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Because of her presumed disability, Adah has been able to get away with reading a lot of literature her father would disapprove of including Poe and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde with whom she feels a peculiar sympathy. She has also read the poetry of Dickinson, Pilgrimís Progress and Paradise Lost.
The girls had a special relationship with Orleanna when they were little. She encouraged their literary pursuits and found time in Georgia to roll in the grass while the twins covered her with clover. Orleannaís attitude changed when it was discovered that Leah and Adah were gifted. Adah herself chose to ignore rewards and learn the things she wanted. She is a genius at math and can turn whole sentences backward and recite them; she is also fluent in French.
During the rainy season, the girls amuse themselves with the parrot Methuselah. Nathan calls him a catholic bird because of his propensity for cursing. The girls enjoy a secret chuckle over the bird because he can curse without receiving "the verse," which is their fatherís favorite punishment and involves writing an assigned verse a hundred or more times.
Their house is a simple cabin with a large main room where they have a heavy table and a cabinet in which they keep their dishes, canned goods, and Orleannaís prize possession, a bone china platter.
On the day after their first heavy rain, the girls find their fatherís garden ruined, the seeds washed out of the narrow rows. The incident convinces him of the wisdom of planting in hills instead of flat Kansas rows.
Leah shows an early inclination to be involved with the land itself. Although her view of her father is mildly satirical, she also has a genuine admiration for his gardening ability and a sincere desire to work with him. She struggles to demonstrate her own intelligence for him and is aggravated with herself when she fails to think quickly enough to answer his questions. His philosophy that "the Lord helps those that help themselves" seems logical enough but fails her in the end.
Rachelís initial reaction to Kilanga is an observation of the people and the way they are dressed. Her lifelong priority is established early on as focused on possessions, the more luxurious, the better. Her discussion of Easter Sunday, a time when she was accustomed to having new clothes is typical. Rachel also notices motherís labor contrasted by her fatherís lack of interest. Her father is little more to her than an authority figure from whom she can expect little in the way of either provision or affection.
Ruth May explains her observations in the language of a child, but her descriptions are often ironically accurate. Because she is a child, she can also get away with being very blunt; thus, the children have "fat bellies" and Mama Mwanzaís hands "look like feet, only with fingers." From her we get an initial introduction to customs of address. All the women are "Mama something" even if they have no children while the men are addressed as "Tata Something." Ruth May sees a sort of fire in her mother that Nathan fail to notice, for her mother has a "certain voice, not exactly like sassing back, but just about nearly." Yet, she tempers her words with "sir" in the same way that she calls the girls "sugar" or "hon." Ruth May interprets everything literally, including her fatherís affection for his green swivel rocker that he left back in Bethlehem, Georgia. She imagines the minister who rented their house facing a confrontation with her father as a result of sitting in that chair.
Adah likes to use her knowledge of literature to trick her sisters and make them feel stupid, but she usually does so by writing notes for them to answer rather than orally. She describes a special ed class that she was placed in when early schoolteachers assumed that she was retarded. She amazed them all by adding grocery bills in her head faster than the clerk could do it on the cash register. She also recognizes that her motherís attempt to keep their education a secret was a waste of effort as Nathan didnít notice the girlsí achievements anyway. He did not approve of educating girls and was fond of saying that "sending a girl to college is like pouring water in your shoes." Adah is also the one who refers to Nathan sarcastically as "Our Father."