Lily Casey Smith is QUITE a character, and as you read the novel, she becomes almost bigger than life! Jeannette Walls, the author even says in her notes that she remembers her grandmother's voice and tried to capture her voice, tone and attitude as she filled in the narrative of the stories she remembers about the lady.
Lily Casey Smith never had it easy, but she always managed to figure out a way to get it done and be at peace with her decisions. She is the definition of a no-nonsense woman. A few examples: saw no need to wash clothes -- the dirtier the Levi's the better they withheld the dirt and slop of the ranch. Saw no need to vary their diet -- steak and beans was well-rounded enough. Saw no need to overly-protect her children -- getting thrown from a horse taught them how to land right to avoid injury.
Lily had no patience with fools and lived life by her standards no matter the consequences: she left home at a very early age to teach school and when she got fired from that job she tried to make it on her own in Chicago - a long way from the family ranch. She taught her students what SHE thought they needed; this especially irked the Mormonleadership as she told the girls there were more options for women than marriage and children. She sold boot-leg liquor to make ends meet, and didn't back down when a drunken man made a scene when she refused to sell to him. She whipped her daughter hard when she caught her skinny-dipping with a group of young Indian men. She took on all the jobs at a school in order to make more money. She did all the hard work required of a rancher's wife. She was always open to taking a chance on something new -- new ranches, new cities, new teaching jobs, new investments, but she was never foolish.
Ultimately, Lily was loyal in her love of her family. She always made sure they were cared for. She supported her husband's hopes and dreams as well as her own. She created an equal partnership with him. She tried very hard to protect Rosemary, but also recognized that the girl was going to do whatever she wanted and that it was better to have a relationship with her daughter and her grandchildren than to not have one, so she did what she could to support Rosemary. She was a remarkable lady.