"I want to study what I like," Clara had insisted, almost adding, "I don't want to end up like you!" (4.4)
We're kind of glad Clara doesn't add that last part—it would be kind of a low blow at her dad, who's older parents forced him into the mold of what they wanted him to be. Clara's dream is more than just studying something she enjoys; it's to not end up unhappy and cold like her father.
"I dreamed I got a parcel in the mail," her mum was babbling. "A big brown parcel, like the ones Nan sends sweaters in, and I knew Lonnie was inside. It said so on the label. It said: 'Fragile. Lonnie inside.'" (12.22)
It's possible that Marigold worries about Lonnie because she knows how soft he is and how much he's suffered from not growing up with a father. She wants to see him become something greater than a shiftless lad who changes his major every semester, but is afraid of getting too close to him or applying too much pressure.
"I've made up my mind, Sef," [May] said, puffing. "I'm absolutely set on it. I'm having this party, and Lonnie's coming to it, and I don't care what Stan says." (25.2)
The rest of this book couldn't happen without May deciding that it's time for the family's petty conflicts to cease and for a celebration to begin. After having endured too much loss in her life, May's dream is for the family, small as they may be, to come back together and forgive.
[The girl in black] was on the platform now, her dusty black skirt spotted by the rain. For some reason [Stan] thought of Mum's old wedding dress […] It was as far from that girl's dusty black as anything on earth could ever be. (26.26)
Lucy, the deaf-mute, pregnant girl Stan meets on the train, is one of the smallest, yet most haunting characters in the book. As he looks at her, it's obvious Stan is thinking about how quickly a parent's plans for their children can go awry. Seeing Lucy on the train is the moment Stan begins to consider how his actions toward Lonnie could affect his grandson's future.
[Lily] didn't know exactly when Nan's party had become so important to her, only that it had. […] Why shouldn't their family have one brilliant, perfect day? Wasn't such a day something everyone had a right to, a day you could always remember, no matter what happened to you ever after in your life? A whole perfect day? (27.36)
As we discussed in the "What's Up with the Title?" section, there's a reason this book's called One Whole and Perfect Day. Lily's greatest wish is to have a normal, well-adjusted family, if only for just one day. What's so great about the party she ends up getting is that it has obviously healed a lot of wounds between them. There likely won't be any more feuds or ax threats in the Samsons' future.
Once Rose herself had lived in a single room. A sad little room with a camp bed, a table, and a chair, and a bare wooden floor that had echoed so frighteningly. Rose needed to know that Clara's room wasn't like that; she needed to know, silly though it seemed, that Clara's room didn't have an echoing wooden floor. She needed to see it. (32.4)
Having experienced the worst loss a young adult can possibly go through, Rose's dream for Clara is that she will never feel the loneliness and emptiness that plagued Rose after her parents' deaths. Her desire for Clara to be happy manifests itself in her need to see that Clara is doing all right on her own, without the kind of grief that hung over her own college years.
Lily's eyes moved from one to the other. "Oh," she whispered, because anyone could see that this was serious, and for a moment anyway her brother seemed grown-up to her. And she felt the same little pang she'd felt in this very room on the day she'd found […] Clara's name scribbled over and over again. A pang of envy and distress—would anyone […] ever gaze at her the way he was gazing at Clara? Of course they wouldn't. (33.58)
We know that Lily wants to be a normal teenage girl, but it seems like her greatest desire is to be loved and identified by another person as valuable and desirable. Just as Rose fears loneliness for Clara, Lily fears not being wanted or validated by a guy, perhaps being isolated the way her mother and grandparents are. The fact that Lonnie has a love interest only makes her feel further behind.
"Clara's my girlfriend," he told Lily. "We—" a sudden perfect certainty rushed upon him. Lonnie had never felt so sure. "We're engaged." (33.64)
In what is quite possibly the world's first telepathic proposal, Lonnie finally discovers what he wants in life: Clara. Well, also a degree in literature, but mostly Clara. The fact that they've both been thinking about it and don't even need to have a discussion before reaching this decision shows just how perfect the relationship is.
Jessaline thought of the beautiful courtyard she'd glimpsed in her dream the other night: the courtyard of Chez Jessaline […] Then she squared her shoulders and approached the telephone. She'd have to have it out with them sometime, so why not get it over with? "It's my life, not yours!"—that's what she'd say. (38.5)
Jessaline's parents may be set on her becoming heir to their positions as Mercer College professors, but it's just not happening. Because Jessaline has the guts to tell her parents that she won't move on this, we wouldn't be surprised if Chez Jessaline eventually makes its way to New York, Chicago, and other fine cities here in the States.
And now there was her family. Could this actually be her family, all together in one room, with no one quarreling or threatening or criticizing? (42.3)
The fact that Lily actually gets the perfect family party she wanted—on top of a date with Daniel Steadman—makes the end of the book seem magical. While she does tend to overdramatize stuff, Lily's still had it rough, and the book's ending validates her claim that every family, no matter how dysfunctional, does deserve to have a completely awesome day.