Although the title of this story sparks images of loving company and comforting surroundings, it actually is a presage of disaster. Dr. Charles Dunsford has left his New York home to attend his twenty-year college reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. Accompanied by his oldest son, Charles “Chig” Dunsford II, he spends a festive week in the South. Then he decides to prolong their vacation, suggesting to the teenage Chig that they visit his mother, who has not seen her grandson since he was a small boy.
Once the pair arrives at “Mama” Eva Dunsford’s home, their journey becomes an unpleasant one. Plied with questions and pampered by attentive relatives, Chig settles in with ease. His father, however, becomes taciturn and withdrawn. The constant, mesmerizing stories about his fun-loving brother, GL Dunsford, open old resentments that Charles had buried under his kind, gentle exterior.
Finally, unable to listen to the tales anymore, the jealous brother blurts out his anger during the family’s dinner. Complaining to his mother that she never really loved him at all, he voices the familiar lament of the overdisciplined, overachieving sibling: “If GL and I did something wrong, you’d beat me first and then be too God damn tired to beat him. At dinner, he’d always get seconds and I wouldn’t. You’d do things with him . . . but if I wanted you to do something with me, you were always too busy.” The astonished Mama justifies her behavior, arguing that she loved all of her children even though she may have treated them differently. However, Charles remains distraught. After repeating that it is too late for mending wounds, he runs upstairs to his room. Sadly, who should then appear at the door, “smiling broadly [with], an engaging, open, friendly smile, the innocent smile of a five-year-old,” but GL himself, eager to reunite with his brother.