From the book
Chapter 1: Gifts
My grandfather had what Christians call "gifts of the spirit." Grandpa Evans was a serious man, devout in his religious beliefs and conservative in dress and speech. Still, at least to me, there was a discernible energy in his presence. Many said that he could, at times, work miracles. As a child I witnessed some of those miracles. None, perhaps, was more evident than the one I saw after my brother Van was electrocuted.
I was nine years old. It was the same year our family moved to Utah, leaving behind the beautiful, palm-tree-lined streets of Arcadia, California, a suburb to the east of Pasadena.
Arcadia lived up to its name. It was a childhood Eden, lush and innocent, the kind of place where a child should grow up. Peacocks freely roamed our neighborhood, as did we children. It's no wonder "Arcadia" pops up frequently in my books.
Things were good for our family there. My father was the administrator of a large chain of convalescent hospitals and my mother never worried about money in those days, except that we might have too much and that it might spoil us. I remember once asking my mother if we were rich.
"We're rich because we have the gospel," she replied.
"But are we rich?" I asked, hoping for a better answer. She frowned and turned away.
We had a large two-story house with a heated swimming pool, surrounded by a brick terrace and ornamental kumquat trees and a water fountain with a Greek-style statue. My father drove a brand new Buick Riviera. We had a pet capuchin monkey named Tony that could chirp happily like a bird and bite like a vampire. We went on frequent family outings, often to Long Beach or Disneyland or whatever particular amusement my mother and father conceived of for the weekend.
In spite of our money, my mother, as thrifty as she was pious, sewed many of our clothes. For one of our family outings she made us matching pink-and-olive shirts, which to my teenage brothers' and sister's horror, we wore in public. It was Mom's way of keeping track of all eight of us. We looked as wholesome as a sixties Tide commercial. As a kid I thought all this was great. But this was in the tie-dye and bell-bottom culture of the sixties, and to this day I'm surprised that my teenage sister, Heidi, ever came out of the house.
I was the seventh of eight children in a Mormon family, the sixth of seven boys. I suppose ours was typical of large family culture; a pecking order existed, easily understood by even the youngest of us: big fish eat smaller fish. My parents told me that my first uttered sentence was, "Help, Mom, Dad. Help." This came at just two years of age, as my older brothers hung me over the stair railing by my feet.
My older brothers spent much of their time devising tortures for us younger ones. One Christmas, one of us kids received a large cloth tube made for crawling through. The older brothers threw it into the swimming pool, then made us younger children swim through it. Their idea of fun was to close off the ends of the...