Chapter 1 Summary
It is the early 1940s, and war fervor is high in the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas. A prisoner-of-war camp has been established nearby, and many of the local residents have gathered to witness the arrival of the first group of Germans to be incarcerated there. Twelve-year-old Patty Bergen is among those who have come to share in the excitement. She is a little disappointed to find that the prisoners, perhaps twenty in all, are young men who, except for the letters "POW" stenciled across their blue denim shirts, are quite ordinary in their demeanor, exhibiting none of the evilness and brutality she would expect in the appearance of the enemy.
When Patty returns home, Ruth, the family's Negro housekeeper, makes lunch for her and her six-year-old sister, Sharon. During the course of the meal, Patty, Ruth, and Sharon engage in good-natured repartee. Patti wishes that she could share the same easy familiarity with her mother and father too.
Patti tells Ruth about the arrival of the German prisoners, and says that she is going to pray that Ruth's son, Robert, comes home from the war with "lots of medals." Ruth muses that she does not care about wars or medals; she just wants Robert to return safely. When Patti says that she is going to go down to the family's store to tell her father the news about the POWs, Ruth gently urges her to wear one of her pretty dresses, not only to please her parents, but to show pride in herself.
The family business, Bergen's Department Store, is located on Jenkinsville's Main Street. Patty's father is talking with a salesman when she arrives, and makes it clear that he does not wish to be interrupted, so Patty approaches her mother instead. Mrs. Bergen is chatting with a customer, Mrs. Fields, who compliments Patty on the dress she is wearing, but Patty's mother interjects that her daughter is only wearing the dress because Ruth has told her to. Mrs. Bergen then begins to complain about Patti's disdain for her own personal appearance, comparing her to her sister Sharon, who, in contrast, always takes pains to make herself look nice. Frustrated, but accustomed to being derided, Patty launches into her news about the POWs, but her mother dismisses what she has to say with a petulant comment about how dangerous it is "having those criminals a mile from town." She then gets on the phone to arrange for a hair appointment for herself with an accomplished stylist over in Wynne City, fifteen minutes away. Mrs. Burton Benn, the local pastor's wife, bursts into the store to complain to Patty's mother about Ruth, "that uppity Nigra." She wants the housekeeper fired for some perceived lack of respect she has shown down at the market, but Mrs. Bergen replies ruefully...
(The entire section is 701 words.)