A Long Way from Chicago is a hilarious collection of stories about a boy and his sister from Chicago who go to spend one week of every summer in the late 1920’s and early 30’s with their—shall we say—eccentric grandmother. Grandma is a shotgun-wielding, conniving, sarcastic woman who doesn’t enjoy the nosiness of her small-town neighbors. She tells some serious “whoppers” of lies for various reasons. Her grandkids are appalled at first, but then they get used to it. And, as Joey notes, “Grandma saved herself a lot of bother by not being the kind of person you questioned.”
Some of their various adventures:
- A family of boys is tormenting the town, so Grandma lies to them about when she’ll be gone and lies in wait, knowing they’ll try to steal something. When they come, she corners them with her shotgun and sends for their dad, who finally starts disciplining them.
- Grandma takes Joey and Mary Alice to feed her aging “aunt”—a journey which involved catching catfish in (illegal) traps, stealing the sheriff’s rowboat, trespassing, and getting away from the town deputies, who are fishing in their underwear while intoxicated.
- Grandma enters a pie contest, only to find out that a state-renowned baker has also entered. She switches their pies, only to have him win with her pie! Then, Joey ends up in an airplane. (Don’t ask.)
I’ll leave the rest of the stories for you to discover for yourself, but here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Advice from Grandma: “Never trust an ugly woman. She’s got a grudge against the world.”
- Weidenbach (the banker’s wife, referencing the Great Depression): “People blame the bankers.”
Grandma: “My stars. The bank closes on people’s farms and throws them off their land, and they don’t even appreciate it?”
- “It was a story that grew in the telling, in one of those little towns where there’s always time to ponder all the different kinds of truth.” (Grandma wasn’t the only liar in town, I’ll tell you that!)
- Weidenbach (banker): “This isn’t business, Mrs. Dowdel. This is blackmail!”
Grandma: “What’s the difference?”
It’s a fun and hilarious collection of stories, extremely enjoyable for long car rides! I definitely recommend it.