Elizabeth has been raised in propriety, and in 1944 Richmond there are things a lady simply doesn't do. Her grandmother Mary - Nan to those close to her - does them all. She drinks what she wants, speaks when she wants, and doesn't hesitate to help a colored boy on the street with no concern for who might see.
In awe of her grandmother, Elizabeth also wants to be a good daughter, and no one is more concerned with what people think than her mother, so different from Nan it's sometimes hard to believe she came from the woman's womb.
When Nan gets sick and needs full-time care, she invites yankee nurse Ariel Brandt into their lives. Smart, funny and beautiful, Ariel is a lot like Nan in a lot of ways, and Elizabeth is drawn to her at once. As her feelings for Ariel grow out of her control, Elizabeth finds herself torn between her own desires and the deeply-ingrained rules of the society in which she lives.
Her brother at war, a new suitor trying to court her, and Ariel keeping a safe distance, Elizabeth is charged with an errand. Nan wants her to travel to New Orleans to find someone she once knew and pass along a wooden box that holds an important letter.
Can the unexpected journey into Nan's past help Elizabeth find her future?