Summary – Section Two, Chapters Eight, Nine and Ten
The family lived in Las Vegas for about a month and stayed in a motel room. The children slept in one bed and the parents slept in the other. Father played black jack and won some money, but one day both parents came back quickly from the casino and he said that one of the dealers had worked out he had a system. He told the children it was time to ‘do a skedaddle’. He also said they had to get far away because the Mafia, which ran the casinos, was after him, and they went to San Francisco.
Here, they stayed in the Tenderloin district, because their mother said there was more character in this area. Jeannette tells of how there were also sailors and women ‘with lots of makeup’ staying in the same hotel as them. The children played in the hotel when their parents went out looking for money. The dangers of this are explained when we are told there was a fire in their room and Dad came back just in time and got the children out.
After the hotel burned down, they lived on the beach for a few days until a policeman told them to move on. When he left, Jeannette’s father called him ‘the goddam gestapo’ and he and her mother decided they should return to the desert and look for gold.
Chapter Nine describes how they headed for the Mojave Desert and Mom asked to stop to look at a Joshua tree she had noticed. It was growing in the direction the wind had blown it and was leaning so much it looked set to topple over. She decided to paint it and while she set up her easel Dad drove on and found an area called Midland and secured a house to rent.
At night, the coyotes could be heard howling and Jeannette relates how she often thought she heard something under her bed and her father helped her to chase the Demon away (by Demon hunting). He told her how monsters love to frighten people, ‘“but the minute you stare them down, they turn tail and run”’.
He finally found work in a gypsum mine and brought home sacks of gypsum for Mom who made Venus de Milo casts from a mould she bought. At this time, she was pregnant and carried on with her artwork. She painted dozens of pictures of the Joshua tree and when Jeannette spotted a young sapling she told her mother she wanted to dig it up and re-plant it near the house so she could look after it and help it grow straight and tall. Her mother frowned and said this would destroy what made it special, as she saw its struggle as giving it its beauty.
In Chapter Ten, Jeannette explains that she and her siblings never believed in Santa Claus because their parents refused to let them. She argues that this is because they could not afford expensive presents and did not want the children to think they were not as good as other children. They celebrated Christmas, but this was usually a week later when the bows, papers and trees had been discarded.
That year when Jeannette was five her father lost his job at the mine and they had no money at all at Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he took each child alone into the desert night one by one. When it was Jeannette’s turn, he asked her to pick a star and said this could be her present. She picked Venus and he explained how this was ‘only’ a planet and was actually smaller than stars. She still wanted it, though, and he agreed to it.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Eight, Nine and Ten
The family are described here as living in poverty but in these earlier stages, when Dad is not drinking so much, their home life is depicted as unconventional and the children are cared for differently to more mainstream or wealthier families. A touching moment comes when the children are taken out to choose their own present of a star and the author appears to take pride in the thoughtfulness of this idea that is dependent on affection and imagination rather than economics.