From the Children’s Friend, December 1950 –
THE WHITTLING BOY
By Theobel Wing Alleeson
Bong! went the closing bell. The sixth grade began to put away books and papers. Miss Lert lifted her hand for quiet.
“Boys and girls, I have something to tell you. You all know of the three families that are coming here from Germany to live.”
Jerry’s hand waved. ‘Oh, I know, Miss Lert – and the Adelmans have come. They’re got a boy – I saw him.”
Miss Lert smiled. “yes, Kurt will be here in school tomorrow. I hope all of you will remember that he has had a very sad life, up to now. Here he begins a new life, and we all want to do what we can to make him happy, and feel he is one of us.”
Oh, yes, Jerry thought, he certainly did. He began to plan all kinds of interesting things that he and Kurt would do. But when Kurt appeared next morning at the schoolhouse door, Jerry wasn’t so sure.
Kurt didn’t look like any of the other boys – he looked funny. He was little and his scared blue eyes were too big for his thin white face. A shock of hair fell over one eye. When he had to talk, Jerry could hardly understand what he said. But he had made up his mind to be a friend to Kurt, so he asked, “Do you like it here in America?”
Kurt gave a quick glance around as if he were afraid, and said, simply, “Ya.”
Jerry wished that the other children would come and talk to Kurt, but they seemed as afraid of him as he was of them. Pretty soon the bell rang and it was time to go into their room. Miss Lert smiled at Kurt and gave him a seat at the back where he could see all the others.
At recess Jerry fell into step beside Kurt. On the grounds the boys were already playing ball.
“Like to play ball, Kurt?”
Kurt shook his tow head. “Nein.”
then he pulled a small chunk of wood from his pocket and a jack-knife. Jerry stared as Kurt sat down on a board and began to whittle.
“What are you making, Kurt?”
Kurt didn’t answer. His thin fingers began to fly and the shavings began to fall. In no time at all, the block began to look like something. Jerry was fascinated.
“Boy, but you are smart! Why, it’s – it’s a cow – isn’t it?”
A pleased look flashed in Kurt’s blue eyes. “Ya – ein Kuh.”
Jerry watched breathless, as the cow took shape. “It’s wonderful. Do you think I could learn to whittle like that?”
“I tink – ya.”
“Will you teach me, Kurt?”
But when Jerry tried to do what Kurt was doing, he found it wasn’t easy. His attempt was poor and clumsy. it was much more fun to watch the little cow growing under Kurt’s skillful hands. Once in a while some of the boys and girls drifted over to see what Kurt was doing. But they didn’t see anything for Kurt put his hand over his little figure and kept it there until they went away.
“That kid is sure funny,” Jerry heard Bart Kromer say.
Jerry heard his sister Lola answer back, “Well, you’d be funny too – if –”
Jerry hoped Kurt hadn’t understood the words. But he soon would, and then they’d all have to try extra hard not to hurt him, but to say only kind and helpful things. Jerry and Lola talked it over that night. Jerry was eager to tell about the little cow.
“You should just see the teeny horns he’s carving on it!”
Lola sighed. “I wish I could. Do you suppose he’d show it to me? He must be a regular artist!”
“I guess not. He only lets me see. He’s afraid of the others.”
After that all the boys and girls called Kurt the whittling boy. he had a special corner of the playground, and while the others played, he whittled. Little shavings always clung to his clothes. But he was learning to talk English now, and was not quite so shy. Besides his whittling Kurt was interested in one other thing – the orchestra. He would sit in a corner behind the drums and whittle and listen. One day before the orchestra gathered, Jerry saw Kurt slip into the room, and look fearfully around. Before Jerry could speak he had snatched up Jerry’s trumpet which was lying on a chair and put it to his lips. He blew a loud sour note, and then put the trumpet down as if it had burned him. then he ran from the room.
‘Hey, you bumped me!” laughed Jerry. “It’s all right, Kurt. Would you like to learn the trumpet?”
Kurt’s blue eyes grew wide. “I – ya – ya.”
“I’ll ask Mr. Holmes to get you one – they have some extras here. He’d help you, and I will too – if you like.”
Kurt’s eyes got bigger than ever. He just couldn’t believe it. when Mr. Holmes put the trumpet in his hands and started to teach him, Jerry could see that Kurt had all he could do to keep back the tears. The orchestra was practicing for the Christmas play, and Jerry knew that Kurt wanted to be a part of it more than anything. He watched through the weeks as Kurt struggled to learn to play, and his heart sank. Over and over he blew a soft sweet note while Kurt tried his best to imitate it. But he couldn’t. Lola passed by with her violin. she shook her head at Jerry, careful not to let Kurt see. Jerry went on helping Kurt but he was almost sure by now that it wasn’t any use.
Kurt looked up, despair in his face. “Nein – I can’t play. I try – no use.”
“Everybody can’t play the trumpet, Kurt.” Jerry tried to sound hopeful. “Lots of people can’t. But you can do something they can’t.”
“I want to play – for Christmas,” Kurt blurted out. “Everybody does something for Christmas – but me!” All of a sudden Kurt laid the trumpet down and ran out of the room.
Jerry followed, but Kurt was almost home when he caught up with him.
“Wait, Kurt. You promised you’d show me all the figures you’ve carved some day. Why not show me now?”
“All right. You come in house.”
Kurt led the way to his room. There on the table stood the little cow, a donkey, a sheep and two lambs. There were also a man and a woman, two angels, and the beautifully carved figure of a Baby in a crib. Jerry was so amazed that he just stood staring.
“Why, it’s for a creche – isn’t it?”
“Ya. I have to make the frame yet.”
“How long did it take you to learn to carve like this, Kurt?”
“I start when I was five. Uncle Peter teach me.”
“Let me tell Miss Lert. She’d love to see this, Kurt.”
Kurt drew back. “But not the kids – don’t tell them.”
“No, I won’t,” Jerry promised. “But Kurt, you’ve sure got something here!”
Jerry wanted terribly to tell, especially when he heard some of the children talking about “the whittling boy.” But of course he didn’t. he’d sneak up and watch as Kurt whittled, and admire the work. Kurt liked that and whittled faster than ever. He was making a tiny dove now. then a star. My, thought Jerry, if only I could do that!
It was now the day of the Christmas pageant. Fat feathery snowflakes were beginning to float down as Jerry left Kurt at his door and hurried home. But when he came to the front porch, he remembered something. He laid his trumpet down on the step and ran back around the corner. He had to go to Hammond’s Gift Shop to pick up his present for his mother. He lingered for some time trying to decide whether she’d like the flower note paper or the yellow lampshade best. When he finally did get home, it was snowing hard and Lola came flying out to meet him.
“Jerry – Kurt came over right after you left – and he was awful mad!”
Jerry clutched his package. “What about, Lola?”
Lola looked frightened. “He yelled out something that sounded like ‘My creche – it’s gone!’ Then he grabbed up your trumpet and ran.”
Jerry felt his throat hurt. He knew what had happened. Kurt thought he had taken his precious creche. This was terrible. He must find Kurt.
“He might hurt your trumpet, Jerry.”
“Don’t say that. He’s my friend – and he thinks that I’d steal something of his!”
“I know. What are you going to do, Jerry?”
Jerry thrust his package into her hands. “I’m going after him. I’ll find him. I’ll bring him back.”
He started to run. It was hard work, for the snow was soft and stuck to his shoes and it blinded his eyes. At the end of the long street the highway led out of town. Jerry hesitated. He was sure that Kurt had gone out of town, but which road would he take? would it be the highway? Jerry didn’t think so. He was too shy, too hurt. He’d want to get away from people. Jerry studied the faint outline of a smaller road leading off across the fields. Something told him to take that road.
By this time the blizzard was raging. Even in his stout mackinaw and cap he was bitterly cold. His neck and ears stung. It was getting dark, too. He dug in his pocket and finally fished out a flashlight. This threw a glow ahead of him in the whirling whiteness.
“Kurt – Kurt!” he shouted, but the howling wind dashed the words back in his face. he plodded on. He had to find Kurt. Jerry was frightened, but he knew that Kurt was even more frightened. He was Kurt’s friend – he had to make Kurt realize that. as he stumbled along he kept telling himself that Kurt was all right, that he would find him. The snow got deeper and deeper. His heavy feet stuck in the drifts. How tired he was! But he struggled on, flashing his little light on all sides. He called and called, but only the screaming wind answered. Jerry began to feel sleepy. That would never do.
He stood still for a moment and swung his light. he thought he saw something dark beyond the edge of the road. Pushing and floundering, he kicked his way to the dark object, and found it was three objects. Three cows were huddled against the side of a tumble-down shack. Cows! He thought of the little cow he had first seen Kurt whittle out. Then he felt along their snow-caked backs and came to the shed. he was sure he was on the right track. Yes! There lay Kurt, half buried in snow, with Jerry’s trumpet still clasped in his arms.
Jerry shook him and screamed, “Kurt, Kurt! It’s me – Jerry. Get up – you’re freezing – get up!”
Kurt mumbled something but he didn’t move. Jerry dragged him up on his feet, and began pounding his arms and back. “Come on, Kurt! Move your legs – jump – dance – anything! You’ve got to keep going.”
Kurt opened his heavy eyes. “My creche –”
Jerry pulled the trumpet from Kurt’s stiff arms. “Jump, I tell you! You almost froze to death! Come – we’ve got to go home. Your creche – I know where it is!”
A far-off jingle of sleigh-bells sounded through the roar of the storm, and in a moment a big sled ploughed through the drifts. Driving the two horses was Jerry’s father, while Kurt’s father was swinging a brilliant lantern.
The Christmas pageant came to an end with “Silent Night” played softly by the orchestra. As Jerry played he watched Kurt sitting there in the front row between his father and mother. They all looked happy as they joined in the applause. Then Superintendent Kent came to the front of the curtain and raised his hand for silence. He looked down right at Kurt.
“We have a boy here who has come a very long way to be a part of our school. I want him up here beside me. Come, Kurt.”
Kurt shrank back, but his mother gave him a gentle push. She was smiling. So was his father.
So Kurt climbed up on the platform and stood beside Mr. Kent. Behind him the curtain slowly rose again. As Kurt whirled around, Jerry saw that his blue eyes were big as saucers. For there on a table and beautifully lighted, was Kurt’s creche! There were Joseph and Mary and the shepherds, and the lovely Baby in his crib. There, too, were all the little animals that Kurt had so lovingly made. The tiny dove he had made last was perched on the horns of the cow. Above the manger hung the star softly glowing.
Mr. Kent was saying, “This is your part in our pageant, Kurt. Everyone can’t be in the orchestra or the play. You have done something that no other pupil in school could do. You have a great gift in your hands, Kurt – a wonderful gift. And now everyone in the room will want to see this beautiful creche which Kurt has made. The line will form here on the right – don’t crowd – so that all may see.”
The boys and girls and grown-up people filed around the table. They could hardly believe their eyes as they looked first at the creche and then at Kurt. Jerry stood by Kurt and felt that it was the proudest moment of his life, too. when at last the stage was cleared Jerry and Kurt still stood fascinated by the creche with its glowing lights.
“There’s one thing sure,” said Jerry, reaching out to pat the little cow. “I think it would be swell to be a ‘whittling boy.’ You’re one of us now, Kurt, and all the kids like it that way. This will be a real Merry Christmas for all of us!”