THE NEBRASKA BLUE PRINT (October 1927)
A DREAM PARABLE
(With acknowledgments to an unknown)
A normal, fun-loving, human lad finished his high
school work in a Nebraska town and was influenced to look into the possibilities
of a college course— somewhere. "Why not go to college ?"
Well, why not?
The result was that. after a rather brief
consideration, he drifted into the university under the impression that
he had determined to take a university course. In point of fact, he had
simply followed the path of least resistance, and other people had settled
the matter for him. He was here because the high school principal had put
it up to him to get a better education, because his home preacher had urged
him to come, because his father and mother had said, "Let's send Sam to
the university." He had not objected.
And here Sam was. In fact, here Sam had been
for a full school year, and here Sam again found himself as a sophomore
engineer. He had not loafed, and he had not failed. He was not a top-notcher,
he was not a dub. He was not a "dig", he was not a "cake-eater." He was—well,
really, it was much easier to characterize Sam by what he had not done
and by what he was not, than in terms of what he had done or what he was.
He was bounded by negatives. Un-fortunately, that did not prove him to
be a positive force. He continued in his engineering studies, probably
by virtue of that law in physics which states that a body once set in motion
maintains its speed and direction of travel until influenced by some external
force. Or, we might say that he maintained his status quo, which, according
to President W. 0. Thompson, is a polite way of saving that he was afflicted
with at least a mild form of laziness.
His ambitions had not been stirred deeply.
He was contented and happy, in a way. He did not recognize that he was
not getting satisfaction out of his labor and his experiences. He was not
standing still—why worry? He was with the boys, and was not unwilling to
spend even a bit too much time socially.
Yes, why worry?
And then, one night, he dreamed a dream. He
was walking on the streets of Lincoln when a man stopped him and said,
"I am the city engineer- I want you to get ready to take my place. There
are street grades to determine, pavements to lay, water supplies to furnish
and to protect. There are areas to drain, there are specifications to make
out. estimates to make, bids to interpret. There is a civic plan to be
produced. I'm getting tired and will soon have to lay all this down.
I want you to get ready to take my place."
And while he was studying this request, wondering
how to answer it, he suddenly found himself looking across a table into
the eyes of a man who pushed back his chair and, leaning back, said, "I
am the architect for the new business block just going up on Thirteenth
and P Streets. I want you to get ready to take my place. The contractors
are asking questions about materials and plans. They must be told
about the thousand and one things which cannot be written into the specifications.
Then, there are the new plans to be drawn for the University campus, and
the Engineering building. The Smiths are waiting for the plans for
their new home. And I am working upon a wonderful monument, which I hope
will win recognition in a contest in the east. But I'll soon be ready to
turn these all over to you. I want you to get ready to take my place."
The scene faded out, and was transformed.
Sam seemed to be in motion. He heard the click-click, click-click of the
wheels upon the rail joints. Seated beside him in a Pullman lounge car
was a quiet, slow-speaking, studious-looking man, with gray hair showing
about his temples. He was speaking.
"I want you to get ready to take my place," he was saying. "I am the
chief engineer of this railroad. It is a growing road, with heavier freight
demands every year. We must lower our grades, rebuild many
bridges, renew and replace our rolling stock. The new station must be finished,
and the track layouts completed. Some of those dangerous sections
out in Wyoming must be protected against floods and rock slides. Our supplies
of ties must be conserved. We must carry on increasingly, with even greater
economy, in order to stand up under the inroads of the automobile. I'll
soon be ready to pass this on to other hands. I want you to get ready to
take my place."
He ceased his charge and disappeared through
a hazy background, out of which appeared another man,. with his hand extended
"Howdy do, Sam," he said. "Do you know me? I'm Mr. Average Citizen,
and I'm the busiest man on earth. I want you to get ready to take my place
'To do what,' did you say? Oh, I can't stop to tell! it all, but you'll
have to form public opinion and vote; support public institutions—the
schools, the churches, the hospitals; raise and educate a family; pay taxes,
help settle the world's quarrels, and help to pay its debts. You'll
have to take the blame for almost everything that happens, from epidemics
to floods, for somewhere you will have left undone a job the completion
of which would have prevented the disaster. It's a pretty big order, but
somebody has to be 'it' and you look husky and fairly intelligent.
I think I'll draft you for my job. You must take it very soon."
And then—another form appeared, and he was
repeating the formula which Sam had heard so persistently.
"I want you to get ready to take my place."
Who was he?
There must be some mistake!
"I'm on the high road to a fortune this time!
I've just thought of a sure way to get my bus started, an' when I start—oh,
boy! I never had a real chance before, but it'll be a hummer now! But I
can't take care of it very long. I'll need a substitute pretty soon."
He looked rather familiar. Where had Sam seen
him before? Hm!— He was old "Toot" Horn, the village ne'er-do-well- Always
about to do something —never doing it. Shiftless, aimless, drifting. Un-kempt,
unlettered, unhonored. Not desired by anyone as a companion—not missed
by anyone when absent. Could it be that someone was getting ready to take
his place of dishonor and discredit?
"I want you to get ready"——
Sam shuddered and awoke.