During his childhood, Alwyn Tower spends many hours poring over the family albums: everything his ancestors or relatives did is interesting to the boy. He begs his Grandmother Tower to tell him stories of her childhood and stories about her children and other relatives. Often, the old lady cannot remember what he wants to know, and sometimes she seems reluctant to talk about the past. Yet, piece by piece, from his Grandmother Tower, his parents, his aunts and uncles, and from the albums, Alwyn learns something of what he wants to know.
Alwyn’s Grandfather Tower died when the boy was twelve years old, and so his memories of that old man are rather vague. Grandfather Tower’s chief interest during his old age was his garden, where he never allowed his grandchildren to go without his permission. He failed at farming, but he was the best gardener in that part of Wisconsin.
Grandfather Tower came to Wisconsin from New York. Like so many others, he planned to get rich in the new West; like so many others, he failed. He was a young boy full of dreams when he first cleared the wilderness for his farm. He fell in love with and married Serena Cannon and, shortly afterward, went off to the Civil War. When he returned, Serena was ill with a fever and died soon after, leaving a baby boy. Grandfather Tower never loved another as he loved Serena. Because the boy needed a mother, however, he married Rose Hamilton, who had been jilted by his brother Leander. Serena’s boy died a week before Rose bore Henry’s first child. After that, life seemed unimportant to Henry. There were more children, some a small pleasure to him, some a disgrace; but they seemed to be Rose’s children, not his. Part of Grandfather Tower died with Serena, and although he lived to be eighty-two years old, he never seemed to be completely alive as far as Alwyn is concerned.
Grandmother Tower, too, came to Wisconsin when she was a child. Growing up in the wilderness, she suffered all the hardships of the pioneers—hunger and cold and fear of Indians. When she was in her early teens, she met and fell in love with Leander Tower. When the Civil War came, Leander enlisted, and the girl went to stay with Serena. While Serena was ill with fever, the young girl cared for her and the baby. Leander returned, but he had changed. Although he could not explain himself clearly, Rose knew that he no longer wanted to marry her. After Serena’s husband came home and Serena had died, Leander went to California. Rose married Serena’s widower and bore his children, but, like him, she was only partly alive. She never ceased to love Leander, but she was faithful to Grandfather Tower, even after Leander returned to Wisconsin. To Alwyn, she was a quiet, serene woman, resigned to life, but not unhappy with her lot.
(The entire section is 1149 words.)