Denver continues the story of his childhood. After Big Mama’s house burns down, someone takes Thurman and Denver to live with their daddy, BB. BB is a lady’s man and has several affairs with married women, which prevents him from being able to sit in the local church on Sundays for fear that he’d be spotted by an angry husband. Instead, BB, Denver, and Thurman sit in BB’s car beneath the church window each week. The preacher opens the glass pane so they can listen to him preach about God and sin and listen to the choir sing. A few weeks after Denver and Thurman move in with BB, a man attacks BB on the road and stabs him to death. Denver wonders if the man who killed BB is one of the irate husbands sitting in church each week.
Religion, and especially church, is often depicted right alongside sin. Both BB and his mistresses attend church each week, albeit separately, and Denver suspects that his father’s murderer is also there. Despite the memoir’s strong portrayal of religion as a powerful force for good, it also often points at its hypocrisy—churchgoers are often manipulative, sinful, greedy, or prideful. The author’s recognition that religious people commit the same sins as anyone suggests the moral difference between the people in the church pews and the people on the streets is rather negligible.
After BB dies, Denver and Thurman go to live with Uncle James and Aunt Etha, who are sharecroppers. Although Denver knows that white people think black people are lazy and stupid, the four of them work hard, harvesting more and more cotton each year. Even so, the Man keeps extending Uncle James’s debt. After a few years of no pay, Uncle James moves the family to a bigger plantation. Surprisingly, the Man never comes after him to call in his debt. At the new plantation, the family still sharecrops, this time for another Man. Denver works hard and plays with his brother, but the loss of Big Mama still pains him.
The belief that black people are lazy or stupid is directly contradicted by Denver and his family’s own work ethic. The fact that they work hard and produce more cotton each year but still cannot turn a profit demonstrates the way in which modern-slavery keeps many people poor, despite their striving for a better life. They are not poor because they are lazy; they are poor because the Man holds them hostage.
In those days, everyone moonshines, both black people and white people, hiding their stills out in the woods. Aunt Etha manages to cook anything that can be killed: possums, raccoons, rabbits. She also grows her own garden, and the family receives milk in exchange for taking care of the Man’s cows, and two hogs a year that they raise and kill at Christmas time, eating the meat throughout the next year. When anyone gets sick, Aunt Etha gives them a gross tea made from ground cow patty and toadstools. As she puts it, “All good medicine tastes bad!” But it cures everything.
Once again, despite their poverty, Denver’s family demonstrates an exceptional resourcefulness. This once again illustrates that poor people are as dynamic and hard-working as anyone, but the circumstances they were born into or that were thrust upon them impede their progress and stop them from breaking free of their poverty.