by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
Sunlight was flooding the room when the slamming of a car door awakened Hans. He was confused by his surroundings for an instant, then he heard the shop bells and he remembered. he got out of bed and put on a pair of patched knickers and a well-mended sweater. When he had put on a pair of woolen stockings and his only pair of shoes he went downstairs. He found Aunt Minnie at the kitchen sink and greeted her with, “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” she returned. “You can fix your own breakfast – there’s cereal on the table and milk in the ice box.” She dried her hands and started to leave the room. “Oh, and you’re to see the principal before noon; I’ll take you down around elev– ” She broke off and looked at him closely. “What’s that you’re wearing?”
Hans wondered what he should do.
Hans looked down at himself. “These are my every-day clothes; the clothes I wore yesterday are for Sundays.”
“Well, you can’t go to school in that … never mind. I’ll think of something.”
When Aunt Minnie had left the room Hans sat down and filled a bowl with cereal. There was a familiar, fluttery feeling in his stomach when he thought about going to school. He had that feeling often lately. All at once he looked down at his bowl and gasped. what could he have been thinking of – filling the bowl all the way to the top. He looked up and realized that he was alone. He gave a sigh of relief. He would have to get used to not eating with a roomful of other children and just taking a little so there would be enough to go around.
He was still eating when Aunt Minnie returned carrying a pair of woolen trousers and a shirt. She put them over the back of a chair and said, “When you’ve finished eating you can change your clothes.”
Hans suspected that the clothes had belonged to his father and he could hardly wait to put them on. There might be something in one of the pockets that belonged to his father when he was a boy. Something he could take along on his first day of school.
Hans gulped down the rest of his breakfast and hurried to his room. He held the trousers up and reached into the pockets. The first three were empty, but his fingers touched something hard and round in the very tip of the last pocket. It felt like a marble. Hans took it out and looked at it. It had a faint, disagreeable smell. “A mothball,” he said sadly, but then he brightened – he was probably wearing the same pair of trousers his father had worn when he went to school. The fluttery feeling in his stomach was all forgotten as he changed into his new clothes. He added a necktie of his own and put a clean handkerchief in his pocket. He wondered how he looked – he felt very grand – perhaps there was a mirror downstairs.
Hans stepped into the hallway outside his room and closed the door. The door – the one opposite his own – had been closed before and now it stood open. He glanced inside to see his own reflection in a long dusty mirror. Here was what he had been looking for, and this room looked like a storage room so there could be no harm in going in.
Hans walked straight to the glass and looked at himself. The trousers were a little short, but otherwise his American clothes looked all right. Satisfied, Hans turned to go when he noticed an open trunk packed with clothing and books. The trunk fascinated him. He wondered why it was open – everything else in the room was neatly stacked and covered. Of course – this must be where Aunt Minnie got the clothes he was wearing. Now he was sure they had belonged to his father. He looked at the things in the trunk wishfully – if only he could find some little thing – but it would be wrong to search the trunk. Hans decided to forget the whole thing when something white on the floor caught his eye. It was an envelope bordered in red and blue, and the words “Air Mail” were printed across the bottom in red letters. The envelope was addressed to Miss Minnie Madison and in the upper left hand corner was the name Mrs. Richard Madison. The envelope must have fallen out of the trunk. Hans wondered what he should do – should he put it back in the trunk? He looked at the writing. He had never seen his mother’s writing before. Here was something he could put in his pocket – something he could take along to school.
Hans returned to the empty kitchen. He decided to find Aunt Minnie and see if there was anything she wanted him to do until it was time to leave for school. Everything was still, but the next instant the silence was broken by a sharply ringing bell and he heard Nat’s voice call, “Telephone, Miss Minnie.”
“I’ll get it,” came the answer.
Hans walked in the direction of Nat’s voice and came to the open door of the greenhouse. He was met by a splurge of color and for several moments he looked around in amazement. There were flowers of every color – red, yellow, blue – purple, pink, white – Hans had seen the white flowers in church at Easter time. As he looked around he saw Nat at the far end of the building busily spraying a plant. He made his way down a narrow dirt aisle, jumping over the muddy places, and came up behind Nat.
“Can I help you?” he offered.
“Eh – oh, it’s you!” Nat straightened up. “What’s that you say?”
“Can I help you?” Hans repeated. “Could I do that for you?”
“No, no,” Nat said quickly. “Your Aunt Minnie would skin me alive – you see this here plant is pretty special – it’s a new kind of rose she’s developing.”
“Oh!” Hans exclaimed, but he didn’t quite understand what Nat meant.
“Your Aunt Minnie’s been working on this project for a long time,” Nat continued, “and by fall she should come up with a new rose – so this is mighty important to her. Tell you what, though,” he added, seeing Hans’s disappointment. “There’s some other plants that need spraying – would you like to do that?”
“Yes,” Hans answered eagerly.
Nat showed him what to do and returned to his work. “Mind you don’t get yourself dirty,” he warned.
“I’ll be careful.”
He bathed each plant with the fine mist from the spray gun Nat had given him.
“Be sure to include the under side of the leaves,” said Nat. “That’s where insects like to lay their eggs.”
Hans was finishing the last box of seedlings when he heard Aunt Minnie’s voice behind him.
“Oh, here you are. I have to make a delivery so we’ll leave right away.”
Hans waited in the truck and in a few moments Aunt Minnie came out of the shop carrying a plant wrapped in heavy green paper. She climbed in behind the steering wheel and headed the truck toward town without a word. Before long they turned into a winding graveled driveway and pulled up before a great white house.
“You wait here,” Aunt Minnie said, picking up the plant. “I shouldn’t be gone long.”
The minutes passed but she did not return. At first Hans amused himself by looking at his surroundings, but as time went on and there was still no sign of Aunt Minnie he began to get restless. He would have liked a closer look at the two stone lions flanking the doorway, but Aunt Minnie had told him to wait in the car so there was nothing to do but wait. He bent over to flick a piece of lint off his trousers and the envelope in his pocket crackled. He had forgotten all about it. Now he took it out of his pocket and studied it carefully, reading the postmark and looking at the picture on the stamp. He turned it over to see if there were any special markings on the back, and to his surprise he found that the envelope had never been opened. What should he do? The letter was addressed to Aunt Minnie, but how could he give it to her? He could think of no possible way. Should he open it? There might be some important information inside. He reached for the knife in his back pocket and fumbled with the blade. His fingers trembled a little but the sharp edge cut through the paper with one stroke.
The letter did not even cover the single folded sheet of paper:
My dear Sister-in-law,
I have written to you several times, but I have not received an answer. Perhaps the letters have not reached you. I am in ill health and this morning I received word that my only brother, who has been missing in action for many years, has legally been declared dead.
Since you are now Hans’s only living relative I want you to know that if anything should happen to me, it would have been Dick’s wish that Hans be with you. For Dick’s sake please let me know that you received this letter so I will know his son will be cared for.
With kindest greetings,
Hans had been so busy reading the letter that he did not hear Aunt Minnie coming across the lawn until her heels crunched in the driveway. He wadded the letter and the envelope into his pocket just as she opened the door.
“Mrs. Spencer likes to visit,” Aunt Minnie said, turning the steering wheel and going back down the drive.