Years pass, and Ginny remains in Saint Paul. One day, she waits on a man in a cap, and she realizes that the man is Ty. Ginny greets Ty casually and asks how Rose is doing—to Ginny’s surprise, Ty explains that Rose is just fine. Ginny realizes that today is her own birthday: she’s 39 years old.
As the novel comes to an end, Smiley skips ahead many years (the first half of the book focuses on just a few months in the characters’ lives, by contrast). Away from the land and her family, Ginny has become so alienated from herself that she doesn’t even remember it’s her own birthday until Ty arrives.
At lunch (really more like 10:30 with Ginny’s shift), Ty takes Ginny to lunch. He explains that he’s leaving the farm behind and going to find work on a hog plant in Texas. Hog farming didn’t work out well for Ty: the work nearly “killed” him. Ty hasn’t gotten along with Rose in years, and claims that Rose has just become Larry all over again. Nevertheless, he’s sold away his farmland to Rose. Ty also says that Rose has told everyone that Larry used to abuse her, but Ty makes it clear that he doesn’t believe her.
Ginny has gone to the city to find freedom from her past, and in a way, she has. The irony is that in doing so, she’s surrendered her financial freedom (she can’t even choose when she eats lunch) and her sense of connection to her family. The passage is also important because it shows why Rose and Ginny tried to get their revenge on Larry by controlling his land: simply telling the community about his abuse would never have worked (and it doesn’t work now—even Ginny’s own husband doesn’t believe it).
Ty explains why he’s here: he wants a divorce. Instead of replying, Ginny accuses Ty of talking to Caroline all those years ago: giving her the information about how Ginny and Rose ignored Larry. Ty doesn’t deny it, but just says he was “on one side” of the farm. Ginny reminds Ty of the things Larry told her on the night of the storm, and asks Ty if he agrees with them; Ty says he never paid much attention to Larry.
Tyler hasn’t come to the restaurant to make up with Ginny—just the opposite. In a way, Tyler is a reminder of the kind of life Ginny could have had: she could have spent the next few years tied to her farmland, trapped in her traumatic memories and anger and watching in agony as the land slowly dried up.
Ginny leaves Ty to return to her job. As she returns, she remembers meeting him, years ago. Ty was a football player, and Ginny was in the stands. Ty waved, and Ginny assumed he was waving to her. In fact, he was waving to a girl a few feet away from Ginny. When Ginny and Ty began dating five years later, Ty claimed he’d forgotten the incident. Ginny has always remembered it: proof that she should never think too highly of herself.
Ginny is a strange combination of humility and hubris: at times, she’s unwilling to draw the slightest attention to herself; at other points, she seems hell-bent on attracting attention (kicking Larry out of his house and claiming it for herself, for example).