Adam went to school with the sons and daughters of successful Jewish families. He envied them the fact that they would go on to college using their parents' money. He had no such options and worked every minute he could spare from his studies.

Adam was working at the neighborhood meat market when his sister spotted an advertisement in the local newspaper for a veterinarian's assistant. The next day he applied at the office of Norman Simels, doctor of veterinary medicine.

Adam thought he had made a good impression, but for two weeks there was no word. He had just about given up when Simels called. "Do you still want the job?" the veterinarian asked abruptly. "If you do, come in and let's talk."

Simels told Adam he considered his assistant's position to be more than a job. "This is an opportunity for you to grow as a person," he said. "I expect whoever I hire to be someone who can accept responsibility, someone I can trust and who can work independently. In exchange, I will be more than a boss; I will be your guide. So what do you say--are you that kind of person?"

Adam glanced up. Simels was a big man who had played football for Texas A&M. A respected member of the Jewish community, he was disappointed that, so far, neither of his two sons had shown any indication that they would be worth a damn.

"Yes," Adam said.
Simels soon proved he was as good as his word.
"`Ain't?'" he would ask when Adam slipped into street vernacular. "What kind of a word is that? How are you going to get anywhere if you don't speak proper English?"

Or, if he caught Adam watching the floor as he walked, he'd stop him and scold, "Hold your head up, Adam. Watch where you're going in the world."

Adam nearly fainted at the sight of blood during his first operation. When Simels noticed his young assistant's pallor, he gruffly told him, "Only one patient in here needs to sleep...and he has four paws."

That pulled Adam out of it. As Simels continued, discussing each part of the procedure as though he were talking to a veterinary student, Adam forgot his stomach and found himself fascinated.

When Simels wasn't busy, they talked about life and dreams and Adam's upcoming decisions about college. But most of what Adam learned from Simels he learned by observation.

Such as the lesson about compassion Adam got the day the man who owned the local pet shop, a good friend of the veterinarian, brought in a blind boxer puppy. It was obvious that no one would ever buy a blind puppy. Even so, the pet-shop owner said he wanted to have the dog's ears and tail bobbed, as though he expected to sell it. Simels took the puppy to the operating room where Adam waited to assist him.

Adam looked up as Simels approached the dog with a hypodermic needle. His eyes grew wide when he saw the amount of anesthesia in the hypodermic, far too much for a small puppy. Unless...

Simels didn't say anything, but there were tears in his eyes as he plunged in the needle and then proceeded to operate as though this were just another ordinary procedure.

When he finished, Simels announced that the puppy had died. There would be no charge, he told his friend.

Simels never spoke about the incident. Nor did Adam. He wasn't sure that anyone would understood that Simels had done what he did out of compassion. But Adam could not imagine a more gentle man or a better friend.

It wasn't long after that Adam learned a far uglier lesson about human nature.

One afternoon a rich woman brought her dog into the clinic. The animal had been struck by a car, and it was quickly apparent that the animal would not live. Simels tried to explain the circumstances, but the hysterical woman insisted that something be done to save her precious pet. "Please," she begged. "You have to do something."

Moved by the woman's pleas, Simels took the dog back into the operating room and for hours tried to perform a miracle. But finally, he had to give up. With Adam following, he went out into the waiting room and quietly told the woman that her dog was dead.

"You goddamn Jew," the woman spat. "You killed my dog."
Shocked, Adam looked at the woman. Then he looked at his mentor, who was flushing red from the top of his balding head to where his neck disappeared into his shirt. The boy could tell that Simels was angry, but he held his tongue while the woman continued her harangue and then slammed out of the office.

Adam tried to tell Simels how sorry he was for what she had said.
Simels nodded. "We did our best, but she's angry and hurt about her dog," he said. Then he sent Adam home and returned to work.

So impressed was Adam with the gentle veterinarian that one afternoon, while they were sitting in the office eating their lunches, he offhandedly remarked that perhaps he would go to college to become a veterinarian.

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