Smoggy People

By Linda Porter Carlyle

Trevor Paul Monroe plunked his stack of library books down on the table in G.M.’s studio. “It’s awful nice of you to help me with my report,” he said to Joseph.

“Aw, that’s OK,” Joseph replied.

“You’d probably rather be outside messing around,” Trevor said. “I know I would!” He gazed longingly at the brilliant sunshine streaming through the big studio windows.

“I have to help you because G.M. thinks I don’t suffer enough since I am home-schooled,” Joseph said. “I don’t have all those deadlines and stuff like regular school kids.”

“Lucky you!” Trevor said with a grin.

G.M. peered at Joseph over the top of her glasses. “Unless you are a good research assistant for your friend Trevor here, I’ll assign you your own report to do,” she threatened. She shoved the glasses back up on her nose and picked up another paintbrush.

“I’ll take this book,” Joseph said. He grabbed the top one on the pile and settled, cross-legged, into his favorite overstuffed chair. Trevor took another book and sat down on the carpet.

“Wow!” Joseph exclaimed, looking up. “There are a lot of things that pollute the air! Cars and trucks do, and heating buildings does, and burning trash does, and factories do, and pollen and dust do. It sounds like a person can’t do anything without polluting the air!”

“It says here that air pollution is very bad for your health,” Trevor added, marking the place on the page with his finger. “It says that in the city of London in 1952, 4,000 people died from a ‘killer smog’! I didn’t know you could die from smog! That’s terrible!”

G.M. put down her paintbrush. “In some cities the daily weather report includes a pollution alert,” she said. “The weather report will warn older people and people who have breathing problems to stay inside and not go outdoors at all.”

“I guess we’re lucky we live in Jacksonville!” Trevor exclaimed. “We have good, clean air.”

“Oh, we have air pollution here sometimes,” G.M. said. “Especially in the winter when the fog settles in the valley. Lots of people heat their homes with wood stoves, and the wood smoke gets trapped in the fog. So some days our weather reports tell us not to burn wood if we have another way to keep our houses warm.”

It was quiet for a little while. The boys read. G.M. washed her brush out in clean water and changed colors.

“Did you know air pollution makes everything wear out sooner?” Trevor asked. “I’ve got to tell my mom this! Air pollution makes nylon stockings wear out sooner!”

G.M. grinned. “That’s a very useful piece of information,” she said.

Joseph looked at Trevor. “Aren’t you supposed to figure out what you can do to help stop air pollution?” he asked. “I don’t think there’s anything kids can do.”

Trevor looked thoughtful. “I guess we could tell our parents we want to walk more places instead of always going in the car,” he said. “Or we could take a bus maybe if it’s going where we want to go.”

“I can think of another kind of air pollution,” G.M. said. “And it’s one you really can do something about.”

“What?” Joseph asked curiously.

“When people talk discouragingly, they are polluting the air around them,” G.M. said. “And I think discouragement can be just as unhealthy as smog. Some people just seem to go through life in their own smoggy cloud of depressing words, and fears and unbelief and pouting.”

“Could I put that in my report?” Trevor wondered.

“I don’t see why not,” G.M. replied. “It may not be exactly what your teacher is expecting. But maybe you’ll get extra credit for creative thinking.”

Joseph grinned. “G.M. likes creative things!” he reminded Trevor. “Hey! Maybe you could put a picture of smog in your report,” he suggested. “You could draw a picture of a city with lots of buildings and then cover your drawing with a gray wash—that means to cover it all with light gray paint that you can still see through,” he explained. “Except in this picture in the book, the smog looks sort of yellow,” he said. “It looks sick!”

There was a familiar banging on the back door. “Come on in!” G.M. hollered.

Mac bounced down the hall and into the studio. “Hey! What are you guys doing? Why don’t you come outside and play? I think, in another few days, bunches of leaves will be falling off the trees, and we can earn some Christmas money raking.” She looked at Trevor. “Want to rake with us this year? It’s really fun when we do it together!”

Trevor gazed up at Mac’s bright red-and-white-striped T-shirt, her red overalls, and her new purple sneakers. “You are not a smoggy person,” he observed.

“That’s so true!” G.M. agreed. “No depression. No complaining. No pouting. She’s healthy to be around.”

“What in the world are you talking about?” Mac asked.

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