It’s a crisp autumn morning. Brown and gold leaves litter the ground and are tracked into a Kindergarten classroom on the soles of tiny sneakers. Children shuffle into the room, hang up their jackets, greet their teacher, and settle in behind their respective desks.
The lesson for the day, the teacher has decided, is going to be about sharing. She’s discussed the virtues of sharing with her class many times before, but a memo she received during the morning faculty meeting has compelled her to revisit the topic. Simply put, budget cutbacks have made it so that the school can only afford half the reading materials she had requested for the year. That means her students will be forced to come to an accord regarding the distribution of the more popular books, but it is the teacher’s firm belief that even with such finite resources, things could continue along beautifully if everyone works together to share what little they have.
After about an hour of discussion and educational exercises, the children become restless and appear ready for a break. The teacher informs them they may spend the next ten minutes as they wish, so long as they remain inside the classroom.
One boy goes right to playing with a pair of shiny, red fire trucks he’s brought in for Show-n-Tell. The trucks are identical. They have working ladders and removable hoses and flashing lights – the whole nine yards. Of course, it takes two hands to properly utilize all those features, so the young lad is only able to play with a single truck. Nevertheless, he sits by himself, pitting one of his fire engines against an imaginary dollhouse inferno.
Across the room, another boy is also playing alone. Glancing up from his Tinkertoys, he notices the boy over by the dollhouse and then spies the unused fire truck. Realizing the dollhouse is on fire and likely to burn to the ground if more help doesn’t arrive soon, he runs over and offers to aid in the Barbie-sized rescue by manning the second ladder truck.
At that, the first boy stops what he’s doing and seizes both trucks, clutching them to his chest with a look of suspicion and jealous anger. He shouts, “These are MY fire trucks!”
The second boy, stunned but congenial, replies that he only wanted to play with the toy and points out that it was sitting unused anyway.
“But it’s still MINE!”
By the time the teacher calls the kids back to their seats, the boy with the two fire trucks has struck a deal with the other boy.
Flash forward to lunchtime. The teacher has now touched on every aspect of sharing she can think of. She’s confident her words got through to the children. All that’s left is to inform them there will not be enough copies of Ranger Rick this year to go around and hope for the best.
At the other end of her table, two boys are sitting across from each other, eating their lunches. One boy – the one with a pair of shiny, red trucks nearby – reaches across the table and snatches a pudding cup from the other boy’s hand. “I’ll take that,” he sneers.
“Fine, it’s yours. Now let me play with that fire engine!”
Curious and concerned, the teacher inquires as to what is going on.
“Joey and I have a deal,” says the boy with the trucks.
“What kind of deal?”
“He wanted to play with one of my fire trucks, so I am letting him play with it in trade for his pudding cup.”
“But, you have two trucks,” observes the teacher. “You can’t play with them both at the same time, so why not let Joey play with the other?”
“Because they’re MINE!”
“Yes, but you have more than you need.”
“But I can get other stuff… like this pudding cup!”
“You already have one of those, as well.”
“Nothing to stop me from eating two pudding cups!”
“Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said in class today?”
“Well, then what’s to stop me from charging you a pudding cup just to read one of the precious few Ranger Rick magazines?”
“Go ahead! I have my own! I don’t need your stupid mag-zines!”
And then the teacher instantly realizes she’s spent her entire career misleading her students. All this time, she’s taught them to share, and in doing so has relegated the most well-meaning of them to be forever victimized by a supply-side world. The most gentle and generous will always give up their pudding cups for a few minutes with a shiny, red fire truck and the most deplorable will invariably be the ones with all the sheet metal and red paint.
The sudden epiphany breaks her heart and her will simultaneously.
An old woman sits in a rocking chair on the front porch of a small house. Though she appears to be daydreaming, she is in fact watching a group of children playing in the park across the street.
Her attention is presently averted to a man in his forties strolling up the walk towards her. Her eyes widen and a withered smile stretches across her pretty but timeworn face. Great excitement forces a small gasp out of her before allowing her to speak: “Why, Joseph Martin! As I live and breathe! Is that you? Is that really little Joey Give-It-Away?”
“Hi, Ms. Gamble. I happened to run into an old schoolmate who told me where you lived. I hope you don’t mind me dropping in on you like this. I wanted to surprise you.”
“Well, you’ve always surprised me, Joey, so I see no reason for you to stop now.”
The two of them sit watching the children and talking. Joey regales his old teacher with the anecdotes that best demonstrate the ironic virtue in being labeled “Seattle’s Socialist Senator”. He lists all the measures he’s championed on behalf of the poor and the homeless. He chokes up a couple of times recollecting certain significant victories he won on the behalf of people who couldn’t even vote.
“And I owe it all to you, you know.”
“How do you figure?”
“You gave me the foundation. I think Kindergarten teachers might be the most important teachers of all. We’re so impressionable at that age. We’ll believe almost anything. When you fell down that day in the cafeteria, I thought my lust for that silly fire truck had killed you. From that day forward, all I cared about was making sure everyone heard your lessons on sharing. I eventually made a career out of it.”
They sit in silence for a few minutes before Joey speaks again. “But enough about me,” he says. “How are things going for retired schoolteachers these days?”
Ms. Gamble stares quietly across the street. Joey wonders if she even heard his question. Finally, he turns his attention to where her gaze is fixed. Two young boys are sitting on a bench. They seem to have just met. One of the boys has a small cardboard box by his side and appears to be discussing its contents. Just then, he pulls two shiny, red fire engines from the box and hands one to his new-found companion.
“Wonderfully,” Ms. Gamble replies finally. “Things are going wonderfully for retired schoolteachers these days.”