Archive for Thursday, June 5, 2008

Quest to learn endures

June 5, 2008

Our breath was so cold that early morning, I thought the tiny filaments of moisture would crack and drop silently to the frozen ground beneath our feet. My dad was holding a small, portable igniter that he had used earlier to light the smudge pots that sat upon the curing concrete of the floor of the school being built.

He was proud of the part he played, however small, in building an educational edifice that sat in the middle of the block where houses once stood and would soon house elementary school children. His journey was an odd mixture of juxta positions.

He was a Baptist; the school he was helping to build was parochial. He had to leave school in the third grade to take care of his mother and siblings; he could barely read. This school would not only teach children to read, it would establish them in their faith.

He was not opposed to working on a Catholic school; in fact he considered it one of his finest accomplishments.

During the winter of its construction, one of his jobs was to check and relight the smudge pots, small black orbs to keep the concrete from freezing. He awoke in the night and walked the two blocks from our house to the school. I went with him.

That particular night was nearing the end of the construction of the school. We stood where the parking lot would soon be and looked at the structure before us. He was a quiet man, often had thoughts he kept to himself. This night, however, he seemed to study the building, where youngsters would have an opportunity never quite within his reach.

"This is built to last forever," he said; the pride in his voice was barely concealed.

I thought of him recently - how important learning was to him. The school is leveled and a new foundation is being poured. The parking lot where we stood is a mass of broken macadam, pieces strewn about the red, clay dirt that blows about on a windy day. There is little green but a mass of clover, with white blooms in the shape of beehives; the kind we used to pick to make necklaces of sweet smelling flowers.

He would look at a clump of clover such as this; he could bend over and pick out the one four-leaf clover hidden there. "For good luck," he would say.

On that corner where a school once stood, built to last forever, a library is being erected.

Classrooms give way to high-tech computers; parochial turns to the world of secular. With any luck at all, it will be an edifice to learning. Buildings, like people, do not last forever.

What does last is the quest for learning, the search for ideas and the belief that the effort of one individual, however small and seemingly insignificant, is as a four-leaf clover in an indistinguishable mass of green.

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