Fourteen-year-old Marietta Cook spends her days with the Gullah-speaking women of Pine Gardens, who sit by the roadside and sell hand-made baskets to passing tourists. Her blue-black skin and tall stature set her apart, and the women complain that she is too wild because she would rather explore the woods than sit and gossip. When her sickly mother dies, Marietta’s great aunt, Aint Sister, stresses the strict life ahead for her. Marietta runs away to Charleston in search of her mother’s brother, Uncle Hurriah, reputedly as wild as Marietta.
Marietta takes over the wandering Hurriah’s lodgings and finds work in a fish store, enduring the constant stares and jibes about how large she is and how no man would want her. When she is sixteen, she allows Sinbad, the ladies’ man at the shop, to seduce her during a hurricane. Pregnant and alone, she returns to Pine Gardens to bear twin boys, Nate and Calvin, who inherit her dark skin and large frame. Marietta works hard to support her boys, first at Pine Gardens in a project recreating the rice harvest culture of slavery days, then as a domestic in Charleston. Wanting more for her boys, Marietta settles on football as a talent they can exploit and urges them to study hard in school and practice their sport.
Nate and Calvin are accepted to USC. Later they join the Los Angeles Rams, bringing their mother to California with them.
Despite their affluence, Marietta finds Los Angeles to be a lonely place of isolated neighborhoods. She reaches out to her troubled daughter-in-law and discovers the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, where she feels at home once more.