STORY: Career Day at Linnaeus Limestone Junior High

It was career day for the ninth graders at Linnaeus Limestone Junior High. So far they’d heard presentations from a hair salon owner, an accountant, a chef-restaurateur, and a fire chief.

Mr. Loizencraft was next to speak. He was a former teacher, and now an insurance salesman. He hadn’t enjoyed teaching. Now, based on his statements to the class, it seemed his woebegone persona remained consistent. He barely enjoyed the insurance industry. Poor Mr. Loizencraft.

Meanwhile, the last speaker of the day and most anticipated guest, Mr. Rhodes, called to say he couldn’t make it. He told the school receptionist he had fallen ill after lunch. She told her officemates, “The kids are going to be so disappointed. Especially Jimmy. He was going to bring swag. I know we could have used the pens.”

The truth was, Mr. Rhodes had an opportunity to golf with another executive who happened to be in town. it sounded like a merger was in the works. Hopefully his nephew Jimmy would understand that things come up.

Mr. Perelka, the janitor, happened to overhear the conversation. He went back to his closet and locked up. No one noticed as he exited through a side door and headed home, less than a mile away. He put on a suit he hadn’t worn in years, and headed back to the school.

As he entered the office, he looked very familiar to the staff, but many couldn’t quite “place” his face. They looked up at him admiringly. He filled out a guest pass and put a name sticker on. Then he walked to the library where career day was happening.

Mrs. Goodacre, “Oh, hello? You must be our next speaker today. Mr. Rhodes?”

“He couldn’t make it. My name is Mr. Perelka.” He entered the room. “Hello, students! How are we doing today?”

The students all had glazed expressions. Jimmy sulked at the back of the room.

“Tough crowd, tough crowd. I am your last speaker today.”

“Yay!” blurted most of the students.

“Okay, okay, I know you’re ready to get out of here. I’ll ask again: how are we doing?”

“Good!”

“I’m Mr. Perelka, and I really like what I do. I have a riddle for you. I like an organized, clean workspace. I get to see smiling faces every day.  I get to see growth. My teammates also like to see development right before their eyes. We’re all on a mission to help our customers learn. So can anyone guess where I work?”

One girl raised her hand. “The arboretum?”

“Good guess, good guess, but no. Anyone else?”

One boy raised his hand and inquired, “Pickens Chicken Farm?”

“Not bad, either, but no. Who else?”

There was a long silence.

“I’ll repeat what I said a minute ago: My teammates also like to see development right before their eyes. We’re all on a mission to help our customers learn.”

“Oh!” another girl raised her hand. “You work with computers like my mom and dad. You make software.”

“Another great guess, but no.  So are we stumped? Are we all out of guesses?”

The students made an “uh-huh” noise in awkward unison.

“I’ll provide one last clue: some people say I really clean up.”

There was another long silence.

“I am actually here every day. I’m Mr. Perelka, and I’m your school janitor.”

There were audible gasps around the room. It was mostly kids, but a few teachers, too. Jimmy chuckled and noted, “That’s a dad joke.”

“Well, I am a dad. A lot of you probably don’t recognize me outside of my usual uniform. Some of you might not have noticed my face until today. That’s okay, I didn’t take this job for the fame.”

“Some parts of my job involve messy, icky stuff, but that’s okay. Every job involves messes. I get to be the problem-solver that cleans them up. My job has paid well enough to help afford a house and send two little girls to college.”

“But the real treat, I get to watch each of you grow from nervous sixth graders to sophisticated, promising ninth graders. I don’t fear for the future of this country. I see it get a little better every day.

A girl raised her hand. “You said you helped us learn, but you’re not a teacher.”

“Good point. Not all learning is done in a classroom. Even when you graduate high school in four years, you are only just beginning. So what is my role? Sometimes I help new students find their way to the office or that first new class. I talk to that girl no one’s eating lunch with, or that boy that didn’t make the JV team he wanted to be a part of. These opportunities aren’t on TV or Instagram, but I will always remember them,” he pointed to his temple, “up here.”

“My message to you students today is, a job is something you will spend a lot of your life doing. A lot of people want jobs that others will envy them for, instead of ones that will bring them personal joy. So every day it’s that much harder for them to show up. Maybe you’ve noticed your parents talk about dreaded Mondays.”

Some of the students nodded.

“Whatever you decide to do, you want a job like feels like that for you. There’s no Monday feeling in a job like that. Every day here at the double Linnaeus Limestone is different. I don’t know what’s going to happen before I get here, but I’m excited to find out. I hate to miss a day, or a moment. Thank you. I’ll see you in the hallway.”

The students all stood up and clapped. There would be several more career days before the class of 2022 finished high school, but none as memorable many years later as this one.

 

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STORY: A Leafroller Caterpillar

A small green caterpillar was suspended from a transparent thread. She hung precariously ten feet below a tree leaf on a breezy day.

She was only just learning how thread worked when she fell off her leaf and her thread spooled her way, way, way down.

Was it possible to get back up? She wanted to get back to eating leaves, or taking a nap on the underside of one before the afternoon sun got too hot and cooked her soft little body.

But her leaf was all the way up there. She could barely see where it was, but the thread knew the way. So she started climbing.

A blue jay passed by. “You’re lucky you are too tiny to be a satisfying snack, and I’m too busy to clip your thread.”

The little caterpillar paid him no mind and kept climbing.

A larger caterpillar saw her and cried, “what are you doing out there? Something will eat you any minute! You never leave your leaf!”

The little caterpillar paid him no mind and kept climbing.

The breeze blew the little caterpillar closer to a spider’s web.

The spider said, “I have a nice secure net full of thread here.” She patted it to prove it. “Why don’t you climb on over?”

The little caterpillar hung tightly on to her thread and waited until the wind died down. She swung back and forth, back and forth, and back, and forth. Then her thread was back to its resting position. She started climbing again. She thought she could see her leaf up ahead.

Two squirrels jumped from branch to branch overhead, causing the leaves to tremble, including her leaf. For a moment, she thought about jumping herself to get the journey over with. But her legs had no knees and no hips, no means to jump. So she kept climbing.

She was getting close now. It started to lightly rain. Drips falling onto her face made it hard to see, but she kept climbing. Eventually, the rain let up.

By now she had passed thousands of leaves. If she had swung on her thread hard enough, maybe she could have got it caught on one of them and climbed off. Or maybe she would still be swinging in the air. She kept climbing.

At last, she reached her leaf. It smelled like home. Slivers of sunlight hit it just right: it was warm, but not too hot. She pinched its surface with each of her little feet. It was so good to be here. Then she crawled to the underside and took a nap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY: White Duck

There was a white duck that wasn’t happy living on a farm, even though he was eating all he wanted. He could sleep in a barn on rainy days.

He’d had siblings, but some went away to other farm families. His parents disappeared when he was 1 year old. They went behind the barn with the farmer and never came back. Other older ducks had also gradually disappeared behind the barn. He heard that one day he too would go behind the barn, and he probably wouldn’t see any of the other animals ever again. No more sunshine on his feathers. No more splashing in puddles on rainy days.

And the white duck realized that, for a duck, he had never been in the water. Could he even paddle? He definitely would never fly, his wings were too small and his body was too large. But swimming more would be nice.  And never learning what happened behind the barn would be a relief.

So one lazy weekend afternoon, white duck started walking. He disappeared from the farm and roamed through multiple yards. He quacked hello to squirrels, turkeys, and rabbits. He saw cats and dogs, too; both made him nervous, so he walked a little faster. When it was getting too dark to see, he found a quite spot among some shrubs or scrub palms, and he nestled down to sleep. The next morning he set out to do more walking.

One day he found a large lake with a small island in the middle. He was nervous to keep walking for any more days because the days seemed to be growing shorter. So he decided this lake was his new home for awhile.

He trotted down to the shore and stepped out into the water. He was slow paddler at first, the water’s resistance was strong. But he made it to the island. Several feet away, he saw much smaller ducks than himself feverishly diving underwater for fish. Another duck with a dark green head swam near to him and started submerging its head in the muddy shorefront.

“Is there food down there?” white duck asked green headed duck. He wasn’t even sure he and the green-headed duck would speak the same language.

“There’s bugs in the mud and fish in the water. All I can eat in an afternoon. It doesn’t get better than that,” the green head duck replied before re-submerging.

 White duck wasn’t used to foraging for food, he usually ate grain from a bowl and the occasional bug in the farm yard. But he would give it a shot. He ducked his head under and started poking at the mud. Bugs came out and he snapped at a few, just missing them. When he came back to the surface, out of breath. Green headed duck noticed his struggling and said, “It’s easier if you filter mud through your bill small bits at a time. When you feel something moving, swallow it.”

“Oh, okay. Thank you. This is all so new to me. I never swam until today.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” said the green headed duck, “but you don’t look like a Mallard, a Grebe, or a Bufflehead. I’m Michael, I’m a Mallard.” A brown duck about Michael’s size paddled up beside them. “This is my partner, June. We’ve been together about 3 years, we’ve had 15 children.”

White duck responded, “I’m, I’m…I don’t have a name. I left the farm where I grew up. I started walking and found this lake. The days seems to be getting shorter so I stopped here. I’d never noticed the days getting shorter before. Is that normal?”

Michael said, “Yes. Many of the trees are going to change colors and then lose their leaves.  It’s going to get colder. I think people call it Autumn. You made a good call leaving your farm. You’re a big duck and people eat more ducks in the colder seasons.”

White duck was surprised. When he thought about it, he recalled it was a little colder in the barn when the older ducks disappeared. “Yes, I suppose I was.” He felt his eyes getting watery. June noticed the reflective look in his eyes.

June said, “Well we don’t want to make you sad. We have a beautiful lake here and bugs aplenty. We fly to lots of ponds, golf courses, and yards. This is one of our favorite spots. We always come back and the island is a great spot to sleep. So, what do you want your name to be?”

White duck thought back to feed sacks he’d seen at the farm. “Red Top?”

Michael said, “Red. We’ll call you Red. We’re going to go fly around to some other spots, for now, but we’ll be back when it’s getting dark.”

“Good to meet you!”quacked Michael and June as they took off, flying over the tree line and off into the sky.