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Authors: Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder

BOOK: A Year Down Yonder
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Table of Contents
The Christmas Program
“Grandma, it’s the program tonight. ”
Waving away her own forgetfulness, she said, “Well, then, you better wear this. She produced something from a big apron pocket. It looked like a coil of baling wire.
She handed it over. It was a coil of baling wire. Twisted in it were tiny tin stars, cut from cans. A day’s work to make. Grandma stood back, her hands clasped, a little eagerness in her eyes. “Watch out them stars don’t dig your scalp. ”
She’d made me a halo so Carleen Lovejoy in all her tinsel wouldn’t outshine me. It looked more like a crown of thorns, but I handled it, carefully.
I’d have come dangerously near to kissing Grandma then, if she’d let me.
♦“A winning sequel [that is] original and wildly funny.... Year-round fun.”—
Kirkus Reviews,
pointer review
“Never loses its charming sense of humor even though the vignettes ultimately deal with important issues such as class, gossip, and friendship.”—
“Peck shows his brilliance....
A Year Down Yonder
makes you laugh out loud.”—
Children’s Literature
Also by Richard Peck
Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt
Dreamland Lake
Through a Brief Darkness
Representing Super Doll
The Ghost Belonged to Me
Are You in the House Alone?
Ghosts I Have Been
Father Figure
Secrets of the Shopping Mall
Close Enough to Touch
The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp
Remembering the Good Times
Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death
Princess Ashley
Those Summer Girls I Never Met
Voices After Midnight
Unfinished Portrait of Jessica
Bel-Air Bambi and the Mall Rats
The Last Safe Place on Earth
Lost in Cyberspace
The Great Interactive Dream Machine
Strays Like Us
A Long Way from Chicago
Jeanette Ingold
A Long Way from
Richard Peck
Amanda/ Miranda
Richard Peck
Love Among the Walnuts
Jean Ferris
Pictures, 1918
Jeanette Ingold
The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods
Ann Cameron
Strays Like Us
Richard Peck
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in the United States of America by Dial Books for Young Readers,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2000
Published by Puffin Books,
a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2002
Copyright © Richard Peck, 2000
All rights reserved
Peck, Richard, date.
A year down yonder / Richard Peck.
p. cm.
Sequel to: A long way from Chicago.
Summary: During the recession of 1937, fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is sent to
live with her feisty, larger-than-life grandmother in rural Illinois and
comes to a better understanding of this fearsome woman.
eISBN : 978-1-440-67272-9

To the Talberts

Moo and Marc, Molly and Jessie.
t was a September morning, hazy with late summer, and now with all the years between. Mother was seeing me off at Dearborn Station in Chicago. We’d come in a taxicab because of my trunk. But Mother would ride back home on the El. There wasn’t much more than a nickel in her purse, and only a sandwich for the train in mine. My ticket had pretty well cleaned us out.
The trunk, a small one, held every stitch of clothes I had and two or three things of Mother’s that fit me. “Try not to grow too fast,” she murmured. “But anyway, skirts are shorter this year.”
Then we couldn’t look at each other. I was fifteen, and I’d been growing like a weed. My shoes from Easter gripped my feet.
A billboard across from the station read:
This was to make us think the hard times were past. But now in 1937 a recession had brought us low again. People were beginning to call it the Roosevelt recession.
Dad lost his job, so we’d had to give up the apartment. He and Mother were moving into a “light housekeeping” room. They could get it for seven dollars a week, with kitchen privileges, but it was only big enough for the two of them.
My brother Joey—Joe—had been taken on by the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees out west. That left me, Mary Alice. I wished I was two years older and a boy. I wished I was Joey.
But I wasn’t, so I had to go down to live with Grandma Dowdel, till we could get on our feet as a family again. It meant I’d have to leave my school. I’d have to enroll in the hick-town school where Grandma lived. Me, a city girl, in a town that didn’t even have a picture show.
It meant I’d be living with Grandma. No telephone, of course. And the attic was spooky and stuffy, and you had to go outdoors to the privy. Nothing modern. Everything as old as Grandma. Some of it older.
Now they were calling the train, and my eyes got blurry. Always before, Joey and I had gone to Grandma’s for a week in the summer. Now it was just me. And at the other end of the trip—Grandma.
Mother gave me a quick squeeze before she let me go. And I could swear I heard her murmur, “Better you than me.
She meant Grandma.
Rich Chicago Girl
h, didn’t I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad’s Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma’s town. The sandwich was still crumbs in my throat because I didn’t have the dime for a bottle of pop. They wanted a dime for pop on the train.
My trunk thumped out onto the platform from the baggage car ahead. There I stood at the end of the world with all I had left. Bootsie and my radio.
Bootsie was my cat, with a patch of white fur on each paw. She’d traveled in a picnic hamper. Bootsie had come from down here, two summers ago when she was a kitten. Now she was grown but scrawny. She’d spent the trip trying to claw through the hamper. She didn’t like change any more than I did.
My portable radio was in my other hand. It was a Philco with a leatherette cover and handle. Portable radios weighed ten pounds in those days.
As the train pulled out behind me, there came Grandma up the platform steps. My goodness, she was a big woman. I’d forgotten. And taller still with her spidery old umbrella held up to keep off the sun of high noon. A fan of white hair escaped the big bun on the back of her head. She drew nearer till she blotted out the day.
You couldn’t call her a welcoming woman, and there wasn’t a hug in her. She didn’t put out her arms, so I had nothing to run into.
Nobody had told Grandma that skirts were shorter this year. Her skirttails brushed her shoes. I recognized the dress. It was the one she put on in hot weather to walk uptown in. Though I was two years older, two years taller than last time, she wasn’t one for personal comments. The picnic hamper quivered, and she noticed. “What’s in there?”
“Bootsie,” I said. “My cat.”
“Hoo-boy,” Grandma said. “Another mouth to feed.” Her lips pleated. “And what’s that thing?” She nodded to my other hand.
“My radio.” But it was more than a radio to me. It was my last touch with the world.
“That’s all we need.” Grandma looked skyward. “More noise.”
She aimed one of her chins down the platform. “That yours?” She meant the trunk. It was the footlocker Dad had brought home from the Great War.
“Leave it,” she said. “They’ll bring it to the house.” She turned and trudged away, and I was supposed to follow. I walked away from my trunk, wondering if I’d ever see it again. It wouldn’t have lasted long on the platform in Chicago. Hot tongs wouldn’t have separated me from Bootsie and my radio.
The recession of thirty-seven had hit Grandma’s town harder than it had hit Chicago. Grass grew in the main street. Only a face or two showed in the window of The Coffee Pot Cafe. Moore’s Store was hurting for trade. Weidenbach’s bank looked to be just barely in business.
On the other side of the weedy road, Grandma turned the wrong way, away from her house. Two old slab-sided dogs slept on the sidewalk. Bootsie knew because she was having a conniption in the hamper. And my radio was getting heavier. I caught up with Grandma.
“Where are we going?”
“Going?” she said, the picture of surprise. “Why, to school. You’ve already missed pretty nearly two weeks.”
“School!” I’d have clutched my forehead if my hands weren’t full. “On my first day here?”
Grandma stopped dead and spoke clear. “You’re going to school. I don’t want the law on me.”
“Grandma, the law’s afraid of you. You’d grab up that shotgun from behind the woodbox if the sheriff came on your place.”
It was true. The whole town knew Grandma was trigger-happy.
“Well, I don’t want it to come to that.” She trudged on.
I could have broken down and bawled then. Bootsie in her hamper, banging my knees. The sun beating down like it was still summer. I could have flopped in the weeds and cried my eyes out. But I thought I better not.
Under a shade tree just ahead was a hitching rail. Tied to it were some mostly swaybacked horses and a mule or two that the country kids rode to school. One horse was like another to me, but Grandma stopped to look them over.
There was a big gray with a tangled tail, switching flies. Grandma examined him from stem to stern. I thought she might pry his jaws apart for a look at his teeth. She took her time looking, though I was in no hurry.
Then on she went across a bald yard to the school. It was wooden-sided with a bell tower. I sighed.
On either side of the school was an outdoor privy. One side for the boys, one for the girls. Labeled. And a pump.
Grandma slowed again as the bell tower rose above us. She’d never been to high school. She’d been expelled from a one-room schoolhouse long before eighth grade. I happened to know this.
Crumbling steps led up to a front entrance. Somebody had scrawled a poem all over the door:
Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust,
Oil them brains
Before they rust.
Steps led down to the basement under the front stoop. Grandma went down there, closing her umbrella.
The basement was one big room. A basketball hoop hung at either end, but it didn’t look like a gym to me. Smelled like one, though.
A tall, hollow-cheeked man leaned on a push broom in the center of the floor.
“Well, August!” Grandma boomed, and the room echoed.
This woke him up. When he saw Grandma, he swallowed hard. People often did. He wore old sneakers and a rusty black suit under a shop apron. His necktie was fraying at the knot.
BOOK: A Year Down Yonder
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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