by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
The Meadowfield school was a red brick building, and its three stories loomed up terrifyingly before Hans. His hands felt clammy as he followed Aunt Minnie through the doorway and down the hall to a door marked “PRINCIPAL,” and the pounding of his heart sounded louder than Aunt Minnie’s knock on the door. Her brisk rap was answered by a deep “Come in,” and Hans found himself in a book-lined room.
“Good to see you, Minnie,” said the gray-haired man standing behind the desk. “And this is Hans.”
“John,” Aunt Minnie corrected, but the man went on without hearing.
“Miss Lane’s already told me all about you. I’m Mr. Baker.”
Hans put out his hand and it disappeared in Mr. Baker’s grasp.
“Your father went to school here, Hans,” Mr. Baker went on. “He was one of my best students, and your Aunt Minnie and I were school mates, so I’m sure you and I will get along.”
“Oh, yes,” Hans agreed eagerly.
Mr. Baker smiled. “And now, Minnie, suppose you leave this young man with me so we can find out where to put him.”
Aunt Minnie turned to go and Mr. Baker opened the door for her. “Nat’ll be by for you after school,” she said in leaving.
The tests were strange, but Mr. Baker helped him with the words he didn’t understand. By the time the bell rang for lunch the examination was over, and Ann came to the door and announced that she was taking him to the cafeteria for his lunch.
The hall outside the principal’s office, which had been quiet and deserted when he and Aunt Minnie first arrived, was noisy and crowded with children of all ages and sizes. No one paid any attention as he and Ann made their way along the hall and down the stairs to the cafeteria, but when they stood in line Hans felt curious eyes watching him, and it seemed as if the room had become very quiet. He felt strange and uncomfortable, and even Ann’s cheerful questions about the examination didn’t make him feel at ease. He was glad when he had his tray and could sit down at the table.
“You go ahead and start,” Ann said, putting her tray opposite his. “I forgot to get my silverware and napkin.”
Hans unwrapped the silverware in his napkin and bowed his head to say a prayer on the food.
Looking up he saw the boy across the table watching him, but when Hans smiled he quickly looked away and began talking to his neighbor.
“You haven’t touched your food,” Ann said when she returned. “It’s going to get cold.”
Hans wasn’t the least bit hungry, and Ann finished her lunch long before he did. She was slowly drinking her milk when a boy came and said something to her in a low voice. she nodded and turned to Hans. “Mr. Baker wants to see me in his office – why don’t you go outside and get acquainted after you’ve finished.”
The crowd in the cafeteria was thinning out, and Hans was still picking at his food. Finally he was the only one left. He would gladly have stayed there until the lunch hour was over, but the ladies behind the counter were beginning to look at him curiously so he got up. The building was very quiet as he slowly climbed the stairs. he longed to stay in the empty hallway, but Ann wanted him to go outside and get acquainted.
The air was filled with shouts and squeals as Hans stepped into the bright sunlight. Everyone seemed to be busy at some game, but the boys his age were nowhere in sight. Suddenly a ball came rolling toward him. He stooped over and picked it up when a boy his age came rushing around the corner of the building and almost bumped into him.
“Have you seen a ball?” the boy asked breathlessly.
Hans held out the ball, and the book took it with a quick “thanks.”
Hans walked slowly in the direction the boy had taken and found some boys playing with a bat and ball. Shouts of “SAFE, SAFE” and “OUT, OUT” were filling the air, and Hans stood against the building unnoticed. When the excitement had died down the boy who had come after the ball looked in his direction.
“Do you want to play?” he called.
Hans shook his head and the game went on.
All at once one of the players shouted, “Here comes Mickey,” and they all turned around. Hans looked and saw a boy with crutches come limping toward them. The boys ran up to him and thumped him on the back good-naturedly.
“Go ahead with your game – I’ll watch,” Mickey said.
Mickey sat down on a bench and put his crutches on the ground. He watched the game for a few minutes, then he got a piece of wood and a pocket knife from his jacket and began cutting aimlessly. Hans watched him and the boy looked up from his work and met his eye.
“Hi. Why aren’t you playing? I would be, if it weren’t for this broken leg.”
“I don’t know how,” Hans told him.
Mickey looked at him curiously. “You talk funny.”
Hans felt the blood rise to his face. He wanted to run but his legs felt like wood. Nat had said, “You talk with an accent.” Mickey said, “You talk funny” – now he knew why the thought of going to school made his stomach feel fluttery. He hadn’t wanted to admit it even to himself, but his broken English made him feel ashamed. Hans bit his lip and wished the boy would stop looking at him.
“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” the boy said quickly, seeing Hans’s flush. “Since we both can’t play, why don’t you come over and sit down – my name’s Mickey Brent.”
Hans introduced himself and Mickey asked, “Where are you from?”
Hans explained that he came from Germany.
“No fooling?” In his surprise, Mickey dropped the piece of wood in his hand. Hans nodded and picked it up.
“What are you making?” he asked, handing it back to Mickey.
“Nothing,” Mickey replied.
“May I try something?”
“Sure, help yourself,” Mickey invited cheerfully.
Hans took the knife and the piece of wood and began whittling. Slivers of wood pierced the air and after several industrious minutes the little block of wood turned into the head of a dog. Hans gave the head a few final cuts and handed it to a wide-eyed Mickey.
“Say – how about that,” he exclaimed admiringly. ‘Hey, gang, come here.”
The excitement in Mickey’s voice brought the boys running. They demanded to know what he wanted, but he waited until they were all gathered around him before he held up the dog.
“Look what Hans just made,” he said.
The boys looked over each other’s shoulders. “Pass it around,” someone in the back shouted.
The little carved dog with the long tongue hanging from its comical face was passed around, and if someone held it too long the others hurried him with a good-natured “Come on – don’t take all day.”
“Show us how you did it,” the boys chorused.
“I’ve got another piece of wood in my pocket,” Mickey said. “If you’ll all sit down on the ground maybe Hans will carve something else.”
The boys quickly sat down. Some sat cross-legged and others squatted. When Hans was sure that everyone could see, he began to whittle and carve, and before long the wood began to take form. The boys tried to guess what it was going to be.
“Another dog?” asked someone at Hans’s elbow.
He shook his head.
“A cat,” someone guessed.
“No,” a red-haired boy in the front row shouted.
“It’s a bird,” someone declared.
“No.” Hans smiled and held up the little figure.
“It’s a little angel,” Mickey said softly.
“Could you teach us to do that?” asked the boy who had recovered the ball.
Hans nodded happily.
“I’ll bring some more wood tomorrow and you can teach us – ” Mickey broke off. “There’s the bell.”
The boys scrambled up and trooped toward the school building with Hans and Mickey bringing up the rear. As they rounded the building Hans saw Ann hurrying toward him. “There’s Miss Lane – I think she’s looking for me.”
“I’ll see you later,” Mickey said, Limping away.
“I’m sorry, Hans,” Ann said, coming up to him. “I didn’t mean to leave you on your own like that on your very first day. I noticed all the boys around you – was everything all right?”
“Oh, yes. I was showing them how to carve.” He held out the angel.
“Oh, Hans, this is lovely. Where did you ever learn to do this?”
“There was an old man at the orphanage who had charge of the stable. He studied carving at the state school but when he got old his hands became crippled and he couldn’t make his living that way anymore. He did some carving in his spare time, and I used to help him.”
“I’ve never seen anything lovelier,” Ann said, holding the angel out to Hans.
“You may have it,” Hans told her.
Ann thanked him and said, “I know just what to do with this. Next Christmas I’m going to hang it on my Christmas tree and – oh, there’s the second bell! Come on, we’ll have to run.”
They were the last ones in the line which was slowly filing into the building.
“I almost forgot to tell you,” Ann said as they walked through the door, “you’re in the seventh grade and you’re in room seven at the end of the hall. Good luck!”
The door to room seven stood open and the lady behind the desk came toward him. With a hand on his shoulder she turned to the boys and girls sitting at their desks. “children, this is your new classmate, Hans Madison. Hans, you may take the seat next to Mickey Brent.”
Hans walked down the aisle and slipped into his seat. With a wide grin at his new friend, he decided that school was wonderful.