It was a treasure map, hand-drawn and filled with sketches and illustrations in various colors, all surrounded by a detailed border with fancy swoops and curlicues like a carved picture frame.
“See what that says?” He indicated the Old English lettering at the top of the map. “It says ‘Treasure Map to Success.’”
Below that was a group of kidney-shaped islands connected by dotted lines, surrounded by a blue ocean that he’d labeled the Sea of Success. In the upper right-hand corner, he’d drawn an elaborate black-and-red compass with arrows pointing in the cardinal directions. At the bottom he’d sketched a skull and crossbones with dark holes for eyes.
“Wanna go on a treasure hunt?” he said, rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth.
We started at the bottom of the map where two swords with thick, shiny blades crisscrossed under the words Start Here. Near that, a pirate ship with three wind-filled sails followed a dotted line to the first island, marked “Elementary School.” There was a small red schoolhouse on the island, with a bunch of musical notes drifting out of the window along with some numbers and letters.
“Ya see? This is where you learn your ABCs. Do you know your ABCs yet?”
“A B C G D B E …”
“Boy, are you smart. Lemme see now. How old are you?”
“I’m almost six.”
“Six? Wow. How’d you get to be so smart?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must take after your old man.” He patted the top of my head. His touch felt heavy, and I leaned away to avoid getting thumped again with the back of his ring.
“Okay, matey!” he bellowed, turning back to the map. “Let’s see what’s on yonder horizon.” He placed his finger on another pirate ship that looked just like the first. It followed another dotted line across the sea to the next island, marked “Junior High School.” This island was bigger than the last and held a picture of a boy writing at a desk.
“What’s he writing?” I asked.
“He’s studying his English. Very, very important.” He tapped the side of his head with his finger. “English and math, those are your two most important subjects.” He paused for a moment, nodding and blinking as if reminding himself. “I betcha didn’t know, but when Daddy came to this country, he didn’t speak English.”
“We spoke Italian. I wanted to go to school to learn English and math so I could get ahead, but most of the time I hadda work in my father’s store, slicing cheese and mopping floors. But I knew … knew I was too smart for that. When I was in school, I kept my mouth shut and my ears open and listened to my teachers. Don’t ever forget.” He shook a finger. “English and math. When you got those under your belt, you can go anywhere.”
“What’s next?” I turned back to the map.
My father continued tracing the dotted line to the next, even larger island, named “High School.” In the middle of the island, he’d drawn an imposing brick building with half a dozen rectangular windows. A winding path led to two oversized front doors. An American flag hung on a pole above the building, waving proudly in the wind.