COULD ONE PERSON HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE?

One Boy's Memories of his Grandpa

He only called in sick that one time. So what's the big deal? It was, after all, many years ago. 50 years to the day, to be exact.

He always put it out of his mind, or at least tried to. He really hardly ever thought about it. What difference does it make after all this time?

He had moved on. He would work 30 years for the railroad, and he was now ten years into his beloved retirement with his wife, daughter, and grandchildren. Besides, his one sick day in his entire career wasn't even during his main job, the one everyone remembered him for. It was at that job stacking books, the job he had taken long before he ever joined the railroad. Now the civic club he belonged to was finally giving him an award, honoring him for all those years working as an engineer. His wife, daughter, and the older grandchildren would be there when he gets his award during a noon luncheon today. Better hurry up and get dressed.

But it was that younger grandchild who had caused his new uneasiness, the one who had stirred up the old memories. The one who would have to be in school today at the same time he would be getting his award. The child was only 11 years old and in the 6th grade.

It was that lousy teacher. She was the one who had caused all the problems. She told the kids they had to write an essay with a certain title.

Could one person have made a difference?

That was the child's assignment and the boy had to read it out loud in class today, right after the lunch period. Probably about the time his grandfather would be getting that award for service to the railroad. The same railroad that runs right near the site of the first job so long ago, the one where he had to stack all those books. School books, now long out of date, out of print, and certainly useless in his grandson's sixth grade of 2011.

Yes, the old job was monotonous, but he had loved the work anyway. Those books filled with the beauty of knowledge--math and history; art and social studies, too--everything that would help children find wonderment and meaning in their lives. But later the pain, and remembrance, became too much.

"Grandpa, why don't you like to talk about that day, the time you were sick?" his grandson had asked after coming home with the writing assignment burning in his brain.

It's not something that's very pleasant, the old man had replied, with conflicting feelings. On one hand, he didn't like to be reminded. On the other, he was proud of his grandson for being so inquisitive about life. The child could have written about other things, like what would have happened if Winston Churchill hadn't become prime minister of Great Britain, or if Abraham Lincoln hadn't gone to the theater that night.

Could one person have made a difference?

The title the teacher had given the class really rankled him, though. He didn't have a very clear memory of that one miserable day when he had the flu. He does remember it was a Friday, and that he thought his boss at the warehouse wouldn't even miss him. He didn't. By that Friday afternoon, the boss's plate was certainly full.

Besides, he knew his co-workers could pick up the slack. They'd cover for him. At least most of them.

He knew them all pretty well. All except for that one skinny guy who kept to himself a lot, the one who acted like he was mad at the world. You'd think that the only two people who were assigned to move boxes in that one specific area would at least be on speaking terms. So what, he had a lot of other friends those 48 years ago. The other guy could work all by himself, and be perfectly happy doing it.

"But grandpa, if only someone else had been there, right next to him, he wouldn't have dared to..." The child's words trailed off once he saw the pain they caused in his grandpa's eyes.

But that was a few days ago. Everything was fine now. His grandchild was probably standing up in front of the class at this moment, surely earning an A+ for his speech. So, with only happy thoughts, the old man and his family prepared to leave at noon for his moment in the sun at the Dallas Rotary Club today, November 22, 2011.

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