Walking With Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Walking With Miss Millie

byTamara Bundy

Hardcover | July 4, 2017

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“A memorable and lovely debut.”--Kirkus Reviews
 
Walking with Miss Millie is full of subtle wisdom. Its ending is satisfying though sobering and there are elements of this story that stay with you long after the last page has been read.”--Karen English, Coretta Scott King Honor Award Author

A poignant middle grade debut about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly black woman in the 1960s South

 
Alice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together.

Strolling with Clarence and Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice's day and opens her eyes to all sorts of new things to marvel over. During their walks, they meet a mix of people, and Alice sees that although there are some bullies and phonies, there are plenty of kind folks, too. Miss Millie shares her family’s story with Alice, showing her the painful impact segregation has had on their town. And with Miss Millie, Alice is finally able to express her own heartache over why her family had to move there in the first place.

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written debut celebrates the wonder and power of friendship: how it can be found when we least expect it and make any place a home.

About The Author

Tamara Bundy is a high school English teacher with a Master’s degree in writing, and is a former columnist for the Cincinnati Post (her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio). Walking Miss Millie is her debut novel. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Walking With Miss Millie
Walking With Miss Millie

by Tamara Bundy

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Details & Specs

Title:Walking With Miss MillieFormat:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 8.56 × 5.75 × 0.83 inPublished:July 4, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399544569

ISBN - 13:9780399544569

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Chapter 1     The day we drove into Rainbow, Mama was pulling out all her tricks to distract us, trying to pretend we hadn’t just left all our friends ten hours behind. “Oh, Alice! Look at my old hometown! See all the trees lining the street? And the nice wide sidewalks? It’s all so pretty!”     Out my window I saw a beat-up sign that once said, WELCOME TO RAINBOW, but now with most of the letters faded, it only read, COME RAIN, and that made more sense in this dried up little town.     I remembered Daddy saying that the only good day in Rainbow, Georgia, is the day you leave. I used to laugh real hard when he said stuff like that. Then Daddy left us—even though we weren’t even living in Rainbow—and I didn’t think that joke was as funny anymore.     There’s a lot that’s not funny anymore.     Up till the last month of fourth grade, I was mostly happy.     But then Mama called a family meeting. Family meetings of the past had been for our cat needing to be put down, us moving to a smaller house, and of course, Daddy leaving.     So I knew better than to think that meeting was going to be pleasant.     And I was right. ***     “Alice.” Mama’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Look at that library over there. I used to spend so much time there. You and Eddie will love it. Look how charming it is.”     It was nothing more than an old brick house with a wooden porch out front and a chalkboard sign with the words CITY OF RAINBOW LIBRARY painted on it. Underneath, someone had scribbled, Make the summer of '68 great—dive into a good book!     Yeah, this was gonna be fun.     “And look, there. That’s Emery Elementary, where you both will start in the fall. Oh wait . . . don’t tell Eddie that. I’m not sure they can accept him—haven’t talked to them yet. So don’t tell Eddie about the school thing.”     I wasn’t telling Eddie anything. He fell asleep over an hour ago. I looked at him, snoring like he didn’t have a worry in the world, still clutching the plate he always pretends is a steering wheel.     When mama drives, Eddie does too. When she turns left, he turns the plate left. He’s a real good backseat driver till he gets bored and wants a book or some toy. But still, he never lets go of that plate.     Back home, Eddie went to the Ohio School for the Deaf. Got in a big van to go to his school every day since he was three. Don’t know why Mama thinks he will just be able to start going to a public school with me now that we live in this tiny town. Is he gonna walk through the door to a new school and just start hearing?     I was starting to worry about my mama’s forgetfulness more than Grandma’s.     When Grandma came to visit us last Easter, she got lost. She was driving to Columbus the same way she always did for every holiday. But this year she called from some diner way out in Pennsylvania. She shouldn’t even have been in Pennsylvania! Even I knew that. I thought it was funny, but I remember Mama didn’t laugh. She had this look on her face like a diner in Pennsylvania was the absolute worst place Grandma could ever end up. But Grandma eventually made it to our house just fine. Mama drove her back after Easter and then took the bus home. And I didn’t think anything else about it.     Till Mama called the family meeting.     Mama told us Grandma’s memory was getting worse and it wasn’t a good idea for her to live by herself anymore.     I figured that meant Grandma would move in with us. I knew our house was small, but since Daddy left, Mama had the whole bed to herself, so I figured Grandma could sleep with her. At least until Daddy came back.     But Mama said no. Grandma’s life was in Rainbow. She needed to stay where she knew people, where she’d spent most her life. She needed to be in her home.     Not sure why Mama didn’t understand that’s what I needed, too.       Chapter 2     We turned onto Grandma’s street.     I knew we were on her brick street because the road got so bumpy it woke up Eddie.    I looked at the other houses on the street. I’d been here to visit plenty of times before, but knowing we were staying longer this time made me look around like I was seeing it for the first time.     The paint on most everyone’s shutters and front porches was the same shade of white. Or at least it used to be white. I could see it peeling on a lot of the houses. It looked like all it would take was one big wind to blow all the chipped paint off and every house would be left stark naked.     Maybe that’s why the houses all looked sad.     And Grandma’s house looked the saddest of all.     As a matter of fact, I'd never realized it before, but her house was a big frowning face. I tipped my head to the side to see it better. The two upstairs windows sticking out of the flat roof were the wide-open eyes. The front door was a nose, and the shape of the peeling white rail of the wraparound porch, slanted on each side of the house, made a definite frown.     So there we were, plain as day, greeted by the entire house frowning at us. Guess nobody was happy about this move.     Except maybe Grandma.     She was out to greet us as soon as our car doors slammed.    When the car was moving, there was enough breeze to keep us from sweating. But now that we'd stopped, the heat took my breath away.     Eddie ran over to Grandma and gave her a big hug like always. Grandma can’t sign to him, so she just talks extra-loud, like he’ll hear that.     “Land’s sake! Look at you!” And she did. Up and down like she was taking inventory of Eddie’s arms and legs. “I think you’ve grown since Easter!” Of course, Eddie did what he always does when people don’t sign to him . . . he nods his head to make them feel better.     Mama went next to hug Grandma. But first Grandma held her at arm's length and announced, “It’s always wonderful to see you all. But there is absolutely no need for you to uproot your entire lives to come here to watch over me like a teapot ready to boil. I’m a grown woman and I’m fine.”     And she looked fine, too.     She was what Mama always describes as a perfect Southern lady . . . always dressed real nice. She only wears pants when she works in her garden. But any other time, she dresses like she’s ready for church, as if all of a sudden she might get a call for an emergency church service and will be able to say, “No need to worry. I’m ready to go.”     And right then, as I stared at her, thinking anybody who looked that nice couldn’t be in need of being babysat, she finally turned to say hi to me.     “Alice! Look at you.” She gave me a hug, squeezing me tighter than I wanted, and that’s when I noticed she didn’t smell as good as she usually did. She let out a high-pitched whistle before she shook her head and said, “You look more and more like your daddy every day!”     This was Grandma’s favorite thing to tell me. Mama always says Grandma loves me, but it seems to me Grandma loves reminding me I take after my daddy in every way. And the way she says it, I can tell it’s not a compliment.     By this time, Eddie had driven his plate in and out of Grandma’s house. When he came back outside waving his hand in front of his nose, his face was all pinched up in a sign even Grandma could read, though she couldn’t tell the next thing he signed was, “The house smells like the bathroom at the rest stop.”     And he was right.     Grandma’s house stunk and was a mess, too. There was a mountain of Life magazines in the corner, piled taller than Eddie. Two televisions were stacked one on top of the other in her living room. And what was that smell?     I saw Mama glancing around looking all worried, and I hoped beyond hope she was thinking we should head out and just leave.     But when she opened her mouth, instead of words telling us to get back in the car, her words were shaky like we were still on the bumpy road bopping up and down as she said: “Alice, you and Eddie need to stretch your legs and look around outside.”     I know better than to backtalk Mama, so I did what she said.     As the backdoor swung shut behind us, Eddie took off driving his plate around the backyard while I looked all around. On the right side of the yard was Grandma’s garden, which was off-limits. Once last year, I kicked a ball into the middle of some flowers and you’d have thought the ball hit Grandma straight in the gut. I tried to make the flowers stand up again, I even tried propping them up with sticks ‘cause I knew she’d be mad, but the more I walked around trying to help, the more I only messed the garden up. “Sometimes I wonder what on earth you’re thinking!” she scolded me when she saw. “Just like your daddy,” she added before walking back to the house.     I couldn’t help noticing that the garden was drooping now, and looking less like the perfect blue-ribbon one she was known for.     On the left of Grandma’s yard was a big old oak tree I liked to climb. But now the lowest branch was too high for me to reach. And the tire swing that used to hang from it was lying there all worthless on the ground beside the tree, like it, too, wasn’t happy to be in this yard anymore.     Back in the far corner of the yard stood a rusty old shed where Grandma kept a lot of stuff for her garden. I wandered back there hoping to find something to stand on to hang the tire swing back up. Maybe if I fixed it, I’d have something to do in this town other than watch the flowers grow, or wilt in this case.     I entered the shed and found cobwebs hanging from every corner, draping down on rakes, and a wheelbarrow, and my mama’s old bike. I grabbed a broom and swung it around to clear out the cobwebs so I could walk in.     That’s when I noticed a box in the corner about the size of a shoe box and covered in faded gold paper that’d lost most of its shine. Still, one lone sparkle caught my eye enough to call me over. Squinting, I could make out my mama and daddy’s names circled in a heart scribbled on the very top of the box.     This was a curious thing, for sure.     Bending down to pick up the box, I bumped into some stuff leaning against the old bike. The clanging thud of a rake falling echoed in the creepy silence of the shed just enough to make my heart pretty near jump out of my chest.     But what I saw on the bike was even scarier.     The biggest and hairiest spider I’d ever seen was sitting on that old bike. It didn’t look too pleased that I'd bothered its quiet spot on my mama’s bike either—and it might as well have been challenging me to a fight over who was the rightful owner of the bike.     I must've been staring down that big spider longer than I thought ‘cause the next thing I heard was a screechy voice yelling from somewhere in the backyard, “Hey! Anybody there? Anybody?”     I tiptoed out of the shed and looked in the direction of the voice. Before I could locate exactly where it was coming from, it started in again. “You there! Does this little man belong to you? Yes—you! Land’s sake—is the whole family deaf?”     And that was my first almost-conversation with Miss Millie.       Chapter 3     I remember last summer Grandma talking about her neighbor Miss Millie. She’d been her neighbor for a while, but they weren’t exactly friends. Grandma said it was ‘cause Miss Millie just kept to herself. Grandma said the reason she kept to herself was ‘cause she was a colored lady. I didn’t get why when Grandma would say the word colored, she would kind of whisper it.     As I lifted up the bushes, finding the fence that divided the two yards, I finally saw Miss Millie.     She was tiny—Mama would say she probably weighed less than a hundred pounds soaking wet. She wore a man’s button-down shirt and a long pair of pants, rolled up at the bottom. I couldn’t imagine how she wasn’t melting from the hot day. Her hair looked like a bunch of silver wires all joined together at the back in one heavy braid that went all the way down to her waist. Her face was a road map of lines.     I thought Grandma was old, but if she was old, Miss Millie was even older than Grandma. Heck, Miss Millie looked older than Moses.     Eddie didn’t even take his eyes off her to look at me, and Miss Millie was looking back at him, kind of amused, like they shared a joke. Then she looked at me like she was determining what kind of person I was.     At last she spoke, extra-loud. “You deaf and dumb, too?”     I knew some people called a person who couldn’t talk dumb, meaning he was mute and couldn’t speak at all—but I didn’t like that word. My brother, Eddie, wasn’t dumb in any way.     But in all fairness, Miss Millie probably couldn’t tell that my brother was smart since all he was doing, far as she could see, was standing like a statue in front of her with his mouth wide open like he was a bullfrog just waiting to catch flies.     “No, ma’am,” I kind of mumbled as I watched Eddie snap out of whatever spell he was under when he saw me, and then start driving his plate all over Miss Millie’s yard.     “Huh? You gonna have to speak up, girlie.”     This time I yelled, “No, Ma’am. My brother is deaf . . . but not dumb . . . He’s not mute either.”     “No need to yell,” Miss Millie told me. “I’m old, not dead . . . yet.” And she must have felt that was the funniest thing to say, because she started laughing, which turned immediately into a cough.     When it finally stopped, she turned to me and said, “So why’s he doing that?”     But there was something in her voice this time that wasn’t mean or anything, just curious.     “That’s just what he does,” I offered, realizing that explanation was clear as mud.     She continued to watch him as she shook her head. “Bless his heart. Can’t hear a dang thing, huh?”     “Not a dang thing,” I repeated, liking the sound of that word.     “Was it an accident?”     “No. Just born that way. He was in my mama’s tummy when she visited a friend of hers and then found out the lady’s kids had measles. After that, Eddie was born not hearing a dang thing.”     Miss Millie and I both looked back at Eddie just driving his plate. I heard a bit of a clicking coming from her mouth as she shook her head and sighed. “Don’t seem fair.”     “Guess not.” I could hear an angry barking and growling noise coming from the back door of Miss Millie’s house then. Whatever it was making that scary noise had to be huge and I didn’t want to be around if it came out.     Miss Millie coughed a little more and cleared her throat. “So you must be Loretta’s grandbabies?”     “Yes, ma’am.” I was waving my arm to get Eddie’s attention.     Finally, he looked at me, and I signed, “Let’s go!”    Miss Millie let out a cackle. “Woo-hoo! Even I could tell what that means. Do you know all that fingerspellin’ stuff?”     “Yes, ma’am,” I told her, wanting to get away from the growling, which was getting louder and more worrisome. “Well . . . sorry to bother you. I’ll tell Eddie not to come back anymore. He shouldn’t have come over here. It’s not right.”     And with that, her whole tone changed and her face didn’t look so friendly anymore.     “Well . . . sure. Sure he shouldn’t be just traipsin’ about other people’s private property. Hearing or not, he better learn not to trespass. I got a right to this property, you know.”     I had no idea what I'd said to change her attitude.     All I knew was that I was ready to hightail it out of that yard—and hopefully out of Rainbow, too—for good.

Editorial Reviews

“Alice's first-person narration sounds just right as she describes her relationships with family and townsfolk—and, especially, her eye-opening, heartwarming, and humorous encounters with the wonderful Miss Millie. . . . Readers will agree that walking with these excellently portrayed main characters was well worth the journey. A memorable and lovely debut.”—Kirkus Reviews “Alice’s strong character development makes for a satisfying read.”—Publishers Weekly “Walking with Miss Millie is full of subtle wisdom. Its ending is satisfying though sobering and there are elements of this story that stay with you long after the last page has been read.”—Karen English, Coretta Scott King Honor Award Author