A Teenager Who Cared

Benny - La Palma, California
Entered on April 30, 2009
Age Group: 65+

I believe, if given the opportunity to believe in yourself, anything is possible.

It all began when I was sixteen years old in my friend’s backyard. We had just finished playing stick-ball. I was about to get on my bike to go home, when he told me to wait a minute. He ran into his house and came back out with a book in his hand. “See if you like it.”

A few weeks later I returned the book — unread. He never asked me any questions. There was no way I was going to read a book.

During the following two years he loaned me three more books. I never read any of them.

Before my friend went off to college, he asked me which college I was going to. I told him I wasn’t going to college because my father couldn’t afford the tuition. He than asked, “Is that it?” I said, “yes.” Of course, I lied. I had no intention of going to college. I hated school with a passion, and I hated to read.

The following day my friend knocked on my door at home and handed me a check for the tuition signed by his father. “I think that should do it,” he said. I could only shake my head in disbelief. What could I say, except thank you.

Two years later, on a college break, my friend came to visit me. He asked, “How’s school?” My face turned red as a beet. I had quit college three months after I enrolled.

By then I was working in a slaughter house killing cows. It was 1954 and I was twenty years old. My friend suggested I join the Army for a couple of years to sort things out. So that’s what I did.

Because of the GI bill, I was able to attend an unaccredited trade school for radio and television repair.

At the age of twenty-four, I got married. Although my friend was unable to attend the wedding, he sent us a strange wedding gift: A BOOK! Inscribed inside this book were the words, “To the Wasserman’s on Their Wedding Day.” Signed “Carl.”

Before trashing it, my wife encouraged me to read it. It took me two years to read the book. Each time I learned the meaning of a new word, and there were 747 of them, my self-esteem and self-worth took a giant leap forward.

Slowly, I became addicted to reading. My new found fascination for learning would never end. This experience was not only responsible for me becoming an aerospace engineer for thirty-five years, but more importantly it led me to other books which were responsible for allowing me to raise my children so differently than the way I was raised. I was able to break the cycle of violence. And all of my children have advanced degrees.

Oh yes, the book was MARTIN EDEN, by Jack London. And that high school teenage friend, who never lost his faith in me, was Carl Levin, who is presently serving his sixth term as a U.S. Senator from my home state of Michigan.