“Mr. Rob—” said Ethan.
“—It’s Josh,” said the sculptor.
“Right, does this go here?” I watched this continue over the hour. The scrawny boy who called me ma’am, so tactful and kind, just couldn’t get the man’s name right. But the sculptor’s chewed ears (an old wrestling injury) took no offense. He smiled and told him about the transformations he had made to the abandoned textile mill. How the train tracks had become a stage, where the coal had been taken to heat the building, and why duct tape was good for keeping the clay that would cover the skeleton of his statue from drying out too fast. Ethan asked good questions after all.
In the end, as Ethan stood at the front of the group and Josh wrapped up the discussion, he reached up on a high shelf and took down a delicate bronze leaf the size of his palm.
“Here,” he said, “just remember ‘Mr. Rob’ gave it to you.” Josh grinned as Ethan held it in both hands, his nine year old body struggling between excitement and reverence. I’m sure he said thank you, that was the kind of kid he was, but I don’t remember. All I could see was a master recognizing the infinite possibilities in a little boy. Josh didn’t so much mark Ethan, but invite him, to a brave new world, knowing that even if Ethan never came back he would always have a piece of the experience with him.
And I knew then, that I wanted to do that for all the kids in the group. For all the kids in this tiny town. This is why I loved teaching.