The Timekeeper: John Atkinson
Imagine living inside a box with no place to go and having no one to talk to or care for you. Now, imagine living within a home where your father beats and berates you and a mother who is helpless and can no longer defend or protect you. Feeling isolated, alone, neglected and unsure of where you belong in this world your only recourse is to break free, find another life and decide just how far you can go on your own.
Exploration, finding your own identity and realizing that your potential lies within yourself are just some of what Johnnyboy, a fourteen year old teen will learn as he takes a journey, finds his way and realizes that the answers he needs are within himself. Living with an abusive father, a mother who is Cherokee but unable to combat the anger with his abusive father, Bugdaddy, he leaves the sanctity of his family and home to travel and find his place in the world. On foot, living off the land, working at odd jobs and hoping to survive, Johnnyboy meets many people along the way. Learning that kindness is not so foreign, accepting rides from those he feels he can trust he winds up in front of the home of two amazing people who take him in, cloth and feed him and hoped that he would remain. But, his restless soul tells him that the journey has just begun. Going alone on foot and by car he meets a man called Chief whose insight, wisdom and visions set him on a path that will take him to many different locations, meeting people of different means and finding that there are some who will guide and understand him, nurture him and even help him learn the skills needed to survive. Others will try to harm him, take things from him including his dignity and self-worth while reminding him through dreams and visions of the past and the reasons why he needed to find his own way understand who he is before coming to terms with his limitations and realizing that he can overcome anything.
Calling him the Timekeeper which seems to fit the storyline as the author defines the term related to Johnnyboy as meaning “ the spell had taken me beyond time to a place where there wasn’t a clock to make the years.” Learning that keeping track of the time, taking him to a spot just beyond the beginning of things. A timekeeper as I see him in this story keeps tracks of his events, reverts to the past, shares the reasons why he left home and finds his way into the future by sharing his journey in his own voice. Like a journal that requires no written language but the visual images tell the story.
Sometimes we meet someone that becomes part of our lives and helps us in our quest to find what we are looking for. Within this story the Timekeeper has a companion named Check. A gray dog that appears disappears and seems almost human. Could he be from another time, is he real, why can he seem to control the young boy, understand his moods, his feelings and guide him. Check: a perfect name for someone that checks on you, keeps you in check and will always make sure to check you are safe and secure. A dog that reacts as Johnnyboy does to the faces of others sees the good and the bad and helps him rise to the top of the Sacred Mountain to find his great spirit. Within the realm of the mountain something magical happens both good and bad as he remembers the past and shares with those of us going along on the journey what his teachers said to make him feel unworthy, what his father did to him and how on the mountain he could be himself and not have to play a part anymore. One gift is all he needed but now at the top of the mountain as the Chief told him was not the time to ask for anything. Obedient, listening the Chief’s voice within him he forges on. Through many states, meeting many people and disappointed when Chief is not at home. Meeting a man named Jeff and his wife Martha who taught him the meaning of love and kindness and gave him a home, a car and allowed him to earn his way. Next came Pete whose home was filled with books and who gave him to courage to realize he too can learn to read and would soon be able to understand the printed page even on his own.
From the beginning of the story until the dramatic ending this young man grows in many ways and matures in so may others. Responsible, respectful and determined to find his own place in the world The young man with the aid of Check realizes that he can do better, others will never put him down and someday he will show them all.
Fear never really enters his mind and Check seemed to comprehend what he wanted and needed. They became one and the same and you often wonder if the dog did not have some mystical or magical powers or if he was sent until no longer needed. When faced with danger he follows Check’s lead. But, when facing obstacles all alone would he find his way to Chief’s house, where did Pete live and what would be his final destination?
The time period is the early fifties and sixties where times are changing and people live differently as these young half-greed runs away after being criticized, chastised and thought to be unable to learn. Where teachers did not have the where with all to try and work with him they deemed him impossible to learn and he made sure he was. Learning that there are many good people in the world and hoping to someday find his way back to them he never loses sight of his goals.
From Oklahoma, to Texas, to New Mexico and back again this young man with the power instilled in him by Chief, a medicine man, learns to understand himself, life in a sense and realize the meaning of the name The Timekeeper. Knowledge is power and he soon realizes it even though in the classroom he felt out of place. With the help of Chief, and his name, he realizes that his visions might come true and as he travels to the Sacred Mountain, leaves feeling empowered the with the mescal buttons used for ceremonial reasons he become empowered.
What is real and what are visions that he sees from the past to make him stronger in the present or future. With the help of Check his guidance, his wisdom and insight he overcomes many obstacles, sees an armed gas station robbery and what happens to those involved.
The author takes readers inside the mind and thoughts of not only the young boy but Check do as they work as one, take jobs to earn money, learn to create license plates and finding his way back to the Chief. But, when he thinks he’s in Arizona and learns that he is not, he follows his instincts, visits his favorite aunt and then with Check at his side continues on. Never giving up and always hoping to learn more about himself and what happens when the one companion he needs is no longer there?
Page 236 reminds us that he is still not sure of himself as he chastises himself for thinking that he can make something out of his life after getting to Chief’s house. But, one last encounter will enlighten readers to be it an apparition or a Native American man. The ending is quite compelling. His final words will let you know that the journey has more to go and the as the “spirits talk to one another, not with words but with signs of how it is with the ways of the world,” “ ones who are be frightened, but innocent hears will know it the one Chief Called THE TIMEKEEPER,” whose life has now become part dream and part reality and when the time comes for him to enter the spirit world he will run with the Wind! A story of understanding, acceptance, love, abuse, regrets, hope and survival as author John Atkinson sets a story in the past but it could take place even in the present as a young boy learns the true meaning of survival, understanding and most of all his identity. Imagine no longer being confined to that box.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer