Tom D. aka "The Great Brain" was constantly cooking up plans to swindle other kids, and sometimes adults, out of their hard-earned cash. Whether it be charging everyone to see the first flush toilet in town or sneaking candy into reform school to sell at triple the going rate, there was always an adventure to be found.
I think I particularly loved these books because they reminded me of my dad's crazy stories of growing up as one of five kids out in Palmdale, California (which was the middle of nowhere). My dad was the "Great Brain" of the clan and would create all sorts of elaborate schemes like burying tin cans out in the desert to create a golf course and then charging his brothers and sisters admission into "The Riviera".
I had always noticed in the front of these books that John D. Fitzgerald had written some novels for adults, the first of which was Papa Married a Mormon. My library didn't own it and so I never got around to reading it. But now twenty years later, thanks to the magic of eBay, I finally got my hands on a copy. I loved it!
Fitzgerald creates the small town of Adenville and populates it with a colorful cast of characters. From the saloon girl with a heart of gold to Bishop Aden, the wise Mormon leader who lost an ear in an Indian attack, you've got 'em all.
|Mama at the time of |
their first marriage
|Papa, same era|
Neither was willing to give up their religion and so they blended their beliefs as best they could. Unwelcome by either of their congregations because of their mixed marriage, they start holding church services in their parlor and little by little all the outcasts make their way into the Fitzgerald home to sing good church songs and read the Bible. Even the shy little Jewish shopkeeper, the only Jew in town, starts attending. At one point he brings in his Jewish hymnal and Mama plays him some of the songs on the piano while he sings with tears in his eyes (he hasn't heard the songs since leaving his home country). They taught their children both the Catholic and the Mormon tenets of faith and let them decide for themselves what they wanted to do. (Although, there's a really funny story of Papa's sister marching herself out west to try and convert her heathen nieces and nephews to Catholicism. She was no match for Tom.)
There are lots of Tom's shenanigans peppered throughout the novel for good measure, plus we learn about the black sheep of the family, Uncle Will, who lost Mama and Papa's new home in a poker game. Don't worry, everything turns out okay.
Overly-sentimental? A bit.
Makes you smile? Definitely.
If you ever run across a copy of this in a used book store, buy it. You won't be sorry.
P. S. Audrey M. Godfrey has a really interesting paper on why John D. Fitzgerald is so overlooked in the American literary scene.
<I bought this book on eBay.>