lesson14 Cipher in the Snow
1.It started on a biting cold February morning.I was driving behind the Milford Corners bus as I did most mornings on my way to school.It stopped short at a hotel,and I was annoyed,as I had to come to an unexpected stop.A boy staggered out of the bus,stumbled,and collasped on the snowbank at the curb.The bus driver and I reached him at the same moment.His thin,hollow face was white even against the snow.
2.“He's dead，”the driver whispered.
3.I glanced quickly at the scared young faces staring down at us from the school bus.“A doctor！Quick！”
4.“No use.I tell you he's dead.”The driver looked down at the boy's still body.“He never even said he felt had，”he muttered,“just tapped me on the shoulder and said,quietly,'I'm sorry.I have to get off at the hotel.' That's all.Polite and apologizing.”
5.At school,the giggling morning noise quieted as the news went down the halls.I passed a group of girls.“Who was it？Who dropped dead on the way to school？”I heard one of them half-whisper.
6.“Don't know his name；some kid from Milford Corners”was the reply.
7.It was like that in the faculty room and the principal's office.“I'd appreciate your going out to tell the parents，”the principal told me.“They haven't a phone and,anyway,somebody from school should go there in person.I”ll cover your classess.“
8.“Why me？”I asked.“Wouldn't it be better if you did it？”
9.“I didn't know the boy，”the principal admitted.“And in last year's sophomore personalities column I note that you were listed as his favorite teacher.”
10.I drove through the snow and cold down the bad road to the Evans place and thought about the boy,Cliff Evans. His favorite teacher！I could see him in my mind's eye all right,sitting back there in the last seat in my afternoon literature class.He came in the room by himself and left by himself.“Cliff Evans，”I muttered to myself,“a boy who never talked, a boy who never smiled.”
11.The big ranch kitchen was clean and warm.I blurted out the news somehow.Mrs.Evans reached blindly toward a chair.“ He never said anything about being ill.”
12.His stepfather sad impatiently,“He has said nothing about anything since I moved here.”
13.Mrs.Evans pushed a pan to the back of the stove and began to untie her apron.“Now hold on，”her husband said angrily.“ I've got to have breakfast before I go to town.Nothing we can do now anyway.If Cliff hadn't so dumb,he'd have told us he didn't feel well.”
14.After school I sat in the office and stared at the records spread out before me.I was to close the file and write the obituary for the school pare.The almost bare sheets in the file mocked the effort.Cliff Evans,white,never legally adopted by stepfather,five young half-brothers and sisters.These bits of information and the list of D grades were all teh records had to offer.
15.Cliff Evans had siliently come in the school door in the mornings and gone out the school door in the evenings,and that was all.He had never belonged to a club.He had never played on a team.He had never held an office.As far as I could tell,He had never done one happy,noisy kid thing.He had never been anybody at all.
16.How do you go about making a boy into a zero？The grade school records showed me.The first and second grade teachers' notes read “sweet,shy child”;“timid but eager.”Then the third grade note had opened the attack.Some teacher had written in a good,firm hand,“Cliff won't talk.Uncooperative.Slow learner.”The other academic sheep had followed with “dull”;“slow-witted”;“low I.Q.”They became correct.The boy's I.Q.score in the ninth grade was listed at 83.But his I.Q.in the third grade had been 106.The score didn't go under 100 until the seventh grade.Even shy, timid,sweet children have resilience.It takes time to break them.
17.I went angrily to the typewriter and wrote a savage report pointing out that what education had done to Cliff Evans.I slapped a copy on the principal's desk and another in the sad life.I banged the typewriter and slammed the file and crashed the door shut,but didn't feel much better.A little boy kept walking after me,a little boy with a thin,pale face；a skinny body in fadded jeans；and big eyes that had looked and searched for a long time and then had become veiled.
18.I could guess how many times he'd been chosen last to play sides in a game,how many whispered child conversation had excluded him,how many times he hadn't been asked.I could see and hear the faces and voices that said over and over,“You're dumb.You're nothing,Cliff Evans.”
19.A child is a believing creature.Cliff undoubtedly believed them.Suddenly it seemed clear to me：When finally there was nothing left at all for Cliff Evans,he collapsed on a snowbank and went away.The doctor might list “heart failure”as the cause of death,but that wouldn't change my mind.
20.We coun't find ten students in the school who had known Cliff well enough to attend teh funeral as his friends.So the student-body officers and a committee from the junior class went as group to the church,being politely sad.I attend the service with them and sat through it with a lump of cold lead in my chest and a big resolution growing through me.
21.I've never forgotten Cliff Evans nor that resolution.
22.He has been my challenge year after year,class after class.I look up and down the rows carefully each September at the new faces.I look for veiled eyes or bodies scrounged into a seat in an unfamiliar world.“Look,kids”I say silently,“I may not do anything else for you this year,but not one of you is going to come out of here a nobody.I'll work or fight to the bitter end and doing battle with society and the school board,but I won't have one of you coming out of here thinking himself a zero.”
23.Most of the time——not always,but most of the time——I've succeeded.