Cleanliness and respect are two commandments that Momma instills in Maya and Bailey. As a result, the children are careful about their appearance and speak politely to their elders, saying please, thank you, ma'am, and sir. They are much better behaved than the "powhitetrash" children, who live on the land behind the school. These children are not clean or respectful. They come to the store and act bossy and rude, calling Momma and Uncle Willie by their first names.

When Maya is ten, an incident occurs that proves to be very painful. After sweeping in front of the store, Maya and Momma stop and admire their work. A group of "powhitetrash" girls come up, make fun of Momma, and create a mess in the area that has just been cleaned. Momma tells Maya to go inside the store. From inside, Maya sees the girls continuing to tease and mock her grandmother. Momma does not let the rudeness of the girls bother her. She stands in front of the girls full of dignity, singing hymns and calling them Miz Ruth, Miz Helen, and Miz Eloise.

Maya watches as one of the girls does a handstand. When her dress comes down over her shoulders, Maya is shocked to see that the girl is wearing no underwear. By the time the girls leave and Momma comes inside the store, Maya is so upset that she is crying. As Momma comforts her, Maya sees that her grandmother's face is shining with beauty and pride. She has refused to feel shamed by the behavior of the girls. Mama knows that Momma has won a silent victory.

Maya goes outside and erases the footprints that the girls have made. She then makes a drawing on the ground. She shapes a large heart with lots of smaller hearts growing inside.


Momma is the strongest figure in Maya's life. She is wise, kind, loving, understanding, and forgiving. She also tries to instill a sense of goodness and pride in her grandchildren. She does not want Maya and Bailey to be ashamed of being black and poor.

When the three "powhitetrash" girls come and tease her grandmother, Maya is indignant; but Momma knows in her heart that the girls act out of ignorance and must be forgiven.

She bears their insults without being shamed and prays for them. When Maya looks into Momma's face, she sees that her piety and goodness make Momma beautiful.

The hearts that Maya draws on the ground are a tribute to her grandmother, a woman whose heart is big enough to encompass lots of smaller ones, even the ones that try to shame her. Maya knows that in the contest between Momma and the "powhitetrash" girls, her grandmother has won. Even though the girls are not worthy of her respect, Momma gives it to them by addressing them as "Miz" and never criticizing or threatening them for their poor behavior. She is truly an excellent role model for the growing grandchildren.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".