December 13 , 2010

Eli, Sometimes


At the end of the nineteenth century, in the small town of Trinity, Kansas, on the edge of the West, fourteen-year-old Eli is newly orphaned. With his mother's funeral barely concluded, the judgmental Reverend Mr. Ellis and his congregation of Trinitarians turn him out of his home. But Eli quickly discovers that he is not all alone in the world as a group of kind townspeople help him find a new home and build a prospering business, becoming not just his friends but his "sometimes" family. John Turpin's ELI, SOMETIMES is charmingly old-fashioned, funny, and heartwarming.

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John Clayton Turpin was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1928. After serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, he attended Southwestern at Memphis College (later Rhodes College) on the GI Bill. John became the registrar at Southwestern in 1956 and retired twenty-five years later. As registrar, he was more than a manager of academic records and registration, he was an unofficial mentor to many of the students. At his death, one student wrote, "He was one of my life heroes. He set the bar high, and we are all better for having known him." John wrote ELI, SOMETIMES because he said he wanted to write a novel about a town in a period of American history that wasn't all "shoot 'em up and bang bang." As a child, he had spent many summers on his grandmother's farm. He believed that life on the farm in the 1930s was not much different from life in Trinity, Kansas, in the 1870's.On his 85th birthday, just five months before his death, he wrote: "The birthday I remember most was when I twelve. As soon as school was out, my mother sent me and my siblings to the country because she needed a rest. I was at my grandmother's farm, out in the side yard swinging back and forth and singing because I was twelve and no one had mentioned it. I sang as I swung: 'Nobody knows the trouble I've seen,' and 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.' Finally my Aunt Minnie stuck her head out the back kitchen door and called, 'John Clayton, cut out that caterwauling and come in so I can clean you up for dinner.' I went inside and there was a cake on the table, white icing and twelve blue candles." That no-nonsense country attitude and love of family are the heart of ELI, SOMETIMES.


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