Ben and Cliffie Stevenson and their children live on the Georgia coast, in Ben’s native Glynn County, where he is a fisherman. Cliffie hails from the north Georgia mountains and yearns for the farm where she grew up. Drew is Cliffie’s son by a previous marriage, and although Ben has legally adopted him, Drew has achieved only an uneasy truce with his stepfather. When the youngest child, Jondi, was born, Ben promised Cliffie he would take them all to the mountains to visit her now empty birthplace at Wildrose.
The story opens on Thanksgiving Day, the morning after the family’s arrival at the mountain cabin. They are safe and sound but in considerable disarray. Their dog, Shin, had roused a skunk the moment that they arrived, well after dark, and she now sits, tied and reeking, with a pink flush from a tomato juice scrubdown. Shin has ruined Grandma Gable’s Storm-at-Sea quilt by dashing into the house, skunk sodden, and rolling on it as the exhausted travelers were curled up to sleep. The cabin has no running water or electricity; when Ben started a fire on the first night, the house filled with smoke from a choked chimney flue. To clear the blockage, Ben ties snow chains, trace chains, and chains from a swing-set to a flat rock wrapped in a feed sack, which he pulls up and down in the chimney’s crooked gullet. All of this goes on in the rain.
The narrative now shifts back two years, when Cliffie was sick and Ben promised to take her home; it then jumps ahead to the beginning of the trip. All of Cliffie’s family, the Gables, are now dead, and Cliffie wants one last visit to the old mountain home before selling the place. The trip wears on everyone’s nerves. The children fuss, the car slides off the rain-slick mountain road, and Cliffie mixes up the directions. The narrative follows Mary J’s thoughts as she steers the car while the others push it back on the...
(The entire section is 776 words.)