Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

All of us young kids agreed. To look at Jim, even being close to him, was scary.

He was tall, ruggedly built, and stout as an axe handle. His long face with a protruding nose was covered by skin roughened by many years of work on his farm.

What really got to us, though, were his eyes. Under heavy brows, they were dark and piercing. Not only that, his voice was coarse and unfriendly.

Unfortunately, I had to see him on occasion because I was the only kid carrying newspapers in a “town” only four blocks wide and five blocks long. Every one of the not quite one hundred people living there knew everybody else.

Jim subscribed to both daily papers I carried, The Indianapolis Times, and its competitor, The Indianapolis News, plus their Sunday versions. That made him unusual because few people were that interested in being well read.

As he had instructed, I always placed his newspaper on his house’s side porch near the door to his office. A brick was there to keep it from blowing away.

Late one summer afternoon, I stepped up on the porch to leave his paper when I noticed the door was open. I could see Jim hunched over his desk. When he heard my footsteps, he turned and asked me to come in. I hesitated, but since he was a customer, I felt obligated.

As I stepped inside, he motioned me toward a large black sofa. “Have a seat there,” he said. I sat and cautiously slid my way backward until I bumped the back cushion.

“What do they teach you in school about the rest of the world?” he asked.

I told him that we’d been taught some geography the year before when I was in the fifth grade, and that what I liked best was the chapter in the textbook about a boy and his family in the Belgian Congo in Africa. To find out what it was like to live in a grass hut in the jungle near the equator was really interesting.

He smiled and said he wished to add to that by telling me a few things he believed I should know. With that, he went on to describe different forms of government in the world — democracies, socialistic, communistic, dictatorships, monarchies, and military rule — and how the people were governed under each form.

I was wide-eyed and surprised by how much he knew and how willing he was to share his knowledge with me, a ten-year old, in words I could understand. I sure didn’t expect to be there an hour. Luckily, though, his house was near the end of my paper route.

The next day, I told some of the kids what had happened, that Jim wasn’t the mysterious man we’d always thought he was, but I could tell they didn’t believe me.

That, however, wasn’t the end of it. We had two or three more sessions dealing with geographic, social, and political aspects of different countries around the world. Each time, Jim was correct in assuming what he was telling me hadn’t been mentioned in the schoolroom. That wasn’t the teachers’ fault. I mean, they would’ve taught us more except that the small township school I attended was unable to offer more than the required minimums.

I couldn’t remember all the details Jim mentioned, but most of the main facts stuck with me. He said that learning such things about the world was very important even if at the time they didn’t directly affect me.

Most important, he caused me to realize that what we need or want to know is inside someone else somewhere out there, and that meeting them should be considered a privilege, a purpose being served.

When that happens, it’s only logical to sit quietly and listen closely.