It was a beautiful, lonely countryside. Yellow wheat waved like a golden sea in the sun. The air was sweet and pure, and the stream danced clear and sparkling. Each afternoon a young girl would look up expectantly from her chores. Her gaze would follow the slope of the land to a valley where parallel tracks ran east and west.
First she would hear the shrill whistle. Next she would see the gray plume of smoke. Finally the huge black locomotive would push its way into the panorama. It would roar on and not even slacken its pace as it passed. None of its passengers probably ever noticed the girl perched on the top rail of the fence. She always waved excitedly, though, and felt a sense of awe as the wonderful train disappeared around a hill. Where had it been? Where was it going, so safe and secure on those steel ribbons that banded the land? What people did it carry, and what were they like? When the smoke from the train had vanished on the breeze, the girl slowly climbed down from the fence and went about her chores.
One day a peddler appeared on the horizon. The clank and jingle of his wagon and its goods could be heard for a mile. The girl’s mother shielded her eyes and watched the wagon approaching. The kettle was put on to boil, and another plate was set at the table.
The peddler had wondrous things to sell. Cloth and buttons, pots and scrub boards, hammers and ointments, spices and books were stuffed into or hung from the sides of his wagon. While her mother fingered the cloth and her father chatted with the peddler, the girl gazed longingly at his books. She pulled one from a box and carefully opened it. There were pictures of the ocean, strange lands, and strange people wearing clothes she had never seen before! She stared at page after page of marvelous sights!
“Your daughter seems to enjoy the books,” the peddler said and smiled.
“Indeed,” her father replied. “Perhaps it’s time she learned to read.”
“Yes, I believe it is,” her mother agreed.
“I’ll let you have the lot in that box for a dollar and a hot meal,” the peddler offered.
“It’s a bargain,” the girl’s mother replied.
So the dollar was paid, the meal was eaten, and the books were taken into the house. They did not, however, remain long in the box, for the girl was anxious to look at them all.
“God gave us good minds,” her mother said, “and we’re obliged to fill them with meaningful things. It’s time for you to learn to read.” She patted the table and smiled. “Come here by the light, and we shall begin.”
Evening after evening they pored over the pages, and word by word the girl learned to read. As she learned, whole new worlds opened before her eyes. And then when she watched the train in its daily passing, she no longer felt so sad. She knew that the train could go only where its tracks were laid and no farther. But she was free to travel with it, and beyond, with God’s gift of a mind that knows no bounds.