A heavily pregnant woman named Patience looks up from picking cotton and sees a tornado bearing down on the cotton field. Mother Barker, one row over, begins to pray. The tornado picks up speed, destroys cotton in a circle around the workers, and then lifts harmlessly into the sky. That night, Mother Barker brings food to the exhausted Patience, who is alone in her cabin. Her husband, Strong, has not accompanied her to the cotton fields because he can make more money in his Ponca City barbershop.
On the following day, Patience has a baby girl, Abyssinia, while she is working in the field. The birth takes place on cotton sacks between the foreman’s fire and the weighing-in bin. A spark flies out of the fire and falls on the baby’s cheek, leaving a scar in the shape of a cotton blossom.
While still a baby, Abby begins to hum when the congregation sings at church. She grows up playing with the other children of Ponca City and searching for roots with Mother Barker. In her father’s Better Way Barbershop, she hears yarns spun by his male customers. She makes ice cream and plays games with her best friend, Lily Norene.
When Abby is ten years old, she is about to be given an award for reading the most books of anyone in her grade when another tornado strikes. During the storm, the children are safe in the school’s basement. When they come out, they see that everything has been leveled. Abby and Lily Norene find a neighbor woman named Miss Sally hiding behind a tree. Her mind seems to be gone, and she trembles constantly. Abby’s father, who has lost his barbershop, sits motionless on the vacant lot where it used to stand. Ten days later, he leaves town on a bus.
Abby is devastated by the loss of her father. Not long after his disappearance, she returns some empty milk buckets to a deacon in her church, and he rapes her in his barn. She becomes mute and develops pneumonia while recovering from her injuries. While she is...
(The entire section is 805 words.)