The story opens on a chilly morning in December. Phoenix Jackson is an elderly African American woman who is making a trip to town on foot.
She has to travel through the woods and then uphill. She struggles but maintains her balance. She is tapping an umbrella to keep herself steady. Her shoes are untied. She is an amazing elderly woman. She is able to make the long trip into town to get some medicine for her grandson who swallowed lye.
While she taps along the way, she manages to cross a log in a stream. She definitely needs skill and balance as she crosses the log. There are many twists and turns in the road.
She happens to confront a hunter and his dog. The dog causes her to lose her balance and she falls in the ditch. The hunter helps her get out of the ditch.
Phoenix is one determined woman. As the path goes up a hill, she complains about how difficult it has become while walking. No doubt, she has traveled this journey many times before.
After crossing the log, she takes time to rest. She imagines things along the way. Phoenix is an incredible woman. She manages to make it all the way into town:
Phoenix lives fairly far from Natchez, which means that the journey— compounded by the fact that it is December—is difficult for her. In the rural area, she encounters animals, thorny bushes, ditches, streams to be crossed by logs, barbed-wire fences, and even people.
Once she gets in town, she asks a woman to tie her shoes. She visits the doctor's office to get the medicine for her sick grandson. Then she begins her journey home.
The obstacles Phoenix overcomes shows how willing she is to help her grandson. She cares deeply for her grandson as she makes the long trip back home.