A young woman dreams big.
| "A good set of encyclopedias can make a valuable contribution to your children's education and increase their chances of success in life, especially for children who are bright and inquisitive," Riker told the couple.|
The salesman sat at the dining table of the household. A man and a woman sat across from the table from Riker. A few steps led to a sunken living room with pile carpeting on the floor. A large television set sat in the corner, and a sofa and over stuffed chairs were placed around the carpet. There were abstract paintings on the wall. A hallway extended from the living room.
"How could I get my children to use these encyclopedias?" Mr. Smirt asked.
"Well, most children have a natural curiosity that draws them to an excellent set of encyclopedias like Encyclopedia Merimac, but I'll admit, Encyclopedia Merimac is over the heads of some children. A set like Brenton's Books might be better for them. Encyclopedia Merimac is for the brightest children and for the most astute adults, but it can take a little prompting to get them to interact with these books. I get my children's interest by offering them money to write a competent report on a subject in Encyclopedia Merimac. I give them one week to find all the information they can and write a report on it. How much money they get depends on the quality of the report.
The classification system our encyclopedia uses is unique. We believe there are better classification systems than using the alphabet and saying that "art belongs right next to Arkansas". This kind of thinking hampers the intellect. We use a more intuitive approach. We say you can learn about the moon better if it is classified in the section 'astronomy', under the sub topic of the 'solar system'. This kind of approach induces the mind to think creatively. It broadens the intellect and stimulates curiosity."
"Do you think young children can grasp that concept?" Ms. Smirt asked.
"If you explain it to them carefully they can. It just takes a little care and a little patience," Riker responded. "This set of encyclopedias is for people who know how much learning can nourish a person's life. You never know when something might spark the imagination of your child. They might see an acetate overlay of the human body and become so fascinated by it that they grow up and become a doctor and discover a cure for cancer. They could become knowledgeable about great art and be able to speak intelligently about that. There are so many ways a good set of encyclopedias like Merimac books can nourish your life.
"Do you think encyclopedias can compete with tv and the internet?" Ms. Smirt asked.
"I will admit our set of encyclopedias is competing with all kinds of bad influences, like these computer games. Children get addicted to these computer games and end up as adults living in their parents' basement and spending all their time playing a computer game.
"How many children do you have? Ms. Smirt asked.
"I have two children, a girl who is six, and a boy who is nine. They're both destined for great things. Randy, my boy, wants to be an astronaut or a scientist. He spends a lot of time with our encyclopedias learning about astronomy. My daughter, Lora, wants to be a ballerina. She practices her movements every day. Both my children are going to be world beaters," Riker responded.
"Do you support your family only by selling encyclopedias?" Ms. Smirt questioned.
"I could, if I wanted to. Once people understand the value of a good set of encyclopedias like Merimac they are eager to buy them, but I also want good structure for my children. So I teach high school English. My wife teaches grade school reading. The benefits and the stability are just part of the reason we do this. It is also rewarding to see young minds turn on and faces light up with knowledge.
Ms. Smirt looked at Mr. Smirt, and he nodded his head.
"How much do these encyclopedias cost?" Mr. Smirt asked.
"Hon', I'm going for my morning run," Riker yelled at Ann, his wife.
"Okay, but don't forget that you need to fix the mower today," Ann yelled back.
"Yes, I got it. I'll do it this afternoon," Riker answered.
"You need to do it, because the lawn is looking shabby," Ann exclaimed.
"Okay, I got it, but first I am going to do my run," Riker responded.
"Don't forget. You promised," Ann yelled as Riker trotted out onto the road.
Riker had been a very good cross country runner in high school, but he tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball, and all the scholarships the colleges were offering him disappeared. They did not like Achilles tendon injuries. It was one of the more bitter moments of Riker's life. He had dreams of running the marathon in the Olympics. He saw himself running the final mile of the marathon in front of a wildly cheering crowd and standing on the podium to receive his gold medal. The doctor said he could run some shorter distances, but he should not train too hard, because his Achilles tendon would never be the same. Riker took that to mean that he could still occasionally run a bracing five miles, but he missed the competitive fever he got when he was winning a race. When Riker came home from his night classes one night he took all the medals he had won run in track off the wall of their den. Ann could not understand why. His medals demonstrated achievement. She did not know her husband still hurt from losing his scholarship to prominent universities to run cross country, and those medals reminded him that he had a permanent injury.
Riker became more involved in his children's dreams. His son had joined the peewee wrestling team, and his daughter begged Riker to let her join the dance school. He was wholeheartedly in favor of both. His children had reached the age where they could express themselves! Riker foresaw his son winning the state championship in wrestling in high school, and then going on from there. He saw his daughter becoming a prima ballerina.
It was not his frustrated ambition that made him feel this way. Riker wanted his children to be happy, and it seemed like people who were achievers were happier than the people who had not done this. Money and wealth were not the only reason creative people worked hard. People who were obsessed, people who were driven, pursued their dreams alone much of the time. Riker tried to instill a spirit of independence in his children so they could face being alone if they had to. People who did this were a great benefit to humanity, and they got their reward by knowing that they had made the world better. Granted, there were great achievers who made tons of money, but they benefited humanity. There were also great achievers who labored their lives away in obscurity and who were perfectly happy with their modest lives.
Years later Randy was setting the mats on fire in his sophomore year in collegiate wrestling. He lost only one match that season to a guy named Merrian London, and he beat Merrian in the finals of the NCAA tournament, the last match of the year. Randy was a national champion! Riker took the whole family out for a meal at the steakhouse to celebrate.
Lora was causing Riker some concern. She had always been such a graceful young girl, with fluid and expressive movements. She could convey the passion that was in ballet. Now she seemed languid, with no real connection to the story she was telling with her movements. She looked tired. She had fallen a couple of times. Riker convinced his daughter to go to a doctor. They did an extensive battery of tests, and they discovered she had muscular distrophy.
Later that night Riker found Lora crying softly in their den. When she saw her father much of the pain in her face vanished. Riker approached his daughter carefully.
He put his arm across her shoulders and asked, "Lora, why are you crying?"
"I am always going to be a burden to you and Mom. I will go into a wheelchair soon, and it won't be long before I will need help just to use the bathroom. I can't expect you and mom to take care of me," Lora responded plaintively as she cried softly.
"Yes you can expect Terry and me to take care of you. We are your parents. It is our duty and privilege to look after you," Riker stated.
Riker put his hand on his daughter's shoulder to comfort her.
"Oh, daddy," Lora cried as she grabbed her father in a hug.
"Don't ever think you can't have a good life. The world is still open to lots of possibilities for you. We will always love you," Riker told his daughter.
Lora bawled on her father's chest.
Lora stayed at her high school, not opting to get a tutor for her studies yet. She did well in English and Spanish classes, but she struggled in algebra. She decided to forgo math and concentrate on languages and literature. She also participated in debate, where she was known as a deadly opponent. She acted in a short play in her drama class. The muscular dystrophy was progressing slowly, so she did not need a wheel chair yet. Her brother often attended her activities, and he was obviously proud of his sister. He won his third national championship his senior year.
Lora was Valedictorian when she graduated from high school. At Graduation she left her chair and slowly negotiated the wooden steps onto the stage with the help of an usher.
"We have asked our Valedictorian to say a few words at this ceremony," Mr. Mallard said as Lora approached.
The crowd clapped enthusiastically for Lora. She walked up to the podium and adjusted the microphone.
"For those of you who do not know me, I am the girl you see hobbling down the hallways of our school next to the wall so I don't get run over. That is just one of the many indignities of having muscular dystrophy. I would be lying if I said I didn't mind having this disease. I still wish I could be a ballerina, but I know that is not possible. We all have trials and setbacks. Some of them only jostle us a little, and others knock us flat on our backs. But I am here to tell you that when one door shuts another door opens. You might not build skyscrapers, but you might become a writer, or you might learn wisdom from raising a family. The key is knowing how to love. If you love others you will be happy no matter what your circumstances are. I know that some of you came from broken homes, and you did not have the love and nurturing we all so desperately need. You should never give up hope. Never think that your life is over because you had one setback. Maybe you had that setback because you were meant to go a different direction. There are always ways to compensate. There are always different paths to take when one path has been blocked for you. I will not tell you it will be easy. No one gets through life without some damage. Hold onto your dreams. They are the food that nourishes your soul. My dreams kept me sound, but no dream could have saved me if I did not give love and receive love in return. That is the key to life. What you make of yourself is up to you. Never give up. You will find a way.