Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Welch Sections 5-6
Mom and Dad decide to drive back to Phoenix to pick up belongings they had left behind. Jeannette wishes she could go with them and all the kids harbor a silent fear that Mom and Dad will not come back, especially since they hate life with Erma.
One day, while Mom and Dad are gone, Erma calls Brian into her room to fix a torn seam of his pants. However, when Jeannette looks in on them, she sees that Brian is crying and that Erma is touching his private parts. Jeannette starts screaming that Erma's a pervert and Lori, now thirteen years old, gets into a physical and verbal fight with Erma. The fight results in the kids' being locked in the basement, which, while it has a door to the outside, prevents them from having access to the main parts of the house.
When Dad gets back and finds out what has happened with Brian, he acts strangely hysterical about it. Jeannette wonders if Erma had also abused him and if this explains why he never wanted to return to Welch. Mom and Dad's car broke down on the way back from Phoenix, so they took a bus back to Welch, leaving behind all the items they had retrieved. Mom and Dad buy a house, which Mom describes as rustic, in the poorest neighborhood of Welch. It has no plumbing, only three rooms, and a leaky roof in the kitchen. But once again, Mom tries to make it an adventure, urging everyone to look on the bright side.
Brian's experience with Erma — and his siblings' and parents' reaction to it — reveal more about the family dynamics as a whole, as well as insight into Dad's behavior. First, Brian is swiftly rescued from Erma's advances by Jeannette's shouts and Lori's attack on Erma. Through this scene, and the resulting time all the siblings, including little Maureen, have to spend in the basement, Walls shows the solidarity she and her siblings have with one another. While they have often gone hungry and often disagreed with their parents throughout their childhood, they remain steadfastly loyal to one another and willing to do anything to defend each other.
And, while their hardships no doubt instill this fierce loyalty in them, their hardships also pit the siblings against their parents in several ways. First, Dad's refusal to take the kids' side when he returns from Phoenix not only strengthens the siblings' bonds with each other, but also provides insight into Dad's character. As Jeannette contemplates the possibility that Erma also abused Dad, she begins to understand why Dad acts like he does: why he drinks; why he almost refused to return to Welch; and, perhaps most significantly, why he refuses to take their side or even listen to what happened to Brian. Dad's reaction to Brian's experience shows that he has never been able to come to terms with whatever childhood trauma he survived. Indeed, his suggestion that Brian should have handled it like man indicates that Dad's sense of his own masculinity and his need to be able to be self-sufficient arises from struggling to cope with the abuse he experienced as a child.