8! Part 2
In the classroom the teacher described how Eddie had sat quietly in his seat for about an hour; suddenly he began parading back and forth in the aisle, swearing like a longshoreman and throwing movable objects on the floor, finally pitching an inkwell, which landed accurately on a plaster bust of Cicero.
Replacing Eddie in his seat, Father Flanagan apologized: “It was my fault…I never told him he mustn’t throw inkwells. The laws of Boys Town will, of course, be enforced with him as with all the rest of us. But he has to learn them first. We must never forget that Eddie is a good boy.”
“Like hell I am!” screamed Eddie.
He seemed made of stone, making no friends among the boys or teachers, least of all with Father Flanagan, for whom he reserved his supreme insult, “a damned praying Christian.” Sullenly he stood aloof in gym and on the fields: “Kid stuff!” Neither choir nor band could stir him; the farm bored him. He tore a book apart with his bare hands and during prayers he would mew like a cat.
In the first six months not once a laugh, nor a tear. Soon the question was whether Father had met his match.
“Does the little guy learn anything?” he asked the sisters.
“Somehow he is getting his A B Cs. In fact, he’s learning more than he lets on. But he’s just eaten up with hate!”
One night an older boy reported that Eddie was groaning in his sleep. Walking into the dormitory, Father stood beside the bed, touched the flushed face and felt the warm sweat of fever. “Just a sick little boy. It is shameful and foolish of me to lose hope. How can a little boy be bad when he is so soon from God?” he thought.
Through dark and gusty grounds the priest walked that October night, his grieving face set against the wind. It came to him then how real fathers must feel toward little sons. Sometimes they love so much that they spoil them. Eddie had been spoiled, all right, but not that way. “I’ll have to throw away the book of rules. I’m going to try spoiling the little devil – with love!”
In the infirmary Eddie snarled at the doctors, but when they accused him of being afraid he swallowed the medicine without a grimace; he walked into the darkness of the X-ray chamber with the air of a condemned man unbroken as he marked to the chair.
Well, again, he became more silent than ever. An apathy settled upon him just when Father was giving him more attention than he had ever given anyone else. Boys and teachers began to watch the new strategy as if it were a contest; a sporting event, and the home team was Father Flanagan.
Upon these months Father looked back with a shudder, especially at the scores of B-pictures they sat through, all double features. It is still a medical wonder that Eddie did not get ulcers from hot dogs and hamburgers, nut and chocolate bars, peanut brittle, ice cream, cokes and tonics. Inside his puny body there lay some cavernous area capable of infinite absorption.
Yet never once did Eddie say that anything was fun or sweet or refreshing, never a remark came unprompted; all answers briefly severe. He would trudge stolidly down to the lake, but no grunt of excitement came when he landed a trout. After each private excursion, he would leave Father with the same overbearing smile.
Only once did they come closer. That was on a street crossing in Omaha when Eddie was looking in the wrong direction and a truck tore around a corner; Father yanked him out of harm’s way. For one instant a light of gratitude flickered in the startled brown eyes, then the lashes fell again; he said nothing.
Stalemate! Even to the man of faith it began to seem that here was an inherent vileness beyond his reach. Hope had fallen to the lowest possible point when one soft spring morning Eddie boldly appeared in the office, announcing that he wanted to have it out with Father. This time the brown eyes were glowing with indignation.
“You’ve been trying to get around me, but now I’m wise to you. If you was on the level, I might have been a sucker at that. I almost fell for your line. But last night I got to thinking t over, and I sees the joker in the whole thing…”
Thee was something terribly earnest and manful in Eddie now; this was not insolence but despair. With a stb of hope the priest noticed for the first time a quiver on the twisted lips.
“Father Flanagn, you’re a phony!”
“You better prove that, Eddie – or shut up!”
“Okay! I just kicked a sister in the shins. Well? Now what do you say?”
“I still say you are a good boy.”
“What did I tell you? You keep on saying that lie, and you know it’s a lie, it can’t be true – doesn’t that prove you’re a phony?”
Dear Father in heaven, this is honest logic! How can I answer it? How defend my faith in him – and in You? Because it’s now or never with Eddie – God give me the grace to say the right thing.
Father cleared his throat. “Eddie, you’re smart enough to know when a thing is really proved. What is a good boy? A good boy is an obedient boy. Right?”
“Does what his teachers tell him to do?”
“Well, that’s all you’ve ever done, Eddie. The only trouble with you is that you had the wrong teachers – wharf toughs and corner bums – but you have certainly obeyed them; you’ve done every last wrong and rotten thing they taught you to do. If you could only obey the good teachers here in the same way, you’d be just fine!”
Those simple words of unarguable truth were like an exorcism, driving out devils from the room and cleansing the air. At first the tiny human enigma looked dumfounded. Then came a glisten of sheer downright relief in his eyes, and he began to creep around the side of the sunlit desk. And with the very same relief Father Flanagan’s soul was crying; he held out his arms and the child climbed into them and laid a tearful face against his heart.
That was a long time ago. For ten years Eddie remained in Boys Town, until, well near the top of his class, he left to join the Marines. On blood-smeared beaches he won three promotions.
“His chest,” boasted Father Flanagan, “is covered with medals. Nothing strange that that, though; no wonder he has courage. But God be praised for something else; he has the love of the men in his outfit – brother to the whole bunch he is – an upstanding Christian character. And still the toughest kid I ever knew!”
Jezu, ufam Tobie.