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AMERICAN STORIES - Young Man Axelbrod

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NOTES: This is a dictation version by Van Allen, according to Young Man Axelbrod (a full version with PDF format).

Now, the Special English program AMERICAN STORIES.

Our story today is called "Young Man Axelbrod." It was written by Sinclair Lewis. Here is Shep O'Neal with our story.

As a boy Knute Axelbrod always wanted to be a student. But he never had time to learn. He married young and had to work to get money to educate his children. But a lifetime of hard farm work did not destroy his love for books and beauty.

His wife died. Then his children left home. He was alone. His work was done and no one needed him any more. At first he did exactly what he had done for years. He got up at five o'clock in the morning. He cleaned the house and worked in the fields. But one bright morning Knute decided it was time for a change. He began to go for long walks at night. He learned the secrets of the dark. He saw the broad grasslands under the moon. He heard the voices of grass and cottonwood trees and sleepy birds. He walked many kilometers just to look at the beauty of the land.

As part of this new freedom, he began to read stories about love and adventure. He escaped from the lonely farm to exciting far away places. Once, he read a story about a young man who worked to get money for a university education. When Knute finished the story, a special brightness came into his eyes. He sat up, banged the book down on the table and said, "By golly, I think I will go to a university!"

He bought schoolbooks and began to study. Knute the farmer began to learn. Learning things now was his whole life. It was hard, harder than working on the farm. Toward autumn of the second year, Knute lost hope. He thought he would never get into a university. Perhaps it was all a dream that would never be real.

One day, a busy little storekeeper stopped Knute on the street and asked about the schoolbooks. Other men crowded around to listen. They laughed and said cruel things. Knute Axelbrod knew they were making jokes about him, it made him very angry. He decided then that he must go to a university. He bought a black suit, a hat and got on the train to New Haven Connecticut to become a student at Yale University. He was put into student housing with another student, a soft faced boy named Ray Gribble. Ray was studying so he could earn more money as a teacher. When Ray learned of Knute's reason for going to a university, he said, "A man like you, an old man, should be studying the Bible and religion. Poetry and art are only for foolish young men."

Old Knute felt defeated. Most of the students seemed to be interested in business and industry, none of them talked about the beauty of life and learning. Knute was the strange one in the university. The students looked at him in a funny way. They thought he had a sick mind the kind that comes with old age. And so Knute's bright dream broke into little pieces. The university began to lose the special light he thought was there. The cold rooms were full of students who laughed when Knute walked passed in his black suit and hat. Knute wished he could find just one student with a heart as young as his. It would make life easier.

Then, one day Knute met such a student. It was after a very difficult time in class. Knute sat in the study room after everyone else had gone. Through the window came the light of late summer and sound of clear young voices from the football field. Knute said in a low voice, "I do not belong here."

"I do not belong here either." The young student said. Old Knute looked at him. Here was another one to make jokes about his age for the long white hair that grew on his face.

"Beautiful day isn’t it?" the boy said, "My name is Gil Washburn." His smile was open and kind. When Knute saw the boy smile he did not feel so alone.

"We should be friends," Gil said, "we both came here to dream and the others think we are foolish."

"How do you know about me?" asked Knute.

"All they told me you are more interested in poetry and art than in business." He gave a book to Knute, "Here, look at this. I bought it last year and never go anywhere without it."

Knute had never seen a book like this before. It was so small and beautiful he was almost afraid to touch it with his rough hands. He gently put a finger on the soft cover and opened it.

"I always knew there were books like this in the world," he said with a look of wonder on his face, "but I cannot read it."

"I will read a little for you," Gil said, "it is French poetry." Gil spoke the strange words with a special music in his voice. This was the sort of beauty Knute had looked for all his life. Knute wanted to speak, to tell this boy of his happiness, but the words would not come.

"I have an idea," Gil said jumping out, "Ysaye is playing in the Hartford tonight. Will you go with me and hear him? I tried to get some of the boys to come but they were too busy." Knute Axelbrod did not know who Ysaye was but he shouted, "Yes, by golly we shall go."

In the music of Ysaye, the first violin player he had ever heard, Knute found many things he had dreamed about. The violin music stayed inside Knute's head as they walked back under the October moon. At first it was Gil who talked and Knute who listened as they walked. Then old Knute told stories about his early days in America. About farming, about how the wind makes fields of grass look like a moving sea. They reached the university about four o'clock in the morning.

Knute said, "Well, it was good, I'll go to sleep now and I will dream about..."

"Sleep?" young Gil shouted, "Never! The party is just beginning. It is still early. Wait here a minute while I go up to my room and get some money for food. Wait, please wait!" Knute would have waited forever. He had lived sixty-five years and traveled two thousand kilometers to find someone like Gil Washburn.

They bought some food in a store that was open all night and took it up to Gil's room. The room was full of things Knute liked, paintings on the walls, a rug covering the floor and books everywhere. While they ate they talked about famous men and the wonderful things they did. Gil read a little from books then he read his own poetry. Knute did not know whether the poetry was good or bad. It seemed a miracle that a man could make poems the way a tree grows fruit. They became sleepy. Knute got up and left. He wished the night had never ended. It was already daylight. The morning sun hit the red brick walls with a cold hard light.

"I can go to his room many times," Knute said to himself, "I have found a friend." He held the book of French poetry that Gil had given him. But even as the words came from his lips he knew they were not true. He felt old now and very, very tired.

"Age and youth, I do not think they belong together." Old Knute slowly climbed the steps to his room. "If I see the boy again he might not be interested in me, besides I have told him everything I know." He opened the door. "This is the reason I came to the university," he thought, "for just one night such as this. I will go away before anything can change it."

Knute wrote a letter saying goodbye to Gil, then he put his clothes into a suitcase. At five o'clock that afternoon, in a train going west, an old man sat smiling. His eyes were alive with a deep happiness. In his hand was a small book of French poetry which he could not read.

You have just heard the story "Young Man Axelbrod". It was written by Sinclair Lewis. It was published in "My Favorite Stories" by Dodd, Mead and Company. Your narrator was Shep O'Neal. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week at the same time to another AMERICAN STORY told in Special English. This is Shirley Griffith.

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