Far from their Western American roots, two Mormon families in 1970 Maryland cling to each other like exiles clutching a precious box of topsoil from the old country.
Ada Runyon always confides in Ruthalin Feldsted when she needs an ear. But Ada dies inside with embarrassment whenever Ruthalin’s country-cousin manners poke out in public.
Every Sunday night Latham Runyon, a history professor, and Erval Feldsted, a hospital engineer, bond over dessert and vigorous religious discussion, a game their children like to call Stump the Rabbi.
The Feldsted and Runyon children, consider each other as cousins, and run breathlessly through each others yards and homes as if they were their own. But Ginni Runyon doesn’t want to be just the girl next door to Marc Feldsted, and she plans to become the girl he can’t live without.
When Boxford’s Mormons mix with the rest of the town, everybody could use a field guide to the other species. This story will make you laugh, cry, and shake your head with the Runyons and Feldsteds as they make their way through the decade that brought us leisure suits and urban decay.
“All I can see,” she said, digging further, “is my little sister walking down the streets of Provo, giggling with her junior-high friends, all of them convinced that ‘We’re passing for college girls, oh yes we are!'”
“But they’re not in junior high anymore,” said Nancy. She sat at the table, holding a stack of Grasshopper cookies, from her cupboard. “When was the last time you even saw your sister?”
Teresa thought of the picture sitting on her dresser, . . .
And there she was: Shelly, the eighth-grader with a strained smile, her bangs carefully draped into a barrette. By the time the photographer snapped the picture, a tired strand had broken away from the swoop. But since Shelly couldn’t see it, she probably thought she looked as smart as the last time she had checked in the mirror.
“And how are we going to entertain these girls for a week?” Carlene asked.
“Did you know,” said Teresa, “that she called me and hinted that maybe we could throw a party for her. ‘You know,'” Teresa mimicked her sister’s young breathiness, ‘introduce me to some boys.’ I had to tell her, ‘You do realize, don’t you, that we don’t mix with the young peachy-faced ones?’. . .
“It’s like she expects us to crash some Frisbee game up on campus. She thinks we can just recruit some … some children and bring them back to our little old white house here. Promise them brownies and some out-of-town girls.”
“Well, that sounds risqué,” said Carlene.
“Actually, there’s lots about Shelly that’s risqué. You’re about to meet the make-out queen of Boxford County.”
Nancy and Carlene raised their eyebrows.
“Oh, yes!” said Teresa. “My mom tells one hand-wringing story after another. ‘I caught her lying on the living room couch with that … that yay-hoo she brought home, the TV off when it was supposed to be on, the lights off when they were supposed to be on.'”
They all studied the junior-high Shelly in the family picture.
“Hmm, she really doesn’t look like the kind that would ruin those nice boys up on campus,” said Nancy.
And with renewed anticipation for the Monday-afternoon arrival of the Make-Out Queen of Boxford County, the girls of the little old white house counted up the borrowed sleeping bags one more time, then went to bed.
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