Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Energetic Educator

Ah, here it is: one of my favorite stories by Giovanni Guareschi. This one makes me laugh every time I read it.

The Energetic Educator

I knew a savage of a man. He lived on the outskirts of Milan, in a small house, where he had furnished an enormous attic for himself, and there he worked, and sometimes he even slept there, because the children annoyed him, his wife annoyed him, the cat annoyed him.

Everything, in a word, annoyed him. Then too, he would never allow anyone to touch his things, to move a piece of paper, or a pen, or a book.

Like a hawk in its nest, this savage hovered as a constant threat over the whole house. He had a telephone that was connected with the kitchen, on the ground floor, and every once in a while he would lift the receiver and bawl out that he wanted a cup of coffee.

Now this savage had two tender young children: a boy of ten and a little girl under seven, and it was she, above all, who was the victim of his brutality.

This little girl, who was less than seven years old, was small, slight, almost sickly, yet she was forced to climb three steep flights of steps carrying in her right hand a heavy saucer with a cup full of coffee and in her left a huge album of illustrated stories. Ought she to have been bawled out if the coffee, overflowing from the saucer into which, by the force of circumstances, it had become transferred, dripped a little bit on the stairs?

Yet this savage did bawl her out.

The most horrifying scenes usually took place over the paste.

This brutish man was both intolerant and impetuous and, when he looked for his jar of paste and couldn't find it, turned into a madman.

He would not admit that either for pleasure or for profit a child might like to collect those agreeable colored pic­tures, of a historic, geographic, or philatelic nature, which these days constitute one of the chief prides and joys of children. The pictures are supposed to be pasted into albums made for this purpose, and of course, paste is essential. But this savage despised all such things. All he wanted was his jar of paste. And he wanted it at once; every moment of waiting brought forth a fresh howl.

One day a shriek was heard: "The paste!" And the brutish man descended like an avalanche into the kitchen. The little girl was sitting on the floor, working on her collection of pictures. The man hurled himself like a beast upon the paste jar, but when he had it in his hands, an inhuman cry was torn from his throat: "It's empty!"

The mother, who rose with the dawn, had done all her heavy housework and was now allowing herself a few moments of relaxation with an innocent little murder story. She raised her head.

"It's empty!" shrieked the man. "The jar of paste is empty! And I have two hundred clippings to paste up! And today is Sunday! It's empty!"

The mother attempted to calm the demented man with a word of wisdom. "It would be empty," she observed, "even if today were Monday."

"If today were Monday," shouted the man, "the stationery shops would be open and I could buy another jar!"

Still in the voice of a man possessed he turned on the little girl.

"This time," he howled, "you're going to get a lesson

you'll remember the rest of your life!"

Then a terrible thing happened.

The man unbuckled the heavy leather belt he wore and drew it slowly from his trousers: slowly, because he wanted to prolong the sadistic pleasure he derived from the infamous act he was about to perform.

He doubled the belt, so as to render it shorter and heavier, and dealt a blow of bestial force. The buckle struck the table, shattered a porcelain ashtray, and dented the wood.

The man dealt another blow at the table, breaking the other ashtray and a vase. It was at that moment that the truly irrevocable thing occurred: the man's trousers slipped down.

The mother raised her eyes from her book.

"You'll have to get some new underwear," she remarked. "Those shorts are worn out."

The man drew up his trousers and put his belt back on.

He looked fiercely around the room. In one corner stood the broom. He grabbed it with both hands and broke the handle across his knee. Brandishing the stick, he advanced slowly on the little girl. But suddenly he stopped and turned to the mother.

"Look at her!" he shouted. "That wretched creature is laughing!"

"Naturally," said the mother. "When you pulled your trousers up, you left your shirttail out."

At this the man was seized with a murderous fury. In one villainous stroke of the stick, he smashed the vase on the mantle. The stick flew out of his hands, so he advanced on the gas stove and kicked it.

The little girl, in her corner of the room, went on arranging her pictures.

"That's what I'm going to do to you!" the man shouted at the little girl. "I'll teach you to touch things that belong to me!"

At this he remembered the paste again and banged his fist savagely on the table.

"An empty paste jar! Two hundred clippings to paste up! And the stores closed because today is Sunday!"

The little girl looked up from her pictures for a moment.

"Actually, it's Saturday," she said, "and the stationery store is open."

The mother got up.

"You've done an unworthy thing, Giovannino!" she cried. "You've accused your daughter of its being Sunday."

The man stood confused for a moment, then lost his temper altogether.

"Never mind!" he shouted. "That's the way she learns, even if it is Saturday!"

"Children don't learn through brutality," Margherita said coldly.

The man headed sullenly toward the stairs.

"And tuck your shirttail in," said Margherita.

"I want my paste!" said the man.

"You'll get it," Margherita said. "We'll go out and buy it now. Then you can paste up your silly newspaper clippings."

Twenty minutes later the man telephoned down from his lair. The little girl answered.

"My paste!" cried the man. "Has it come yet?"

"Yes, but right now I'm using it for my pictures," she replied, putting down the receiver.


Anonymous said...

I remember you or Darwin reading us that story. Anna just about added some stains to that carpet...

Anonymous said...

Ah, that I did.....