Ida is by far the most mysterious and taciturn character in the novel. Christine and Rayona know the world Ida has created for them but almost nothing of the family before her. Ida’s entire relationship with the world is built on lies from the time she is fifteen years old (the same age Rayona is in her section of the novel). Manipulated and betrayed by people she trusted, Ida commits herself to withdrawing from the world and refuses to interact except on her own terms. Her silence creates confusion and misunderstanding in the lives of the children she raises, and this confusion and misunderstanding are in turn passed on to Rayona. After Ida’s parents and aunt uproot her life, Ida does her best to lay a new foundation, but what she builds is shaky enough to make the lives of the future generations unsteady.
Unlike Christine, Ida does not grow and change. As she herself puts it, “I never grew up, but I got old.” Ida is an old woman, but her emotions have never grown or evolved. Ida goes to the motherhouse in Colorado with Clara and returns with a baby, but otherwise she is unchanged. Ida spends every day in the same routine of chores. She improves her house and adds television to her schedule, but for the most part does the same thing every day. The only man she ever pursues is Willard, her old childhood crush. Much of this paralysis comes from Ida’s determination not to become emotionally attached to anyone, and her desire to remain safely within her sphere of control prevents her from ever trying new things.
Ida represents the secret heritage of her family, and the wounds we see Rayona coping within the “Rayona” section of the novel had in fact been inflicted in Ida’s time. Thus, although Ida speaks her part in the last section of the novel, she also represents the beginning of the story, and it is to her that we must turn to understand fully the stories that Christine and Rayona have to tell.