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Building up

''I'll call Donovan,'' said Ethel when she learned that something or someone large had struck one of the two stone pillars at the head of the road that led to their house in the hills. Eddie said, ''Now wait a minute,'' and Ethel stopped politely. ''It's down, Ethel, the whole thing has been reduced to a pile.''

''He can do it with our help,'' she said and reached for the phone. OK, Eddie shrugged, and smiled. He stared absent mindedly at his right foot. Donovan: a gangling 17-year-old, a cross between a stork and a broom, a whirlwind of torpor and a boy systematically dismissed by nearly everyone including his family as inept and useless.

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And now he, Eddie Armbruster, once again would take this teen-age fireball and make a stonemason out of him just as he had tried to make a carpenter out of him, and a plumber, and a fence builder. ''Donovan!'' he had yelled at him when they had worked on the plumbing and the boy turned the water on at the wrong time, ''Donovan, you've got to think, boy, you've got to fool all of us pretty soon and start to think!''

And Donovan, all 6 feet 3 of him, had stared open-mouthed at the one man he thought loved him without judgment, and was too surprised to move. Then, hurt and forlorn, he had said in a voice from a hanging head, ''You sound like all the others.''

Eddie had calmed immediately. ''Not true, boy,'' he said. ''I'm out here with you, aren't I? I'm showing you how to be a plumber, aren't I?'' Then he turned the hose on him with full force so that the boy's low esteem of himself was temporarily washed away in blithering water and laughter. They soaked each other.

So the day after phoning Donovan, Eddie and Ethel loaded up the jeep with shovels, bags of pre-mixed cement, jugs of water, a small wheelbarrow, and trowels and drove the hilly mile from their house to the highway. Donovan waited under an oak tree near the pillar that was a pile of stones and broken mortar.

When he saw the jeep coming Donovan stood up, his blue short-sleeved shirt the color of the sky, and his long body almost Lincolnesque except for the blond hair. They greeted him as if he had just stepped off a plane from a triumphant year in Paris or Madagascar, although only a month had passed since they had seen him. And he, shy at first, responded then with enthusiasm that meant he wanted to rebuild the pillar to perfection.

As they unloaded the jeep Eddie explained the chronology of rebuilding the pillar stone by stone and carefully noted that the boy looked slightly different , a little more spirit in his dark, brown eyes, a quicker movement to his bulky hands, his words less tentative. Could this be a new dawning? he thought, a great leap forward? A turning point?

Ethel sat in the jeep under a straw hat and opened a copy of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Lifem, because she believed that there should always be a balance between work and art. ''You'll like this,'' she said to Donovan. ''It's a play of victory.'' And she began to read in a strong voice that hovered over man and boy as they mixed cement.

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On other work projects she had read Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichym, Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasonsm, and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godotm. Sometimes she read with such fervor that all hands would pause at some dramatic moment and then resume working when the crisis was past.

While she read, a perfectly balanced triangle developed. In place of the usual fumbling Donovan there was a young man suddenly - or so it seemed to Eddie - quite adept in movement and an ability to understand what was the next thing to do without being told. The pillar rose slowly, the husky smooth stones artfully reconstructed with a minimum of false or hesitant moves. This caused great delight in Eddie, who virtually stood back as Donovan was the prime mover of stones and the shaper of the pillar. All was in balance, Ethel reading, Donovan building, Eddie delighting.

When they broke for lunch (apple cider, ham-and-cheese sandwiches, gherkins, potato chips, and carrot cake) Eddie asked Donovan what was new in the world of teen-agers. ''Not much,'' Donovan shrugged. ''I like doing this,'' he said. Eddie thought he meant he liked constructing a pillar, and Ethel thought he meant he liked eating and listening to a dramatic reading under a blue sky on an incandescently clear day. What Donovan meant was that he beheld the moment as immensely satisfying, as being present at, and being part of, an intersection of lovely forces where no one or no thing was attacking or subjugating anyone or anything else. ''I like doing this,'' he said, skipping all the analysis in favor of the heart of the matter. ''I like doing this too,'' said Ethel, crunching a gherkin. ''I concur,'' said Eddie.

After lunch Ethel continued reading the play as Donovan shaped the pillar into a square chunk about five feet tall, the twin of the pillar fifteen feet across the road. Eddie watched, delighted. He felt contentment that struggle was prologue to victory as long as you don't give in or up.

He wanted to sit down with Donovan, man to man, and say intently, ''Boy, you used to be here and now you're over here.'' ''But let it go,'' he thought. When an apple turns red, why call attention to its former greenness?

The pillar stood completed in the late afternoon, a truly fine pillar with crafted substance - finished two or three stones before Ethel brought down the curtain on the play. What remained was to clean up and go home.

''Thanks for letting me do this,'' said Donovan, motioning to the pillar. ''Can I borrow the play? I missed a few lines here and there.'' They cleaned up. Donovan took the play with him. Eddie started the jeep. Ethel peered out from under the straw hat. ''Victory, dear boy,'' she said to Donovan, like the Queen of words and stones.

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