A Long Way From Chicago

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Book: A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Peck
wake herself up to go to bed. As I came in the front room, she was there in her platform rocker, saying to Mary Alice, “Next time you bring a stray home, make it a puppy.”
    Mary Alice stared.
    “You can call it Skipper,” Grandma suggested.
    “How’d you know—”
    “I heard you tell your brother that Vandalia Eubanks was a puppy. I can hear all over the house. I got ears on me like an Indian scout. And I don’t sleep.”
    Grandma looked up at me. “Get everything squared away?” she asked.
    And yes, I had. I’d taken off Grandpa Dowdel’s big old black overcoat and put it back in the cobhouse with the old lantern, where I’d found them.

Things with Wings

    1934
    W hen we got down off the train, Grandma was there on the platform. After our first visit she’d never met us at the train, figuring we could find our own way. But here she was, under her webby old black umbrella to shade her from the sun.
    But she wasn’t there to meet us. She was seeing somebody off. A lady was climbing up into the car behind ours. We caught only a squint in the dazzling light, but knew the hat. It was Mrs. Effie Wilcox. With a powerful arm, Grandma swung Mrs. Wilcox’s bulging valise aboard, then a picnic hamper. She stepped back as the Blue Bird pulled out. She didn’t wave, but scanned the windows to see if Mrs. Wilcox found a seat. Then Grandma turned to us.
    You could never call her a welcoming woman, but today her mind was truly miles away. I was falling behind with our suitcase, though this year I was nearly as tall as Grandma herself.
    “Was Mrs. Wilcox going on a trip?” Mary Alice inquired.
    “She’s gone for good,” Grandma said. “Off to double up with her sister at Palmyra. Bank’s foreclosing on her house, so she lit out, not wanting to watch them dump her stuff in the road. After Wilcox died, she left the farm and bought that house in town. But she can’t keep up with the payments.”
    At noon dinner that day Mary Alice and I distracted Grandma with all the excitement we’d left behind in Chicago. In July they’d killed John Dillinger, Public Enemy Number One. He’d been on a long spree, robbing banks throughout the middle west. The public didn’t know whether they wanted him caught or not. He’d provided a lot of entertainment in hard times. Since he stole from banks, he was called a Robin Hood, though he wasn’t known for giving to the poor.
    He’d gone to a picture show at the Biograph Theatre not far from our neighborhood. With him were two bad women, and one of them tipped off the cops, who filled him full of lead on the sidewalk. Then, to prove they’d finally nailed John Dillinger, the police put his body on display in the morgue basement. People trooped past for a look. Women dipped their handkerchiefs in his bloody wounds for souvenirs. But he was so bloated and shot up that some people said it wasn’t Dillinger at all. Rumor had it that he was holed up somewhere.
    Mary Alice and I had sulked because neither Mother nor Dad would take us to view the riddled corpse. Recalling to ourselves Shotgun Cheatham, we thought we could take it. When we got back to school in September, everybody would say they’d seen the cadaver. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost.
    “I’d have took you,” Grandma said. We didn’t doubt it. Grandma wouldn’t have minded a look for herself at all that remained of John Dillinger.
    Mary Alice and I went upstairs to sort out our clothes from the single suitcase. She was getting particular about how everything she wore had to be hung up on a hanger just so. “Grandma’s missing Mrs. Wilcox,” she mentioned.
    “Are you kidding?” I said. “She’s Grandma’s worst enemy. She says Mrs. Wilcox’s tongue is attached in the middle and flaps at both ends. The town’ll be quieter without her, and Grandma will like that.”
    “You don’t know anything,” Mary Alice said. “Men don’t have any idea about women.”

    So I loped uptown by myself,

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