KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS
So last Tuesday was the day, it was time for me to produce. As mentioned in this column approximately a month ago, I was slated to speak before 150 fourth and fifth graders at the Euclid Avenue Grade and Magnet School my topic, "Honesty and Integrity."
I approached this task with some trepidation for while I have been speaking to jurors for the past 17 years and I have had approximately one year listening to and talking to patients as a therapist; I haven't had a great deal of experience in talking to children.
While I only had 15 minutes to fill, I wondered where I would get the material. The first thing I did was to go out and buy a copy of Aesop's Fables. The stories are as wonderful as I had remembered them as a child. From "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" to the "Woodcutter and His Axe," what wonderful stories about morality. Most of you will remember "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," however, the Woodcutter is a classic. There is a woodcutter who chops down trees to earn his living. One day his old, beaten up axe slips out of his hands and falls to the bottom of the river. The Greek God Mercury then comes down from the heavens and the woodcutter tells Mercury his story. Mercury then dives into the water and comes up with the most beautiful silver axe one could ever hope to see. He asks the woodcutter if this is his, and the honest woodcutter says no. Mercury then dives again and comes up with the most glorious golden axe one could ever hope to behold. Again, the honest woodcutter says "No, not mine." Now knowing this is a man of integrity, Mercury dives into the river for a third time and comes up with the woodcutter's axe which he then gives to the woodcutter along, of course, with the silver axe and the golden axe. Good story, huh?
I then called my friend Geoff, in Northern California, whose knowledge of history is unparalleled. I told Geoff that I wanted to tell the story of young George Washington and how he cut down the cherry tree and later, when his father was less than thrilled to arrive home and find his prized tree reduced to a stump, George did the right thing and fessed up with the immortal words, "Father, I chopped down the tree, I cannot tell a lie." Geoff informed me that recent literature indicates that this story was perhaps apocryphal and some modern day historians believe it never happened. I then told Geoff this wasn't the right night to start rewriting history with me and that I thought it was a great story and it was a story I was going to use.
Sure enough, the next day I'm half way through my talk which seemed to be going well; I get to the George Washington story and suddenly a hand shoots up from the deep recesses of the auditorium. My heart is now in my mouth as I know what is coming; I ask the prescient fifth grader for his question and, of course, he informs me that his older brother has recently read a book that says that young George really didn't chop down the tree and the story never happened. At that moment, I cannot tell you how grateful I was for the previous evening's conversation with Geoff. Rather than being thrown for a loop, I was able to respond that it is my understanding that according to present day literature there are historians who believe that it took place, and there are historians who say "NO TREE;" however, what is most important is the moral of the story... Fortunately, this seemed to satisfy the precocious youngster and the rest of the talk went on without incident.
You know, kids do say the darnedest things.