His head shot back and forth between an opened book on his lap and the woodlot next to the road. “This has to be it,” Jonathan said to his older brother, Mike, sitting behind the steering wheel.
Their car idled as its dome light illuminated the text at the top of the page. In bold, calligraphic font, it read David’s Kingdom, and below it a detailed pen and ink drawing of a small square of land, a lake, a spider web of roads, and a clump of trees. The map was located in the opening pages of his favorite book, All Gave Some, by his literary icon P.H. Craftsman. Jonathon ran his eyes across the paper following the markings.
Mike, leaned over from the driver’s seat, “well where’s Moron?” He placed his finger on Jonathon’s nose and said “ Moron’s here, so where’s McKeesport…”
They both laughed as he elbowed his brother back behind the steering wheel.
“You know that's one of his favorite movies, don’t you?”
Mike smiled, “yes, of course, I know that. You may have told me once or twice or a hundred times.”
“Well good, we’re on the same page,” Jonathan replied, still studying the map.
“Bro, we just drove 850 miles to find this place didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did. And now, we are so close to the most prolific place in Craftsman’s youth. We took the pilgrim roads to holy ground. Mikey, this is where it all began, where he was told the news that put in motion a ripple effect that would forever change his life.” Jonathan exhaled, overwhelmed with excitement.
“ You really do admire him, that’s for sure. And that’s cool. We all need people to inspire us. Teach us, Captivate us. I was hoping I would do that for you, but, instead, I see I'm just a chauffeur.”
Jonathon laughed. “You do, ya knucklehead. You’re my best friend in this entire world brother. That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by Craftsman. It was always family with him. His brothers were key in his life and in his writing.”
Mike shook his head, “ Indeed.”
Jonathan looked up from the map, eyes locked on the small grove of trees. “I read an article on him once. When asked about the premise of his book, he said my brother gave me the perfect story, all I had to do was put it into words. He tapped his index finger on the page, a small rectangle of trees next to a small cottage. “ But right here is where it all began. This has to be it. Indian City. Pull in here Mikey, this is the place.”
Their car plowed down tall strands of grass growing through whatever gravel remained in the driveway. It was dusk, and a yellowish sky with dark blue clouds gathered at the lowering sun forming a white ball of light on the horizon. They squinted through the windshield at a dilapidated cottage with broken windows, and the porch roof caved in on a picnic table covered in moss. The front door was hidden behind that, making it impossible to open.
Jonathan shook his head. “This cottage was a castle for the two of them. And those trees,” Jonathan pointed to the right, “that was their playground. Then when they were teenagers, Craftsman’s parents went through an ugly divorce, so this is where he and his brother David came to get away from all the noise and angst of blame and betrayal. Here they were safe. Surrounded by great friends, they made their fondest memories here. This is where Dave told him he had joined the Army. This is it now, the only thing left that has any connection to his youth or to his brother David.” Jonathan paused, “except for David’s tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery. But that’s it, the rest is all gone.”
They opened the doors to the car and stepped out into a gentle breeze.
“Why is it called Indian City? It’s technically just a clump of trees with weeds and underbrush.” Mike inquired.
“When they were knee-high to a grasshopper, as Craftsman described it; they would pretend it was a great forest where the remnants of a great Native American village once was, They were brave pioneers and warriors on a journey,” Jonathan responded.
“Ah, childhood. What an amazing time, when imagination flowed like honey and friendships were as precious as gemstones.” Mike reminisced for a moment, then asked “who owns this?”
Jonathan tilted his head and rubbed his chin. “I’m not 100% sure. I believe Craftsman bought it shortly before his wife passed. However, after she died, he became a hermit. That was when he wrote his last book, Maschuna, An American Love Story. It was a tribute to his wife, his SweetPea as he liked to call her.” Jonathan paused. “He had an antidote he used when asked about his books. He said “ When I was writing All Gave Some, my older brother once asked me how the book will end? I would grin and say, with me on the floor in the fetal position. We would laugh. But the truth is when I wrote Maschuna, that’s exactly how it ended.” Jonathan ran his fingers through thick black hair and shook his head.
Mike looked down at his shoes, “That's true love bro. It’s hard to come by and is a rarity.”
“Craftsman made it pretty simple when it came to his wife. Hard work, loving your partner's quirks and flaws as much as anything else, more even, and never keeping score. The only prize for winning a fight with your wife is a night on the couch.” Jonathan smirked, then continued. “And date nights are a must. An absolute necessity. Finally, he said never let time or money be an excuse for not going on adventures, journeys, and getaways. Those experiences are what make and shape our lives. They’re invaluable. You know they both loved New York City. It's the energy and diversity of the great human experiment, as he’d say, but it would have just been steel and glass buildings, soulless and empty, without his Sweetpea.”
Mike was always impressed with his little brother’s passion. He pointed to their right. “Well, according to the map, that’s it right there. The reason for our pilgrimage, Indian City.”
They both settled their gaze on lanky hardwoods protected by a few pine trees lining the yard of the cottage. Weeds and strings of thorn bushes paid little regard for the path that led to the leafy canopy. Rocks the size of softballs flanked both sides, leaving the only indication the pathway ever existed. Jonathan’s eyes twinkled in the retreating sun while Mike patted his brother’s shoulder, “well, shall we? The sanctuary of our journey lies just beyond those thorns. Please, lead the way.” Jonathan stuffed the book with the map in a satchel draped over his shoulder and stepped forward.
Jonathan’s cheeks rose to his ears, teeth shining through his smile. “ Just a couple of big steps. Here, I’ll tromp it down for you so you don’t get scratched. I would hate to see you get a boo-boo. We’ll have to call Janey to come and kiss it and make it all better.”
“Ah, sweet, sweet Janey,” Mike said looking up at the sky with wonderment and excitement. “She’s the bomb, always has been. Don’t get me wrong, we had some rough years, but,” he paused, “those were the ones that made us the strongest. They also taught us the most. Without the rough, you can’t have the smooth. You miss the good stuff, the best stuff. And by that, I mean the little stuff. Janey’s got this laugh that’s contagious, and the best part, she even laughs when I try to be funny. Yeah, brother, she’s cool.” Mike pictured his wife’s face. Her eyes could enchant a dragon with just a glance. Then her smile. Like a lantern in the darkness, taking away all the fear and anxiety in a troubled world. He sighed. “I love being here with you little brother, but I definitely miss Janey.”
“I know bro, it's all good. We’re here and your Sweet J is back home waiting for her slightly out of shape, lower-middle-class carpenter husband to come bursting through the door. I’m sure she’s beside herself with despair.” Jonathan laughed.
“Yeah, that's funny”, Mike chuckled, pressing strands of thorns to the ground with shoes. “But, in all seriousness, she still gives me butterflies, even after twenty years. But, I’ll tell you, bro, I’m glad she stuck it out with me. She could have left more than once. The alcohol was a nasty bastard. I loved it, but it wanted to destroy me. Destroy us. I thought it helped make me who I was. I was wrong.
But through it all, we stuck together. A lot of people thought we wouldn’t last a year. To be honest, Janey and I were a little shocked." Mike trampled more thorns. "I mean, I was young and reckless, and she had a 5-year-old little girl. Little Emma, with scarecrow thin hair and prone to night terrors, which freaked me out by the way. She would wake up in the middle of the night talking to the empty hallway. Janey would laugh as I suggested we call a priest. She would say, just carry her downstairs, she just needs some orange juice till she wakes up. Like always, Janey was right.” Mike paused. We’d only been dating a few months when she called me at work and said she was pregnant. Man oh man, life got pretty surreal. But you know what Jonathon, I had to be there for my child. So we walked forward, together. Only a leap from the lion’s head will one prove their worth. That was my thought process, right or wrong I guess. And…the rest is history.”
The thorns only left a few scratches as they opened up into a crescent-shaped clearing. The light from the sunset streamed through the trees.
“The Adirondack chairs are still here. Do you see that Mike, there still here? Just as they were when David told him the news. The same chairs from Chapter 12. The chair in which he read his little brother’s Voice of Democracy Essay. The necessity for All Gave Some, An American Narrative, happened here in this spot.” Jonathan revered at the moment, his heart pounded, and he breathed in every detail.
Leaves and branches had collected in the dipped seat of the chairs. Chipping paint and moss covered the rest.
Jonathan lifted a rusty hook connected to a tree next to him. “These have seen better days. This was a hammock that used to be here. And there is the fire ring.” He pointed in front of the chairs to a rusty bottom of a barrel surrounded by stacked stones. “ The light of the fire illuminated Dave’s grinning face,” Jonathan said, quoting the words in Chapter 12.
Mike stared at the fire ring, knowing its power as a centerpiece at the table of knowledge, thought, and creativity. A symbol of youth, and the power of friendship and camaraderie. It is the tether that ties us to seeking the best of ourselves. He looked over at Jonathon clearing the sticks and leaves, scooping them into his arms, then dumping them behind a large maple nearby. Mike followed suit.
Their bodies slid into the high-backed seats. Their heads leaned back looking through the leafy canopy to the darkening sky. There was silence, except for the slight rustle of the trees from a gentle breeze dancing by them, leaving the scent of sap and pine needles. After a couple of minutes, Jonathan turned to his big brother. “You know I love writing stories.”
“Yes, of course, I know that. I also think you are great at it.”
“That seems like a stretch, but thanks. But, my point is this. Years ago, I wrote a letter to him.”
“Him? Do you mean Craftsman? Mike asked.
“Yeah, P.H. Craftsman himself. I sent him a short story along with a note. The story was about a disgruntled plumber and four houses he’s working on. One homeowner was an old man whom the plumber couldn’t stand because of how ornery he was. Then he found out the old-timer was a prisoner of war in World War II. Another household was a young couple who were constantly taking their frustrations out on the plumber only to find out they were having trouble conceiving a baby. It's a story about perceiving people through our first impressions which limits a person’s value and deprives us of empathy. The note I attached with it was simple.
“Mr. Craftsman, your perspectives and insights have enriched my life, and I am grateful.”
Mike stared at Jonathan. “Did he write back?”
“Yeah. The letter was done on an old typewriter he found in the basement of a local flower shop in the small town he lived in. It said, Jonathon, you have a natural talent for the language. Writing is hard work regardless of talent, so stick with it and do not be discouraged. If one person is impacted by a single sentence you produce, you are successful. Create images of the moments you need to experience in life, then work towards them with vigor and determination. Our legacy is rooted in our subconscious. Imagine those moments and make them happen. Take the journey, it is always worth it. One last thought… empathy opens the door to the greatest stories and teaches us the most about ourselves. Yours Truly, P.H. Craftsman.
“And you memorized that? Like I’ve said, you never cease to amaze me.” Mike grinned, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I’ve read it more than once. And it confirmed for me what my soul had felt since I was a kid. And was further confirmed when I read All Gave Some for the first time.”
“What do you mean?” Mike asked, surprised at the response.
Jonathan leaned forward, elbows on his knees, with folded hands, and looked directly into Mike’s eyes. “What was the moment that changed your life?”
“That’s an easy one. I remember like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the sofa watching TV. Emma came into the room and stood in front of me with a dubious look. Her eyes twinkled and her hands were folded in front of her. Dad, she said.” Mike hesitated, rubbed his head with his palm. “She had started calling me dad when she was seven, and I remember how happy I was then. She said, dad, you know Father's Day is coming up soon. I smiled and replied I was aware. Why? Are you getting me something cool? Because you know, the coolest stuff for the coolest dad. We both smiled. She twisted her cheeks and seemed nervous. Dad, you know I plan on doing big things with my life. I plan on winning awards and scholarships and graduating from college. I nodded. She continued. Well, you have been such a part of my life that I want your last name associated with all of it. I want people to see all my accomplishments and know it's because you’re my dad and I’m your daughter. So if you're ok with it, I’d like to change my last name to yours legally.” Mike watched the sky darken through the canopy of leaves. My world was complete.”
Jonathan rubbed his chin. “I love that story brother. She’s lucky to have you.”
“I’m the lucky one. What a blessing to earn the love of a child who has put their trust in you to be there for them, and in return, you get all the beauty and grace they can offer in a single human being. She has taught me more than anyone on what is important, and how to be a better person. ” Mike wiped his face with his palm.
Jonathan reached into the satchel and removed a pristine paperback book. He handed it to Mike. “What’s this?”
“The book I’ve been working on most of my life. I guess you could say it has finally come to fruition and I wanted us to be in this place and I wanted you to be the first one to see it. I have wanted this moment since I wrote my first short story in elementary school. I pictured that cover since the day I read All Gave Some in high school. I knew this moment would come.”
Straining his eyes to catch the last of the light, Mike studied the cover. He grinned, looking at an image of two men sitting in Adirondack chairs surrounded by trees with a sunset in the background. In bold white letters, the title read Pilgrimage to Indian City.
“Brother I’ve listened to all your tales and watched you carry out your adventures and responsibilities. So there it is,” Jonathan nodded toward the book, “you gave me the perfect story, all I had to do was put it into words.”