The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 4 Summary
by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Chapter 4 Summary

Momma, having been born in Alabama, is unused to the frigid weather in Flint; "she (doesn't) really know anything about the cold." As a consequence, she forces Kenny and Joetta (Joey) to wear layers and layers of clothing when they go out in the winter, bundling them up so much that they can hardly move. It is Kenny's job to help Joey out of her outerwear once she gets to school, so Kenny dutifully goes down to the kindergarten every day after he has taken off all his own "junk" to tend to his little sister. Although the children have tried to tell Momma that she is keeping them way too warm, Momma is unmoving, telling them that the cold "is very dangerous, people die in it all the time." Kenny complains to Byron about all the whining and crying Joey does when he tries to help her out of her clothes, and Byron, with uncharacteristic cooperativeness, says he will talk to Joey. Byron tells Joey that there is a good reason why Momma makes her wear "all that stuff" and brings her attention to the garbage trucks with big doors on the back that come through the neighborhood. He says that the streets are indeed "full of dead, froze people" every cold morning and that the garbage people come and take the bodies away in the trucks. Byron tells Kenny and Joey that the victims are generally from the South, where they have thinner blood. Since Momma is from the South, half of her children's blood is afflicted with this condition, and so they are prone to  freezing to death very quickly in the bitter climate in Flint. Kenny does not believe all of what Byron says, but Joey believes every word; Kenny notes that Joetta does not cry anymore when she has to get into her winter clothes.

Every year, Momma buys the Watson children two pears of leather gloves each to get them through the winter. If they lose the first pair, they have to wear their second pair to school "kindergarten style," with the gloves pinned to a string pulled through their coat sleeves so they cannot be lost. This year, Kenny shares his gloves with Rufus, who has none; Kenny keeps the right one and gives Rufus the left one, so they each can have one warm hand with which to play in the snow. After a while, Kenny gets the idea to fool Momma into letting him use his second pair of gloves so he and Rufus can each have a full set. Kenny wears his gloves kindergarten style and gives the original pair to Rufus, which works fine until Kenny's second pair of gloves inexplicably vanishes, string, pins, and all. Two days later, Larry Dunn, the fourth-grade class bully, begins wearing new gloves to...

(The entire section is 708 words.)