new york city. The family arrives in New York City, and Jacqueline finds that it is nothing like how the Southerners described it. Unlike their romanticized view of the city and its sparkling wealth, the city that Jacqueline encounters is gray and cold. As the family descends the bus at the Port Authority, Jacqueline thinks she will never call New York home.
The idealized version of New York City that Southerners peddle to each other turns out to be totally unlike the city that Jacqueline encounters. This shows again the negative side of Jacqueline’s overactive imagination and her tendency to believe the fantastic stories she hears—it sometimes results in Jacqueline feeling misled and disappointed. Jacqueline’s insistence that she will never call New York home shows Jacqueline’s discomfort in the North.
brooklyn, new york. The family does not stay in the apartment that Mama found them, which turns out to be uninhabitable. Instead, they move in with their Aunt Kay and her boyfriend Bernie.
The apartment into which the family first moves, which is so decrepit and disgusting that they must move out, only further exacerbates Jacqueline’s disillusionment with New York City.
herzl street. Jacqueline, Mama, and her siblings move into an apartment at Herzl Street. Aunt Kay and Bernie live upstairs. They socialize with other people from Greenville and elsewhere in the South, who chat with Kay while she cooks on Saturdays. They share experiences of living in the South, and Jacqueline feels like they are family.
Jacqueline’s sense of alienation in New York is lessened somewhat when they move in with Aunt Kay and Bernie. Her aunt’s circles include many people from the Greenville area, who come together at her house to chat while Kay cooks southern food. This sense of community makes Jacqueline feel more at home in New York City, and Jacqueline feels immediately close to other people from the South who share the same memories.
the johnny pump. Jacqueline misses the red dirt of Greenville and walking in bare feet. In New York she wears shoes because the streets are hot and glass-covered. Some summer days, however, a local man opens a fire hydrant with a wrench so the children can play in the cool water while the adults watch. Even Mama takes off her shoes and smiles at the scene.
Despite the community of Southerners that Jacqueline and her family have found, Jacqueline still misses the landscape of South Carolina, represented by her longing for the red dirt. The streets of New York seem inhospitable to her, as they are hot and covered in glass. Still, the city is not hopeless for her, and when she plays in the water of the opened fire hydrant, Jacqueline is joyous. Even Mama, who seems extremely stressed after the move, enjoys herself.
genetics. Jacqueline notes that she, Mama, Gunnar, and all her siblings have the same gap in their front teeth. Jacqueline then goes on to ponder why Roman is much lighter skinned than she is. People remark on this difference, thinking that the siblings are not related.
Jacqueline notices the way that people react to her brother’s complexion versus the way they react to hers. She is puzzled by the difference in their skin color, and by the fact that people can’t imagine that she and Roman are related because of the difference in their skin colors. The limits of other people’s imaginations in this respect seem to bother her.
caroline but we called her aunt kay, some memories. Jacqueline lists memories of Aunt Kay, thinking of her with her arms open for a hug, dressed up for a night out, braiding her hair, etc. Then Jacqueline indicates that Aunt Kay had “a fall” (the details of which are unclear) and died. After her funeral, Jacqueline has no more memories of Aunt Kay.
Jacqueline begins to process Aunt Kay’s death by listing memories of her, thinking of the various moments of love and affection that they had together. Although Kay’s death clearly is painful, Jacqueline uses the memories as a way of processing her grief. Jacqueline states that she has no more memories of Aunt Kay after her funeral, and clearly the inability to make more memories with her pains Jacqueline.
moving again. After Kay’s fall, the stairs, which the siblings used to climb to see Aunt Kay, seem strange to them. Bernie and Peaches move to Rockaway, a beach town in Queens, after Kay’s death. Mama grieves her sister, with whom she was so close that they were like twins.
Although the memories of Aunt Kay seem to help Jacqueline process her death, the family also seems to find the stairs, which recall Kay’s memory, extremely painful. Bernie and Peaches clearly find the memories painful as well, and they move away. This shows that memory can be both helpful and harmful in a time of grief.
Unable to live in the apartment that reminds them so much of Kay, the family moves to a house on Madison Street. The landlord tells them that the house is protected by a statue of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus outside, though Mama is skeptical and jokes about it. Still, Jacqueline catches her mother smiling at the sculpture, and imagines she is thinking of Aunt Kay.
The family’s apartment is much too painful to stay in, because it recalls Kay so strongly. In their new apartment, Mama is amused by the landlord’s reference to the religious statues out front, as she is skeptical about religion in general. Still, Jacqueline senses that the statues bring Mama some comfort, which suggests that religion might provide healing possibilities for Mama.
composition notebook. Jacqueline receives a composition notebook. She is enraptured by the look of the cover and the sound and smell of the paper inside. Odella is perplexed by this fervor, since Jacqueline can’t yet write.
Jacqueline’s excitement about her composition notebook shows her intense love of anything related to writing and storytelling, even before she can write herself. Jacqueline thinks the book is aesthetically beautiful. Odella, herself a big reader, cannot understand Jacqueline’s excitement, which marks their different relationships to writing.
on paper. Jacqueline writes her full name for the first time in the composition notebook, and it makes her feel like she could write anything.
This moment marks an important step in Jacqueline’s linguistic abilities, and it is also a profound moment of self-actualization— after much discussion of naming in the memoir, Jacqueline finally writes her own name.
saturday morning. In the family’s new apartment, they sometimes only eat pancakes; back in Greenville, by contrast, there was always lots of good food. The children wish they were back in Greenville, but they don’t complain to Mama about it.
Jacqueline continues to miss Greenville and the south, as Woodson shows when Jacqueline wishes for the food that MaryAnn made in Greenville. The food seems to stand in, at least in part, for missing MaryAnn herself. But the children sense Mama’s stress, and so they don’t complain.
first grade. As Jacqueline and Odella walk to school, Odella tells Jacqueline that the school, P.S. 106, used to be a castle. Jacqueline proclaims that she is in love with her school and that she loves her teacher, Ms. Feidler.
Despite Jacqueline’s discomfort in New York City, she loves her new school. Odella lies to Jacqueline and tells her it used to be a castle, appealing to Jacqueline’s imagination. Jacqueline’s love of learning becomes even clearer.
another kingdom hall. In response to MaryAnn’s prompting, Mama finds a Kingdom Hall where the children can attend services on Sundays. This reminds Jacqueline of their lives in Greenville, especially when their mother braids their hair like their grandmother did. Unlike in Greenville, though, Jacqueline and Odella have to iron their own dresses because Mama’s hands are full with baby Roman. Mama does not attend the meetings at Kingdom Hall; instead, she sits and reads.
Religion comes back into the children’s lives at MaryAnn’s insistence. Although Jacqueline does not seem especially drawn to the services, they do comfort her in that they remind her of Greenville. Mama, who generally expresses skepticism towards religion, does not attend the services with the children. When Jacqueline mentions that she and Odella iron their own dresses, she gives the reader a sense of the intense stress Mama is under as a single working mother raising four children.
flag. Jacqueline cannot pledge allegiance to the American flag at school because it is against her religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. As she is supposed to, Jacqueline walks out with the other Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gina and Alina, during the pledge. Gina suggests they pray for the other children, and Jacqueline says that Gina is the “true believer.” Alina and Jacqueline, on the other hand, don’t have any serious commitment to their religion. When they return to the classroom, Alina and Jacqueline sit far away from Gina, and Jacqueline feels that Gina is judging her.
Like in South Carolina, Jacqueline finds the constraints of her religion frustrating and alienating. She also feels acutely aware of the fact that she does not genuinely believe in the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is only doing what she’s told. When Jacqueline must leave the room during the pledge of allegiance, Gina’s devotion makes Jacqueline feel judged because she does not share it. Again, rather than providing support and guidance for Jacqueline, Jacqueline portrays her religious duties as a burden that she does not know why she must carry.
because we’re witnesses. Due to their faith, the Woodson family celebrates no holidays. This includes birthdays, and so Jacqueline must leave the classroom when another student brings in cupcakes for their birthday. Being a Jehovah’s Witness demands also that they not vote, fight, or go to war.
Jacqueline’s religion separates her from her peers during birthdays, when she is not allowed to eat cupcakes with the class. Jacqueline lists the other things she is not allowed to do, seeming to sense that these prohibitions prevent her from experiencing the depth and breadth of experience that the people around her are allowed to have.
brooklyn rain. Jacqueline contrasts the rain in Brooklyn with the rain in Greenville. In Greenville, the rain is pleasant, whereas in New York it only means Jacqueline must stay inside. To pass the time, Jacqueline makes up stories in her head that transport her back to the South. She thinks of catching raindrops on her tongue and Gunnar’s garden.
Jacqueline continues to miss her home in Greenville, especially because in New York she is not allowed to play outside in the rain. Bored and homesick, Jacqueline imagines stories that take place in Greenville to relieve her sorrows, remembering or imagining catching raindrops on her tongue there and thinking of Gunnar’s garden. Jacqueline’s imagination allows her to escape her despair in New York.
another way. In November, Jacqueline, Odella, and Hope beg to watch television or play outside, but Mama won’t let them. Instead, Mama brings home a bag of board games. Roman and Jacqueline want to play chess with Hope and Odella, but they are too little to follow the rules. Roman and Jacqueline insist that they can play chess their own way, but Hope and Odella refuse. Jacqueline and Roman play something else together, while wishing they were old enough to play chess.
Here, Jacqueline experiences the limits of imagination— she wants to be able to invent her own rules and imagine the conditions of the chess game, but the others refuse to let her. Although imagination and storytelling often helps Jacqueline, sometimes she cannot imagine her way out of following the rules that are set for her.
gifted. Jacqueline describes Odella’s intelligence and how her teachers believe she is “gifted” and send her home with certificates of excellence. Jacqueline receives none of these praises. She has difficulties reading, which greatly frustrates her.
Odella continues to serve as a contrasting character to Jacqueline. Odella’s success in school makes Jacqueline feel even worse about her struggles with reading, a skill that, despite her love of storytelling, Jacqueline has been unable to master.
sometimes. Only one other house on Madison Street is occupied by a family without a father. When Jacqueline asks the boy who lives there why he is fatherless, the boy tells her his father died. Jacqueline admits that sometimes she lies about Jack and says he is dead. When Odella hears these tall tales, she shakes her head, tells the truth, and says that Jacqueline is “making up stories again.”
When people ask Jacqueline where her father is, Jacqueline starts to lie, saying that he is dead or elsewhere, in order to make her family seem more like the other families on the street. Lying makes Jacqueline feel less self-conscious about her situation. This shows, again, how Jacqueline uses storytelling to relieve her sorrows and make herself more comfortable in the world.
uncle robert. Jacqueline’s Uncle Robert moves to New York City. He arrives around midnight. The children are excited and Mama, initially grumpy, smiles. Robert gifts Odella a pair of silver earrings for “how smart she is.” Bitterly, Jacqueline tells Robert that she knows a girl ten times smarter than Odella. When Robert asks if she is lying, Jacqueline wants to tell him that lots of things are true in her head that aren’t true outside of it. Robert gives Mama a new record, and the whole family dances to the music.
When Uncle Robert gives Odella a pair of earrings for her intelligence, it strikes a nerve in Jacqueline, who feels inferior to her older sister due to her academic struggles. Jacqueline tells Robert she knows someone much smarter than Odella. When Robert calls out Jacqueline’s spiteful lie, Woodson shows us that Jacqueline’s storytelling is more like an alternative reality than an intentional undermining of the truth. The moment ends happily, with the family dancing.
wishes. Robert takes the children to the park, and tells them that if they blow on a dandelion puff, then their wishes will come true. Jacqueline does so, hoping what he says is true.
Contrasting with the preceding poem, where Jacqueline’s own lying is called out, Woodson shows how adults often lie innocently to children. This poem suggests that this kind of lying might be partially responsible for Jacqueline’s wild imagination.
believing. Jacqueline tells Robert made-up stories. Her uncle finds the stories amusing, and encourages them. Mama, however, accuses her of lying, and says that if she keeps lying she’ll start stealing. Jacqueline gets the sense that her brain works differently than those of the people around her. She isn’t sure whether to continue storytelling, as her uncle encourages, or to stop, as her mother says she must.
Jacqueline continues to experiment with storytelling and fictionalizing life, which Robert encourages and finds endearing. Mama, however, gets angry at her, because she is concerned with what a lying child will imply about her own parenting and she thinks lying will lead to stealing. The difference in these perspectives confuses Jacqueline, and she begins to see that her storytelling sets her apart from other people, though she isn’t sure whether this is a good or bad thing. She is unsure of how her storytelling relates to her identity, due to the mixed messages she receives.
off-key. The children are habitually late to Kingdom Hall, and they usually walk in during the singing at the service’s opening. Jacqueline’s voice is off-key, but she sings anyway. She finds the religious lyrics boring, but enjoys the music, even though the people around her think she’s singing it incorrectly.
Jacqueline’s love of music, first noted when she listens to Gunnar singing on his way home from work, recurs in this poem, as Jacqueline and her siblings sing in church. Again, Jacqueline’s enjoyment of music, despite the fact that she is off-key, reflects her interest in sound and musicality, which influences her desire to write poetry rather than prose.
eve and the snake. Women aren’t allowed to give Sunday sermons at Kingdom Hall, a fact that confuses Jacqueline. That Sunday, the preacher tells the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. According to Jacqueline’s interpretation of the sermon, Eve’s actions are the reason they must attend Kingdom Hall on Sundays. Jacqueline wishes God would give them another chance to say no to the snake.
Jacqueline continues to question her religion as she wonders why women are not allowed to preach at Kingdom Hall. She interprets the Sunday sermon her own way, further asserting her own will and vision in a religion that contradicts it. Jacqueline sees attending Kingdom Hall explicitly as a punishment for Eve’s actions, rather than worship in which she happily partakes. As Jacqueline wishes for another chance, she imagines the possibility of deliverance from her boredom in the service.
our father, fading away. Since moving to New York, the children have fallen out of touch with their family in Ohio, and their memories of Jack have faded. Through a friend, Mama learns that the children’s paternal grandfather, Grandfather Hope, has died. They are not upset, since they did not even know he was still alive. Briefly, Jacqueline thinks of her father. Hope says he is “out of sight out of mind,” but Jacqueline isn’t sure this is true.
Jacqueline’s memory of her family in Ohio has dimmed significantly. Though Jacqueline was, according to the memoir, close to her family there as a child, the time and distance between Jack’s family and the Woodson children have severely diminished these bonds. For Hope, the family is “out of sight out of mind,” but Jacqueline, who has such a rich inner life of memory and imagination, thinks this might not be so true. The idea of her father fading out of her memory disturbs Jacqueline.
halfway home #2. Jacqueline feels more at home in New York, and her speech is becoming more Northern. When she and her siblings speak to MaryAnn on the phone, MaryAnn laughs and asks “Who are these city children?” Jacqueline wishes she had more time to explain her life in the city to MaryAnn. When Maryann says, “I love you too,” her Southern accent makes Jacqueline miss Greenville.
Jacqueline’s increasing comfort in New York City is reflected in her speech; her accent, which has consistently plagued her and marked her difference throughout the memoir, has become assimilated to Brooklyn. Though this accent makes her more at home in Brooklyn, it alienates her from Greenville, which she still longs for. MaryAnn’s accent is the focal point of Jacqueline’s nostalgia for Greenville, which is appropriate, since Jacqueline has such a love of sound.
the paint eater. Roman eats the paint off the walls in the children’s bedroom.
This poem serves primarily to forward the plot, as Roman’s paint-eating becomes a problem later. Jacqueline’s rich description suggests that she is imagining this scene.
chemistry. Hope has developed an interest in two things: comic books and science. Mama buys him a chemistry set, and Hope spends his free time concocting solutions. The mixtures spark and smell, so finally Mama tells him to stop. Hope then takes apart his train set piece by piece. Jacqueline thinks it is Hope’s way of looking for something “way past Brooklyn.”
Hope has been withdrawn and shy since they first moved to South Carolina, but he develops a love of science that piques his interest and gets him talking. Mama tries to encourage this interest, but it eventually becomes a nuisance that, with her busy schedule, she can’t handle. Jacqueline sees Hope’s interest in science as a kind of escapism, like what she herself does with storytelling. Jacqueline indicates this when she says that science is Hope’s way of looking for something “way past Brooklyn.”
baby in the house. One day, Roman does not get up. He refuses to eat, and cries profusely. Mama takes him to the hospital and has to leave him there overnight. After previously wishing to be the baby of the family again, Jacqueline now only wishes for her baby brother to come home.
When Roman’s sickness results in a hospital stay, Jacqueline reflects on how, before she met Roman and in the early days of knowing him, she worried about no longer being the baby of the family. Now, Jacqueline, having adjusted to Roman’s presence, loves him and wishes he were back home. This shows Jacqueline’s growing maturity and her acceptance of the baby that she once dismissed based on his connection to New York.
going home again. Jacqueline, Odella, and Hope kiss Roman goodbye in the hospital before taking the train to Greenville for the summer. Roman must stay in the hospital because the paint he ate gave him lead poisoning. The older children promise they won’t have fun without him, and Mama says goodbye.
With Roman extremely sick with lead poisoning, he and Mama cannot join the other siblings in Greenville for the summer. The children’s visit back South, long awaited and exciting, is saddened by the fact that Roman is ill. Though returning to the South will be a kind of homecoming for the children, it is an incomplete one, as they have to leave Mama and Roman behind.
home again on hall street. In Greenville, MaryAnn’s kitchen is the same as ever. She stands at the sink washing collard greens and chastises Hope when he lets the screen door slam. Later they will drink lemonade and play checkers on the porch with Gunnar. To Jacqueline, Greenville feels like home.
Greenville seems to be just as it was when they left, with MaryAnn cooking good food and Hope making a ruckus. Jacqueline takes comfort in the routine of life in the South, feeling at home there in a way that she does not yet feel at home in the North.
mrs. hughes’s house. Since Gunnar is sick and MaryAnn works full time, the children spend the days at Mrs. Hughes’ Nursery School. When MaryAnn drops them off there, Jacqueline is “maybe” crying. The children at the daycare make fun of them for their Northern accents. Odella cries too, and, furious, fights the other children who make fun of them. Hope, meanwhile, is stoic. Jacqueline gets the sense that they are caught between two homes: New York and Greenville.
Gunnar is still sick with the same cough he had when the children left for New York, which Jacqueline still worries about. This is a way in which Greenville has remained the same, but MaryAnn’s new full time work schedule results in major changes, including nursery school. Although the children feel safe, welcome, and at home in their grandparents’ house, the time in the nursery school shows them that they have changed since leaving Greenville. Their northern accents, which help them blend in in New York, cause them to be bullied in the South. Again, Jacqueline’s language prevents her from being totally at home in either the North or the South.
how to listen #4. Odella tells Jacqueline that they are better than the mean children who make fun of them.
Odella’s sense of superiority over the children who mock them recalls how MaryAnn’s pride led her to forbid the children to play with the other children on their street.
field service. Thanks to MaryAnn’s influence, Jacqueline, Hope, and Odella spend their Saturdays evangelizing. For the first time, Jacqueline is allowed to knock on a door alone. An old woman opens the door, but she cannot afford the cost of the pamphlet. This make Jacqueline upset. She tells her grandmother it is not fair, but her grandmother reassures her that another Jehovah’s Witness will pass through the neighborhood and eventually the woman will “find her way.”
Jacqueline, evangelizing to neighbors on her own for the first time, is saddened when an old woman can’t afford the pamphlets. This injustice makes Jacqueline question her religion. Woodson shows how Jacqueline’s own moral compass at times conflicts with her religion’s teachings; to Jacqueline, denying someone spiritual guidance because they do not have enough money to pay for the materials feels wrong and marks a greater uncertainty about the foundation of her religion as a whole.
sunday afternoon on the front porch. Miss Bell waves to MaryAnn, who sits with her grandchildren on the porch. Gunnar, meanwhile, gardens. When Jacqueline worries about his sickness, Gunnar tells her that she is too young to worry.
Although many of the neighborhood happenings are the same as ever, Gunnar continues to get sicker and sicker. Though he still gardens, it is now much harder for him. Gunnar represents how, although Jacqueline didn’t want it to, her life in the South continues to change.
Jacqueline knows that soon she will change out of her Kingdom Hall clothes and into gardening wear so that she can help Gunnar. After gardening, they will return to the house and she will rub his sore hands with Epsom salts. Meanwhile, Jacqueline prays that Roman will be well soon, and that they will always have their life in Greenville with their grandparents.
In this poem, Jacqueline takes stock of her life in Greenville, from her vexed relationship with her religion, to her deep love of her grandparents. She also thinks about the things she misses in New York, like Roman and her mother. Jacqueline, as she prays both for Roman and for her grandparents, seems in this moment to attempt to bring all these things together, expressing her deep desire to reconcile her life in New York with her life in the South.
home then home again. The summer in Greenville is ending. Mama calls MaryAnn to plan the children’s return. The children miss Roman, and Jacqueline thinks of him running to them when they return from school. The children play on the swings, but are no longer as enthralled with them as they once were. Gunnar promises to cement the swing set down so that they can swing higher. Slowly, the children pack their clothes.
Jacqueline understands clearly now that Greenville has changed while she was away, and her changing relationship to the swings also confirms the changes within herself. When Gunnar promises to cement the swing set while the children are gone, it gives Jacqueline a change to look forward to, one that contrasts with the other changes that she dreads.