A Breath of Air


My seven o’clock class filed out, and I opened the window to let in some fresh air before sticking my head into the hall to signal to my next class, just one student, a 60-ish man. A gust of night air swirled in, and while my student took off his coat, I closed the window. “Wind!” he said, and I agreed.

“There’s a saying,” he told me, speaking Spanish, and then repeated it for me: Antes falta un hijo al padre que el agua al viento.

The verb faltar means to lack or to fail, and the saying means that a wind with no rain is even less likely than a child disrespecting a parent.

I thought of all the hot dry places in Spain swept by arid winds and of the droughts that plague them, and my student must have too, for he added, “A saying here in Asturias, anyway.”

I told him how to say it in English. Then, with a chuckle, we agreed the saying was outdated: considering the behavior of today’s kids, you’d be better off claiming it was more likely for a child to respect his parents than for the wind to bring no rain. Our laughter devolved into gentle head-shaking. He described a scene he’d witnessed on the sidewalk, a child throwing a tantrum and the parent apologizing to the child and practically begging him to come along, and I told of a student, disruptive in class though a nice-enough boy, who nearly defied me when I sent him into the hall.

Of course, my adult student said, you didn’t want the other extreme that existed once, with parents like gods. That wasn’t good either, he said, and my mind jumped to one of the just departed students, who had once described a teacher who was a bully and had frightened children by yelling insults at them for not doing their homework. “She yelled at the kids?” I’d asked, “and frightened them?”

“Some kids. Not me. If a teacher insulted me, I’d insult her right back,” he declared, not proudly but confidently. Would you really, I asked, and he assured me he wouldn’t hesitate. He was an adult now, but he said it was just as true when he was a teen. Sitting with my older student, I wished I had asked this other one about his parents, and if a lack of respect on their part would elicit from him a response in kind. Maybe I’d bring it up one day. For now though, I was content to shake my head with my older student and agree that neither one extreme nor the other was the answer.

“Well,” I said, “We’ll see if the weather is more dependable than children’s manners. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”

“Before that,” he said. “Tonight.” And though kids may challenge teachers and talk back to parents and disregard all the norms of yore, the wind remembers, and the first drops were falling an hour and a half later, as I left the building. Before I was home, the rain was a downpour, as loud and determined as any child’s tantrum.

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Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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