back in Chicago. Grandma is uncharacteristically subdued, however, and Mary Alice acutely observes, "Grandma's missing Mrs. Wilcox."

In the evening, Grandma takes the children to the park to see a picture show. The movie being shown is "a Dracula," and its intensity leaves everyone a little spooked. On the walk back in the darkness, Grandma shies away from the shadows and pointedly latches the screen door when they get home. Joe and Mary Alice wonder if she is trying to scare them, but all she says is, "Movies is all pretend...make something seem real, and people will believe it."

The next morning, Joe tells Grandma that he needs two dollars for Ray Veech, who works at the garage uptown and has promised to teach him to drive. Grandma brushes off his request, telling Joe that he does not have time for driving lessons because she needs him and Mary Alice to search in the attic for items to sell at the church rummage sale. Dutifully, the children plow through steamer trunks of miscellaneous items stored in the cobweb-filled room. At Grandma's request, they bring down a stovepipe hat that had belonged to a visiting preacher, and a faded quilt that had been pieced together by her Aunt Josie.

When Grandma arrives with Joe and Mary Alice at the rummage sale, she turns over her offerings, then sits back to watch the ladies gathered around the tables of goods. There is a commotion at one of the tables. Mrs. Earl Askew, the lady in charge, comes over to Grandma and whispers that Mrs. L. J. Weidenbach, the banker's wife, has offered the unheard-of sum of fifteen dollars for the stovepipe hat Grandma has donated. Mrs. Askew just wants to be sure that Grandma really wants to part with the valuable item, but Grandma says it does not belong to her. She claims that the hat is something Effie Wilcox had found in her house back when she moved in. She had subsequently thrown it away "when the bank run her out of town."

A few moments later, a scuffle begins between Mrs. Askew and Mrs. Weidenbach. The two women are fighting over Grandma's quilt, which is marked mysteriously with the initials "M.T.L." Mrs. Weidenbach is convinced that the letters stand for Mary Todd Lincoln, and that the quilt belongs with the stovepipe hat with the words "A Lincoln" printed on it that she has already bought.

The president of the bank, Mr. Weidenbach, summons Grandma to meet with him the next morning. The bank has a contract with a construction company to build an implement shed across Mrs. Wilcox's foreclosed property and the old brickyard adjoining it. Rumors are circulating that artifacts belonging to Abraham Lincoln himself have been found on the premises, however, and this could potentially result in takeover of the property by the state. The hapless banker knows that Grandma has had a hand in starting the rumors, but he cannot do anything about it without risking a public outcry from citizens already resentful at the bank's prosperity gained at their expense.

Grandma agrees to spread the word that Mrs. Wilcox herself had printed Lincoln's name on...

(This entire section contains 810 words.)

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the hat, for the simple reason that it was the kind of hat he wore. In addition, she will say that the woman's cousin, Maude Teeter Lingenbloom, was the maker of the quilt, which will explain the initials "M.T.L." In exchange, to save his business venture and protect his reputation, Mr. Weidenbach will revise the construction plans so that the implement shed will only be built over the old brickyard. He will return Mrs. Wilcox's house to her, "free and clear," and throw in two dollars each for Joe and Mary Alice to boot. It is clearly blackmail, but, in Grandma's eyes, no different from the bank's policies, which victimize struggling citizens during hard economic times.

Joe gets his driving lesson in the only car available, a "showroom-fresh Terraplane 8" which Hudson Motors has sent for display purposes to Veech's Garage. Grandma and Mary Alice tag along for the ride, but even this intrusion cannot dampen Joe's spirits as he pilots his dream car down the country road into the setting sun.

On the day Joe and Mary Alice leave, Grandma accompanies them to the depot. She is not there to see them off, however. She is there to greet Mrs. Effie Wilcox, who is coming home.

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