Before moving to Iowa, Anna’s own life in Atlanta is challenging. It starts with being trapped in an abusive marriage with a man she truly loved and had three daughters with; the girls are all grown now. Anna had made efforts to distance herself from Martin, the husband, but he pops by all the time. They get into a shuffle when he shows up one day and tries to takes some money out of Anna’s hand, and the scuffle results in him being accidentally pushed into oncoming traffic and hit by a car. He does not survive, and Anna finds herself grieving and also facing charges. Edwina Parker buys Anna out of jail and off the hook.
After the Worrells make their visit to Atlanta to visit the Parkers, Edwina suggests that Anna should go to live “for a while” with the Worrells to take care of Fritzy. This arrangement provides the answer to the Worrell family’s needs and allows Anna to escape the condemnation and judgement that the Atlanta community continues to hold over her surrounding Martin’s death.
The heart of the story details Anna’s observations and interactions in Marshalltown. Appalled at the plain cuisine “that Iowa folk all seemed to accept,” Anna’s first task is to introduce some Southern flavor to the Worrells and their friends! Planning meals and visiting the crusty old grocer becomes a daily adventure for she and Fritzy. She keeps their daily schedule full…going to town for groceries, stopping at the library, returning home to prepare dinner, reflecting on the day’s adventures, saying prayers, and getting up to do it all again. As a routine and rhythm to their lives evolves, Anna and Fritzy develop a language of their own. He can express himself, and she can understand. The Worrells begin to see Fritzy as something more than a burden. Anna chooses to make the assignment in Iowa permanent.
Others in town learn that if they poke fun at Fritzy, they first have to deal with Anna, self-described as “big, black and scary.” Their punishment is to come over and read to Fritzy after school. The “punishment” involves getting some of Anna’s scrumptious homemade cookies and learning that Fritzy is a human with a mind and deserving of dignity. “The first black woman most of those kids have ever seen,” is also seen as just a person with a different skin color. Though she has experienced prejudice back home, Anna simply does not allow prejudice in Iowa; at the same time, she does not seem to harbor resentment for the different way things are back in Atlanta. The way things “simply are,” is just part of a plan; life circumstances and challenges are dealt in different ways to everyone, she says.