by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
It began snowing early Christmas Eve and by the time Hans and Aunt Minnie were ready to go to church a blanket of white covered the ground and their footsteps crunched as they walked toward the truck.
“Are you sure you can manage those two poinsettias?” Aunt Minnie asked anxiously.
“Yes,” Hans assured her. It was his first time out since the fire and he as still a little weak.
“We’ll be a little early, but I want to get these plants placed before folks start arriving.”
When they got to Meadowfield Aunt Minnie did not turn at the church corner but continued on to the business district.
“I thought you might like to see Main Street,” she explained.
Hans could see it up ahead draped with rows of red and green lights. Aunt Minnie drove along the deserted street and Hans peered into the shop windows, but instead of Santa Clauses and reindeer he saw wise men and churches and an angel host. He looked at Aunt Minnie for an explanation but she nodded up ahead. Hans looked and saw a crowd of people. They were standing on the Court house lawn which glowed with the lights of a towering Christmas tree. As Aunt Minnie slowed down Hans could hear the people singing. Some of the melodies were familiar – he had sung them in the orphanage beside a tiny evergreen he and some of the other boys had chopped down and decorated with scraps of paper and bits of yarn.
Aunt Minnie stopped the truck and steered Hans through the crowd until they reached the spot where the special display was always put up. to Hans’s astonishment, there before him was a stable and in it his nativity scene. He felt an arm across his shoulder and looked up to see Bishop Thompson.
“Some of the merchants are volunteer firemen. They went to check the shed the night of the fire and saw your figures – I couldn’t refuse when they asked to use them here.”
Later, sitting in church between Ann and Aunt Minnie, he sang all the carols and listened again to the wonderful story of the birth of the Savior. He felt very peaceful, and he knew that the hard decision he had to make would turn out to be the right one.
After church Ann asked them to drive back to the greenhouse with her.
“I’ll follow you in the truck,” said Nat.
They squeezed into the front seat. “The back’s full of packages,” Ann apologized. “We’ll make it, though.”
Hans kept looking back for Nat, but there was no sign of him.
“He’ll be along,” said Aunt Minnie.
Ann pulled up in front of the shop and Aunt Minnie hurried in to put on the lights. The Christmas tree was all ablaze and Aunt Minnie was putting a match to the fire when Ann and Hans came in loaded down with packages.
“Put them under the tree with the others,” Aunt Minnie instructed, and when the last one was in place they heard the truck.
“Here comes Nat now,” Hans said, and Ann and Aunt Minnie exchanged secret smiles.
“Sit down and I’ll get us a sandwich before we open packages,” said Aunt Minnie.
She hurried from the room and Hans could hear Nat come in the back door and stamp the snow from his shoes.
“Merry Christmas,” he called as he came into the room followed by aunt Minnie carrying a tray of sandwiches and milk, and Christmas cookies in all shapes and sizes.
Nat said something to Ann in a low voice, then they both looked at Hans and smiled.
Everyone was acting very mysterious, he thought.
“Who’s going to hand out the presents?” asked Aunt Minnie.
“Hans,” Ann and Nat chorused.
There were presents for everyone. A bright blue woolen sweater – to Hans from Aunt Minnie. A pocket knife – from Nat to Hans. Ice skates – for Hans from Ann. Aunt Minnie gave Nat a pair of knitted socks. There was a crossword puzzle dictionary – to Nat from Hans.
“Now you’ll be able to finish those crossword puzzles,” Hans said, and everybody laughed.
For Aunt Minnie there was a paperweight just like the one Hans had broken, and for Ann a whole set of little angels to hang on her Christmas tree.
The floor was becoming a sea of tissue paper and ribbon and boxes when all at once something streaked across the room scattering paper in all directions. It stopped at Hans’s feet. Hans looked down at the black furry object in complete surprise while the rest burst out laughing.
“How did he get out?” Aunt Minnie asked, still laughing.
“Must have tipped the box over,” Nat replied.
“A puppy,” Hans exclaimed, picking up the wriggly little body and holding it in his lap.
“Read the card around his neck,” said Ann.
Hans read aloud, “To Hans, from Ann, Aunt Minnie and Nat.” “Thank you, everybody,” he said happily.
They were standing around the piano singing Christmas carols when the shop bells jingled.
“A customer on Christmas Eve?” Aunt Minnie asked. She hurried into the shop and returned a moment later carrying an envelope. “It’s a telegram for you, Hans,” she said.
Hans opened it and read:
Will arrive New Year’s Day. Tell Aunt Minnie I accept her offer.
“What offer, Aunt Minnie?” Hans asked.
“I offered him a job here at Meadowfield Greenhouse. This new rose will mean a lot of extra work – orders are coming in already, and Nat and I can’t handle it all.”
“I should say not,” Nat said.
Hans could not say anything for a moment. He held his puppy close and swallowed hard.
Aunt Minnie was alarmed at his silence. “Doesn’t that arrangement please you, Hans?”
“Oh, yes, Aunt Minnie – I just don’t know what to say, I’m so happy. I wanted to stay in America, but I wanted to be with my uncle, too, and now I don’t have to decide at all. It’s the most wonderful thing that could have happened.”
They all agreed happily.
“That’s a perfect fire for roasting apples,” Nat pointed out.
“It is, isn’t it, Hans?” said Aunt Minnie. “Why don’t you go out to the kitchen and get some.”
Hans went out with the puppy at his heels.
“What are you going to call him?” asked Ann.
Hans thought for a moment and said, “Smokey.”
“That’s a good name,” said Nat; “he’s kind of smoke colored.”
“And it will always remind us of the fire and how that changed everything around here for the better,” said Aunt Minnie.
When the fire had died down and the last sizzling apple was eaten, Ann looked at her watch. “It’s midnight,” she announced, “we’d better be going, Nat; we all want to go to church tomorrow.”
They rose to go and Hans and Aunt Minnie followed them to the door. It had stopped snowing and a silvery moon was shining down on the snow-covered earth.
Ann began to sing softly,
It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old.
Aunt Minnie’s voice chimed in with Ann’s,
From angels bending near the earth,
to touch their harps of gold.
Nat added his voice,
Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heaven’s all-gracious King.
Hans joined in the final two lines,
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.