The year is 1943 and life is good for Jewel Hilburn, her husband, Leston, and their five children. Although there's a war on, the Mississippi economy is booming, providing plenty of business for the hardworking family. And even the news that eldest son James has enlisted is mitigated by the fact that Jewel, now pushing 40, is pregnant with one last child. Her joy is slightly clouded, however, when her childhood friend Cathedral arrives at the door with a troubling prophecy: "I say unto you that the baby you be carrying be yo' hardship, be yo' test in this world. This be my prophesying unto you, Miss Jewel."
When the child is finally born, it seems that Cathedral's prediction was empty: the baby appears normal in every way. As the months go by, however, Jewel becomes increasingly afraid that something is wrong with little Brenda Kay—she doesn't cry, she doesn't roll over, she's hardly ever awake. Eventually husband and wife take the baby to the doctor and are informed that she is a "Mongolian Idiot," not expected to live past the age of 2. Jewel angrily rebuffs the doctor's suggestion that they institutionalize Brenda Kay. Instead the Hilburns shoulder the burdens—and discover the unexpected joys—of living with a Down syndrome child.
In 1945, Jewel Hilburn (Farrah Fawcett), 39, and her husband Leston (Patrick Bergin), 41, are scratching out a living in rural Mississippi, and caring for their four children: Raylene (Rachel Skarsten), 14; Burton (Kyle Fairlie), 11; Wilman (Max Morrow), 10; and Annie (Alexis Vandermaelen), 3. All Jewel's kids have been mid-wived by her friend and housekeeper, Cathedral (Cicely Tyson). Leston has been making a living pulling out pine stumps, selling them to be made into turpentine as part of the war effort. Cathedral's husband, Nelson (Ardon Bess), and their two sons, Sepulchur and Temple, all work for Leston.
The Hilburns discover that they are going to have another child, and decide it will be their last. Cathedral has a premonition and warns Jewel, prophesizing that the child she will bear will be her hardship and her test in this world but that it is God's way of smiling down on Jewel. Jewel gives birth to a baby girl, whom they name Brenda Kay. The child appears to be fine, but in time it becomes obvious that Brenda Kay isn't like other children. She seems to be developing much more slowly. Even at six months old, she lies very still, where other children her age are able to roll over.
A 1-year-old from Michigan was given the name RubyPearl because she's a "rare jewel," dad TJBunker tells People, which reports on the poignant story of the baby and her family as they deal with the litany of serious conditions she's been dealing with since she was born ... ....