Though she is dead when the story opens, having passed away when her son Bud was six years old, Momma is very much alive in Bud’s thoughts and in his memories. Throughout the entire story, he carries her inside of him and inside of his suitcase everywhere he goes. Bud’s momma, he reveals, was spirited and courageous, a true optimist and joyful person. It is obvious that she loved her flowering “Bud” deeply, and he loved her deeply in return. She instilled in him the strength and courage to escape the abusive foster care system, and to never give up believing that one day the doors she liked to talk about would open and he’d find his place in the world. Bud relies on the spirit of Momma’s presence to guide him through the many obstacles he faces as he searches for family.

Momma, Bud eventually learns, was fiercely independent, and had resisted the efforts of her father, Herman E. Calloway, to control her. However, by the end, the love that both Bud and his grandfather had for Momma brings the two of them together, and through Bud, the fractured relationship between Momma and her father is finally repaired.