Lily Casey Smith is ten years old when the story opens. She is the main character of this story and the author's grandmother in real life. Lily is the oldest of three children and lives with her family on a 160-acre ranch in west Texas.

The way the story is written, Lily often appears more mature than her mother and father. Her mother practically ignores her, and her father depends on her to help run the ranch. Lily is forced to grow up fast. She mothers her siblings and acts as her father's main ranch hand. While her brother and sister roam the open landscape searching for insects and other small creatures of the desert, Lily busies herself taking care of the horses that her father raises. She also manages the workers on the ranch since her father has a speech impediment and only Lily understands him.

From early on, Lily is determined not to let anyone ever get in her way.She is ambitious and will not settle for anything less than what she dreams of. Once she gets it in her mind that she wants to teach, she finds a way to gain a teaching position even though she has no training, other than tutoring her brother and sister. She is also fearless. She breaks wild horses, drives a horse and buggy when she is only five years old, and bargains with the shopkeeper in a faraway store to up the price on the chicken eggs she has brought to town. She is only fifteen years old when the five hundred mile horse trip she takes from New Mexico to Arizona leaves her filled with excitement, despite the fact that she has to sleep in the wilderness at night all alone.

Lily also has a very strong sense of what is right in life, even if her philosophy differs from that of her superiors. When she teaches, for example, she tells her students about women's rights even though the girls she is teaching belong to a Mormon sect that dictates that young girls are the property of the males in the community. Of course, this does not endear Lily to the community leaders, and she therefore often loses her job.

Her children are sometimes embarrassed by their mother, such as when Lily's father dies when she goes to visit him in a nursing home.Since she has promised her father that she will bury him on the ranch in New Mexico, Lily must stuff his body in the back of the family car and drive him across the desert. Rosemary, a teenager by then, is not amused by this situation. Lily also makes Rosemary uncomfortable when she insists on taking out her false...

(The entire section is 998 words.)