A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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Student Question

What are three illegal actions by Grandma Dowdel in A Long Way From Chicago?

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Grandma Dowdel commits a whole slew of illegal actions, but she does it for a good cause.  She first steals a boat, which turns out to belong to Sheriff Dickerson.  She then takes Joey and Mary Alice fishing.  Grandma has set fish traps, which is illegal in the state of Illinois.  Grandma Dowdel says that there is no fine for doing so "if you don't get caught". 

Grandma goes through all the trouble of stealing the boat and setting the traps so that she can provide a meal for the down-and-out drifters, whom the Sheriff is trying to run out of town.  According to the lawman, Grandma is "runnin' a soup kitchen without a license from the Board of Health".

In addition to all this, Grandma brews liquor in her basement, in defiance of Prohibition laws.  Her heart is in the right place, however, because her purpose is to take care of the homeless.  She gets away with her shenanigans because she threatens to expose the Sheriff and his cohorts, whom she has caught carousing "blind drunk and naked as jaybirds".

Joey faints when a snake drops into the boat he is riding with Grandma and Mary Alice.  He is embarrassed because "boys don't faint".  To make matters worse, while he is unconscious, Grandma "grabb(s) (the snake) up by its tail and snap(s) it just once and (breaks) its neck", while Mary Alice watche(s), enthralled.  Both of the womenfolk show more courage and resilience in the situation that Joey does (Chapter 3 - "A One-Woman Crime Wave").

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