by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
Hans recovered from the shock of finding himself alone on the station platform to discover that it was raining harder by the minute. The drops hit the pavement with such force that they bounced back and skipped around his shoes.
“No wonder there is no one out here,” he told himself as he hurried to the building at the far end of the platform. The blinding rain made it almost impossible to see the doorway and Hans had to grope for the door knob with his free hand. At last his fingers found the smooth porcelain knob and he gripped it tightly. The knob turned easily in his hand but the door did not open. He rattled the knob back and forth but nothing happened. Perhaps it needed a little shove. Hans took a step back and leaned toward the door putting all his weight behind his shoulder. He shoved as hard as he could. All at once the door opened from the other side sending Hans sprawling across the station floor.
He shoved as hard as he could.
All at once the door opened from the other side,
sending Hans sprawling across the station floor.
“I reckon the rain made the door stick.”
Hans got up and found himself face to face with an old man in a shiny black raincoat and helmet. His hand was still on the doorknob as his eyes traveled from Hans’ face to the floor.
“You the only passenger that got off the 4:45?”
Hans nodded, aware of the little pool the raindrops were making as they slipped from his raincoat.
“Then you must be John …”
Hans did not hear the rest of the name. Panic struck him. He looked all around the room but there was no one else in the dusty little station – and this man was looking for someone named John. where was his aunt? Had he gotten off at the wrong station? He was sure the name of the town was Meadowfield – but perhaps there was more than one Meadowfield – he had spent many hours studying the map of the United States during the past month and he had found several cities with the same name – perhaps …
“Didn’t you hear me, sonny – aren’t you John Madison?”
“I’m sorry,” Hans apologized. Madison! “Did you say John Madison?”
“Yup – and from the way you talk I’d say you was him.”
Suddenly Hans remembered something Helen had told him – in the United States men by the name of Hans were often called John. Relief flooded through him.
“The reason I’d say you was him,” the old man continued, “is because you talk with an accent.”
“It’s going away, though,” Hans said anxiously. “Helen – Miss Sommers, she’s an Army nurse I met on the ship, she said it’s going away. She even taught me how to say ‘the’.” He put his tongue carefully between his teeth to say it, and he knew Helen would have been proud of him.
The old man threw him a doubtful look. “Well, if you’re John Madison, come along. Your aunt’s truck is outside.”
Hans followed him outside to a battered green truck with the words “Meadowfield Greenhouse” painted on the door in white letters. The man motioned with his head. “You can get in on the other side.”
Hans settled himself on the lumpy upholstery and the truck started off with a roar and a jerk which almost threw him from his seat.
“Better hang on,” the old man advised.
Hans wondered who the old man was, but it was hard to talk above the chug of the motor. As he peered through the steamy windows he noticed that the buildings were thinning out.
“Your aunt lives on the edge of town,” shouted the old man. “We’ll be there ‘fore too long.”
With that he hunched over the steering wheel until Hans thought his head must be touching the windshield. He watched the old man curiously. There was a scowl on his forehead and Hans felt as if he had been forgotten. He could not understand the reason for all this concentration – the rain was much lighter than when they had started out. Then he noticed that the truck was chugging harder than before but they were barely creeping along, and he found himself being drawn toward the back of the seat. The truck was now traveling like a snail in spite of the driver’s helpful panting and straining. It almost seemed that the truck and the man were one, then the old man let out a sigh and the truck lunged forward with a fresh spurt of power.
“We made old Toboggan Hill again,” he said with a chuckle and leaned back. “Now the rest of the way is down hill.” He took one hand from the steering wheel and pointed. “That’s your aunt’s place down there.”
Hans sat up straight so that he could get a good view. “It looks like a capital ‘L,’” he declared.
“It does at that,” the old man agreed. “That long part of the ‘L’ closest to us is the greenhouse – it’s all glass – and the small part goin’ away from us is the shop and the living quarters.”
Hans looked around with interest. Now they were passing row after row of evergreens of every shape and size. Some were so small that a rabbit could see over them and some were almost as tall as Hans.
“This is your aunt’s nursery – it’s one of the best in the state,” the old man said proudly.
“We had a nursery at the orphanage,” Hans said eagerly. “It was just a small one but sometimes I worked in it.” He would be able to help his aunt, he thought happily.
The truck turned in at a white picket fence and stopped beside a round bed of golden daffodils. Swinging from a sign post in the center of the bed was a neatly lettered sign. Hans read:
Minnie Madison, Prop.
The old man stuck his head out the window. “Look there – the sun’s shining,” he announced. “It’s like they say – April showers bring May flowers.”
Hans had never heard that expression and he looked at the old man uncertainly.
The old man scratched his head. “Hmmmmm,” he murmured doubtfully. “Well, you go on inside and I’ll put the truck away.”
Hans got out and let the truck go by. He paused for a moment after it had passed. If only the old man had offered to come in with him. The thought of meeting his aunt all alone was almost too much. He heard the engine cough and stop and waited hopefully but no one came.
From the door of the car shed the old man watched the slight boy square his shoulders and march up to the door. He brushed at his eyes with a calloused hand. “He looks just like his daddy – maybe when Miss Minnie sees him she’ll forgive and forget.”