Spinster septuagenarian Ella Bishop, on the brink of retirement from her 52-year career as freshman-English teacher at small-town Midwestern University, her alma mater, wants to look toward the future, but can't help reflect upon her past, what brought her to this point. Although she always wanted to be a teacher and was both surprised and ecstatic when her mentor, Midwestern's then-President James Corcoran, offered her the English teacher opening upon graduation, she only saw it as one short phase of her life until she got married and had a family, unlike her younger cousin Amy Saunders, who solely needed romance and love to feel fulfilled. She thinks about the two men with whom she was mutually in love and would have married if she could have, if not for one circumstance or another, and the one man whose love for her was--and is--unrequited, at least in the romantic sense, but who was and has always been there for her. Although she never birthed her own child, she thinks about the many to whom she acted as mother or grandmother, practically or emotionally: her many students, some of whom have gone on to great things; her niece Hope whom she practically raised; and her great-niece Gretchen. She also thinks about having stayed at Midwestern in her hometown, in her career which was not always smooth sailing, especially with the changing times.