Part 1

Una, the one Hamilton child who did not laugh all the time, was her father's favorite. She married a man who had no sense of humor and who was devoted to the project of inventing color film. They went to live in Oregon, where they lived in poverty. Una soon died, and Samuel went into despair, aging quickly afterwards.

The narrator remembers that he and his younger sister, Mary, loved having his uncle Tom visit. He would always bring them gum and slip it under their pillows, announcing his arrival. Mary wanted to be a boy when she was a little girl and unsuccessfully tried all sorts of things to make herself change. Finally she decided that Tom would be able to help her. When she explained her dilemma to him, he told her she could never be a boy, but that he liked her as she was. She was so disgusted with his answer that she did not forgive him for years.

Of all the Hamilton sons, Tom was the only one without direction in life, even though Samuel believed he was wrestling with greatness. Since Tom was not married, he would occasionally go to San Francisco to visit prostitutes. He would return unsatisfied and unworthy. His favorite sister, Dessie, had opened a dress shop, which became a sanctuary for the local women. At one point, Dessie fell for a man who was not available. Tom was determined to make the man pay. He rode into town with violence on his mind, but Samuel had him stopped by the sheriff before he could do any harm. After the incident, Dessie became quiet, and her shop was no longer a sanctuary.

Part 2

In 1911, the Hamiltons gathered at the ranch for Thanksgiving, and all the children noticed that Samuel had really aged. Will suggested that Liza and Samuel needed to get off the ranch and suggested that each child should put their parents up for extended periods of time, making it seem like a vacation so their father's pride would not be wounded. Only Tom did not like the plan.

Part 3

Tom brought Olive's letter from King City and gave it to Samuel. He watched as Samuel read and re-read it. He then saw his father look out over the poverty of his land and grow sad. Then Samuel went inside to talk to Liza. He asked her if she would like to take a vacation to see Olive's family. After some discussion, Liza agreed. Samuel then told Tom about the vacation plan. Tom tried to act as though he did not know about the conspiracy of his siblings to get his father off the ranch; but Samuel told Tom he was not a good actor. Finally, Tom admitted that the plan had been hatched at Thanksgiving and that he was against it all along. Samuel told him, "Thank you for wanting to honor me with the truth, my son. It's not clever but it's more permanent." Then he told Tom he knew not only of the conspiracy but also of the reason for it. He added that he was content with the plan.


This moving chapter is a tribute to the intelligence, trust, and faith of Samuel Hamilton. Although his children secretly come up with a plan to get Liza and Samuel off the farm, Samuel is wise enough to know about it almost from the beginning; but he embraces the plan graciously, realizing he must accept the consequences of aging. With this rite of passage into old age, Samuel recedes into the background and the new generation takes the foreground of the novel.

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