Mountain Child

Prologue

 

It was a very weary Jim Moore who arrived at his Wichita home following a long day of surgery and a long evening of rounds. Two families had needed to talk to him, to be reassured and to gain information about their loved ones. It was just after nine o'clock when he lowered himself into his favorite chair and turned on the television.

The introductory scenes of a play were showing. He bit into his sandwich and watched as two children from the depression era, wearing the tattered garb of mountain children, found themselves being drawn by their own curiosity into a web of danger against a moonshiner. Just when one stepped on a broken twig, alerting the still operator to their presence, the music rose, the screen blacked out, and the scene changed to a view of a scenic valley as taken from atop a mountain.

Standing there, looking out over it, was a slender man in his thirties, a man with a fair complexion and dark hair.  He wore a plaid shirt with woven tie and corduroy sports coat with jeans and suede lace-ups.

Jim sat instantly forward in his seat. It couldn't be!

"Good evening. I'm John Andrews, and we're in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, overlooking the Shenandoah Valley," the man said in a rich, baritone voice identical to his own.

It was! It was John! It was his twin! Jim heard no more of either his brother's introduction or the program as his mind tried to comprehend what he was seeing. That was John on the screen! Andrews! He was using his middle name, their mother's maiden name, as his surname. He'd done it! He'd become the writer he always dreamed of being. The play was captivating, very well written. John had written that? Yes, he was sure that he had.  John wrote with that degree of sensitivity.

As the play ended and the credits began to roll, Jim watched his brother walk away from the scenic overlook and to a 1930s-genre pickup truck and drive away. He read the credits as they rolled on the screen. Jim wrote down the name of the college that had helped to produce the play. Perhaps, they could help him locate his brother.

Finally, after eighteen years, he would know his brother again.  Tears came to his eyes, and his thoughts retraced all the years of searching, all the dashed hopes, all the fears that something had happened to his brother and that he'd never see him or hear his voice again. He didn't even know why his then-seventeen-year-old twin had left home, only that when he had left, he'd had no intention of returning.

But, then, doubts began to set in. Perhaps, John wouldn't want to know him. Surely, if he'd changed his name, he'd not wanted to be found. Yes, that was a possibility, but it was a risk Jim would have to take. In the meantime, he would see his brother and hear his voice and ensure himself that he was not lying dead in an unmarked grave, unknown and unloved.

 

- - - - -

A sign before one of only four buildings comprising the small liberal arts college told Jim Moore that it housed the English Department. Entering, he found it to be nearly empty late that Friday afternoon. A few rumbles of conversation could be heard here and there; a few footsteps could be heard upon the terrazzo floors. As per a building directory, he took a broad staircase located midway down the corridor to his destination on the second floor. There, the halls were even quieter.

 

Jim saw that each occupant's name was typed upon a white index card and contained within a brass holder tacked to each door. Another, smaller directory for the English Department revealed his brother to be a writer-in-residence. Jim started down the hall, studying room numbers, and was nearing corridor's end and beginning to worry when he noticed that a short length of hallway made a sharp turn to the right. At its end was yet another office. Its room number and the name of its occupant were not visible to him; its occupant was.

There he was! In the small, recessed office, facing a computer screen, his fingers flying as he put thoughts to keyboard, was John Andrews Moore. Jim paused in the doorway and studied the figure. His dark hair, worn a bit shaggy but not long, was tinged with grey at the temples. His once-sharp eyes now peered through stove-lid spectacles.  He wore the plaid shirt, woven tie, and suede lace-ups that he'd worn on television the night before; the corduroy sports coat hung on the back of his chair.

Jim's gaze traveled to the index card on the open door, and he read, "Office Hours by Appointment Only." Even though Jim did not have an appointment, he knocked on the door.

"Go to the office and schedule an appointment," came a grumbled reply as the fingers continued to type. No change there! John never had wanted to have his writing disturbed.

Jim chuckled quietly. "I want to tell you what I thought of Mountain Child." 

"Won't do you any good. It's already gone to press."

"It reminded me of something my twin brother once wrote. I was the athlete in the family; he was the writer. I played softball; he sat on the sidelines and wrote about the children who chased rabbits in the brush at the edge of the field."

The typing ceased, and slowly the figure in the chair began to turn. A very soft whisper of disbelief came forth. "Jim!"

"Hello, John. How are you?" Jim asked quietly as he studied the figure before himself.

John nodded slowly. "How did you find me?"

"Do you want to hear about the first eighteen years or the last..." He stopped to consult his watch.  "...the last twenty hours?"

When John did not reply, Jim continued. "I arrived at home last night to see the opening scene of Mountain Child and my brother driving off in a battered, old pickup truck. Of course, I took the first flight."

"Ah!" John acknowledged.

"Those are real honors, being named writer-in-residence by a college and having your book made into a movie."

"Yes," John admitted. "It came as a real surprise when they offered it to me."

"I don't know why. If Mountain Child is any indication, you deserve it."

"Thank you." John studied his brother.

"May I ask you a question?"

"I suppose so."

"Was that your truck -- on the show?"

John shook his head. "We borrowed that 1937 Ford pick-up truck from a farmer. He purchased it third-hand when he got back from the war and has been driving it ever since." As he spoke, he wrote his work into the computer's memory. Then, he took up the corduroy jacket and donned it.

"You’re too thin," Jim told him. "Are you ill?"

"No, I'm not ill."

"You weren't this thin on television."

"The television camera adds fifteen pounds."

John studied his brother as he walked out the door. Yep! His demeanor told the tale: Jim had caved in and done exactly what their father had commanded of them both. He'd become a doctor.

"Thank you for the advice, Dr. Moore," John quipped.

"Not everyone's as gutsy as you are, okay?"

"There's no country club in my life, Jim. And let's face it: I didn't exactly stay at home to play the dutiful son."

"It always seemed to me that you did what you had to do. He was smothering you."

When John did not reply, they walked along together in silence. Actually, John was curious about his brother; he simply wasn't ready to show any interest in him. Still, he wondered what kind of doctor he was: A general practitioner, who'd studied no more than the minimum required or a specialist, who clearly took medicine seriously. If his freshly scrubbed, sparsely trimmed nails were any indication, he was a surgeon of some sort.

As if reading John's thoughts, Jim said, "I'm a cardiologist."

John looked around at him and chuckled mildly. "That took quite a lot of studying."

"Yes."

"Far beyond the amount which you could have gotten away with if all you were doing was meeting Dad's demands."

"Yes."

"Maybe you want to be a doctor."

Jim nodded. "I enjoy it very much."

"Uh, yes. You appear to have stepped right into the role."

"Let's not give cardiology all the credit. I've found my twin today, don't forget."

John said no more. As they reached a white sedan, he inserted a key into the door lock. "How'd you get here?"

"I rented a car at the airport."

Assured that his brother had transportation, John got into his car and started the engine. Before Jim could do more than step back, out of the way, he drove away.

- - - - -

Jim's heart sank as he watched the car disappear toward the highway. His worst fear had been realized: His brother did not want to see him. Determined not to be put off so easily, he got into his own car and went after him. Driving south on Route 29, he followed two car lengths behind his brother. South of Charlottesville, Jim found himself in an altogether different world. Here, the rolling hills had risen sharply to the Blue Ridge Mountains. In a mere moment, he had passed from the sophistication of urban Charlottesville to a rural simplicity that startled Jim.

Jim realized that, if John was aware of being followed, he was giving no indication. He found himself wondering what his home was like. Did he live in a log cabin? Read by kerosene lamps? Sit upon tree stumps?

 

Before Jim could pursue those thoughts, his brother turned left onto a narrow, two-lane road. Following, Jim felt the car rising to still greater heights. The road wound its way around the mountainside until, all of a sudden, it came to an end. There, John stopped beside one, lone mailbox and, without alighting, emptied its contents. Then, he started off again, to the right, where a gravel lane continued to climb. Jim followed him for another half-mile, until  it, too, ran out. There, in a small clearing beside a stream and backing to a hillside, was John's home.

It wasn't a log cabin. Rather, it was a century-old stone house.  The lawn was impeccably landscaped with fruit trees, flowering beds, and, along the stream, a winding footpath. At one point, the path crossed the stream via a white bridge with arched railings. On the opposite side of the stream, a large stone had been flattened on top (by John or by Mother Nature, Jim wondered) as though to make a table, while a smaller stone beside it seemed as though it were a bench. Jim knew without asking that his brother whiled away many an hour, writing there. When he looked around and saw the splendid panorama that could be seen from that bench and table, he knew why. To the other side of the house was a large garden enclosed in what appeared to be tennis netting. Carefully tilled rows bore vegetables of seemingly every description and in every stage of development.

"That can't keep out insects," Jim observed as he followed his brother onto the front porch.

"No. I need birds and insects for pollination. The net keeps out the animals. My first year gardening, the deer and raccoons feasted well, while I went to the market."

"I'm sure!" Jim chuckled. "This is beautiful, John."

"It's home," John muttered as unlocked the front door and stepped inside. He walked throughout the house, opening windows, allowing a cool, gentle breeze to blow through.

Jim found white bead-board walls, a large, stone fireplace flanked by shelves that were completely filled with books. Over the fireplace, upon a mantelpiece, hung a Federal mirror. Pots of ivy grew on either side of it. A trio of brass candlesticks was arranged to either side of it, while a vase of Oriental design stood to the other side. Windsor arm chairs stood upon a red Oriental rug over plank-and-peg flooring, separated by a handsome piecrust table. Opposite the fireplace stood a long, camelback sofa covered in a red chintz. Before the sofa stood a parquet-inlaid butler's tray table, while Chippendale tables topped with brass lamps stood at either end. White, louvered shutters hung at the windows.

 

Two things were certain: First, John was no hungry artist; second, this was not the home of a hermit.

 

On the back wall of the room, a turned-rail staircase rose to a second storey. Picture hooks arose along the wall, but there were no pictures upon them. Jim frowned and looked around at two other spans of wall where other hooks bore no pictures. He was unable to understand what he saw.

Hearing steps on the wooden porch beyond, Jim looked out to see his brother going down steps, a large wooden bowl tucked under his arm. He followed and watched as his brother picked vegetables from the garden, then went beneath the house. John returned minutes later with glass jars of canned fruit.

"I'm impressed, John," Jim said as they walked inside.

"Are you?" John asked.

"Yes. I like what you've made for yourself."

"It suits me."

"Dad had no right, you know," Jim insisted, "throwing your chemistry grade up to you when you came in with the news that your short story was being published. Your first! You were so excited! Dad should have shared your joy. He had no right to put you down by ridiculing your story and lambasting you about your chemistry grade."

When John didn't reply, Jim continued. "Don't let what Dad said color your whole life."

Again, John did not reply. Instead, he busied himself in the kitchen, putting the vegetables on to cook and making a salad and pouring the canned pears and peaches into bowls. Several times, he appeared to be on the verge of saying something; several times, he withdrew.

"What is it, John?"

"He had no right to break my date.”

"Break your date? Dad?"

"With Marianne Porter. I asked her to the prom, and she accepted.  She wanted to go with me! She even invited me to come over to her house for dinner before the prom. That night was going to be good.  I was going to use the money from my job to rent a tux and buy her the prettiest orchid corsage I could find. All I had to do was figure out a way to come up with a car. No way was I going to let Dad drive us."

"You had a job?"

John nodded. "At the Burger Barn."

"I didn't know that!"

"I didn't tell anyone about it. Dad would have made me quit."

"Probably. Go on."

"I worked from three until six, after school, and told Mom and Dad that I was staying after school to work on a project."

"Yes. I thought you were staying late."

"Anyway, I just about had transportation worked out. Kevin was getting his dad's car; we'd double date. He was taking Marianne's friend, Sally Thompson, so it'd work out okay. They were having dinner with us, too."

"Sounds like a great evening."

"It would have been, except Dad found out I was going when he ran into Kevin's dad at the shopping center that morning. He went straight to Marianne and convinced her to break the date."

"He went to Marianne?"

John nodded. "She came over and said she didn't know what to do.  She didn't think Dad should have gone behind my back, and she really wanted to go to the dance with me, but she didn't want to get caught up in Dad's and my disagreement." John began placing bowls containing their dinner on the table. "I gave her the corsage, anyway."

"Yes. She was wearing a gorgeous corsage at the dance that night."

"She went, anyway?"

"Yes. She went with a group of her friends who didn't have dates.  Some of the guys were teasing her about giving herself a corsage. She flew into a rage. Told them that someone very special had given it to her. Then, she fled in tears. I thought she'd gone home, but when I went out at intermission, I found her sitting on a bench, admiring the orchids. She'd been crying. I didn't know she was crying for you."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing. She didn't want to talk to me."

John nodded slowly as he stirred each pot on the stove. "Well, after that, nothing was the same between me and Dad. A few weeks later, I got home to find that I'd gotten a letter in the mail from The Reader's Companion magazine. They'd liked my short story and wanted to publish it. All I had to do was sign the contract they'd sent, and the check for $300 was mine! I signed the contract on the spot! Mailed it back that very night!

"Then, Dad came home, and I told him about it. He didn't want to hear about it. He'd just come from the conference with Mr. Ashmore. Started ranting and raving about how I'd never become a doctor if I couldn't even pass high school chemistry. When I told him I didn't want to be a doctor, he said I'd never amount to anything. So, I packed my things and left."

"Sounds to me like you did the only thing you could."

"I didn't know where to go. All I knew was that I was going to get as far away from Dad as I could. Never again was I going to let him ridicule what I did. It was either him or me at that point, a matter of survival. I had money from my job and the check from my short story. I hitchhiked to town and caught a bus. At first, I figured I'd go to Texas. Marianne was from Texas; always said good things about it. I'd go down there and see what I could find. Except, for some reason, I kept riding. Spent some time in various places along the way, but ultimately, I'd get back on the bus and ride some more. I didn't know what I was looking for. I still don't know what I was looking for.

"Except that Charlottesville looked good. I got a room. Found a job at a department store, clerking in the men's department. I liked that. Got a discount on whatever I needed what they sold. It was quiet, except for sale days and weekends. I figured I'd consider myself a writer, who was supplementing his income, clerking, like the boys who go to New York and wait tables while trying to break into acting. On my 1040, I was a writer. That made it official."

"With the publication of my second book, I figured it was time to make some changes. I figured I'd live in the mountains, where I could walk down the road without a half-dozen people stopping me for my autograph. One day, while riding out here, I saw a For Sale sign in front of this place. The price seemed reasonable.

“Of course, there were drawbacks. It had no running water, electricity, or telephone. I wired and plumbed the place, brought it back to what it once had been – the hardwood floors, the bead-board walls, and all. Had an excavation company come in and dig out some rock so I could have a garden. The first two years, my time went into this place. Still, I found that I could write out here. I could feel the stories I was writing. I could imagine my characters walking along these lanes, and I could hear how their speech would sound. Actually, writing became easier."

"Yes, I think it would," Jim agreed. "So, you're happier, here."

John nodded. "I like it here. No one bothers me. At least, not as many people bother me. There's still some of it." To make his point, he walked out to the sitting room and, from beside his desk, drew out a large mail bag stuffed to the brim. "This stuff bothers me more now than then."

"Fan mail?"

"Fan mail," John agreed as he slung it back into its corner.

Jim chuckled. "The life of a celebrity!"

"Please, spare me!"

Jim chuckled again. "But tell me: Don't the people here view you as an outsider?"

"It was kind of strained for a time, when I first came. Then, I contracted appendicitis. Rang down to the market for help. Some of the men came for me, drove me into Charlottesville, to the hospital. That broke the ice. They came and invited me to church. I go every week.  I've got to have my religion. Each year, on Palm Sunday, they ask me to tell the children a story. I write a morality tale for them. They bring me canned fruit every spring and canned vegetables every fall.  These are Mrs. Adams' peaches and pears. Hers are the best."

Jim smiled at his brother. "You've made a nice life for yourself."

John nodded. "It suits me."

He studied his brother, wanting to ask about him, yet being unwilling to show interest in him. Still, he wondered who he'd married. Was it anyone he knew? Did he have children? Again, Jim provided the information as though he'd heard his thoughts.

"You should know that I married Sarah Johannsen."

"You've got a good one."

"The best!"

John nodded. "Yes. Sarah was real fine. Do you have kids?"

"One. A boy. John."

John looked at his brother in surprise. "You named him after me?"

"I had to. It was the only name that came to mind. He's a fine lad. You'll like him."

 

John nodded slowly, studying his brother. "How old is he?"

 

"Seven."

 

"Seven. That's a cute age. No front teeth?"

 

"Not a one!"

 

They both chuckled, and John arose and began clearing dishes from the table and carrying them to the sink. Jim carried the rest over, then leaned against the refrigerator and watched John do the dishes. There, his gaze fell upon a stack of papers on the counter – legal papers – a will. He used the tip of his finger to push aside an upper page in order to see the name on the will. Yes. It was the Last Will and Testament of Caroline Evans Andrews. As he started to lifted it, John's angry hand slammed down upon it.

"Leave that alone!" his angry voice exploded as his hand snatched it away and shoved it atop the refrigerator.

"Ohmigod," Jim whispered as he looked over at his brother. "You're recently widowed." He picked up  two smaller pages which had fallen out. One was a death certificate; the other was a newspaper article about a traffic accident. The first, John snatched away from him. Jim held the other out of his reach and began to read. The article included photographs of a woman and two children, Caroline, Melissa, and James Andrews. The accident had happened in February, during an ice storm. Caroline Andrews's car had slid on ice and into a ditch, where it had rolled down an embankment. All three had been killed. The children had been twins, aged seven, the same age as his own son.

"I'm sorry, John, as sorry as I can be."

"Don't be. At least, they no longer have to put up with this crappy life."

Jim walked over to his brother. There, he took the spoon John was washing away from him and lay it aside and drew him into his arms and held him very securely. "Yes, I'm sure life feels very crappy now."

Feeling his brother's shoulders beginning to heave and his tears on his shoulder, Jim secured his hold upon him. To no great surprise, John collapsed in sobs and wails, clinging to him as though for life, itself, as if begging in the only way he knew how for his brother to help him, just as he'd allowed him to read the article to learn what he was unable to tell him. Jim scooped up his thin figure and carried him to the table. How light he was, no heavier than a child. My God! He'd nearly starved himself to death!

In time, John's sobs gave way to quiet whimpers, and then, he fell asleep, clearly exhausted. Jim continued to hold him until his sleep grew deep, then carried him to bed and covered him with a beautiful, hand-sewn wedding-ring quilt. The initials "CA" in one corner told Jim that Caroline had made it.

- - - - -

 

The next morning, John waked to find himself in his own bed. He did not remember how he had come to be there, but it did not bother him. He felt good, for coming from the kitchen were aromas of good things to eat. Momentarily, he forgot that Caroline was gone. Rising, he went out to join her. In her place, he found his brother making breakfast.

"Hungry?" Jim asked him.

Too disappointed to speak, John nodded and sat at the table as Jim set biscuits, bacon, and scrambled eggs before him and poured orange juice and coffee.

John rubbed his eyes. "Mac came by with the groceries, I see."

"Yes, and a lady brought some strawberry jam."

"Um. Good. She makes the best!"

"The peach and pear lady?"

"No. That's Mrs. Adams. Mrs. Monroe makes the best jam."

"Ah!" Jim smiled as he joined him with his own plate. "The ladies do seem to take care of you."

"I must remind them of their sons."

"Or maybe they just like you."

"They liked Caroline."

Jim watched his brother eat, noticing that he seemed hungry. That was good. He had to get him to start eating.

"Caroline taught school," John mumbled.

"Yes? What did she teach?"

"English. We met in freshman composition and went through college together. Married on graduation day."

"No kidding!"

John nodded. "We eloped. She had to have a lump removed from her breast the next day. We decided we were in it for the duration and went to the rectory. Father George married us."

"It's best to go through those things together."

"Turned out to be a cyst."

"That's fortunate."

John nodded. "Two years later, the twins came. Somehow, it never had occurred to me that twins could be a girl and a boy. We only had boys’ names picked out."

Jim chuckled.

"We named Melissa after Caroline's sister."

"It's a beautiful name."

John nodded. "She was beautiful. Jimmy, too."

"You named your son after me?"

John nodded. "It was the only name that seemed to fit."

Jim beamed proudly. "Yes. That's how it was when John was born.  Nothing else seemed right."

They both smiled.

"Jimmy played T-ball. His friends in school had a team. In the winters, they would take their sleds to the hill behind the church.  They would spend a whole day there, then come in frozen to the bone, but happy."

Jim smiled at his brother. "John, too. T-ball and sledding."

"I'll bet they would have liked each other."

"No doubt about it."

They heard the whistle of a steam locomotive then. Jim looked up with interest.

 

"Did I hear what I think I did?"

"That's Old 244," John explained. "The Barrington Valley Railroad transports soapstone flakes to the dust plant and provides excursion tours of the area for tourists."

"How far does it run?"

"Oh, about twenty miles, I expect," John replied as he pointed to the train passing beyond.

"Tourist day today," Jim chuckled as they saw cameras being poked from windows in their direction. "I believe they're snapping your house."

"Yes, the eccentric author has been added to the tour," John chuckled as he took two more slices of bacon and another biscuit.

Good! Jim had hoped John would eat if he cooked for him.

"Any chance of our getting a ride on that train?" Jim asked.

John looked in surprise at him. "You want to ride on it?"

"Sure! I've never ridden on a train before."

- - - - -

Even as they parked before the train depot, Old 244 pulled into the station and belched a huge billow of steam.

"Your fan club's here, I see," Jim remarked as he noticed heads craning for looks at the author.

John sighed. "We'll ride another day. Won't be so many tourists out during the work week."

"Let's ride now. It won't do any good to wait them out. There'll be fans everyday."

John gave a reluctant sigh and, leaving the car, followed his brother to the ticket window. Minutes later, the brothers boarded a 1920s-genre coach to find that the facing double seats had wing backs. On the side wall over each was a small hurricane lamp. Now powered by electricity, they once had been oil lamps. The twins chose seats in the center of the coach on the side that would face John's house as the train passed. He took the aisle seat to allow his brother to sit beside the window and enjoy the views. Before John could explain the history of the station house, he was approached by a woman of some seventy years.

"Excuse me, but aren't you John Andrews?"

"Yes, I am," John replied without enthusiasm. Maybe, if he didn't encourage her, she would go away. But, no. She didn't budge.

"Oh, Mr. Andrews! I just love your books!"

"Thank you," John told her, again without elaborating.

"My husband and I came to see where they're set. The scenery's always so beautiful on TV. We wanted to see it up close."

"Where's your home?"

"Calgary, Alberta."

"Canada? You've come all the way from Canada to see where I write?"

"Oh, yes! Your books are wonderful!"

"I see. Well, uh, I hope you'll enjoy your stay."

"Oh, we are!" She pulled one of his books from her purse and thrust it boldly in his direction. "Would you mind signing it for me?"

Nodding – for what else could he do – he accepted his brother's offer of a pen and opened the book to the title page. "What is your name?" he asked her.

"Anne Pemberton."

"To Anne Pemberton, who's come all the way from Calgary to see the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia," he wrote. Then, he signed his name.

She read it and was delighted. They shared a smile and nod, and the woman turned and walked back to her seat. Her place beside John was taken almost immediately by a young boy, who thrust his timetable at John for signature. Then, a middle-aged couple appeared. John glanced down the aisle to see that everyone in the coach was lined up to see him. He tried not to show his relief when, finally, he heard the conductor's bellow.

"All aboard!"

Moments later, John heard the conductor's voice saying, "Be seated, please. Please be seated," as it drew nearer and nearer. A pair of uniformed legs appeared before him as he signed yet another timetable. 

"But we have to have his autograph!" someone protested.

"Not on board the train, ma'am."

"Perhaps at the next station, while we wait for the engine to be turned around?" someone suggested.

"That will be up to Mr. Andrews," the conductor replied. "Everyone be seated, please, so we may leave."

John handed the timetable back to the teenage girl, who stood beside him and tried not to show the relief he felt that his train ride would not be spent signing autographs.

"Thanks, Fred."

The conductor chuckled as he punched their tickets, then nodded to Jim as he continued to make his way through the car. As the train pulled from the station and began to wind its way around the hillside, a voice came over a loudspeaker, and a tour guide began giving a history of the railroad and the area and pointing out sights along the way.

"This is delightful!" Jim remarked as they passed by a small meadow, where two horses grazed.

"To the south, you will see a stone house," the tour guide said.  "That is the home of writer John Andrews."

Laughter filled the car as the tour guide went on to give a history of the house and adjacent hill, and heads turned to look at John, who pretended not to have heard the tour guide's words. Now, fewer cameras were extended to take pictures of the house; they began to catch shots of him, instead. He took it good naturedly, although he did find himself wondering whether he'd ever again be able to go anywhere anonymously.

Not far beyond his house, they passed over the river with its small falls and rushing water. Willows grew on the banks beside large boulders, while rocks rose beyond to hillsides beyond. The train began to inch its way up an incline between a bank of boulders, the vista being momentarily shut off from view by the steep hillside through which the right-of-way had been sliced. At the other side of the hillside, the view opened onto a splendid panorama of trees blowing gently in the summer's breeze and of small homes scattered about.

Soon, the train reached the soapstone plant grounds. The train came to a halt, and two gondolas containing mining dust and debris were added to the end of the train.

"We'll drop off these cars at a plant in Kerry, that will grind them more thoroughly for manufacture into various products," the tour guide explained.

At Kerry, the train came to a halt, and the passengers were told to disembark.

"You'll have an hour here if you would like to tour the shops or have something to eat," they were told.

"I wrote Mountain Child here," John told his brother as they began to walk through the small town. "It's set in these hills. I walked all through them, scouting out the hollers and streams, then came back here to clean up my notes and drawings. It's all the way it would have been when Mary and James ran here for help, a sleepy mining town, pretty rough around the edges. Some of the buildings looking like they hadn't been used for fifty years, the old water tower across the way that constantly drips water. They'd still be using it during the depression. The old blacksmith's shop. You'd be able to hear the hammer and anvil and the occasional roar as the smithy bellowed the fire."

Jim smiled as he watched his brother's expression change as his thoughts drifted back to another time.

"Two children run in, desperately afraid, looking behind them to see how close the moonshiner is even as they look for some place to go for help. They run head-long into the station master, who is returning to the depot in time to receive the 11.25 from Charlottesville, and begin talking so fast, trying to explain their problem, that he can't make sense of any of it." John looked across the road to the station. "The sheriff sees the commotion and goes out, but before the children can make themselves understood, he sees the moonshiner toting his shotgun and puts two and two together." 

John glanced up and down the street as surely as if the scene actually were being played out before him. As he did, he became aware of applause and looked around to find that tourists from the train had been listening to him. His face reddened, and he turned away.

"Don't be embarrassed," his brother told him. "Let them enjoy hearing how you wrote your story. It's fascinating."

He glanced shyly at him. "Do you think so?"

"Yes! Now that you've explained it, I can see it. Before, all I saw was an old town that was trying to become a tourist stop."

John shook his head. "No, no. It's much more than that. Here, let me show you."

The brothers – with their entourage in tow – took off through the woods, noting all the places that had made their way into John's writings. Presently, they came upon the stream where the children in Mountain Child had skipped stones across the water. Jim picked up a rock and threw it. When it sank, John stepped forward.

"Here. Let me show you how to do that."

As John stepped up behind him and wrapped his hand over his and showed him how to position and grip the rock, Jim found himself smiling. He imagined his brother had been a very good father. He was, as always, a good brother, sharing the things that excited him. Soon, he, too, was able to skip rocks across the water. They remained and skipped rocks for several, long moments. Then, John turned with a chuckle to Jim. He slipped on the wet stones beneath his feet and would have fallen, except that Jim reached out and steadied him.

Hearing gasps around him and realizing that his entourage was still with him, John became embarrassed. "You don't have to...," he started to object.

"No, but it makes life easier, more enjoyable, when someone steps up to share a treasured pastime – lend a helping hand."

As John studied his brother and began to catch the meaning of his words, Jim looped his arm around his shoulders and led him away with a simple "Please excuse me" to the others.

"Don't be a hermit, John. Put your children's pictures back on those empty hooks. Teach your brother how to skip a stone across a creek. Share what you see with those who've never seen more than stainless steel, glass, and concrete. Tell me how your toddlers climbed into the bathtub with you and poured cups of water over your head."

"How did you know about that?"

"I saw the picture under the glass on your desk."

John nodded. "Caroline took pictures of everything."

"Good! Enjoy them and the memories they represent. You'll go on with your life, become the popular writer who can't go anywhere without signing autographs, be named writer-in-residence at the local college.... Just don't leave the rest of us behind. Let us go forward with you. Sometimes, you have to let people give to you, even when you'd rather not. Givers have just as many needs as receivers, after all."

John studied his brother. "You turned out pretty smart. What happened?"

"I searched for my brother out of need and, when I found him, I saw that he had as many needs as I."

John nodded. "Come on. Let's go back. The train will be leaving soon."

"Okay, but this time I get the aisle seat."

"You want it? Why?"

"I'm going to pass myself off as the noted writer. Forge a few autographs."

John grinned, and they ducked behind dense foliage to swap clothes as they had done so many times, growing up, when they had wanted to throw others off the track. For the next hour, John sat back and looked on with great amusement as Jim carried on conversations with the other passengers and signed their timetables.

Then, looking up the aisle, his eye caught that of Anne Pemberton from Calgary, Alberta. She winked at him – just to let him know that she knew.

"How'd you know?" he asked as they debarked.

"I have twin sons of my own. I know all the tricks."

John and Jim threw their heads back and laughed merrily.

Copyright (c) 1996, Virginia Tolles. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2011 - 2020, Virginia Tolles. All rights reserved.

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