Once upon a time there was a little boy who had a big idea. The thought had occurred to him late one night, when outside only the crickets and the frogs accompanied his reverie. Roused as he had been by a thunderstorm; awake he worried about his problem. Because it was a big one, without a ready solution: and the little boy liked ready solutions. You see, this boy was puny – a runt they often called him. Not as big as the other boys, not as strong. Not weak – but just, well what you might call scrawny. “Scrawny,” he mumbled under his breath. He’d heard that word so often, for too long. When he was measured every year in the one-room schoolhouse the pencil line on the wall was so far below the others, and they laughed – the big kids did. The strong ones. He didn’t mind it so much most of the time, he was smart and creative; but when it came to racing… That scrawny little boy loved to race; the tingling as his little feet pounded the roadway, the bite of the wind as the tears dried laterally on his cheeks. The slapping of his thin blond hair against the top of his head.
He would be a runner – he knew it; it was to be his destiny. Yet try as he might, practicing night and day, waking in the early hours before the sun to train, he could not win. Each day, during the perennial morning contest the bigger boys would blow right past him. Sometimes they would throw him a backward smirk, and he would grimace. Other times as they went past they would tap his foot and he would fall, scraping his knee or hitting his head. The iron tang of blood splashing across the rocks in the path. At those times he would sit and cry – the birds chirping in the trees around him his only solace as he sat alone, knees curled under his shoulders. “I will never win. I’m just too small.” He would say, and a big tear would drop onto the rocks.
That day had been one of those days – and the little boy’s knee still hurt, preventing his return to sleep; reminding him of his plight. That was when it had occurred to him – his brave, new idea. It was like an awakening. He stayed up all night, writing it down in green crayon on a piece of construction paper; carefully tracing the letters time and again until they were perfect.
The following morning he hurried to school – shirking the race – arriving in time to assemble a group of the slowest children. There was one boy who had been born bowlegged. Another who was round and squat because he was poor; each night he would stand on the side of the road selling greasy, fattening food, eating the leftovers after the last wayward traveler had gone – his only meal. A little girl who’d been born with a club foot. Misfits all – and all anxious to hear the little boy’s great idea.
The little boy assembled the oddballs in a clearing in the woods a ways behind the one-room schoolhouse. “I’ve brought you here, today, to tell you what I have learned.” They all waited with baited breath. “You see,” silence, “I’ve come to understand. The problem is not us – we are not too slow. It is them, they are just too fast.”
Then slowly a light began to gleam behind the eyes of every little boy and girl; one by one, until the circle was ablaze. “That,” the group was breathing heavily, in unison, “is true.” They rushed to the headmaster of the school and explained their position – entreating him to act at once upon their case.
And the morning races were banned.
Something new was happening, something exciting and just – right. Yet it was imperfect. One of the little boys was not good at math, struggling each period with the simplest of equations. “I just can’t” he would wail, tears falling on the blank paper in front of him long after the other children had gone to recess. Again, they brought his case to the headmaster – and the stumbling block was lifted; “We cannot have a little boy suffering, can we?” The old headmaster always seemed to understand. Then came woodworking – and pottery – and the study of the bugs and the plants and the stars.
And it was all good, and right.
Finally, at the assembly in the clearing – which had become a club – one small girl with thick glasses who had never spoken a word finally cleared her throat. Everybody quieted down – listening. “I have come to say,” she began and, lip quivering, she told of how try as she might she could not assemble letters into words. The little boy – who had become the leader – sucked in his breath. His heart beat a little faster. He knew what they must do; but it was this last act that would be the hardest – because the little boy loved to read. Nevertheless, he nodded, “We will do what is good, what is right.”
As the cart drew away from the little one-room schoolhouse that afternoon, pulled by a tired old horse and piled high with books thick and thin – the blue and burgundy and green covers blazing in the afternoon sun – the boy sighed, a tear dropping. Beside him the little girl was also crying; hers tears of joy – and he knew it was good, and right.
In a charming dell nestled amidst the rolling green hills of poplar and spruce trees there sits a little one-room school house, neat and clean. Inside this little schoolhouse – quaint and orderly – untouched by time a slight man sits; a headmaster of the little country school. They no longer run, the students don’t. Nor do they read or write. All the day long they only sit and stare out the windows. And the headmaster – no longer a little boy, but still with only one idea – nods approvingly at his class; knowing in his heart that everything is finally and at long last good, and right.