For a start, she had no dad; he'd bolted back home to America when Lily had been no larger than a plum pip deep inside her mother. She'd never even seen her father. (1.2)
Imagine having a parent who is alive and well on the other side of the world… whom you've never met even once. While Lonnie has a few memories of his dad, Lily feels abandonment and anger toward him for leaving her before she had a chance to know him. Not only that, but she's rejected every opportunity she's been given to find out.
Back then, Stan hadn't noticed how Mum was hurt because they were poking fun at her wedding dress […] He could only see it now, when he was eighty and Mum and Emmy were gone; he could see Mum's stubby fingers folding the dress away, hear her voice saying stiffly, "Well, it's not a nightie." He could even hear her footsteps on the hall linoleum bearing it away. He'd never seen it again. (5.14-15)
We've all been where place Stan is in this passage: remembering something mean we said to another person a long time ago and regretting the immature decision to not think before we spoke. Making fun of his mom's wedding dress was no big deal when he was a kid, but as an adult, Stan's conscience is seared by this moment. It's quite possibly what begins to move him toward wanting to resolve the many conflicts in his family.
[Dr. Finch] was holding Lonnie's essay, ten creased and tumbled sheets on the poetry of Emily Brontë fastened together with the lucky paper clip Lonnie had kept from primary school, from Mrs. Phipson's Grade Four class where he'd won a chocolate car for his project, "What I Want to Be." Lonnie had wanted to be a flying doctor. How sure he'd been of everything back then! (8.7)
Before you start thinking that it's just the old people in this book who look back on the good old days, check out how Lonnie does the exact same thing. Remember that the absence of a male role model has largely caused part of him to remain a child even though he's twenty-two—and the fact that he still uses a lucky paper clip from a contest in school where he won chocolate demonstrates how stuck in the past he still is.
The idea surprised [Lily]. She had never thought of Lonnie in this way—as a little kid whose dad had vanished, yet he'd been almost six at the time, which was surely old enough to feel abandoned […] Could that long-ago desertion even be the reason her brother was so hopeless? (10.3)
Lily's realization that Lonnie's suffered from their father's abandonment is a big turning point for her. While she typically looks only to her own feelings and interests rather than those of others, this moment allows her to look outside of herself and step into her brother's shoes instead of ridiculing him.
"He had this lovely coat his great-aunt had given him for his twenty-first birthday: she'd bought it in Peru. Oh Lily, it had the most beautiful colors, colors I'd never seen before. I was quite young, remember." (13.4)
Lonnie's issues may be mostly due to his father's absence, but this story of how Marigold met her husband makes us wonder if Lonnie might have a bit of the fanciful nature in him that his mom exhibited as a young woman. Falling in love with a man because of his coat might seem superficial to us and to Lily, but it's possible that Lonnie's drawn to new, magical things in the same way his mom once was.
"He was a late child," [Rose] told her daughter. "His mother was forty-five when he was born, and his dad was well into his fifties. They were more like grandparents, really. It was sad. Do you know they actually had him wearing a suit when he was only three?" (18.13)
Ouch. Having been raised to be a serious man, we can definitely see how Charlie's parents shaped him into the humorless workaholic he's grown into. Bummer.
What [Rose] remembered from the summer of her parents' death was the aching loneliness, the hollow sense of absence, as if a real physical space had been carved out beneath her ribs. And this hollowness was echoed by her footsteps on the shiny wooden floors of the empty house where the three of them had lived together. (21.41)
Like her husband, Rose is also haunted by memories of her parents, though in a much different way. Having lost them in an accident when she was not much older than Clara, it's pretty clear that the emptiness she felt at her daughter's age makes her fear the same fate for Clara. These painful memories are a huge part of her desire to see Clara's room and ensure that she really is okay.
This trip back to the old place hadn't worked, [Stan] thought miserably. The streets he'd walk in with his mum had the same names, and that was about it; there was nothing left to jog his memory, nothing left to bring back her face and the forgotten color of her eyes, which seemed so important for him to remember. (23.23)
Ever go back to a place that used to mean a lot to you, only to discover that it's not the same at all? Kind of hurts, doesn't it? Sometimes, revisiting the past can lead to answers. Often, though, it just makes you feel the loss that drove you there even more.
Sef herself had vanished, a long, long time ago. May could still remember the morning her friend had disappeared: how she'd woken and found Sef's bed empty beside hers, the blankets gone, the gray mattress with its pattern of black stripes quite bare. (25.8)
If you think Lily's has it rough without a dad, just think about May, who grew up in an orphanage and lost the only family she ever had when her friend Sef was adopted. While May's always had imaginary Sef by her side from that day forward, the discovery that her best friend was gone had to be a painful moment.
So what had happened to this girl's parents? Kids themselves, perhaps. And the grandparents? Why hadn't they looked out for her? Stan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. They would have been old enough at least. Written her off, that's what they'd done. A shiver ran right down Stan's spine. (26.9)
The Samson family deals with a lot of issues from their past, but even Stan recognizes that things could have been way worse when he begins speculating about what drove Lucy to the place she's in today. Knowing that her past could easily become Lonnie's future moves him to take steps to not only help her, but reunite with his grandson as well.