Archived Story

Everyone has flaws, but they teach lessons

Published 9:01am Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

A neighbor came over to do some knitting with my wife and friends.

Their knitting is wonderful, but the ladies are more than willing to point out any flaws.

Their knitting is perfectly imperfect.

I greeted our visitor. She said that she couldn’t wait for winter to end. I agreed. I love winter, but if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go. The last storm was the straw that broke the camel’s back for her. She added that when the snow was falling at its heaviest, the wind was howling like a hurricane, and the temperature had dropped so far that it bent the nail holding the thermometer; her husband did nothing but stare through the kitchen window. She concluded, “He looked so pitiful I almost let him in the house.”

Her youngest son was a legend at New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva-Bath-Otisco-Matawan-Summit-Cooleyville-Berlin-Hope-Trenton-Summit-Lemond-Vista-Freeborn-Manchester-Clarks Grove-Hollandale-Waldorf-Beaver Lake-St. Olaf-Mule Lake Elementary School, the home of the Fighting Alphabets. His kindergarten teacher was helping him put on his boots one wintry day. He had asked for help and his teacher found out why.

Even with her pulling and him pushing, the boots refused to go on. She was determined. That was one of the traits that made her a good educator. She worked as hard as if she were paying for a gym membership. By the time the second boot went on, she was glistening. That’s practically sweating. She nearly cried when the little boy said, “They’re on the wrong feet.”

They were. It was just as hard pulling the boots off as it was putting them on. The teacher gritted her teeth and worked to get the boots back on. She checked, double-checked and triple-checked to make sure the boots were on the right feet. Finally, the boots were in place. The boy pointed toward his feet and declared, “Those aren’t my boots.”

The teacher felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of her. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming, “Why didn’t you say so?” She reminded herself that good teachers didn’t scream. Once more, she struggled to pull the incredibly tight boots off the little feet. They came off even harder than the last time. She hoped she wouldn’t succumb to exhaustion before she got the boy on the bus. She had just gotten the boots off when he said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear them.”

The teacher didn’t know whether she should weep or howl like a banshee, but she mustered enough grace and courage to wrestle the boots back onto his feet. She felt as if she had brawled with a bear, but she had the boots on again. As she helped him get into his coat, she asked wearily, “Now, where are your mittens?”

The boy smiled and replied, “I stuffed them into the toes of my boots so I wouldn’t lose them.”

The boy had his flaws. We all do.

He reminded me of another boy, one who lived near Mule Lake when that area was first settled in the 1800s. One of his first jobs was to carry two buckets, hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across the back of his neck, from his family’s cabin to the well a long distance away. One of the buckets had a hole in it. By the time he returned to the cabin, one bucket remained full of water, while the bucket with the hole in it was only half-full. It was a long walk and the uneven weights wore on his neck, but the boy never complained or asked his father to repair the leaky bucket.

This went on for several years, with the boy delivering only one and one-half buckets of water at a time to his home.

Then one day, his younger brother became old enough to assume the job of hauling water. He performed the task only one day before bitterly complaining to his elder sibling about the hole in the bucket. He felt that his hard work was wasted and accused his brother of the same things said about Benedict Arnold.

His wiser older brother said, “The next time you walk the path between the house and the well, notice the beautiful flowers. Those flowers grow on only one side of the path. The side where the leaky bucket was carried. Every day you carry water, you water the flowers.”

The beautiful flowers were there because of the bucket’s flaw.

Each of us is flawed. That’s where beauty comes from.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.