Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Lesson from My Best Friend, Karl Schwartz

First, some background. The time was during the early part of World War II. In those days men would sit on the front porch and talk while the women got the food ready to feed the gathering. Most of the time they wanted to keep their hands busy, so they’d go over to a tree and break off a twig, take out their pocketknives, and shave the bark off of the twigs. When they got one twig shaved they would go get another one. I wanted to be like the men so I asked my dad for a pocketknife. Knives were part of my dad’s everyday life at work; he was a meat cutter for Safeway. He sure knew how to sharpen knives and kept even his pocketknife sharp enough to shave hair off his arms. He said, “A sharp knife is less dangerous than a dull knife.” Not very long after my request, Dad showed me a pocketknife, opened it up, sharpened it, closed it, and handed it to me. I doubt that many parents then--and even fewer today--would give a third-grader a knife.

Back to Karl’s lesson in tolerance. It was summertime and he and I had walked down to Washington Park. We had the whole park to ourselves. We were on swings and I was pretending on the downswing that I was diving a fighter plane and machine-gunning the enemy. I thought about my knife and said to Karl, “If there were a German here, I’d kill him with my knife!” Karl answered, “I’m a German; do you want to kill me?” I answered, “No--a Jap then.” I didn’t realize then that his family had friends who came from Japan and I would get to know them a little bit and like them.

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