The Rommely family produces strong women, and the Nolan family produces weak but talented men.
The Nolan men all grow handsomer and weaker with every generation, and most decide not to marry, which is why their family is dying out.
Ruthie Nolan is Johnny’s mother. She came over from Ireland with her husband right after they got married, and they have four sons together: Andy, Georgie, Frankie, and Johnny. Ruthie makes sure her boys all make it through the sixth grade, but then they have to go to work.
All the Nolan boys are good-looking, play music, sing, and dance. This makes them very unpopular with the ladies. (Totally kidding… all the girls want one of these Rommely boys.)
The boys become singing waiters, which means that they are waiters who also entertain the diners in between their serving duties.
They are known as the Nolan Quartette, but then Andy gets sick with consumption. He and his girlfriend, Francie Melaney put off getting married till he gets better. The rest of the brothers buy him a very luxurious pillow that costs seven dollars, which is a whole heck of a lot to spend on a pillow back then, especially for poor people. They just really want Andy to have a little bit of luxury before he dies, which he does after bleeding out massively… on the pillow.
Ruthie grieves hard for her son, and her remaining sons promise to never leave her.
Fast forward six months, and Johnny marries Katie. Ruthie is pissed and convinced Katie tricked Johnny into marrying her.
As a wedding gift, Georgie and Frankie give them the pillow that Andy died on. Don't worry though—Ruthie covered up the bloodstain with new material. (Seriously—this has got to be the worst wedding present of all time.)
About one year later, Frankie dies in his sleep after falling down drunk on a sharp stick.
It is a bad year for Ruthie: she lost three sons, two to death and one to marriage.
Georgie stays at home with his mom until he dies when he is twenty-eight.
All of the Nolan boys die suddenly or in violent deaths that are caused by their own recklessness, and Johnny is the only one who lives past thirty years old.
The narrator tells us that all the people in Francie’s past and present that we just met give us a good idea about who Francie really is.