Grandma Dowdel - Grandma Dowdel is fiercely independent and a hard worker. Joey tells that "...she liked to keep to herself to herself, which was uphill work in a town like that" and that "she wasn't what you would call a popular woman." Her brusque nature makes the ladies of town somewhat nervous. She wears dresses and an apron to keep her clean. When she wants to go for a hike, she will put pants on underneath her dress to hike and fish. This grandma is not the "drop everything for her grandkids and spoil them" type. She makes her two grandchildren do chores but through her actions not outright affection, she lets her grandchildren know that she loves them.
Grandma Dowdel is not above blackmail to get what she wants or to have justice served. She feeds the hungry transient workers fish that she "illegally" caught, defends Shotgun Cheatham's reputation to a city-slicker reporter by telling a "whopper" of a lie, and helps a young girl escape the clutches of her abusive mother so that she could marry her true love.
Joey Dowdel - He is the narrator who goes from being called Joey to Joe and goes from dreading his annual visit to looking forward to it. His last memories of his grandma in the book are of him waving to her sitting on her porch while he was on a train going off to basic training for World War II. Joey is a city boy who learns how to drive and receives his first airplane ride while he is with Grandma. He sees Shotgun Cheatham dead in a coffin at Grandma's house but had not seen a dead body in Chicago during the days of John Dillinger.
Mary Alice Dowdel - She at first believes that Grandma is not a very good influence on them and begs to bring her girlfriends to Grandma's house. However, over the years, Grandma grows on her. She befriends and helps save Vandalia, the young lover who is terrorized by her abusive mother. In the earlier chapters, Mary Alice takes her tap shoes to Grandma's house. She ends up dancing the waltz during a centennial celebration and wearing Grandma's wedding dress. She and her car-fixing partner win first prize.