In the nineteen thirties during the great migration North, Caleb and Babe-Ruth and their kids migrate from Missouri to New Jersey to live with his sister and her husband and find work and taste modern living for the first time.
After Pearl Harbor he is drafted into the navy and returns from the Pacific a drinker and a changed man to find that Babe-Ruth has found religion. Relatives and neighbors buffer their discord until they move to Michigan and must face their differences alone.
The Michigan neighborhood is racially mixed, and she prepares them for work and school. He works hard, and they purchase a house making him proud. Things go well until he returns home drunk and terrorizes the household firing his gun over Junior’s head. A week later he is drunk again and beating Babe-Ruth when Junior eats rat poison to stop him.
Junior’s suicide attempt, the shooting, and an almost fatal explosion make Caleb reconsider his life. He sees the preacher and is baptized and in the throes of decision when he suddenly abandons them. Babe-Ruth is destitute and pregnant with her sixth child, but will not accept welfare (ADC) and weans the boy to find work to guide them through a tumultuous and changing America.