continuation of a work in progress: JAKE part II
At first Jake's parents felt pride in their son's accomplishments, and the attention being paid to him. But as time went by and Jake began to bring home book after book, and needing time alone to read and study, he was accused of shutting out the family.
He was too good for the rest of them, they said. "Why do you need to read about all these things?" they'd ask. "What good is a wisenheimer book going to do you in the factory?" they added.
The sister's tried to help by explaining that someday Jake would get a good job with all the knowledge he was getting. Jake tried to explain that studying about the planets or philosophy or history can all tell us something about ourselves and that is important.
"Well if it makes you happy go ahead", but they could not see how all that reading about those things would do him any good in the shop. He should be out in the air, not closed up in that room all the time. And the subject was closed, as were their minds. But Jake knew it was not out of meanness. His parents were stern with their children but never mean. He was just talking about things that they thought had no practical use in the world they knew. Their minds were not closed to Jake, but to the ideas he talked about because they didn't understand any of it. To them it was a disruption to the order of their lives.
And then, too soon, Jake's senior year came to an end. The accelerated programs set up for him by his teachers had only whetted his appetite for more, but there would be no more formal education for Jake. College tuition was impossible for his family to provide. There were no colleges in the town, so the only alternative was to go away to school, and this compounded the problem and added to the costs. Perhaps he could work and save enough money, but in his heart of hearts, he knew the desperation of that idea. The problem seemed insurmountable to Jake. It was an impossible situation. Then, as a final irony, he was named the class valedictorian, entrusted to be their voice, proclaiming their happiness and eagerness to be leaving school, and going out into the adult world. His mouth could already taste the hypocrisy he would have to swallow as he said the words. But the day came and Jake, dressed in his best clothes, with his whole family in the audience, climbed to the stage and stood behind the podium. He took his speech from his inside pocket, cleared his throat, and began.
. "I feel a heavy weight on my shoulders today. It is the weight of gratitude our graduating class owes the teachers we have been so very fortunate to have in this school. They didn't just teach us reading, writing and arithmetic, they did better. They opened our minds to the wonders that an educated mind can behold. They have opened that world for us to behold and maybe change for the better. They have given us a bright, always changing, always challenging, future. They have not instructed us how to make a million dollars, but how to discover a million things worth doing with our lives. They have set us free. Education is their weapon that slays the world of ignorance, and education is the force that sets our minds free to soar as far as our imagination will take us. We, the graduating class, will try to make you proud. So we say, God bless you, thank you, and good-bye."
The applause was gratifying, several girls in the graduating class were crying, his sisters were proud of him. After he received his diploma and the ceremony was over, he approached his teachers, intending to shake their hands, but ended up hugging each one of them, and attempted to thank them for what they had done for him, but instead, uttered some inane nothings. They smiled like they understood and said to keep in touch. And then, it was over.
The room was semi-dark and the bed was unmade as he sat in a straight-back chair staring out through lace curtains onto the street below, where normal everyday happenings were going on. The milkman and the bread man had made their rounds, the children were running in and out of the street making noise and the neighbors were spending a few minutes gossiping with each other. The world seemed normal, but Jake could not see how he’d fit into any of it. A week had passed since graduation, but he had seemingly lost track of time when a knock came at the door. "May I talk to you son?" his father asked gently.
Jake sat unresponsive for just a moment or two as if bringing himself back to the present. "Of course Papa, please come in. How are you doing?" Jake asked him. "I'm fine son, it's you I'm concerned about. I see you sitting and I tell Mama that I think you are lost and I must speak. She agreed that it is time, so here l am," said Jacob.
"I'm sorry Papa that I'm acting this way. I'm not really feeling sorry for myself even though it looks like it, I just don't know what to do." He stopped talking and sat staring out the window again, until his father, after waiting a few moments looking at his son with affection and sadness, began talking.
"Jake, he started in a loud voice, then immediately started over again in a softer voice, Son, I may not be able to speak English as well as my children, and you may think my silences mean I'm unconcerned, but that is just not true. I usually let Mama talk for me because she takes care of most of the things that happen every day around the house. I suppose it's the way all the fathers from the old country think we should act. I admit I have acted just like my father did and probably his father before him. And I also admit, I think it's wrong. But I can't sit by any longer and watch you being miserable, trying to figure out what to do. You're a smart boy and I'm proud of you for everything you have done, but things have not turned out the way you think they should have. Maybe not, but these things happen. You're a smart boy, but you have a young brain. You're searching for answers that you won't be able to find, because you haven't lived long enough and accumulated enough of what life throws at you. That is the one thing your teachers could not teach you. But if you will allow me to make up a little for my years of silence, I would like to help you find your answer.
Jake, who had been staring at the floor while his father was talking, raised his head and went to his father. They held each other in an embrace. Then each with an embarrassed smile sat back down. Jacob cleared his throat and said, "Now I will talk some more and you will listen to your Papa and maybe you can find your answer."