Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Double Dutch
Addy returns to the end of the line of girls playing Double Dutch after school. She's just missed for the fourth time, and is discouraged that two ropes are so much harder than one. Sarah assures that Addy will get better with practice, but Addy is unsure. However, it's hard not to feel happy this spring day. After all, Poppa was there. He, Momma, and Addy had moved from Mrs. Ford's garret to a boarding house nearby, and he had a job driving an ice wagon--which was right then coming towards them. Addy and Sarah hurry to meet him, and he gives each of them a skiver of ice to suck on. He offers them both a ride, but Sarah has to go straight home to help her mother with her laundry work. Addy climbs onto the wagon, struggling to hold her cold, slippery piece of ice. Poppa lets her wear his thick gloves as Addy expresses regret that Sarah has to help her mother so much. Poppa says her family needs the money, adding that he hadn’t expected freedom to be as hard as it is. Addy says Momma told her change took time, and Poppa adds that at least Philadelphia has potential for good changes.
Addy tells Poppa that her world in Philadelphia seems to be getting bigger and bigger--she can read and write, and they’re riding around the city instead of worming tobacco plants. Poppa agrees that working for pay and living in a boarding house is better than before, but he still wants more; ice hauling only takes muscle, and no one even knows about his carpentry skills because every job he’s inquired about doesn’t hire colored people. Poppa’s last delivery is at Natkin’s Confectionery, a white-only ice cream shop. Addy remembers her first taste of ice cream at a church social a few weeks ago, and blurts without thinking that she’d like some ice cream right then. Poppa says nothing as he lifts an ice block in his huge tongs and carries it into the shop through the side door. He comes back, saying it’s some kind of freedom when he can deliver ice to make ice cream but can’t even buy his daughter a dish of it. Addy pretends not to like ice cream in an attempt to make Poppa feel better, but he only looks sidelong at her and hops down from the wagon, allegedly to “check if the door’s closed”. He returns with a broken ice cream freezer that had been thrown out behind the shop. He promises to fix it for Addy, who says that’d be nice. Addy feels that being black is like standing outside the whirling ropes of Double Dutch, wanting desperately to jump in.
Chapter Two: Sunshine
Addy is hopeful to see a little wagon full of furniture outside the boarding house the next day. She is the only child who lives there, and her afternoons can be lonesome with only Ida Bean to talk to. Mr. Golden, the keeper of the boarding house, tells her the person moving in is his mother, to Addy’s disappointment. Some days, like today, Momma and Poppa are working late and aren’t home in time to eat dinner with the rest of the boarders. As Addy eats, she listens to the conversation at her table: Mrs. Golden is talking about an almost-riot on a streetcar downtown in which three colored people were injured. Another woman says she’s too scared to ride streetcars at all, and a man adds that he heard the Pine Street conductor threw a colored man off his streetcar, breaking the man’s leg. A young woman says there wouldn’t be any trouble if colored people were allowed to ride inside the streetcar instead of on the platform, and Mr. Golden says he’ll be an old man before that ever happens.
Addy finds she has little interest in her meal and heads back toward her family’s room. A bird’s song catches her attention, and Addy follows it to one of the downstairs rooms whose door is partially open. There is no lamp or candle in the room, so Addy has trouble seeing what’s inside until her eyes adjust and she sees a bright yellow bird perched in a cage, singing loudly and cheerfully. An old woman’s voice speaks from the darkness: “You can come in, child.” Addy is startled--she hadn’t seen anyone--and the old woman lights a lamp and beckons her inside. The furniture in the room is the same furniture from the wagon that afternoon. Addy introduces herself and asks if the woman is Mr. Golden’s mother. The woman answers yes and asks her if she wants to meet the bird, whose name is Sunny. Addy approaches the cage and notices that the old woman’s eyes are filmy and blank. Mrs. Golden senior says Addy didn’t know she was blind, and Addy politely answers no, asking how Mrs. Golden knew she was at the door. Mrs. Golden answers that she has many ways of seeing, like how she knew Addy was a child by the softness and spacing of her footsteps. She asks how old Addy is and when her birthday is, and Addy says she’s nine but only knows she was born in the spring. Mrs. Golden says it’s too bad Addy doesn’t know her birthday, and by her speech she's guessed that Addy was born into slavery. She explains that lots of formerly enslaved people don’t know their birthdays--she herself was born in Philadelphia but her parents were enslaved from birth. She jokes about being old enough to remember the day God invented dirt. Addy says her brother Sam would like Mrs. Golden, and the latter asks if he lives there too. Addy says they don’t know where he is and briefly explains how their family was split. Mrs. Golden says slavery takes a lot from people and it takes time to get it back--but there’s one thing Addy can do without having to wait: She can pick a birthday for herself whenever she wants. Addy says that’s a good idea and she wants to pick a very special day so her birthday will be perfect. Mrs. Golden tells her that in her entire long life she’s never seen a perfect day, but some days are almost perfect. She tells Addy that she’ll know when the right day comes along. Sunny puffs up his chest and sings again, and Addy asks if he gets sad or lonely in that cage, and Mrs. Golden says he occasionally sounds sad, but they keep each other company and the cage can’t contain his spirit. She says everyone needs to know how to let their souls sing out all the time. Addy replies it can be hard to do that if you feel lonely or sad, and Mrs. Golden said she could hear Addy’s loneliness when she first spoke, but even then Addy was still singing. Mrs. Golden asks Addy to visit whenever she wants, and to call her M’Dear like her family does.
Chapter Three: Bitter Medicine
Addy visits M’Dear after school every day. They keep each other company while Addy does her schoolwork, and M’Dear sometimes rewards her with benne candy and stories of her childhood. Addy is happy to have someone in the boarding house to talk to, and happier still when Momma lets her invite Sarah over on Saturday so M’Dear can rest. Poppa looks up from the ice cream freezer he’s repairing and tells her to hurry up picking a birthday since the freezer is almost fixed. When Sarah arrives, Addy spreads an old blanket on the floor and sets dishes and a plate of cornbread on it to make an indoor picnic. Sarah is carrying a bag, which she tells Addy holds a surprise, and Addy tells her Momma and Poppa said Sarah can help Addy pick a birthday. Sarah says that decision should be up to Addy, who agrees, enjoying their meal. Afterwards, Sarah hands Addy the bag and tells her to reach inside. It turns out to be some coiled rope, cut from a spare clothesline from Mrs. Moore’s laundry business. Sarah ties the ropes to a lamppost outside, and begins to twirl them. Addy tries over and over to jump, but she always gets tangled up. Suddenly, M’Dear’s voice interrupts. The old woman is sitting at her open window, where she advises Addy to listen to the ropes as well as watching. After introducing Sarah to M’Dear, Addy follows her advice, noticing the regular rhythm of the tapping ropes and following it with her feet. She manages four jumps in a row, and M’Dear says she saw Addy’s success (in her own way).
Her next try, Addy jumps more than a dozen times before losing count. Later, Addy brings Sarah inside to meet M’Dear, and is dismayed to see the old woman lying in bed with a cloth over her forehead--she had run out of medicine for her headache. Addy offers to get her more from the nearby drugstore, and M’Dear agrees, handing her some money and telling the girls to buy something special for themselves with the extra. It turns out that the nearby store is all out of that kind of medicine, and Addy tells Sarah that she saw another drugstore on Pebble Avenue from the ice wagon. It’s a long ways away, but Addy tells Sarah they can take a streetcar and she knows which ones allow colored people. The girls walk one block to a streetcar stop, pay their fare for the first one, and climb onto the outside platform. Addy enjoys the warm spring breeze as the horses pull the streetcar through the city. At every stop, the little platform gets more and more crowded, though there’s plenty of room inside. Addy is relieved to arrive at the drugstore, but there’s a long line. When the girls finally reach the counter, Addy doesn’t even have time to open her mouth before the clerk turns to wait on a man who has just walked through the door. Sarah whispers to Addy that they were next, and Addy says he might not have seen them because he’s used to waiting on grown folks. As soon as the man leaves, Addy tries again to speak to the clerk, but he walks away to wait on a young white girl who just walked in. Sarah tells Addy there’s no way the clerk hadn’t seen them that time, and Addy watches the clerk speak to the girl, counting her change into her hand. At last, the clerk asks rudely what Addy wants. She shows him the empty medicine bottle and asks for the same type, and he asks if she has any money. Sarah is staring at the floor. Addy tries to hand him her coins, but he backs away and tells her to put them on the counter. When he counts out her change, he slams it onto the counter. Some coins fall on the floor, and Sarah scrambles to get them.
Wordlessly, the girls leave the shop and walk back to the streetcar stop. Sarah says some white folks think they’re better than colored folks for some reason. Addy protests that that isn’t right, and Sarah says things ain’t always right. The first streetcar that comes is packed and doesn’t even stop, casing the crowd at the stop to grumble. Addy and Sarah make it onto the next one, but it’s so jammed that Addy can’t even reach the railing. The conductor calls out “white passengers only” at the next stop, sparking a storm of protest from the mainly colored crowd waiting there. A woman shouts that there would be room if they were allowed to sit inside, to which the conductor replies he doesn’t make the rules. One man in overalls tries to force his way onto the platform along with a few of his friends. The conductor begins shoving people, yelling at them to get off the streetcar. The man in overalls clings to the railing until the conductor grabs him and throws him into the street, then orders all the other colored people on the platform to get off or he’ll call the police. Addy is jostled among the press of people and tears a hole in her stocking when she drops to the ground. Sarah finds her as Addy is watching the mostly-empty streetcar pull away and asks if Addy is all right. Addy says she is and she didn’t drop M’Dear’s medicine, but they’ve used up all the money and can’t take another streetcar even if they’d wanted to. The girls end up walking a long way back to the boarding house.
Chapter Four: Brotherly Love
The girls are discouraged when they finally make it home in the late afternoon. M’Dear is relieved to hear them, saying the was almost worried enough to come after them herself. Addy tries to hide her torn stocking before remembering M’Dear can’t see it, explaining only that the nearby drugstore didn’t have the medicine and they had to go to another store further away. M’Dear takes the medicine but holds Addy’s hand, saying she can tell there’s something more by Addy’s voice. Addy tells her the whole story, adding that she and most of the other colored people on the streetcar were just minding their own business when the conductor threw them off. M’Dear agrees that it isn’t right, and Sarah says colored people in the North aren’t as free as everyone said they were. M’Dear answers that they have to fight for their freedom, even in the North, because some people are prejudiced. She says a prejudiced person is even more blind than she herself is, because they can’t see a person for who that person really is. Addy laments that Philadelphia doesn’t seem to have much brotherly love with all the restrictions colored people face, and it can never change because they can’t change the color of their skin. M’Dear says Addy’s partially right, but she doesn’t have to let prejudice keep her prisoner. She needs to keep singing, just like Sunny.
After Sarah goes home, Poppa stops by the boarding house so Addy can ride with him on his last few deliveries. He looks discouraged, so Addy tells him only about the picnic and the Double Dutch when he asks about her day. Poppa says he looked at another carpenter job but was again told that the job didn’t hire colored folks. Addy tells him that foreman is blind not to see the skilled carpenter Poppa really is, and Poppa compliments her for sounding like a “wise old lady”. Addy says she’s sure someone will hire Poppa as the wagon rolls to a stop. Addy waits while Poppa delivers the ice, and notices a bird singing. She turns her head to look for the bird but instead sees a sign on a nearby building: “Carpenters wanted, apply within”. Addy points it out to Poppa as soon as he finishes the delivery, and he knocks on the door, despite telling Addy he knows what they’re going to say. A white man with a beard full of sawdust opens the door, and Poppa introduces himself in a level voice. The man says his name is Miles Roberts, and asks if Poppa has done any carpentry before. Poppa says he sure has, telling Mr. Roberts that while he cannot read or write, he has a lot of experience and knowledge working with wood, and he has his own hammer, saw, and plane. Mr. Roberts tells Poppa to show up the following Monday at six AM for work and shakes his hand. As soon as the door is shut, Poppa scoops Addy up and whirls her around in his arms. Addy says she told him someone would see him for who he really was, and Poppa grins and says Momma will be so happy. The tune he whistles as they ride back home is full of happiness and hope.
Chapter Five: Changes in the Wind
The next Sunday is cheerful. Poppa will be starting work tomorrow, and the weather is lovely. Reverend Drake preaches that a change is coming, that the war will be over any day. After lunch, Addy shows off her Double Dutch skills, explaining that Sarah and M’Dear taught her. Momma asks how M’Dear could have taught Addy how to jump rope, and Addy says M’Dear taught her how to see with her ears and sing with her heart. Poppa says that sounds like a riddle, and Momma asks when Addy will pick her birthday--the ice cream freezer is fixed, and she’s getting hungry for some ice cream. Addy says she thinks an almost-perfect day is on its way.
The Walkers are awakened before dawn by a racket from outside. Poppa, who has jumped to the window, says it’s cannon fire from the harbor, and Momma briefly expresses worry that the war has come to Philadelphia--but church bells, whistles, and cheering join the noise, and Addy realizes the war must have ended. All three of them are crying from happiness, and Momma says this is the chance they’ve been waiting for, a chance to see Esther and Sam again. They get dressed and join the crowds outside, amid shouts that the North has won and Lee has surrendered. Addy sees M’Dear at her window, and calls to her that she wishes M’Dear could see all the celebration. M’Dear says she can in her own way. People are banging on pots and pans, setting off firecrackers, waving lanterns and banners and buntings in the lightening sky. Addy reads a few banners--”Lincoln and Liberty!”, “One People, One Country”, “America: North and South United Again!” and realizes this is her almost-perfect day. If it were perfect, Sam and Esther would be there, but this is the best day she can imagine without them. She tells Momma and Poppa that she wants today to be her birthday, and Poppa says she picked a fine day, promising her ice cream. Sarah and her parents show up, with Sarah congratulating Addy on picking a birthday no one will ever forget, and Poppa announces to the rest of the boarders that they’ll be celebrating Addy’s tenth birthday in the boarding house dining room. The girls go outside to jump rope while the adults set up the party, even jumping together when someone else offers to turn the ropes. Momma calls them back inside once the party is set up, and Addy marvels at the beautiful display--shiny copper pitchers of ginger pop, flowers at each table, two cherry pies, and of course, the ice cream. M’Dear gives Addy a packet of benne candies and a hair bow with two bright yellow feathers tied into it--a gift from Sunny. Addy promises M’Dear that she’ll always remember to let her spirit sing out.
Looking Back: Growing Up in 1864
Discusses childhood and growing up during the Civil War. Topics covered:
- Childbirth in enslaved families, and the lack of knowledge about good health and medical care to prevent childbirth deaths for both the newborns and their mothers.
- Older girls and elderly women having to take care of infants while their mothers worked in the fields.
- Friendships between enslaved children and the master's children, with most friendships ending as the children grew up and their lives became more separate.
- The games and toys enslaved children played when they didn't work
- Brer Rabbit, whose stories were based from African tales and are considered as an important part of American folklore.
- Enslaved people developing their own marriage customs, despite laws that made marriage between them illegal.
- The education of free Black children in the North, where they were not required by law to attend school.
- Black teenagers facing prejudice from white employers while looking for jobs to help support their families.
- Girls and women who helped the war effort by preparing food and clothing for soldiers and raising money to help wounded soldiers.
- Reasons why many children celebrated the end of the Civil War.
Items associated with Happy Birthday, Addy!
- Birthday Pinafore and Snood
- Songbird and Sweets
- Ice Cream Freezer
- Lazy Susan Table and Chairs
- Addy's Party Treats
- Ironstone Compote Set
Portions of Chapter Three and Four, titled "Bitter Medicine and Brotherly Love", were excerpted in American Girl Magazine Sept/Oct 1994.
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