The mother tells the boy that his father is writing his begats. He's pleased.
The father gives us his name: John Ames.
(Geographical interlude: Ames is a city in Iowa.)
John Ames has lived seventy-six years, all but a few of them in Gilead, Iowa.
When John Ames was twelve, his father, also John Ames, took him to see the grave of his grandfather, also John Ames.
So that's three characters named John Ames.
The family had been living in Gilead for ten years.
Ames's grandfather had gone off to be an itinerant preacher and had died in Kansas.
Ames's grandfather and father had parted in anger and never reconciled.
Ames insists on going along with his father. His mother objects, but his father permits him to be a partner on the road.
Ames Junior and Senior travel by train, then wagon, then their feet. A farmstead woman gives them food and shelter.
The Ameses find the grave in the evening and so return to the farm. When they return to the grave, Ames's father prays before it.
When the sun sets and the moon rises, Ames remarks on the beauty of the place.
A month after leaving home, the Ameses return to Gilead, thinned and travel-worn.
Ames's mother bursts into tears.
The Ameses been shot at and had seen other dangers.
Ames afterwards senses the trouble he'd have caused if he'd been injured or killed. His mother doesn't want to know what they went through.
Ames's mother cleans him and feeds him and subjects him to a health routine she's convinced is authoritative.
John Ames had married young, but his wife died in childbirth, and the child died with her.
Their names were Louisa and Angeline.
Boughton baptized Angeline.
Boughton is younger than Ames but appears much older.
Ames has supper at his home. Boughton's daughter lives there after a failed marriage. She tells Ames that Jack might be coming home soon.
Ames has to think about who that is.
Unlike his father, who preached from notes, Ames writes out his sermons word for word. He's kept them in boxes in the attic.
Writing to Ames feels like praying—he feels he's with someone.
Ames has written a total of 225 books.
Ames reminisces about the first time he met his wife and the day he baptized her.
As kids, Ames and Boughton had baptized a litter of cats. This act led to discussions among the boys about the nature and proper form of baptism.
Ames writes about his admiration for Feuerbach, an atheist philosopher. His brother, Edward, had given him a book by Feuerbach, hoping to unsettle his faith.
The congregation in Gilead had taken a collection to send Edward to college in Germany. The young man came back an atheist. Then he married and had six children, now grown.
Not surprisingly, Edward and his father grew apart.
Ames tells his son that he admires Feuerbach and has left his book to him, hoping he reads it.
Ames remembers a time he witnessed a young couple walking ahead of him after a heavy rain. The young man had grabbed a branch of a tree, showering the two of them. They took off running.
Ames wonders if water is made primarily for blessing.
Ames walks to Boughton's to see what his friend is doing.
Ames is anxious about his son Jack returning. He fears leaving his wife and son without the means to live.
Ames's grandfather had been a generous man, giving so much away that it literally hurt his family.
Ames's mother tried to keep the peace between her husband and his father.
On a stormy day when she lost the day's work, Ames's mother joked about it being a blessing, which was an allusion to her father-in-law's statement about losing an eye in the war.
Ames's son has begun to hang out with a Lutheran boy named Tobias. They have a sleepover.
Boughton mentally prepares for his own death. He'd like to see an angel.
Ames writes of the ways people have gotten the wrong idea about him, assuming he's better than he really is.
Ames has kept most of his sermons, storing them in boxes in the attic. One sermon he burned: it was an anti-war reflection in response to the First World War. His audience would have been mostly mothers, wives, and widows.
Ames won't mind answering for the sermon in the next world, but he's not entirely sure he believes what he said—or would have said.