by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
The months passed quickly and Hans was getting used to his new home. He had many new friends but he felt no closer to Aunt Minnie than he did on the day of his arrival. At first he waited daily for the right time to tell Aunt Minnie about his father, and one evening Ann approached the subject. She had come over to help him with his recitation for the closing day program and after he had recited it once she asked Aunt Minnie if she recognized the poem.
“No,” Aunt Minnie said looking up from her sewing.
“Say it again,” Ann said.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag
With stripes of red and white.
Its stars stand on a field of blue –
It is a glorious sight.
Beneath this flag brave men have died
That – ”
“Excuse me,” Aunt Minnie’s voice interrupted.
Hans and Ann looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of Aunt Minnie’s white face in the lamplight as she hurried from the room.
“Well, that was a mistake,” Ann said sadly.
“Didn’t I say it right?” Hans asked.
“I didn’t mean that, Hans. You see, I asked your teacher to assign this recitation to you for a reason. I remembered that your father recited this same poem when we went to school and I thought it might be an opening to tell Aunt Minnie our secret. I never thought how the words would affect her.”
“Oh,” Hans said softly. “The part about ‘beneath this flag brave men have died.’”
Ann nodded. “I’m afraid Aunt Minnie isn’t ready for our secret just yet.”
School was out soon after that and, as Ann went away to summer school, Hans thought less and less of telling Aunt Minnie about his father.
Hans was sorry when school was out because it meant that he didn’t see much of his classmates, but many of them were in his class at Sunday School and he saw them there every week.
One Sunday morning, as he and Mickey were leaving Sunday School, Bishop Thompson came up between them and put a friendly arm across their shoulders. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you boys, could I see you in my study after the service?”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused.
When the service was over Hans and Mickey left the front place where they had been sitting with their Sunday School class.
“I’ll have to find my folks and tell them to wait for me; I’ll meet you outside the study.” Mickey limped up the aisle. The cast had been removed from his leg but he still used a crutch.
Hans looked for Aunt Minnie but she was not in any of the little groups visiting on the church lawn. He would have to tell Bishop Thompson to wait a few moments so he could find his aunt and ask her to wait for him. Mickey’s mother was coming out the door – she might have seen Aunt Minnie.
“Have you seen my aunt, Mrs. Brent?”
“Why, yes, Hans, the bishop just asked her to come to his study.”
Why did Bishop Thompson want to see him and his aunt – and Mickey? He hoped nothing was wrong.
The study door was open and Mickey and Aunt Minnie were already there.
“Sit down, everybody,” Bishop Thompson invited; “I’ll be with you in a minute.” He made some notations in a note book. “Now then – ” He put the pen back in its holder. “I had a special reason for calling you in here.”
Bishop Thompson opened a desk drawer and held out the little angel Hans had given to Ann. “Remember this?”
“Ye-e-e-e-s,” Hans said slowly.
“I remember it, too. Hans made it the first day he was at school,” Mickey exclaimed.
Bishop Thompson smiled. “Miss Lane showed it to me before she left and I borrowed it. Oh, excuse me, Miss Minnie, did you want to see this?”
Aunt Minnie had been craning her neck for a better view and she nodded in answer to Bishop Thompson’s question. He pushed the little figure across the desk and went on.
“To get back to what I was saying, when Ann showed me this angel it gave me an idea. Ever since I’ve been here I’ve had a project in mind, but we’ve never had the money – but perhaps I’d better begin at the beginning.”
He told them about the Christmas decorations the Meadowfield merchants put up each year, and of the special display on the court house lawn.
“One year it was a big figure of a reindeer with a red light bulb for a nose, then a big laughing Santa Claus. Last year it was – oh, I don’t know – ”
“It was a big red sleigh,” Mickey recalled.
“Oh, yes,” Bishop Thompson nodded. “What I’m getting at is this – I’d like to see a little more of Christ in Christmas. Last year when the merchants met to discuss the court house decoration I attended the meeting and suggested a nativity scene.”
Hans’s puzzled expression stopped Bishop Thompson for a moment. “Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child in the stable,” he explained. “Well, the nativity scene didn’t get much approval so I’ve been wanting to put one on our church lawn; but as I said, they cost quite a bit of money. When Ann showed me this little carved angel it gave me an idea. Do you think you could make a nativity scene, Hans?”
Hans was taken by surprise and he thought about it for a long moment. He had helped Karl with several figures of Christ for some churches, but he had never tried anything like this by himself.
Bishop Thompson watched Hans’s reaction and when he didn’t answer immediately he explained that Hans would not have to do all the work alone.
“I could help build the stable and the manger,” Mickey volunteered eagerly.
“How about it, Hans?’ asked Bishop Thompson. “It would be a big job.”
“I know. But if it would bring people closer to the real meaning of Christmas – I’ll do it,” Hans declared.
“Good,” Bishop Thompson said heartily.
“Hurray,” Mickey added.
“What can we do to help you and what will you need?” asked the bishop.
“I have most of the tools but I will need a place to work.”
“We’ll find a place – how about lumber – what will you use?”
“Karl liked the wood from the linden tree. I don’t know what that is in English.”
“Linden – hmmm,” Bishop Thompson cupped his chin in his hand. “Minnie, would you know what that is?”
Aunt Minnie’s face turned light pink and Hans almost expected to hear her say, “I never want to hear that foreign language from you again,” but she only shook her head.
“I’ve heard of that tree; let me look in my dictionary.” Bishop Thompson paged through the thick volume. “Here it is,” he said, running his finger up the column, “a tree with soft, white wood and cream-colored flowers.”
“That’s it,” Hans declared.
“The basswood,” Bishop Thompson finished; “we grow them over here. I wonder if the Meadowfield Lumber Company has any on hand.”
“It should be seasoned,” Hans said. “Karl and I used to season it ourselves. After we cut down the trees, we soaked them in running water to wash away the sap, then we dried them in a hot room.”
“I could help you do that,” Mickey said.
“Well, we’ll see what Ed down at the lumber yard can do for us – do you boys think you could go down with me first thing in the morning?”
“Oh, yes,” the boys answered eagerly.
Aunt Minnie was quieter than usual on the way home and when they reached the front door of the shop she told Hans to go inside. “I’ll be along in a bit.”
She disappeared into the car shed and was still gone when Hans came down after having changed his clothes. He wondered what Aunt Minnie could be doing out in the dusty shed with her good navy blue silk dress on. It wasn’t like Aunt Minnie at all.
She came in after a while and changed her dress. When they had finished eating she asked him to come out to the car shed with her.
“Could you work out here?” she asked.
Hans was so surprised that he had to find his voice. “Yes,” he answered. The shed was roomy and the light was good.
Aunt Minnie gave a satisfied nod and got a pencil and a pad of paper out of her apron pocket. “Now – what will you need?”
Hans looked around, picturing the shed as a workshop. “I will need a bench and a table, a grindstone – some of Karl’s tools need sharpening – ”
Aunt Minnie made a note of everything he said. “Ought to get a stove, too; it’ll be chilly before you get done – and a lamp. I’ll have Nat get the things from town tomorrow.”
Aunt Minnie was as good as her word and soon Hans was able to begin his work. Bishop Thompson helped him sketch the figures and early one morning he began the figure of Joseph. His hand trembled a little as he gouged around the outline drawn on the wood, but before long the tools felt at home in his hand and soon the chips began covering the floor.
By the time school started in the fall he had finished Joseph and was starting on Mary. He had less time to spend on his project now, but every evening after school he hurried home and went out to the shed to work.
It was while he was working here one afternoon that a voice asked, “May I come in?”
Someone was always coming to his work shop to see how the figures were coming along.
“Yes,” he said, and turned to find his friend, Lieutenant Sommers.
“Your aunt said I’d find you out here. How is everything?”
“Fine.” Hans was glad to see the friend he had made on the ship and he told her all about school and the nativity set.
Helen asked a lot of questions about the figures and when he had answered them all he asked, “What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been home on leave, and now I’m on my way back to Germany.”
“Sometimes I wish I could go back and see all my friends,” Hans said wistfully.
“If I get anywhere near the orphanage I’ll stop in and give them your regards.”
“And tell Karl about the nativity set. He’ll be pleased to know that his tools are being used.”
“I will,” Helen promised; “and now I’ll have to be going.”
“Must you leave so soon?”
“I’m afraid so, Hans. One of my friends is driving me to New York, and we don’t have much time to spare; but I did want to stop and see you. Good-bye, Hans.”
“Good-bye,” Hans walked to the door of the car shed and watched Helen climb into the waiting car. “Have a safe trip,” he called.
“Thank you. I’ll drop you a postcard.”
The car rolled down the driveway and Hans returned the salute his friend gave him from the rear window.