My Big Plans
But I have a new diary now, and it’s nice to see all these blank pages waiting to be filled up with words and drawings. The paper seems a little cheaper than my last diary. I think the other one was much older, because I found it among Auntie’s things and some of the pages were yellow around the edges. My new diary came from a store in Lexington, and I think it's made out of recycled paper and glue. I’ll have to be careful with it. But it won’t get as much abuse as my old one did on the road, so it should be just fine.
I still haven’t heard from Auntie. I know it’s too soon, but I can’t help being impatient. I’m so impatient, in fact, that I asked permission to be in charge of the farm’s mail. Every week I gather it up and take it to Lexington. The man at the post office gives me Northwind’s mail in return. I try not to pester him about how long it takes mail to get to different places, but he can tell I’m anxious. He always smiles and says not to worry, all mail turns up, eventually. To prove his point, he told me about a letter mailed at the start of the resource wars that finally made it to its destination just last Christmas. This made me feel worse, not better. But I didn’t tell him that. He’s a nice man, and he’s only trying to help.
I make a point of stopping in at Sam’s shop whenever I come to town, and he always offers to send a radio message to Auntie, “Just to make sure she got your letter.” But he’s done so much for me already that I don’t want any more favors. So I’ve refused Sam’s offers so far. I’ll wait another couple of weeks and see what happens. If I don’t have a letter by mid-June, I’ll send a message then. I’ve set aside some of my Derby winnings to pay for it.
But I didn’t sit down with my diary tonight to ramble on about the mail service in Kentucky. What’s got me excited tonight is the extra stop I made in Lexington today.
I went to the university!
I have to admit I was terrified. Even the children at Northwind know more than I do, so I was intimidated to go around all those smart college students. But Mother always said that if you can read, you can learn anything. And I read very well. I can even read that Odyssey book Rachel gave me in Missouri, even though a lot of it doesn’t make sense. So when I heard a couple weeks ago that Eli and Sabine’s oldest girl, Janet, was a student at the university’s veterinary school, I started thinking. And then I asked questions.
Janet is studying for a veterinary degree—she’s going to be a doctor of veterinary medicine. I could never do that. There are too many years of education for me to make up for, and I have to earn my living. But the university also offers the LPV degree—licensed practical veterinarian. That’s what Auntie’s sister Carina was, and she was every bit as good as the regular kind of veterinarian. In fact, Carina was one of the first LPVs certified in my country, back when we were still part of the United States. When oil became expensive and people started using horses and donkeys instead of cars and trucks, they needed a lot of veterinarians quick, and the LPV degree was created so people without a college degree could become certified in basic animal care in just one or two years.
So since I’m here in horse country and committed to staying, why not pick up where I left off as a child and learn to be a veterinarian? I talked to Sam about it when I stopped by his shop to chat, and in his practical way he said, “It costs nothing to ask.” And then he gave me directions to the veterinary school and told me to ask any student for directions to the office of the “dean.”
“Okay. And then what do I do?”
“You go on in and ask what you have to do to qualify as a student. Ask what the program costs, and see if they can give you a list of the classes you would be required to take. Ask about financial aid, too.”
He nodded and rambled on for a bit, using a lot of words I didn’t understand. Finally he said, “Look, just tell them you don’t have much money, and what are your options?”
So I did. I was scared I would feel out of place with my country clothes and manners, but I should’ve known better. The veterinary school is full of people from the neighboring farms, and they were happy to tell me where to find the dean. The office was at the end of a long hallway with shiny floors and lights that buzzed overhead, powered by the solar panels on the roof.
The dean’s office was very clean, and a secretary looked up from her desk when I came in. She was pretty and polite, and had nice clothes. I had to remind myself that she was no better than me, and it was her job to answer my questions, no matter how stupid they might be.
“I want to know about the LPV program,” I told her.
“Would this be for the fall semester?”
Of all the questions I had expected, I hadn’t anticipated this one. I didn’t even know what a semester was!
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I just want to know how to qualify and what it costs.”
The secretary sat me down and gave me a packet of papers to look at.
“The top page is the list of entrance exam dates, although if you have a high school diploma. . .”
I shook my head. “What’s on the exam?”
“The list is on the second page of your packet. It’s basically an equivalency exam, with an emphasis on math and science.”
Great. I looked at the list of school subjects. I hardly knew any of this stuff. But I could learn it. I had traveled alone more than twelve hundred miles, crossing the borders of three countries. Surely I could learn a little math and science.
“If I can pass the exam,” I said, “What about financial aid?”
The secretary said a lot of things I didn’t understand, just as Sam had done. But the impression I got was that if you’re smart, you pay less. That made sense to me. Educating stupid people is probably a lot of hard work.
“Everything you need to know is in that packet,” the secretary said. “Take it home, read it through, and then come back if you have any questions, or to schedule your exam.”
Since I figured she had plenty of work to do without me hanging around asking questions that might be answered by the packet she had given me, I thanked her and went back to Northwind, deep in thought.
After supper, I went sought out Patrick, who is only twelve years old, but is rumored to be the smartest kid on the farm. I showed him the list of subjects that would be on the entrance exam.
“I need to learn all of these things,” I told him. “But I don’t have any books. And I don’t even know what some of these subjects are.”
He shoved his reddish hair off his forehead and looked at the list. “This isn’t so hard,” he said. “Fractions aren’t much fun, but atoms are easy to understand, and so is basic biology. You know, photosynthesis and all that.”
“Right.” How discouraging. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language.
“Too bad you can’t go to my school. They teach all this stuff.”
“I’m a little old to be sitting in a room full of kids.”
“It’s not just kids. They let anyone take classes. They put you in whatever grade you’re at. Everyone knows sometimes you don't get a chance to go to school until you're grown up.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But I can’t go to school in Frankfort. My job is here and I've got no money. So how can I get some books to study on my own?”
Patrick said he would get me some books from his school’s library. He even said he would tutor me. I felt a little funny about that until he added, “But it’s a business deal, you know. Not charity.”
In spite of myself, I smiled. He was a pretty young kid to be trying to drive a bargain! “Okay,” I said. “You know I don’t earn a wage, so how do you think I’ll pay you?”
He looked away and his cheeks turned pink. “Everyone here is a good rider but me. I want to get better, but. . .”
Of course. How embarrassing to be a poor horseman in bluegrass country! He probably wanted to improve his skills on the sly, and then surprise everyone.
“I can teach anyone,” I assured him. “But you have to promise me you’ll practice. If you do as I say, I’ll even teach you some tricks that will impress your friends.”
We made a deal.
So tonight I’m pretty excited. Patrick is going to get me some books and soon I’ll be on my way to becoming a veterinarian. I have no idea how long this will take. I first need to see how I do with the material on the entrance exam. But if I’ve learned anything over these past several months, it’s that nothing is impossible. I’ll just have to persist, just like I did on my long journey to get here.