Chapters 20-21 Summary
Patty has served a month of her four-to-six-month sentence at the Arkansas Reformatory for Girls when Christmastime finally arrives. On Sunday morning, Miss Laud, the head matron of the facility, announces that she has a visitor, her first in the entire time of her incarceration. It is Ruth, who has come all the way from Jenkinsville on the Greyhound bus. Ruth greets Patty with a warm, welcoming smile and a hug, and in the circle of her protector's arms, Patty feels "freshly born."
In a gaily striped red-and-white shopping bag, Ruth has brought Patty two of her favorite foods: a box of ginger snaps and six homemade fried chicken breasts, each sitting on "its very own pink paper napkin." As Patty samples her treats, Ruth mentions that she had seen Mrs. Bergen and Sharon a couple of weeks ago at the market. When Patty asks if her mother had mentioned her at all, Ruth at first tries to prevaricate, then tells her the truth. Mrs. Bergen had said that Patty was writing to her occasionally and that she had sent her a sweater to wear at the reformatory; she had then resignedly observed that Ruth had always been the only one who knew how to handle her recalcitrant daughter. Patty reacts with anger at her mother's words and wonders why her parents only care about controlling her instead of just letting her be. She then asks Ruth poignantly:
"What's really wrong with me? There's just gotta be something or I wouldn't always be getting into trouble, having people hate me."
Ruth tries to reassure Patty that there is nothing at all wrong with her, but the child is deeply agitated, insisting that if she only knew what her terrible character defects were, she would immediately get to work at ridding herself of them. Ruth tells Patty that she, for one, loves her better than all the other members of the Bergen family and reminds her that Anton loved her too, enough to want to sacrifice his life for her. Patty laments that she no longer has his ring, which seems to have lost its meaning anyway, but Ruth takes the ring out of her pocketbook and returns it to her. Patty had given it to her for safekeeping when the FBI had come to take her. In the turmoil of the succeeding months, she had forgotten it.
Ruth then tells Patty a hard truth: it is her parents who are lacking something. For whatever reason, they are incapable of loving their older daughter, and Patty needs to accept this and stop wishing "for what ain't nevah gonna be." With the symbol of Anton's love back in her possession, and Ruth steady by her side, Patty feels a change come over herself. She senses that she is indeed a person of great worth, and as the realization...
(The entire section is 721 words.)