Six years of tutoring draw vet, girl close

“Define ‘customs,’ ” he says, and she tops off her answer by listing the elements of culture.

“What are artifacts?” he asks, and she defines them.

“The test is on Thursday,” she tells him, and he tells her that she’s ready. They nod in agreement.

She is a pink hoodie with sparkles. He is two new knees. She is curly dark hair, and he is wisps of white. She is 11. He is 86.

“I have my book,” she says, pulling Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona and Her Mother” from a gray Aeropostale school bag. He smiles and settles in to listen.

Atiana Martinez doesn’t compare Hal Jacobson to a grandfather. He’s not a place-holder or a stand-in, nor is he just the man who can tell her the definition of “indignant.”

“He’s my friend,” she says. “We’re friends.”

Hal has volunteered as Atiana’s tutor since she was in first grade. During the school year, they meet at 4:15 Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at the Riverside Educational Center. He has quizzed her on spelling words, and she has regaled him with stories from the history of Colorado. He has monitored her grades, and she has produced A’s and B’s.

He pulls a blue Jolly Rancher from his pocket and offers it to her. She pops it in her mouth and opens her math book. They lean over it together.

“You’ll have to translate for me,” Hal says, and Atiana complies.

Now a sixth-grader at Bookcliff Middle School, Atiana participates in a dual-immersion program that includes math class in Spanish. Which means math books in Spanish. Which means Atiana practices her translating skills before she works through fractions.

In trade, Hal has taught her how to count to 100 in Japanese, a language he learned during three tours in the South Pacific during World War II. She tells him about her friends and family. He talks about his three daughters and his son, and his wife of 66 years, Florence, who died Sept. 9.

She knows he has eight grandkids. He knows she likes movies and spending time with her friends. She knows he’s from Iowa and used to be a farmer. He knows she wants to be a teacher or a journalist.

“She’s a good girl,” he says.

“He’s really nice,” she says.

And in the basement of the Riverside Educational Center, on a mellow Tuesday afternoon, they put their heads together and ponder the mysteries of mixed fractions.


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