A fictional memoir, intended as a tribute to Ward's grandmother, that crackles with good humor and good dialogue. As a young teen, Ward (The Cactus Garden, 1995) struggled over the break-up of his parents' marriage in the '50s and '60s. He also fought to come to terms with the moral imperatives of the civil- rights movement in Baltimore--where lived his mostly absent Marine captain grandfather and Grace, a grandmother of ``intelligence, passion and guiding spirit.'' Her past, however, hid a baffling mystery. When his parents' bickering finally grew unbearable, 15- year-old Robert hiked off to live nearby with Grace. She was respected in the neighborhood, except by the Walkers, a redneck chorus of stinkers, ``drunken and criminal.'' Life with Grace was never less than interesting, what with her exotic dinner guests, her quest to learn about Gandhi, and her yen for discussing literature. For Grace, who'd been forced to leave school early to work in the mills, was eager for knowledge. Then came the day when Negroes appeared in her lily-white Methodist church. The impressive black preacher/leader heads their way for dinner (while confronting heckling sonic booms from the Walkers), and Robert, who'd decided to integrate the local gym for kids, awaits Grace's active participation in marching for civil rights. Why is she backing down? Robert, trying to fathom the heroic past of his formerly distanced grandfather (Union martyrdom), hears of Grace's own Union past. But still there remains the conundrum of her reluctance to join in the marching--until she confesses her own tortured spirit, the result of an early ``betrayal,'' one that explains sundry cries in the night and Grace's ``spells.'' Triumphant close; ghostly visitation. A convincing portrait, despite some broad brushwork, of an earlier, gutsier Baltimore.