Story written by, Bill Micklitz
Jimmy and Ivan love going to the mall every January. The mall hosts an annual indoor festival. They would bring in clowns and jugglers, magicians and rides. It was a nice break from the winter cold and from their studies.
“Glad it’s Saturday,” Ivan said.
“Yeah, time for the festival,” Jimmy replied.
“No. Done talking about history and FDR for the week.”
Jimmy laughed. They walked down one side of the mall to look at the store windows and then glancing to see if any new things were brought in for the festival.
“Whoa! Look at that. They brought in a flame thrower this year,” Ivan exclaimed.
This took the festival up a notch for the boys. An actual flame thrower inside the mall. Very cool. They kept walking and checking things out.
“They got the merry go round again,” Jimmy muttered.
“We don’t have to go on it if you don’t want to.” This was one of Jimmy’s least favorite things. It was a regular merry go round with horses and one spot with a bench. Anytime he wanted to ride, the person attending the ride would give a big sigh. Then they would lift Jimmy out of his wheelchair and put him on the bench. Ivan would sit next to him.
“Nah, not this year,” Jimmy said.
They kept walking and came upon a new shop in the store. Used Goods/Good Goods the name said. Cheap stuff, they both uttered. When they got through the door, it didn’t look so cheap. Ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Fine furniture lined up to one side. Cases of valuables on the other side.
The store owner saw them come in and was watching them. No greeting, just watching. Jimmy walked down one isle of cases. They lined the glass wall that looked into the mall. He could see the flame thrower performing. Then he saw something. A glass blown object. Jimmy leaned closer. It was a glass blown wheelchair. Designed just like FDR’s wheelchair. Jimmy remembered this from their recent studies. He leaned closer.
“Don’t touch the glass!” Barked the store owner. “You shouldn’t be in here.”
Ivan heard the commotion while checking out photos on the wall. He came right over. “We’ve got every right. We’re shopping.”
The store owner snickered.
“Can I see it?” Jimmy asked.
“No! You’ll drop it and break it or get it sticky or … No!”
“You see, we’ve been studying FDR in school this week and the pictures don’t do him any justice. So just wanted to see what his wheelchair looked like up close.”
The store owner stared down at Jimmy and then at Ivan and then again at Jimmy. “Where are your parents?”
“Working. They let us come to the mall by ourselves during the festival. I’m nearly 12 years old.”
“11,” Ivan said.
“Please,” Jimmy softly said. “I won’t drop it. I just want to look at it for a moment.”
The store owner looked at Jimmy. The air seemed to hang their waiting for a reply. At first it looked like they were out of luck as the store owner had turned without a word. But then returned with a key.
“Your hands are clean?”
“Yep, washed them this morning,” Jimmy smiled. “And again after we got in off the bus.”
The glass door slid open and the owner reached in. Jimmy held out his hands. The store owner placed it slowly into his hands. “Careful.”
Jimmy stared in amazement at how clear the glass was and yet so detailed. He could make out the wood grain texture on the back of the wheelchair. The front wheel looked so big compared to the back wheels, but yet still very meticulous with each spoke. A thought started entering Jimmy’s mind. “I wish.” Just then a reflection caught his eye.
The flame throwers flame wasn’t moving. It hung in mid air. He saw the juggler and his movements had stopped as well.
“You like my chair?” A voice said from behind the store owner.
“Who’s there?” Jimmy asked.
“Me,” the voice said as he came around the now still shop owner. “Franklin. That’s a nice likeness to this wheelchair. Good workmanship. So you were saying?”
“What?” Jimmy blurted out still trying to comprehend what he was seeing.
“You said I wish. What were you going to wish?”
“Oh, um, nothing.”
“By the look on your face a moment ago, I don’t think it was nothing. What’s troubling you?”
“How did you do it? I mean, being president and living with polio. Wasn’t it difficult?”
“Well, being president was hard enough yes, but I had my daily challenges with the polio as well. Why do you ask? You look like you are getting around just fine.”
“Yes, if you like coming in side entrances to the mall. The front entrance where the bus drops us off has stairs.”
“Yep, a few stairs at the White House too. But I worked it out. Have you ever mentioned that to the mall owner?”
“No. Not like he’d listen to a kid and all.”
“And you know this for a fact?”
“You’re a bright boy Jimmy. Granted not everyone listens or changes in their ways. But great people are the ones who will open their doors and hearts to the words of a child. Especially from one who brings wisdom beyond his years.”
“So if it’s ok to ask for this equality, why did you hide your disability?”
FDR hung his head a little. “That was my greatest mistake. I should have. But the times were so different than today. Back then, disabilities were seen as a sign of weakness. The great depression and the war took it’s toll on America’s confidence. So I and my political advisors thought it best not to bring it up, for the sake of the country.” He paused. “I’d do it differently today.”
“It’s still a struggle.”
“Yes, but not impossible. We are not prisoners of fate or of our physical form, but only prisoners of our own minds. Use what God has given you. Show others. They ride through life like a horse on a merry go round. Blinders on, going around in circles. Unless people like you and I show them there is something good to be gained, they will keep going the same way.”
Jimmy looked down and stared again at the glass wheelchair. “But.” Just then the reflection changed. The juggler was moving again and the flame shot out from the flame thrower. FDR was no where to be seen.
Jimmy looked up at the store owner staring down at him anxiously. “Thank you for letting me look.” And handed the glass wheelchair back.
The store owner placed it back in the glass cabinet and slid the door closed. Jimmy and Ivan quietly left.
“That was a cool glass wheelchair, huh?” Ivan asked.
“Yeah, one of a kind,” Jimmy replied.
They started walking up the other side of the mall when the mall owner walked over.
“Hey Jimmy. Hi Ivan. Back again this year?” John, the mall owner asked.
“Yep. Cool flame thrower you got this year,” Ivan replied.
“Yeah, wanted to heat it up a bit this January, huh?” Jimmy joked.
“Funny. That’s what I like about you Jimmy. Great sense of humor,” John said.
“John,” Jimmy said. “I have a question for you. How come the mall only has a ramp on the side entrance? The bus drops everyone off in front, but we have to go to the side to get in because of the stairs out front. It’s not so bad for me, but what about grandmothers who might bring their grandkids to the festival, or just to go shopping. Or if the weather is really bad, makes for a wet walk to the other door.”
John’s face went from a smile to puzzlement. “Jimmy, I’ve never looked at it that way. I always see you getting around just fine so I assumed the handicap automatic doors on the one end were working great. I’m sorry.” He looked around a bit. “Tell you what, by festival time next year you’ll be able to come in the front door.”
Jimmy lit up a huge smile. “Awesome!”
“Very cool, John,” Ivan added.
“Well, back to work. Got planning to do.”
Jimmy was all smiles. They continued walking down the other side of the mall. Ivan noticed a guy doing caricatures.
“Hey Jimmy,” Ivan said. “Why don’t you get one of those?”
Jimmy was so happy so he agreed. The man looked at Jimmy and started drawing. Even though it took a good 20 minutes, Jimmy’s thoughts were elsewhere. He loved how open the mall owner was to his suggestion. What else needed his help?
The caricature was done and he turned it around. There on a park bench was Jimmy with a wide smile, sitting and flying a kite. No wheelchair in sight.
“How much?” Ivan asked?
“Nothing,” the guy said.
“Really?” Jimmy asked. “For this great drawing?”
“Nope, nothing,” the man replied. “Your my…” he paused. “One hundredth customer. Besides it was nice painting a smile like yours.”
He rolled it up and put it in a tube.
“Let’s go home and go hang it up,” Jimmy said.
Ivan nodded and they went out to wait for the bus.
Over the summer the mall had some construction done to not just the front entrance but all enterances. Sliding glass doors were installed. The two steps were removed and a gradual slope of concrete was installed with railings on either side of the entrance and down the center.
The next January, Jimmy and Ivan returned for the festival. John caught them as they were coming in.
“Hiya fellas,” John smiled. “I see you’ve been enjoying the front entrance since it was installed. How is it working out for you?”
“Very well,” Jimmy said. “Makes shopping much easier. My mom says she loves the automatic sliding doors when she has her arms full. She doesn’t have to worry about pushing or pulling a door handle.”
“Very good,” John said. “Glad it is working. Thank you very much for your tip last year. I have something new for the festival I wanted to show you.”
Ivan and Jimmy looked at each other. “New?” they both said.
“Yep, right this way.”
He lead them to the center of the mall where the merry go round was. Jimmy started to frown as they got closer. But then he noticed something different about it.
On the side of the merry go round, there was ramp. One row of horses was also missing. In their place was a rail and a swinging door.
“I thought a lot about what you said last year about our entrance,” John said. “And it got me thinking, what else needed to be looked at. So when planning for the festival came around I asked tough questions and this is what we came up with. First ride is on me.”
Jimmy went up the ramp and onto the merry go round. John closed the gate.
“Mind if I ride along?” John asked as he sat on the bench behind Jimmy.
“Sure,” Jimmy said.
Ivan jumped on a horse for the first time. Off they went on their first new ride. No worries. Just a nice fresh new take on the merry go round. They rode it many times that day and many years after.