A Professor’s Journal: Lost and found

The third grader at Oaklawn Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, had waited for this day. Usually, his father would come around at the end of the school day I to pick up the two brothers for the ride home.

But now it was spring, and the boys’ parents had decided that it was time for the younger brother to walk home alone. And the boy knew the route well, having often walked it with his mother to a grocery store nearby the school.

He knew that after several blocks from the school a large, dark brick house surrounded by a chain-link fence would rise on the hill to the right. Intimidating black Dobermans, three of them, always came barking down to the fence at the sidewalk.

It was at that house the boy knew to turn left onto the safety of Collins Street, his street.

The street was still gravel but after making the turn, his house, a nondescript, white frame bungalow with attached garage in front, stood only three doors to the right.

The boy waited patiently for the final school bell to ring. And when it rang he headed home. He skipped along a block or two, and then began to look for the large dark house with the chain-link fence. He listened for the familiar bark of the dogs. He walked another block, and kept up his watch. Then, another block. And then, yet another.

By this time he knew something was amiss. Had he missed a turn? Had he left the school from the wrong corner? He wasn’t sure where he had gone wrong, but he was sure of one thing. He was lost, utterly lost. He began to cry, and through his tears he saw across the street a tall man with a bag draped over his shoulder. The man wore a distinctive blue-gray uniform. The boy knew him for what he was, a mailman.

The boy looked both ways and crossed the street. He got the postman’s attention, and still crying, tried to explain to him that he was lost. The boy explained that he had just left Oaklawn Elementary School a while ago, that his parents had allowed him for the first time to walk home alone, but that something had gone wrong. He was lost.

The boy has never forgotten what that postman did at that moment of his despair. The postman did not just point the boy back to the school with instructions to walk a few blocks in the direction from which he had come. Rather, the postman put his arm around the boy, left his own mail route, and walked with the boy step by step all the way back to the school.

Sure enough, back in the parking lot stood the boy’s family, father and mother and brother, beside the white Rambler station wagon.

The Rambler had all the doors flung open wide, as if the car itself welcomed the boy back. The boy ran into the arms of his parents and they took him safely home.

I will never forget what that postman did for me that day. And I will never forget his face. And when I try to imagine what God looks like, I don’t see a stern old man with a long-flowing beard.

Instead, through tear-stained eyes, I see the kindly, smiling face of the postman who led me back home.

Column by Duane Bolin, professor of history.