Janie grows up under the care of her grandmother because her mother ran off and left baby Janie behind.
After returning to Eatonville, Janie begins to open up about her history to her friend, Phoeby Watson, explaining why she has returned. As she relaxes with Phoeby, Janie tells her history and what has happened to Tea Cake. She tells Phoeby that she grew up playing with the white Washburn children in West Florida because her Granny worked for the Washburns, and she and Granny had a house in the family's backyard.
Janie's mother was the child of Granny, a slave, and her white master. When the mistress of the plantation came to see Granny's baby in a icy rage, she said, "....whut's yo' baby doin' wid gray eyes and yaller hair?" and she slapped Granny. After she calmed down some, the mistress told Granny that she would be whipped the following day with one hundred lashes. So, Granny wrapped up her daughter Leafy and fled. Then, after traversing swamps and walking through areas with water moccasins, she found the job with the Washburns after the war.
Granny would not marry; instead she worked and made "de sun shine on both sides of de street for Leafy." But, one day Leafy did not come home, and no one had seen her.
Granny finally learned that Leafy had been raped at the schoolhouse and kept there all night. She was only seventeen years old. Leafy was sick for a while; after some time, she became better, but after she delivered the baby, Leafy started to drink and stay out nights, despite Granny's efforts to keep her home. When Leafy left for good, the father of Janie's mother did come to look for his child, but Leafy never returned.