Billy’s Big Discovery

by James Beattie Morison
© 2010 James Beattie Morison

A young boy dreams of being a great scientist. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect.

An Evening Walk

The fading light of a late summer day cast shadows across the beach. Two figures, a little boy and a young man, walk along the edge of the water. They walked in silence with only the sound of the waves.

The little boy looked up at the man and smiled.

“This is the best birthday ever. I’m five whole years old. I’m a big boy now.”

“Yes Billy, you are growing up fast.”

They walk farther in the fading light.

“Dad, what will I be when I grow all the way up?”

“What do you want to be? A doctor? A lawyer? A teacher? A scientist?”

“A scientist!” Billy said with conviction.

They stopped while Billy picked up a pebble. He spun around and let it fly a few feet before it plopped into the water.

“Dad, what does a scientist do?”

His father thought for a moment. “They do all kinds of things. Mostly they discover things.”

Billy said, “I’m going to make a big discovery!”

He proceeds to hunt for things as they walk along the beach. He finds a small object and runs to his father with it. His father congratulates him on his big discovery.

Billy hunted for more things as they walked along.

Suddenly he stopped and pointed, “Here’s my big discovery!”

Billy and his father picked up Billy’s discovery and they started to walk back.


The Cabin by the Beach

Outside it was dark, but in the cabin, a little oil lamb cast a light that flickered throughout the room. Under Billy’s watchful eye, his mother carefully placed his discovery into a box.

She wrote “Billy’s Big Discovery” on the side of the box. Then she carefully tided a string around the box so it would be safe.

“Now its time for our great scientist to go to bed.”

Billy frowned, but then smiled at his mother as she took him to his room.


Sixty Years Later

The nameplate said, “Prof. William Paul Johnson”, but someone had taped a slip of paper above it that said “Dr. Billy”. The old man smiled, then took out the screwdriver he brought from home and took down the nameplate. He hesitated, and then took the slip of paper too.

The old man sat down in his office and gazed out the window. The late summer sun light had begun to fade. He looked around the office. The shelves were empty. All the books packed away or given a new home. He put the nameplate into a box of odds and ends that sat on the desk.

He glanced at his watch and frowned.


The Student

A knock came at the door and he said, “Come in”.

The door opened and a younger, bald, man came in. He smiled at the older man.

“Good afternoon Sir”.

The older man smiled.

“You don’t have to call me Sir after all these years.”

“Yes Sir”.

The older man said, “I thought you’d be headed back to the capital today!”

“I couldn’t go with out a visit to you. What kind of student would forget his mentor on his last day?”

“Have a seat, have a seat,” the older man said while as he brushed off the guest chair.

The younger man sat down. The younger man looked around the office, and then back to the older man. A look of awe flashed across his face.

“It is strange to see the office this way.” The younger man continued, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party last night. Is it too late to wish you a happy birthday?”

“Today is my birthday.”


The Paper

“I saw you on the news. You have some important work to do ahead of you.”

The younger man flushed with embarrassment.

“I read your paper. I was impressed. Not everyone has the opportunity to make such an important discovery.”

“If I have seen farther than others – it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” The younger man frowned. “I would rather than I was wrong.”

Both men were silent.


What Billy Discovered

“You know I decided to be a scientist when I was only five. I wanted to make a big discovery. I wanted something that would make me famous.”

The younger man nodded.

“It never happened though. I’ve done many things, but I never had the big discovery I wanted. ”

The older man looked down.

“I did make a discovery in the last few weeks though. Lots of people have dropped by to see me: Colleagues, former students, and friends. The all wanted to ay goodbye. I heard a lot of stories.”

The older man paused and looked out his office window. The younger man waited for him to go on.

“You know, not one of them said anything about my scientific work. They talked about I affected their work and their life. They talked about me as a friend, a teacher, even a rival.”

The older man turned to the younger man and smiled.

“I discovered that it is who you are that people remember you for, not what you did. That makes it easier for me to find happiness in my new life.”


The Box

The older man looked around the office.

“That reminds me . . .” The older man got up, walked over to a shelf, and took down a small box. “I almost forgot to take this.”

The younger man watched as his mentor brought the box back to his desk. Written on the side of box was “Billy’s Big Discovery”.

The older man continued. “This always reminds me of my mother” For a second his eyes seemed to glow. “She did this the day I decided to be a scientist”.

“I made my first big discovery on the beach and she put it away. I’ve never looked at it since. I didn’t want to untie her knot.”

The older man tried to untie the knot, but in the end, he had to cut it with a knife. He took off the lid to look inside.

“It doesn’t look very impressive now, but it was very important to a five year old boy.”


One Final Discovery

The older man continued to look into the box. His brow furrowed and a puzzled expression settled on his face.

“That odd . . .”

The older man started to examine the object more closely. He motioned to the younger man to come closer. He shows him the object in the box.

“What do you make of that?”

The younger man looked into the box. Then back at his mentor as if to ask what he should see. The older man motioned him to look again. The younger man gave a start as he looked back into the box

“Do you see it now?”

“Yes. Yes I do.”

“Do you know what it means?”

“We were wrong.”

“Yes we were.” The older man laughed. “Oh well, it is only 40 years of my work down the drain.”

The younger man said, “But, we have some hope now”.

The older man smiled. “Yes we do”.

The younger man gazed at his mentor and said, “Not everyone gets to make such an important discovery”.

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