“White skillfully recreates the time and place, and her superbly drawn characters possess the resiliency of spirit necessary to transform themselves.”—School Library Journal, Starred
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
|Publisher:||Random House Childrens Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
ONE DAY IN JUNE, Mama found this ad in the paper: permanent waves one $ Sat morn come early. And there was an address for a boardinghouse on Bee Street in Riverbend.
"It's the only way we'll ever get curly hair," Mama proclaimed, "and don't my girls deserve to look as good as the town girls do?"
We agreed that it was so. Mama's girls deserved such a treat. So on Saturday morning we got up early and walked to the highway to catch the eight o'clock bus into town.
Striding tall in front of Mama, Kentucky led the way. She was fourteen that summer of 1955, the oldest and most popular of the four of us. Everybody loved Kentucky Collins. Sometimes she was called Ken.
Virginia followed beside Mama. At twelve, she was the prettiest. She turned heads wherever she went. Sometimes we called her Gin.
Behind Virginia and Mama, Georgia walked with me. Georgia was eleven, and the smartest. She made straight O's--for outstanding--on her report card every grading period.
We were a mixed-up batch of English, Scotch-Irish, and German, with a little dab of Cherokee Indian throwed in on our daddy's side, which did not take, for we all had blond hair and blue eyes, fair skin and little bitty feet.
By eight-thirty we were knocking on the door of the boardinghouse. A redheaded fat woman with bags under her eyes peeped out at us. She had not had her morning coffee, so she said we'd have to wait.
"Y'all just set down out here," she told us, tossing her red head toward the porch. "And I'll be wid'ja in a jiffy."
So we did what she told us to. We set down. The porch was long and shady, with lots of rocking chairs and gliders for the guests.
"How come we gotta wait?" Virginia complained, and whenever Virginia Collins complained, she did it loud.
In fact, LOUD was a word describing all of my sisters, and me too. We talked loud. We laughed loud. We cried loud. We quarreled loud. We sung loud. Yes, I'll have to admit that we were known near and far as "them loud-mouthed Collins gals."
"Didn't the paper say come early?" Virginia wailed.
"That's right," Georgia said. "The paper did say come early. Well, here we are!"
"You put me in mind of Tadpole when you said that!"
That come from me, Carolina, the ten-year-old runt, sometimes called Carol, and nobody at all.
As usual, the mention of our favorite cousin, Tadpole Birch, shut everybody up, if only for a moment, and sent us into private pleasant memories.
After a time Virginia broke the silence. "Yeah, he's always saying, 'Well, here we are!' " She opened her arms wide and chuckled.
"Mama, when can we see Tadpole again?" I said. (Maybe I whined.)
"I don't know, Carol. Since he moved in with his aunt and uncle at Feds Creek--well, you know, that's twenty-five miles down the river--and the Birches don't go much."
Mama was just Mama. She was not loud. She worked in the kitchen of the Riverbend Hospital, cooking, washing dishes, and serving food to the sick people. She was the only mother we knew who got up every morning, except Saturday, and went to work.
"They don't go at all," Kentucky said. "Poor Tadpole."
"Yeah, poor Tadpole," Virginia agreed. "He loves to go places and see people, and there he is stuck with that old sourpuss and her tightwad husband. They don't ever crack a smile."
"They go to bed at sunset so they won't have to burn the lights," Georgia said.
"And they get up at the crack of dawn," I added, "to milk the cows, and feed the chickens and the pigs, and work in the fields."
"Poor Tadpole," we agreed.
When Tadpole was three years old, his mama, who was our mama's favorite sister, had died with the TB. A year later his daddy, who was a Birch, was killed in a mining accident.
Nobody had wanted to keep that poor li'l ole orphan boy, and ever since he had been tossed around from one relative to another--a month here, three months there, six months someplace else.
Except for short visits from Tadpole now and then, Mama never was on the circuit. With four girls to tend to by herself, she had her hands full, and nobody in the family had the heart to ask her to help.
But she had some opinions just the same. For instance, she thought it was mighty fishy that as soon as Tadpole had turned thirteen in the spring, his Uncle Matthew Birch had suddenly wanted him permanent.
"It's because he's old enough to work," she declared with some bitterness. "They'll work that poor boy to death."
But the rest of the relatives were glad to be shed of the responsibility, and asked no questions.
"We'll sign him over to Matthew, make it legal," they all agreed.
Matthew Birch was Tadpole's daddy's brother. His wife's name was Lucy, and they used to have a boy the same age as Tadpole, but he died mysteriously when he was real young.
We hadn't seen Tadpole since last April, when Uncle Daniel brung him to spend Easter Sunday with us. Shortly after that he went to live with the Birches.
"Remember how he got his nickname?" I said. "He was down at the creek, and somebody dared him--"
"Let me tell it!" Virginia butted in. "You'll mess it up."
I yielded the floor like always, and Virginia picked up the story.
"He was down at the creek with two of Uncle Luther's boys."
"Yeah, it was Bruce and Walter," Georgia said.
"They were damming up the water or something like that," Virginia went on, "and Tadpole mentioned that he was so hungry he could eat a mess of tadpoles."
"No, Bruce said that first!" Kentucky interrupted. "That's how it started. And so Tadpole told him, 'I dare you to ketch one and eat it.' "
"No, Walter dared Tadpole!" Georgia joined the argument.
"Anyhow, somebody dared somebody." I squeezed in a word sideways.
"Bruce and Walter dared Tadpole to swallow one of them tadpoles live," Georgia cried. "And he did!"
"An hour later he threw it up, and . . ." Kentucky yelled above everybody else.
". . . it was still alive!" we all squealed together.
There was muffled laughter from inside the house.
"Sh . . . hh," Mama said, putting her finger to her lips, but she couldn't keep the corners of her own mouth from curling up.
"Still alive," Virginia repeated with a smile.
"Yessiree," Kentucky added. "He said it was still flipping its tail. So they throwed it back in the creek."
"And he's been Tadpole ever since," Georgia said.