Peter L. Scamardo II has compiled history from his family’s time as farmers near Mumford into a novel titled The Boys in the Brazos River Bottom that will be released on Nov. 1.
Set in the summer of 1969 in Mumford between the Brazos and Little Brazos Rivers, the coming-of-age story follows the fictional Ruggirello family, based on the childhood of Scamardo’s father.
The novel is told through several different characters’ points of view, namely Matt, the oldest of four siblings. Set during the summer before his senior year at Hearne High School, the character Matt believes he’s doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and will attend Texas A&M and become a farmer — a path he doesn’t want to go down. Then he learns he is a National Merit Scholar, which opens new opportunities.
The story then follows how Matt’s family reacts to this opportunity. His father, called Papa in the book and based on Scamardo’s grandfather, is resistant to change after his sister left town and became estranged to the family.
Scamardo said Matt is based on his uncle Luke, who is now a doctor in Navasota. Scamardo’s father, Rob, is portrayed by the youngest brother Tommy.
“My Uncle Luke ... he told me he thought he was going to go to A&M and end up being a farmer before he was a National Merit Scholar and got to go to Rice and really did change the whole trajectory of his career path,” said Scamardo, who is a sports reporter for the Victoria Advocate. “The real life story is that he never really faced a struggle of being denied an opportunity, but this is sort of me crafting a narrative about what if my grandfather was a more controlling person. He was controlling in ways, very much a tough-love person, but he never really denied them the chance to go to other places.”
Scamardo said he began working on the idea for the book after his grandfather Peter L. Scamardo I died in June 2019 at the age of 92. Scamardo said he wanted to write something that told his family’s history, so family members could look back on the stories and tales from their roots. He talked with his father, two uncles, aunt, grandmother and several cousins to gather stories and ideas for the book.
Beginning the novel in 2019, Scamardo said he later rented an AirBnB in Colorado for a week in January 2020 and wrote about 30,000 words while there. He was between jobs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and staying at home with his parents where he could ask his father questions for the book on a regular basis. He finished a draft in June 2020 before sending it to be peer edited.
The book also features stories, characters and families based on the Italian-American farming culture along the Brazos River. Many of those families, including the Scamardos, are from Sicily, Scamardo said.
The Scamardo family immigrated from Italy to Texas through Galveston in 1896 and settled in Mumford after the turn of the century, Scamardo said. The Scamardos worked on the Cavitt Plantation before Scamardo’s great-great-grandfather bought an 800-acre farm in 1935, according to Peter L. Scamardo I’s obituary. Although Scamardo grew up in Houston, he said he visited the family farm often while growing up. The land is still owned by the Scamardos.
“They stayed Italian, but then they became uniquely Texan incredibly fast,” Scamardo said of his family and others.
Scamardo used each chapter of his novel to allow different characters to tell the story — a technique that allowed him to dig deeper into his family’s history.
“A Matt chapter is going to be very straight-lined,” Scamardo said. “Josh is going to be frustrated about being overlooked. Tommy is just the little kid trying to keep track of what’s going on and asks lots of questions. They all see the world differently, but they’re all interacting with the same story.”
Scamardo said he hopes readers will learn more about the Italian-American experience in America through the story based in Central Texas. He added he also hopes it offers a wide appeal.
“I didn’t really have one target audience exactly as I was writing it, but then I sort of thought this is very much a coming-of-age story that any frustrated or disgruntled teenager could relate to,” Scamardo said. “But then a parent could read this book and maybe they see themselves in the characters or how they interact with their children, and they could learn something from it.”
The Boys in the Brazos River Bottom is self-published through IngramSpark and will be available on Nov. 1 via major online outlets.