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Louisiana housewife Alma Duval visits her oldest son Buddy at the family's employment agency in order to provide him with a present to give his father John Henry, a cajun known as Jack, on his forty-fifth birthday. She also takes presents to her other son Billy, a bookish high school student, and her daughter Virginia, a salesgirl, in preparation for the family celebration that night. Unknown to the matronly Alma, the adulterous Jack has a date that same evening. When the family sits down to dinner, Buddy tries to convince his father to finance a pizza parlor, but the confrontational Jack only uses the discussion to pick a fight with his oldest son. When Buddy angrily storms out of the house, Jack is pleased to see his son demonstrating "some backbone." Alma then asks her husband to take the family on a vacation to New Paris, where they first lived as newlyweds, but he refuses. Later, Alma questions Virginia about her new beau, Wyatt Mitchell, a medical student set to return to school in a few days. Though Virginia hopes to marry Wyatt, Jack nearly ends the relationship when he brutishly confronts the medical student about his intentions toward his daughter. Alma, however, steps in after her husband leaves and reunites the two. Left alone for another evening, the depressed Alma then calls her neighbor, Fan, and invites her over for a slice of the still-uncut birthday cake. Meanwhile, Jack takes Billy to the local pool hall and buys the young man his first beer. Jack advises his son to find out what he really wants in life before it is too late, adding later that a man has a right to find happiness for himself, above and beyond his obligations to his wife and family. Jack then deserts Billy to keep his date with Ruby, a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl. Back at the Duval home, Harry, Virginia's high school sweetheart, appears and tells Alma that he still cares for her daughter, even if Virginia is in love with someone else. Meanwhile, Virginia and Wyatt make love for the first time, and although she professes her love and asks him to marry her, Wyatt tells Virginia that he wants to be successful, and, in order to achieve that goal, feels he must marry a woman of wealth and position, which she is not. Back at home, Fan tries in vain to teach Alma how to smoke and drink, arguing that she needs to change her personality in order to regain her husband's attentions, but Alma is sure her marriage would be fine if her family simply moved back to New Paris. Buddy and Virginia then try to inform Alma about Jack's affair, but seeing how upset their mother becomes, they, along with Billy, tell her he is merely working late once again. Finally, in the middle of the night, Jack comes home, and Alma quickly discovers lipstick and perfume on his shirt. Jack then confesses that he is in love with Ruby, stating that she makes him feel young again. After Alma slaps him, Jack leaves. The next morning, Jack returns home for his clothes and tells his wife that he is moving to Florida with his mistress, though Alma begs him to stay. Soon thereafter, Jack and Ruby are killed in an automobile accident. Later, on the train to New Paris, Alma insists on riding in the baggage car with her husband's coffin. After the funeral, the delusional Alma tells her cousin, Essie Mae, how Jack had always wanted to return to New Paris, but business kept them away. As they leave the rural community, Alma insists that the funeral home limousine stop by their old house, which is little more than a shack. Finally realizing the truth about her life, Alma tells her children that she is giving up the past and looking forward to her future with them. As they board the train home, Alma notes a cool breeze and remarks "I guess the hot spell's over."