Summary – Section Two, Chapters Twenty Two, Twenty Three and Twenty Four
Chapter Twenty Two shifts to Jeannette explaining that she loved her Grandma Smith, and implies that she thought they were going to her home. In the car that night they left Battle Mountain she asked her mother if this was where they were headed and her mother said no, and that Grandma Smith was dead. Jeannette started hitting her mother’s shoulder and asked why she had not told her before.
Her father held her fists and said, ‘“that’s enough Mountain Goat”’. Her mother seemed surprised that she was so upset and said there did not seem to be any point in letting them know.
She then explained that Grandma had died of leukaemia, but thought it was radioactive poisoning. The government were always testing nuclear bombs in the desert and she and Jim (her brother) used to go out with a Geiger counter and found rocks that ticked. They stored these in the basement and used some to make jewelry for Grandma.
Jeannette’s mother also said there was no reason to grieve, and they now had somewhere to live. Grandma had two houses and as the eldest child she chose the one she wanted: the older and less valuable one. She thought it was perfect to have an art studio in and had also inherited enough money to give up teaching and to buy art supplies.
Chapter Twenty Three is set in the new house and the children counted 14 rooms. There was also palm tree in the front yard and an orange tree in the back yard. In addition, there was a shed that was as big as some of the houses they had lived in.
They went to school ‘in a fancy neighborhood’ and they were put in reading groups for gifted children. They were also given an eye test here and Lori was told she was severely short sighted. Their mother was sent a note that explained she needed glasses and Mom said she did not approve. She thought if someone had weak eyes they needed exercise to make them strong. She gave in, though, when she received another note saying Lori could not attend without them and the school would pay.
When Lori received her glasses, she said how she could not only see a tree but the leaves as well. At first she did not believe Jeannette when she said she could see them too, but burst into tears when she recognized the truth that she had needed glasses for so long. She also began painting and decided she wanted to be an artist like their mother.
Their mother set herself up in her art work and bought several typewriters to help in her writing career. She never sold her writing but pinned up any rejection letters that were encouraging. Their father found work at this time and bought the three eldest children their first bicycle with his first pay check. They also had a telephone and record player as well as a washing machine.
Their home was not perfect, though, as there were cockroaches that increased in number. There was also a termite infestation and Dad said it was so severe there was nothing they could do about it. It became so bad that the floorboards crashed through and he patched the holes with crushed beer cans.
Chapter Twenty Four explains how their parents always left the front and back door and windows open on a night. They had no air-conditioning and they argued that they needed the air to circulate. Occasionally a ‘wino’ or a vagrant would wander in and Maureen, who was now aged four, would have nightmares that intruders in masks were coming in to get them.
When Jeannette was almost 10, she was woken by somebody touching her private parts. She recognized the man’s voice and knew he had been hanging about recently. She shouted ‘“pervert”’ and kicked his hand and Brian ran into the room with a hatchet he kept by his bed. The man bolted out and Brian and Jeannette ran after him (their father was out and their mother was fast asleep). They did not find the man, but on their way home they slapped each other’s hands and decided they had been Pervert Hunting. They looked for the man again the next day when their father returned, but to no avail. Jeannette asked if they could now close the doors and windows and was told it was essential that they did not surrender to fear.
Their parents made a point of not surrendering to fear, and to not conforming to the views of others. This was made apparent when their mother encouraged them to cool down in a public fountain and when their father used to question the priest in church.
In Chapter Twenty Five, it is related how their father was furious when he heard on the radio that a mountain lion had been shot after being found in somebody’s garden. He took the children to the zoo demonstrate how animals leave humans alone if they show they are not afraid.
He took them to see a cheetah and as he squatted outside the fence the cheetah came closer and studied him. Dad then slowly moved his hand into the cage and touched his neck, and the cheetah moved his face against the hand. They all climbed under the first fence (with one fence still remaining) and knelt around their father. A man called for them to come back but they ignored him. Jeannette asked if she could pet him and Dad guided her hand, and the cheetah licked her.
A crowd had gathered by now and a woman tried to pull Jeannette away. Dad said they should leave and as they were walking away the cheetah followed them down the side of the cage.
As they left, they could hear people whispering about ‘the crazy drunk man and his dirty little urchin children’. Jeannette asks, ‘who cared what they thought?’ as none of them had had their hand licked by a cheetah.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Twenty Two, Twenty Three and Twenty Four
The increase in fortune for the Walls family comes after the death of Grandma Smith and on the inheritance of the house and money. At first, their new home is depicted in glowing terms but gradually the rot literally and figuratively sets in as the termites invade the wood and strangers enter the house and terrify the children. Of the four of them, it is Maureen that appears to be the most traumatized.
The parents dislike of convention runs through this whole narrative, but this dislike finds its beauty and relevance when Dad takes the children to the zoo and he shows them it is possible to touch the cheetah without being hurt.