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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, December 21, 1947, Image 91

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1947-12-21/ed-1/seq-91/

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SCHWEITZER
Me Barron
lacks
his heart
"Paul/’ he said, “I think I'll not go. My head is hurting
A Short Story
The woman in 3B had got her kitchen sink
stopped up again. Mr. Olsen was sure
that if she’d had to pay a plumber to fix it
every time, she’d be more careful. This way
it was so easy; she just buzzed the superin
tendent’s bell, and up came Mr. Olsen. “My
goodness, Mr. Olsen,” she always said, “you
can do anything.”
In spite of himself, this pleased him —
though he knew she was only flattering him
so he wouldn’t notice the smallness of her
tip. He took pride in his ability to fix things.
There wasn’t much that went wrong in any
of the apartments, from stuck windows to
short circuits, that couldn’t be taken care
of by Mr. Olsen, the superintendent.
“Well, you certainly did that in no time
at all,” the woman in 3B said. She dropped
a small coin into his palm. "You’re a wonder.”
Mr. Olsen closed the rear door of 3B softly
and rang for the service elevator. While he
waited, he looked at the coin, shrugged, and
slipped it into the pocket of his dark work
trousers. He filled his pipe, and found a book
of matches in one of the pockets of his faded
brown sweater. But he wouldn’t light the
pipe until he was in his own apartment.
Mr. Olsen was a stickler for rales.
The old man on the rear elevator saluted
with mock servility, and Mr. Olsen gave him
a gentle little poke in the ribs. “Hello, Pop,”
he said, in his gentle, softly accented voice.
The old man chuckled. “Your boy’s home,”
he said. "Just saw him come in.”
“Yah?” Mr. Olsen smiled, his long, large
boned face breaking into dozens of deep lines.
He was a man whose age it was difficult to
judge, but when he smiled it was almost im
possible, for the smile brought out all those
lines, and at the same time lit his blue eyes
with a youthful merriment.
He got out of the elevator and walked with
brisk, powerful strides toward his neat court
yard apartment. In the kitchen, a boy was
pouring.himself a glass of miftc. As 90on as
he turned to smile at Mr. Olsen it was evi
dent that they were father and son — yet
in a dozen ways they were strikingly differ
ent. The boy was considerably darker, and
in spite of his youth, more smoothly put
together. He was only twelve, but he moved
with easy grace and stood straight, sure and
sturdy.
“Hello, Dad,” he said, in the same soft
voice as his father, but with a crisp, clear
enunciation. “I just came home for a minute.
The gang’s waiting for me to play ” m
Dad, thought Mr. Olsen. As often as he
heard it, the word always gave him the same
embarrassed pleasure. It had such a fine
American dignity, though it still seemed a
little strange. He’d always called his own
father papa, and the boy said papa too, until
a few years ago. After Ilse died and they
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apartment house, it was changed. All the boys
called their fathers dad here.
“You did good on the history test?” Mr.
Olsen asked.
“I think so. I only know of one answer
I’m sure I got wrong.”
“Not the Mr. Lincoln’s speech?”
“Golly, no.” The boy laughed. “I sure
couldn’t forget that one.”
Mr. Olsen laughed too. “Sure not. This
one I know myself, we say him so many time:
‘Fourscore seven year ago ...' ”
“Okay, okay, that’s enough." The boy
groaned elaborately and made exaggerated
fending-off motions with his hands. “If I
have to hear it once more, I’ll go nuts!”
“Yah? You go nuts too quick. Say again
that hard part, that part I like.”
“Aw gee, Dad, the kids are waiting.”
“Well, you say for me.”
“ ‘Conceived in liberty and dedicated to
the proposition that all men are created
equal.’ ”
"Yah.” Mr. Olsen lit his pipe and drew
rapidly, gustily. “This is nice thing to re
member, Paul. Many things are nice to
remember even without tests.” He looked
at the boy, who waited with the rigid quiet
of a stretched spring, and smiled. “Well,
okay, you go now.”
Paul sprinted into the hall, came back with
his baseball glove. “Here goes to try that in
side curve. Dad. Wish me luck.”
“That’s the one we practice Sunday? Yah,
I wish you luck.”
The boy streaked out — in a minute was
back. “You haven’t forgotten tonight. Dad?”
"Tonight?”
“Gosh — you know. The father-and-son
dinner at the Scout house. I told you.”
“Oh, sure, sure, now I know. The dinner.”
“It’s okay, then?”
“Yah, sure. Is okay.”
The door banged again. Mr. Olsen stood
looking at it, wondering whether he’d really
forgotten about the dinner, or just pushed it
back in his mind where he wouldn’t have to
think about it. You could do that, he knew,
because he’d done it all the time since Ilse
died. He didn’t think grief was a good com
panion for a young boy. and so he’d kept his
so deep that he himself scarcely knew it was
there. Even when he and Paul cleaned the
little apartment together and cooked their
simple meals, he kept away the thought that
their home was incomplete, that they’d be
happier with a wife, a mother, and that she’d
do a better job of all this.
“We’re pretty good cooks, huh?’’ he’d say
to Paul. "We two men together."
And they had made out all right, consider
ing. He’d done what he could to keep the boy
from missing a mother, giving up his job in
the machine shop and coming here where he
could be home when the boy came in from
school. Being a superintendent wasn’t much,
but they had a nice apartment in a good
neighborhood, and he could be with Paul
the way his mother would have been, watch
ing over him.
Only now there was this Scout thing, this
father-and-son night. Mr. Olsen knew the
boys who’d be there. Four of them lived right
here in the house, and all the others came
from near-by. They were always dropping
in to use Mr. Olsen’s workbench in the cellar,
anH Hp’H haH a hanrl nr n mmr-A :_
almost all the model planes made by the
troop. “Gosh, you sure are handy, Mr.
Olsen,” they’d say, and he’d feel the same
glow of pride as when the lady in 3B told him
he could do almost anything.
Mr. Olsen, t^e handyman who was good
at unstopping sinks, going to dinner with
the fathers of those boys! With Mr. Pratt,
who owned this building and a dozen others;
with Mr. Lowell, who ran a department store
and was distantly related, Paul said, to a
famous American poet; with the two doctors,
Dr. Curran — who took care of people when
they were sick —and Dr. Fairchild, who
taught at the university and had nothing to
do with sick people but was called doctor
just the same...
Someone buzzed his phone, and Mr. Olsen
answered it. “Yah? Yah, Mrs., I be right up.”
It took him a long time to replace the
broken sash cord in 6C, because he couldn’t
keep his mind on what he was doing... If he
could be sick tonight and not go, maybe that
would be better for Paul. Maybe it would be
better for him to have no father at all among
all those big, important men, than to have a
father whose best suit was tight and frayed
and whose learning did not go much beyond
what he picked up when he heard Paul’s
lessons; who could not even speak English
properly...
He hadn’t thought much about it before,
but now he wished he could have made some
thing of himself so that Paul would never
have to be ashamed of him. If he could have
studied; if he could have learned the kind of
work that the father of a boy like Paul should
do — big, important work. . . How fine to
Continued on page 18

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