Jim avoids going back to see Ántonia for 20 years, afraid to find her "aged and broken." In those years, he hears bits of gossip, so he knows that she has married a man named Cuzak, a cousin of Anton Jelinek, moved back to the prairie, and now has 11 children. At one point, he hears from Tiny, who describes Ántonia's husband as not having "much force," adding that Ántonia had a hard life. Eventually he runs into Lena during one of his many business trips. She persuades him to go see Ántonia.
Jim has a vision of the perfect prairie and of a perfect Ántonia. By trying to preserve these visions, Jim avoids returning to or growing alongside the things that he loves. He is rootless, as his many business trips suggest. To Tiny, a husband without "force" and a "hard life" sound terrible, but perhaps those things don't bother Ántonia.
Jim stops in Nebraska on the way back from his business trip. When he arrives at the Cuzak farm, Ántonia doesn't recognize Jim at first. When she finally realizes it is him, she is thrilled. For his part, Jim describes her as "battered but not diminished" and as still having the same youthful vigor he always loved about Ántonia.
Ántonia does not recognize Jim because he has changed, even though he wanted to keep things the same. But while Ántonia has been changed by hard times, she has kept her youthful vigor because she has kept growing and changing, just like the land.
Antonia introduces Jim to all of her 11 children. The children take Jim to see their "fruit cave," an underground room where they keep their large store of preserves.
When they first arrived, the Shimerdas didn't know how to store food. Ántonia has now become adept at prairie life.
Ántonia shows Jim the apple orchard. She tells Jim that she and her husband planted all the trees, and that she loves them "as if they were people."
Ántonia is able to fulfill her spiritual bond with the land through her farming.
Ántonia shows Jim old photographs of her wedding day, including photos of Ambrosch and Lena. Then she shows Jim one of himself, with Jake and Otto, and one of Jim just before college. That night, Jim sleeps with Ántonia's boys in the haymow. Three "snapshots" of Ántonia stand out in his mind—when he killed the snake; standing by her father's grave; and coming in from the fields.
Ántonia has kept the past alive through photographs, and has shared these photographs with her family. These memories inspire Jim to see the Ántonia he loved from his childhood in the day mother and matriarch she has become. He sees her for her changing evolving self.