Five years after he left, vowing never to go back, Abe Weir returns to the family farm in the spring of 1967. Abe's mom, Abby, has asked him to help her get the crops off the field, his father, Isaac, being deathly ill. Abe agrees, despite hating farming, and his father.Abe returns intent on keeping to himself his tour in Vietnam as a decorated Marine Captain. Abby has a secret of her own: Ruth Cummings, the owner of the neighboring farm, is now running their farm as well, placing Abe under the thumb of the girl he ran out on five years ago.Abe visits his father's bedside, giving Isaac a chance to utter to his son how sorry he is for bringing into Abe's childhood the very cruelty his hardness was trying to protect him against. When Abe's father dies, Abe finds Ruth kinder than she has been since his return, a courtesy he misconstrues, encouraging him to dare asking her out. The lioness-like ferocity with which Ruth responds to this, paralyzes Abe, as she lambasts him with the ruin he caused when he left, still incredulous that he saw as some kind of betrayal her decision to take over her dad's farm. Abe subsequently spends the night walking the tractor paths among the farm's pastures and runs into Ruth who is doing some walking of her own. Abe decides Ruth deserves to know where he has been, imploring her to keep it to herself. Once he does, he leaves her side, apologizing for the extreme pain he now knows he so thoughtlessly caused her. That fall, Abe is hired as a high school English teacher. One particular underachiever, Tommy Armstrong, responds to Abe's challenges and his coaching, and by spring is writing "A" essays. Then Tommy tells him his dad, Del, wants him to quit school and fight in Vietnam. Now Abe knows, if he is to save Tommy from Vietnam, he has to tell Del that he has been there, ultimately exposing himself to unwarranted adulation, arousing memories he fears could still destroy him.
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