By John Thomas Tuft

The achingly progressive exclusive private school yearly harvests over six hundred students from the ranks of the rich and famous in the Pittsburgh area, elite and erudite in its earnestness for its graduates to pledge allegiance to the all-encompassing motto of  “society owes itself listening to you for your being able to afford self-absorption.” Sewickley Academy is in the charming, sleepy borough along the Ohio River of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, one of the towns displaying former summer homes for the likes of the steel and manufacturing barons such as Andrew Carnegie, H. J. Heinz, Henry Clay Frick, and a slew of Mellons, to boot. The families of those who nurtured and tortured the city of Pittsburgh and left it with endowments, universities and large buildings adorned with their good names, marooned working classes, and an inferiority complex fed by professional sports teams. Sewickley has its share of large churches with steeples and proud heritages, nestled among the tree lined streets, whose leafiness has earned them their own Shady Tree Commission. Churches also need to stay near the taproot of money, or they start to simply seem pitiful. After all, what use is a church without money, or land, or a building?

On a certain day, one Mister Chester Goodenreadi hopped off a freight train idling on the tracks under the Sewickley Bridge while the railyards further north in Conway made room for it.  He wandered across the immaculate sports fields of the Academy and stumbled upon one of the five gardens that make up the school’s Secret Garden project. With a couple of tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers borrowed from the Victory Garden in his pockets, he wandered downtown past Sewickley Presbyterian, Sewickley Methodist (united, no less), St Stephens Episcopal and sat down in sight of St. James Catholic and St. Paul’s Lutheran, never the twain shall meet. Apparently North Way Christian did not get the memo about location but somehow Chester knew they were out there earnestly proclaiming they had no denominational affiliation whatsoever, thank you very much.

Chester Goodenreadi sagged his weary bones onto a bench in the small white gazebo perched near the quaint, if not adorable, downtown shops and waited. It so happened that as he waited, the good Rector of Saint Stephens toddled by, late for a most important meeting. Chester thought this might be his chance and followed the good rector to his most important meeting. It turns out that the good rector was going to a meeting of the Sewickley Valley Ministerial Association in the Eat N Park restaurant, where the coffee flows hot and the grilled stickies are to die for. There they all sat, the professional clergy of Sewickley, arrayed like bottles of fine wines in one of Sewickley’s finest boutique establishments, waiting to be sipped and swirled. They greeted the good rector as one of their own, waved him to a seat, then noticed Chester Goodenreadi waiting by the door.

“Can we help you?” asked one of the revered ones. Chester Goodenreadi stood at the end of the table and said, “How do I get the most out of life? I can eat today, don’t know about tomorrow. I can sleep in a freight car tonight, don’t know about tomorrow.” He went on in all earnestness, “I’m in a beautiful town today with lots of shady trees, don’t know about tomorrow. No one cares where I am today, don’t know about tomorrow. Is that the most out of life? If this is the last night I go to sleep, did I live for the most?” The Presbyterian immediately began calling around for input, arranging the ideas decently and in order, of course. The Methodist started to lay out a method for finding the answer, naturally. The North Way minister thrust a finger into the Bible, reading quickly while putting together a membership packet with colorful pictures. The Lutheran and the Roman Catholic, the Episcopalian…well, you get the idea. Bottles of fine wine are all about what is inside, wouldn’t you know. The bottle, the fancy store? That just jacks up the price.

Sally the waitress laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s your name, stranger?” “I’m Chester, Chester Goodenreadi,” said the supplicant. Sally laughed, in that way that makes you feel all good inside. “Well, Chester Goodenreadi, if you aren’t careful, those folks will try to convert you.” Chester scratched his head, “Convert me? Into what?” Sally looked sad. “I don’t think they know, Chester.” He grabbed her hand. “Do you know how to get the most?” Sally closed her eyes for a moment, then placed her hand on Chester’s heart. “Be empty, Chester. Just be empty. In here.”

By the time the Sewickley Valley Ministerial Association reached what they considered to be a good plan at a fair price, Chester Goodenreadi was halfway to Cleveland.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.