Sunday, June 28, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 13

“Focus on a faraway place,” Miss Matchan wrote on the board, her chalk squeaking on the silent e.
Sören squirmed in his seat. He drew his thumb methodically along the pencil tray at the top of his desk, rubbing it as if to deepen its groove. His eyes wandered to the right, seeing nothing, so deep into his thoughts that he was blind to his classmate, Lloyd Thompson, next to him. 
Lloyd squirmed, too. A faraway place? How far? Sebeka? Grand Forks? Thunder Bay? His pencil tip found its way into his mouth and his tongue pushed it out repeatedly. Lloyd looked at Sören’s dreamy face and half-grin. He saw Sören start writing so fast the tip of his pencil broke.
Lloyd…Lloyd, may I borrow a pencil?” Sören asked, but Lloyd already had a spare, sharpened pencil in his hand, held out to the older boy. Sören’s face broke into a full smile, “Thanks,” he whispered. 
The only place on Sören’s mind was Osterhammar, Sweden. His mor had been talking to him last night about how she used to go berry picking in the summer on mid-summer’s eve. Sören could hardly imagine having the sun shine almost all day and night. 
When my mother was a little girl, Sören wrote, she lived in Osterhammar with her mother and father. My mom liked to pick lignin berries and… 
His nose scrunched. This wasn’t how he wanted to write. He wanted to write a story, a real story like Armstrong Sperry wrote when he wrote about Mafatu on an island in the Pacific. The young author drew a heavy line in pencil on his sheet and began again. 
Astrid and her sisters bounded up the hillside, their metal pails banging against their thighs. With the ropes rigged so their hands would be free, they picked berries double-handed, tossing the fruit into their buckets. Without warning, a wild… 
Sören put his pencil in the tray and massaged his right palm with his fingers. His lips pressed together tightly as he tried to remember. “Pssst, Sonja!” he whispered. His sister, seated a seat ahead of him, to his left,  readily looked up, happy for the distraction from this writing task. 
Sören glanced at Miss Matchan. She was squatted down next to another student talking quietly in his ear. “Sonja, what animals do you remember from Sweden?” he asked. 
“Animals? Remember? Sören, I don’t remember any animals, we left when I was only three years old! But far sings that song about the weasel and the monkey so those must be animals over there.” 
He gave a half-snort. “Sonja, there are no monkeys in Sweden. That’s just a folk song. It’s not real. Forget it, I’ll figure it out myself.” 
Sonja stuck her tongue out at her brother. “Smarty-pants!” she mouthed.
Sitting next to Sonja, but paying no attention to her whispering, Becky’s thoughts focused on her cousin, not the one who was in the US Air Force, but her German cousin, Claus Schwartz. His mother was her papa’s older sister by three years. She wondered what he was doing still in Germany.
“Dear Claus,” she began writing. “I’ve been thinking about you in Warnemünde and wonder how you are. The Baltic surely is bitterly cold by now. Do you still fish with your father? How are Anne and Hilde?  I miss my dear cousins and wish I could see you all. I hope you are fine even with the war and that you do not have to fight.
We are fine here in America. Heinz follows my father in occupation and now attends the university and then medical school. Betty and I attend school in District 11 and Burdee and Harold help mother at home until they are old enough for school, too.
Give my love to Onkle Dieter and Tante Tressie. Sincerely, Rebecca Rose Erdmann”
Frank Kern hooted loudly. “You wish you could see Claus, he’s fighting in the war? And your father is in occupation! So who's Clausie?" 
Becky jumped so quickly, her head connected soundly with Frank’s face. “Ouch! Hey, knock it off! What are you doing?” he cried out accusingly.
“You were reading over my shoulder!” 
“You bet I was. I want to keep an eye on you Germans.” 
“What? What are you saying? Your family is also German.” Becky’s whole body tensed in anger. 
“But we’ve lived here for generations. My grandpa Kern owned the farm before my pop did. You? You’re probably not even a citizen.” Frank made a grab for Becky’s paper, but she clamped her hand down on it. It tore in half  to Frank’s surprise and delight. He waved his half in the air. The upset girl frantically shoved the remainder into her desk. 
Near tears, she fumed, “You give me my letter back, Frances Kern.”
“Make me.” 
Suddenly Miss Matchan stood between the two seething students. “Whatever is happening will end now. Frank, sit down. Becky, sit in the chair next to my desk.” 
Both children acquiesced and went meekly to their assigned seats.  “We’ll discuss this after lunch.” She clapped her hands twice, “Class, it’s time for lunch and recess. The sun is shining, I think you’ll be okay to spend time outdoors. Stay outside until I ring the bell.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 12

 “Mor, what did happen to Tor’s far?”
Astrid stirred the simmering stew before answering. “What brings that up, sötis?”
“Oh, it’s just on my mind…well…really, it was Frank Kern.”
“You don’t seem to get along with him, do you?” She tucked some stray hair behind her ears that had fallen from her bun.
Pacing back and forth, he said angrily, “He’s a big lout and he was bugging Tor during recess yesterday. He told his dumb buddies that Tor was born out of wedlock.”

Astrid wiped her hands on her apron and pursed her lips. “Sören, you know that’s not true.” She handed him a peeler and a handful of carrots and gently pushed him into a chair.

Grabbing a bowl, he dutifully began scraping the orange peels off the long vegetable, catching the peelings in the dish he held between his knees. “I didn’t say it! Frank did. And I know it’s not true. But where did Torsten’s far go?”
“Well, it’s a sensitive subject,” Mor said with hesitation. “Tor’s far was born in Sweden, just like you and I were. He met your far when they both served in the military. In fact, it was your far who introduced Sven Rydén to Marta.” She paused and stared into space thinking of another time.

“Go on, Mor.”
“Oh, the two of them felt matched to one another and they married three days after you were born. Of course, the wedding was planned when Mr. Rydén proposed in the fall. We all thought you would stay put until well after the wedding. But you came a few weeks earlier than we’d expected.”
Astrid took the now peeled carrots from her son and laid them on the counter. She added the onion skin to his bowl of scraps. “When they finally came over to America, Torsten was already on the way—you missed a spot here,” she said and handed the carrot back. “Then Sven decided that he needed to return to Sweden. I don’t know what he’s doing now.”
“You mean, he just abandoned Aunt Marta? And she was pregnant?” Sören’s eyes opened wide in astonishment forgetting that he was holding a carrot.
With her paring knife, Astrid deftly began to chop each carrot into the kettle. “Not exactly. He set up a fund for Marta and he used to send money over every month or two, but he…well, never mind. You don’t need to know everything.”
Collecting the last carrot, she handed her son four brown potatoes, saying, “Please don’t talk to others about this. It’s Marta’s private business.”
“Ouch! That peeler is sharp,” he exclaimed. “Of course, Mor, I wouldn’t blab family business to the neighbors.” Brown skins piled up on the cutting board. “The chickens will eat well today, Mor. I still don’t understand why Mr. Rydén went back to Sweden. Didn’t he love Aunt Marta?”
“Of course he did,” murmured Astrid. “At first, he said he wanted to finish his military service. Eventually, he joined the Finish army when Russian invaded Finland. Then he said he wanted to go help in…oh, I don’t know, Sören. The subject grieves me.”
Sören stood up and put the cleaned potatoes in the kettle and rested the lid on top. “Mor, you should know that I know Mr. Rydén is fighting for the Nazis.” He lifted the lid, shook the potatoes around, and put the lid back. “We didn’t mean to, but Tor and I heard you talking to Aunt Marta. We couldn’t quite understand what you meant, but it makes sense now.”

Suddenly Mor was standing right next to him. Her hand grasped Sören’s. “We don’t know anything thing of the sort,” she said in a flat, low voice that sounded almost spooky.

“But Mor, I heard you say—“
“You heard nothing, Sören. Do you understand me? You heard nothing. Now go do your homework.”
Feeling dazed, he walked into the dining room. His sister was already settled in at the table reading a book.
Sören found his knapsack and retrieved a piece of paper. “I think I need to write a poem,” he said absently as if to no one at all. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 11

Far rose from the table. “Älskad, my dear, how about a game of cribbage,” he said, “the children can handle the dishes. Did I smell some glogg warming on the stove?”
“Indeed you did, Mr. Markusson,” his wife replied in a teasing tone. She stepped into the kitchen and returned with two stemmed glasses of mulled wine. Each glass held a dainty spoon for scooping out the raisins and thinly sliced almonds.
“Sonja, be sure to put the left-overs away quickly. Wrap up the turkey in parchment pap--“
“Astrid…” Far said, elongating the “a” in a gentle remonstration.  She smiled and handed Nils the glogg then sat down at the small, round game table, pulling out its drawer to find cards and cribbage board.
Once all the dishes and platters were stacked on the counters, Sonja began chattering. “I love the color of sillsallad, but since we only have that at Christmas, my favorite Thanksgiving dish is the cranberry sauce.”
“You pick your favorite food by color? I guess beet salad and cranberry sauce are a pretty close match. Cranberry sauce is the easiest dish to make, though. I like food that’s a little more complex like stuffing. Mmm, it tastes salty with all that butter.”
While Sonja scooped food into storage containers and returned the pickles and herring to their original canning jars, Sören scraped leftover that no one wanted into the slop bucket for their solitary sow. He’d bring her the feast later.  Water for washing heated on the stove.
“Cranberries go with everything even the pumpkin pie. I like the food to all work together. The stuffing takes too much chopping,” his sister remarked.
“I like to chop. I like to cook.”
“You sound like a girl, Sören.”
“Boys cook, too, ya know.”
“Not many, big brother. I don’t dare tell my friends that you help me in the kitchen. They’d all laugh.”
Pouring the heated water into the sink and adding soap, he admitted, “Yeah, I don’t mention it to my friends either to tell ya the truth.”
Calling into the other room, Sonja asked, “Mor, why don’t most boys help in the kitchen like Sören does?”
“I’m not sure. Don’t the brothers of your friends help with housework?”
“Not in Becky’s family. One time, I was there after supper and all the girls were doing dishes while the boys played marbles.”
“What did Becky say about it,” Sören asked.
“She started to say something, but her sister Betty interrupted here and said, ‘Boys don’t do women’s work, simple as that,’ I didn’t feel like asking for details. Becky gave me a funny look and shrugged her shoulders.” Sonja picked up the dish towel and began drying dishes as her brother washed and rinsed them.
“It was your far’s idea, Sonja, to have both children do housework,” Mor said, standing in the doorway, still holding a fan of cards. “He grew up in a family of four boys so everyone had to do his fair share including housework. His mor grew up in a family of all boys except her. She told me she hated doing all the housework as a child. When she and Farfar started their family, she insisted all children do all work around the home regardless if it was women’s work or men’s work.”
“Mormor was all for equality in work,” Far chimed in. “I was 19 years old when my mor could first vote. That was the year I first voted, too. Mind you, I had to finish military service before I could vote.” Nils sneaked behind Astrid and poured himself another glass of mulled wine.
“You were in the military, Far?”
“Yes, but I served during peacetime. We Swedes take pride in our neutrality, son.”
“Mormor Markusson didn’t vote for the first time until you voted for the first time,” Sonja said with a surprised voice. “What took her so long?”
“Women didn’t have the right to vote in Sweden until 1921. In the United States, it was a year earlier in 1920,” said Mor. “In fact, in probably most places in the world, women still don’t vote. Our husbands vote for us.”
“When I turn 18, I’m going to vote,” the young girl stated with certainty. Drying a platter with extra energy.
“I’m sure you will, daughter, I have little doubt. But will you vote for the right person? That, I’m not so sure of,” said Far as he drained his second glass of glogg.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 10

“Tomorrow, then, in the afternoon,” said Sören looking expectant. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “Look, you go on, I have to stop at Mr. Uselman's today."
"Don't you just hate that job? I mean, killing crows? I think they are so clever and I don't mind their caw."
"It’s not crows this time, too late in the year for that. No, Mr. Uselman wants me to help him patch up some holes in his foundation. He said the mice are looking for ways to get in for the winter."
She shuddered and started walking toward her house. “Ugh. Mice and boys named Frank Kern. I can’t stand either sort,” she began to trot and called more loudly, “I have to go. Chores at home. Bye Sören."
"Becky, wait! What do you mean?" But Becky was out of earshot. Sören scowled. He remembered the time that Frank Kern had been playing ball in the school yard. He felt his cheeks heat up at the memory.
"Swing, batter-batter-batter, swing!" Frank hooted as Sören stepped up to the plate. The batter focused on his grip. Right on top, left is lower, he repeated to himself. He bent his knees with a tiny spring to his stance.
The ball whizzed past. Sören hadn't moved a muscle.
"This boy's a chicken. He won't hit. Move in boys, no need to worry about this swinger," Frank heckled from first base.
Sören swallowed. He bounced on his feet, peered down the line to first base, cocked his head at the pitcher and waited, the bat hovering over his right shoulder.
Another ball flashed by. Again, Sören hadn't moved a muscle.
"Strike!" called the ump like a crisp snap of an icicle.
Sören's stomach clutched inward. He swung his bat, slicing the air, testing its weight. He shook his shoulders and rotated his head.
"Watchcha waiting for, Markusson? Want me to hit it for youuuu?" Frank continued to razz from his position on the base.
Sören visualized hitting the ball straight into Kern's crotch, ricocheting it off his knees, sending it flying ten feet over his Swiss-cheese head.
The ball appeared in Sören's field of vision. As if it was floating on a stream of air. Sören straightened his left arm, his right arm following suit. He heard a crack as the bat and ball connected. The ball rolled down the bat as it flew out.
Sören dropped the bat where he stood and started running for first. His hat flipped off his head. He kept running. He heard, in the distance, a voice screaming, "Catch it!" Sören kept running.
His right toe touched the base as he barreled into the infield player. Frank stood there like a gorilla, holding Sören's fly ball, grinning so that Sören could see Frank's wad of sorghum caught between his teeth.
"You're out, you little pup. Out like rabid bat" the bigger kid growled. Then Frank elbowed Sören in the ribs, but hollered, "Coach! This kid spit at me!"
Coach Lindgren yelled back, "Don't be a tattletale, Kern!"
That only made Frank sneer; under his breath he said, "Just wait to see what happens this Saturday, little Sorehead."
Sören realized he was clenching his fists like bullets when he knocked on Mr. Uselmann's door. The elderly man opened the screen.
"Come in, Sören, don't pound so hard, you'll break the door."
Sören declined, "Sorry Mr. Uselmann, I'm needing to get straight to work today. My far and I patched up our house two days ago. I know what to do so how about if I got right to it?"
Mr. Uselmann nodded, "There's always time for courtesy, Sören."
The boy looked down at his feet. "Yes, sir. You're right." Soren pulled at a stray thread on his jacket. "Um, would it be alright to visit after I reinforce the foundation? We can talk while the cement is drying."
"Good idea and good response; you've patched up this old man's feelings."
Sören grinned. Mr. Uselmann was like a grandfather to him. His own grandfathers lived across the Atlantic. Farfar Markusson still preached at Uppsala Cathedral. His mor's far lived in Osthammar, north of Stockholm, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
Later, when the work was done, Sören walked home whistling Spring efter vatten, a tune his far had taught him just last night on the nyckleharpa.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 9

(I'm struggling with the timeline. This is out of order and needs a continuity revision.)

“Those pump-action shotguns are like min-cannons they are so powerful! A lot more bang than the souped up BB gun I’d been using. Thanks, Mr. Uselman!” Sören shook his employer’s hand and left with a swing in his stride. Ahead he saw Becky’s brunette curls hanging from under her knit cap. The autumn air, while refreshing, also chilled.
“Hey, Becky! Wait up!,” he called, but to his surprise and embarrassment, his voice broke mid-sentence. I sound like a frog, he thought self-consciously.
Becky noted his changing voice, but knew it’d be a while before the 14 year old was as grown up as an adult. She was glad he wasn’t a man, not yet anyway. Her cousin had enlisted with the US Air Force as soon as he’d turned 18 and that was over two years ago. She wondered if her adopted country would be able to stay out of the war. Seemed like all of Europe was engulfed in it.
“You look chipper today, Sören, what’s your secret?” Becky asked as he drew close to where she waited under the oak tree.
“Aww, I was sure Mr. Uselmann was going to chew me out back there. I’d wasted two whole shots trying to take down a pair of pesky crows that was stealing his corn. Instead he showed me how to use his new shotgun and Becky does that shooter have a kick to it! Plus it took out both birds with one squeeze of the trigger!”
Sören looked at his friend with bright eyes before remembering that she wasn’t fond of shooting animals and especially not crows. “Sören, I hardly know what to say,” the tender-hearted girl replied, “but I’m sure it’s good to not waste ammunition. I wonder if you’ll even be able to keep doing that chore for Mr. Uselmann. Pa says they’re going to start rationing metal and bullets next.”
Sören considered her words. “You know, I like the money and I do like target-shooting, but birds aren’t targets. I don’t like the killing part. I guess it’ll be for the best if that chore ends. You know, Becks, it’s a little scary how the government is making us save stuff or not use rubber and gun powder. Far said that his cousins in California have a curfew! I don’t like the authorities to take so much control.”
Becky began to walk home, turning up the collar on her coat. “It makes me feel safer, Sören, when the government does stuff like that for our own good.”
“Yeah, but how does the government know what’s best for me,” he protested. “They don’t even know me!”
“We’re their citizens, Sören. Just like your pa knows what’s best for you so does the government.”
Sören didn’t argue that logic, but his heart twisted up a bit. His far didn’t know how he wanted to be a writer not a farmer when he grew up. He didn’t know how Sören was already hanging out at the newspaper office looking for ways to help. One thing pappa did know, Sören admitted to himself, was how much they both loved polskas and making music.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 8

            Sören brushed his fingers on the keys, not sure how to tune the instrument, not sure if he should even try. “No, Sören,” said Far, “first you rap the tuning fork, listen to the ring, then you turn the tuning peg like this.” Nils eased the nyckelharpa’s peg in tighter as he drew the bow along the string. Its pitch sounded higher, matching exactly with the tuning fork’s tone.
Nils continued to tune each string starting with the melody strings and moving to the resonaussträngars, the dozen sympathetic strings that only reverberated with the main strings. Sören watched intently noting how the resonaussträngars were not touched by the bow hairs.
            “Far, how did you learn to play the nyckelharpa? Did Farfar play?”
            Nils snorted loudly. “No, my far was a strict Lutheran minister, son. He did not think playing music except in church on an organ was a good idea. But his brother! Oh, his brother, my Uncle Kasper, was a maverick, not one to follow the rules at all. He played the nyckelharpa and played in a band on the weekends.”
            “Your uncle Kasper taught you?”
            “Well, it was more that I snuck into the barn where he’d practice and watch him as I kept hidden behind bales of hay. When he’d put his harpa away to go to work—he worked nights on the pier for his real money—I’d take out his instrument and practice on my own.”
            “That’s how you learned,” said Sören, amazed at this new image of his far doing anything risky or illicit.
            “Not only, but one night Uncle Kasper returned home early because the wharf was closed off for bad weather. He caught me messing around with his harpa.

            “So, my young nephew thinks he can follow in his farbror’s footsteps?” boomed Farbror Kasper.
            “I-I-I’d like to try,” whispered Nils.
            “I didn’t think you had any funk in ya. Thought you were gonna be as straight and stiff as your old man,” Farbror Kasper said with a wicked grin.

            A smile spread across Nils face as the memory faded from his mind. He turned to his son. “Sören, if you want to play, first you’ll have to watch me play and memorize the songs. A good nyckelharpa player needs to know his music with his eyes closed. He needs to be able to play every single note in his head.”
            Sören wedged his hands under his legs; they were itching to pick up the instrument and stroke the strings now. “Yes, sir,” he intoned. “I have been memorizing those songs since I was a baby. I love to listen to you play, Pappa.”

            "Pappa." Nils felt his heart ache, an uncommon feeling for him. How rare it was to hear that affectionate term from his son. In a flash, he recalled the bitter words his own far uttered when the stern pastor discovered Nils learning to play with the “devil’s tools.” Just as quickly, he silenced his far’s voice in his head wanting to savor this moment with his son. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 7

“If I were a thimble, where would I be,” Becky whispered to herself. She spied the grandfather clock resting on a pedestal with four feet holding up the base. How smartly a thimble could fit under that pedestal. The height of each foot looks to be equal to the size of a thimble. Dropping to her knees, she peered beneath the clock.
Drat, it’s dark and dusty. She pulled the pencil out that was holding her hair in a bun, her tresses falling over her shoulders, and swept the pencil in the space between the base of the clock and the floor.
A spider scurried out and she heard something rolling about, but only farther back beyond the reach of her thimble-chaser. She laid down flat on her belly and cocked her head. “Burdee, grab the flashlight for me,” she called. “It’s in the buffet drawer on the right side,” she added.
Eager to help her big sister, Burdee Erdmann scrambled for the silver flashlight. “Let me shine it for you, Becksey,” the little girl pleaded as she slid the metal switch up along the flashlight canister. Ten years separated the two girls in age with one sibling, Harold, between the two.  Becky was smack-dab in the middle of her sisters and brothers as she also had two older siblings.
“Okay, Burdee, liegen down here with me and point it along the floor under the clock.”
“Liegen? Becky, sometimes you still use the wrong words,” Burdee said.
“Oh, it’s not wrong, just not English. Lie down here, Burdee and help me look.”
Light illuminated more dust, but Becky also saw a walnut shell, a marble, a paper doll’s bonnet, and in the way back, a thimble. “I wonder whose job it is to clean under this clock,” she mused.
“Since you’re down there looking, the job’s yours,” she heard her mother say, “but don’t get up, I’ll get a duster for you.”
“We’re a cleaning team, Becksey!” Burdee exclaimed, feeling more grown up to be helping with a novel chore like cleaning under the grandfather clock.
Becky said, “Burdee, whatever we find under this clock, you can have…except for the thimble. I need that to finish my sewing.”
Mrs. Erdmann handed Becky the feather duster and the older girl ran it under the pedestal, knocking out the dusty treasures for her sister to collect. “Mutti, do you want me to dust the mopboards, too?”
“No, I’d like to use soap and water on those, but you could come over here and dust under the buffet. There’s the long rail that’s hard to clean.”
Becky turned to Burdee, “See how I handled the duster on the clock? You do that with the buffet, okay?”
“Yes, yes, I will!” she happily said.
“Mutti, I can wipe down the floor and paneling with a soapy cloth, but I’d like to finish my sewing first.” Becky stood up and moved over to the sewing cabinet.
“That’s a fine idea, Rebecca. What are you working on?”
The girl held up some fabric and said, “Sören Markusson said he’d buy me a root beer at the church Octoberfest and I was making an apron to wear over my skirt. It feels like a new dress that way.”
“Markusson…his father is a farmer north of town here, isn’t he?”
“Yes, they live on a farm. Sören has a sister, Sonja, and he and I are in the same class at school. But he’s just buying me a root beer, Mutti. He’s not courting me or anything like that.”
“I should hope not. You’re too young to be serious about a boy.”
Becky kept her eyes on her unfinished apron and said, “Sharon, Ruth, Shirley, and I are all going together. I don’t know about the boys. I suppose some of them will be there, too. Are you and Papa going?”
“Ja, ja. Ich denke, I mean, I think we will go and take the little ones.”
Burdee had been lining up her trinkets on the table and said, “Where are we going?”
“Shortly, we’re going to make supper, little mausi. Clean your hands and put those dusty things away.”
Burdee laughed and ran in a circle, “I’m a little mousie, I’m a little mousie, squeak, squeak, squeak!” Her mother laughed with her and shooed her with her hands.
Becky sat down to hem her apron.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 6

     "Thank you, Mr. Uselman," Sören said, but not feeling right about it.  It didn't seem honorable to earn money for killing birds, not even thievin' crows.  Didn't seem right to take money from Mr. Uselman, either.  The old man would shoot the birds himself if he could only hold the rifle steady, Far had said to Mor, explaining that Otto Uselmann had the shaking palsy.
     "You've done a good job, Sören.  Someday, son, when I'm up in Heaven, if the good Lord'll take me, I'll be holding my Winchester with my eye staring down the barrel and bam! I'm gonna get me them crows," Mr. Uselman said, sighing.
     Sören smiled politely and said, "I sure hope so, Mr. Uselman."
     "Come back in two weeks when I have a fresh round of shot, why don’tcha?"
     "Sure will, Mr. Uselman, thanks again!" Sören waved as he walked down the dirt road humming Gåsvihorn, the tune Far had taught him the previous night.  A sturdy little polska, Far had said, played slowly enough for new dancers to dance the hambo.
     Sören had been allowed to hold Far's nyckelharpa and even try tuning a few of the strings, but he'd had to whistle the tune through his lips last night.
     Uncle Sven owned a durspel.  Even now, Sören felt breathless remembering the time he'd squeezed the bellows and pressed the keys. Out came a too-loud-for-the-closet sound quickly exposing his secret hide-away at Uncle Sven's place. It was hard to believe Far and Sven were brothers the way each had reacted.
     Far had hurried to the closet first. His eyes and lips formed narrow straight lines. He worked his left palm like he was polishing silver. Then big, blond Sven and found them and burst out laughing. “Sören, my son, you’ve ratted yourself out!” Then he’d thumped his brother’s shoulder and said, “Nils, looks like you’ve raised up a replica of yourself, another musician in the family!” Sören was sure music was the only way he resembled his far.

     A glint of metal caught Sören's eye. He turned his head just in time to see a black crow swoop down and pluck up a coin, a dime even, and fly away to a tree limb.  Once landed, the crow guardedly dropped the coin into a hollowed out cavity at the limb's fork.
     It wasn't that high up, Sören mused.  If he stretched, maybe he certainly was higher up than that.  He was still shorter than Mor.  Sören looked around. There was nothing nearby that could boost him.  He stepped closer to the tree and tentatively put his arms around it.
     That wasn't too bad.  Maybe he could shimmy up the trunk.  His right hand reached up to find a knot, giving him enough purchase to pull upward and hoist a foot off the ground.  Then his foot wedged in between two deep grooves of the bark and he heaved himself higher.
     Now his right foot was pushing the air, blindly searching for a spot to dig in.  Suddenly he found his foot pushed up a whole half-yard.  He looked down.  There stood Becky Erdmann.
     "Heya, Becky!" he grinned.  "Thanks for helping me, but don't let me hurt you."
     "I'm fine, Sören.  Whatcha looking for up there?  A bird's nest?" Becky asked.
     "I saw a crow drop a coin in a hole up there and I wanted to get it, maybe get lucky and find even more than that," replied Sören.  "Whadda ya know! My fingers can touch something!"
     Sören's index finger poked around the hole, sending crazy messages to his brain. "I feel something sticky and then something thin and round, like that coin, but no, it's got a hole's a ring!  Well, but there's something...ouch!"
     "Sören!  Did something bite you?  What happened?  Also, my arms are wearing out, if you don't mind," Becky said.
     Sören quickly stretched up just enough to grab a handful of mishmash from the crow's stash of treasures.  In doing so, he felt the muscle in his side smart, as if snapped by a rubber band.  "Okay, I've grabbed whatever I can.  I'm going to drop down.  Let go, Becky."
     Becky stepped back as Sören let go of his hold on the tree.  His entire body plunged downward and he found himself suddenly standing so close to Becky, they might as well have been dancing. They both exclaimed in harmony, "Oh!"
     Shyly, Becky shrank back, but then grasped Sören's hand.  "Let me look at your hand," she cried.
     "I haven't even looked at what I nabbed from the bird," Sören protested with a smile.
     "No, I'm not thinking about that, I see you're bleeding," Becky said.
     "Oh, that.  It's nothing.  See?" He held out his finger, surprised to see it was dripping red. "It doesn't even hurt now,” he claimed, but he still wrapped his handkerchief around it. “Let's look at what that bird stole."
     "You mean, what you stole from the bird," she chided.
     Sheepishly Sören nodded his head.  "I guess I stole it, too."
     The two classmates examined the contents of Sören's hand.  A foil wrapper with a wad of chewed gum, “There’s your ‘something sticky’," said Becky. A lady's brooch with its sharp pin resolved the question of what had stuck him.  There was the dime as hoped for, but something much more valuable was underneath it.
     Sören carefully picked up the ring.  He turned it over and fitted on his pinkie.  It just went over the tip.
     "This is a small ring," Sören said.
     "It's a wedding ring," Becky observed.
     "How can you tell?"
     "Look at the inside, there's something engraved.  It's a woman's ring with a cross etched onto the outside.”
     Sören peered at the engraving. "R-R-M" he read. "Do you know anyone with those initials?"
     Becky blushed, but shook her head. "What do you think we should do," she said.
     Sören liked how Becky had joined him in this adventure.  He liked the idea of the two of them solving a mystery together.  He tried not to, but he grinned and remarked, “You’re blushing.”
     "Oh, it’s just me being silly. It’s nothing. Could the ring belong to Mrs. Mork?  Her first name is Rachel," offered Becky.
     "I’m not sure I know her, but maybe it's Moen.  Do you know Mrs. Ruth Moen?"
     "Yes, but Sören, she's, you know, she's not very tiny.  This ring is small."
     "Let's see how it fits on your finger," suggested Sören.
     Becky hid her hands behind her back. "Oh, no.  I don't think so."
     "C'mon, Becky.  Just try it on so we can see how big a person might be who'd wear this ring."
     Sören coaxed Becky's arm from around her back.  He uncurled her fingers and started to slide the ring on her fourth digit.  Becky nearly shouted, "Stop! Let me put it on," her cheeks turning crimson.
     To her amazement, the ring, with pressure, slipped over her knuckle and popped into place at the base of her finger.  But when she went to remove it, it wouldn't budge.
     "Sören, I can't take it off!" she said in alarm.
     "Here.  Hold your hand over your head.  Stick your fingers straight up.  Now let me try." Sören worked at the ring.  He slowly eased it upward, but when he had pushed it to the first knuckle, it stuck.
     "I bet if we used some oil, we'd get it off."
     "I don't have any oil."
     "No, I don't either.  What have you got?"
     Becky gave a half-hearted laugh. "Sören, young ladies don't carry stuff around in their pockets.  We're not boys, you know."
     Sören's eyebrows arched and his eyes widened as he looked at the young woman standing before him, her hand in his.  "No, I can see you're not a boy," he breathed.  "I know, I've got some soap in my pocket."
     "Soap!  Well, at least you're clean.  Let's rub some of that on my finger."
     He dug out the small soap chip that he used to stick a spare fish hook into when he went fishing at Opperman Lake and rubbed the soap on Becky’s finger. With effort, the two of them worked at the ring until at last it flew off.  Sören scrambled on his knees immediately so as not to lose it.  Shoving it into his pocket, he promised to find the owner.  "I'll take it to my far.  He'll know what to do. And Becky, ‘fess up, why’d you turn red when we were looking at the initials on the ring…wait a minute. What’s you middle name?”
Becky clamped her mouth together and slowly shook her head, but a smile crept into her eyes. She squeaked out, “Rose.” 
    Sören laughed, “Ha! That’s it! Rebecca Rose Erdmann…well, that’s not right. The ring’s initials are RRM.” He looked at her bewildered.
    Becky looked up at the sky and drew in a huge breath. Finally she said, “Sören, what’s your last name?”
    “Markusson. But I still don’t get it.”
     Becky stifled an embarrassed giggle and quickly started walking, “Which way are you going?”
     After a pause, the puzzled boy said, “I’m headed home. You?”
     “To home as well, we can walk together for a block or two.”
     Their footsteps fell into a rhythm, each thinking very different thoughts.
     Suddenly, Sören burst out, "You know, the church Octoberfest is in two weeks and I've got a dime now, plus another twenty cents at home.  We could go to and I'll buy you a glass of root beer.  Do you wanna?"
     Becky became shy again, “I’ll think about it,” she proffered. “Maybe if we practiced singing a hymn, I'd be able to make up my mind," she teased. 
     To her surprise, Sören broke out, "For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who thee by faith..." Becky began to sing, too, "...before the world confess, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia! Alleluia!"

Saturday, June 20, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 5

“A farmer feeds the people, but a poet feeds the soul.”

Sören loved that quote from his teacher, Miss Matchan.  He recited it for his mother once.  She smiled and kissed the top of his right ear.  She was still taller than Sören at that time. Now he’d grown another inch and a half and could look his mother straight in the eye.  It wouldn’t be long and he’d tower over her, he thought.

            A shrill cry from a crow shook him from his reverie.  He looked down at his hands, his index fingers turning yellow at the first knuckle from pulling carrots.  His nails rimmed with dirt. Sören began to stump over on his knees to the next row when his father hollered, “Son, there might not be any green tops sticking out, but there’s still roots in the soil.  Feel around until you’ve pulled them all!”
            He twisted back to his former spot, but lost his balance and sat down without grace on his back end.  “Sören, you’re sitting down on the job!” his sister teased with a broad grin.
            He looked over at Sonja.  Her teeth were orange with bits of green leaves between her two front teeth. 

            “What’cha doing eating the green tops, Sonja,” he asked.

She swiped at her mouth and rubbed her tongue along her teeth, imagining what her brother must have seen. “Becky said that Ruthie said carrot tops would make your eyes bright,” she said defensively.

            “Ah, ding-a-ling! I think it’s that carrots improve your eye sight!” Soren retorted.

            “That may be, Mr. Smartie, but I want my eyes to look bright and alluring, too, not only sharp,” she replied.  “A girl’s gotta look her best so’s to catch the right man.”

            Right man.  Right man.  Sören mulled that over in his head.  “What’s looks got to do with the right man?  The right man’s not gonna choose you because you have bright eyes, sister.  The right man’s gonna ask you ‘cause you can cook and sew and raise his children right,” he stated.

            “Ha!  A lot you know, Sören!  You’re never gonna be the right man for anyone with that kind of attitude,” said the apparently-wiser girl, dropping fat carrots into her basket.

            “What do you mean, ‘with that kind of attitude,’  It’s the truth!  A girl needs to be efficient in the home so she can be the housewife,” Sören said, his voice rising at the end of the sentence.

            “Well maybe your wife will be a good cook and seamstress, but I’m gonna get married to someone rich and we’ll buy store-bought clothes and eat at restaurants every Saturday night,” Sonja stated emphatically.

            “Nooo,” Sören lingered on this one word as he formed his next thought. “I want to marry someone just like Mor.”
       “Quit your chattering and get to pulling.  You should have had the whole row done by now!” Far admonished.  “Come in for lunch when you’ve finished the field.”
      Sören looked down the row and saw that he and Sonja each had two more rows to go. He pulled up another carrot, but this time, took his own bite out of it before tossing it into the basket.  “Yes, sir,” he replied.
       “I can tell you now, Sören,” whispered Sonja impudently, “I’m not ever gonna marry someone like Far.”

       The boy kept his thoughts to himself, but wondered about his mor. She was gentle with her children as she taught them how to clean and dress a frying hen; she sewed them sturdy clothes for school and church; she never complained about the mess Far made on butchering days even though she always had to clean it up. He loved his mor and she married his far. There must be something about love and marriage he still didn’t understand.

Friday, June 19, 2015

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 4

“I’m ready,” chimed Mr. Wexler, “turn toward me; straighten your shoulders, boy; and the missus, please flatten your collar. You’ve fussed over everyone else, but no one bothered to primp you.”
Sonja quickly scanned her mother’s dress. “You look fine to me,” she pouted, but reached to smooth her mother’s lapel, starting to curl upward.
They all looked at the camera and the flash popped.
“Print up two of them, one for us and the other for the Markusson family in Sweden,” Far stated. “Astrid, you can mail it to my mother.”
“Far, what about Mor’s mor and far? Won’t they want one, too?”
“Usually, Mr. Markusson, I take several photos and you pick the one you like best.”
“The one you took will be fine.”
“Also, each ordered print is $1.17 unless you order five, then each one is $1.05,” Mr. Wexler said.
“A dollar and seventeen cents,” Far grumped, “I could buy over ten gallons of gasoline with that kind of money.”
“Then you go right ahead and buy ten gallons of gas and see how far it gets you,” the photographer shot back at him.
“If I didn’t want to go through this sitting again with another photographer, Mr. Wexler, you can bet your sweet buck-teeth I’d march out of here without paying you a nickel.”
“Nils, let me take the children home now. I’ll address an envelope, stamp it, and drop it off with Mr. Wexler. He can mail the photo out to your parents.”
“What about Mor-mor Gustavsson and Far-far Gustavsson?” Sonja asked again.
“You can draw them a picture,” Far said through gritted teeth, “come on, Sonja. We’re leaving.”
That evening as Sonja and Sören cleared the table from supper, she asked her brother why Far didn’t want to send his in-laws a photo.
“He didn’t want Aunt Marta and Tor to be in the photo.”
“Why would that matter?” she asked.
“Far-far and Mor-mor Gustavsson would want to know what happened to their youngest daughter and their grandson.”
“We could just say that the photo was only of our own family. Why wouldn’t that work?” The dishes were now all in the kitchen and the blond-haired girl began to fill the sink with water already heated on the stove.
Sören shook out the dish towel to dry dishes. “But Sonja, Aunt Marta and Tor are a part of our family. Far just doesn’t want them to be in the photograph.”
“He doesn’t?” she replied, handing her brother a wet plate. “Doesn’t he love them?”
“Yes, he loves them, Sonja. That’s a dumb remark. But he doesn’t love Tor’s far, not at all and he doesn’t want Aunt Marta to be in a picture without her husband.”
“Well, that’s silly, too, Mr. Smarty-pants,” she said, blowing a soapy bubble at him. “Tor’s far is fighting the war over in Europe.”
“Right. But whose side is he fighting on?”
“He’s fighting on…well, I guess I don’t know. I thought he’d be fighting on Britain’s side.”
Sören snapped his dish towel in the air then lowered his voice. “No, see, that’s the problem. Aunt Marta’s husband is fighting for the Nazis.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Beryllium was once known as glucinum, which means sweet, since beryllium and many of its compounds have a sugary taste. Unfortunately for the chemists that discovered this particular property, beryllium and many of its compounds are poisonous and should never be tasted or ingested.

On the beach to the Baltic Sea, a saltwater body that eventually divests into the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of Germans along with a few foreigners disrobe as they soak up a tepid sun--even less present throughout the previous season. Close enough to the Arctic Circle to feel the effects of near-polar days and nights during the year, these Germans thirst for sunlight to reset their circadian clock.

My sister, Michelle, and I sit at the back of the sandy, stony beach. I slowly look around at the myriad, white bodies. Many are clothed, but at least a third of the crowd lounges sans textiles. A few intrepid individuals bravely confront the brisk waters.

I think about what I see--small children, school-aged kids, parents, grandparents--clad in nothing but their skin and wonder about the power of our nude bodies. To me, it completely takes away the power of pornography.

While on the one hand, the only bodies that are featured in X-otica-type magazines are truly perfect without sags, wrinkles, or rolls thanks to starvation and the air brush, what I see on the Baltic beach has little resemblance to the centerfolds of Playboy. But not only do the bodies look different on this "nude" beach, the range of people does not compare. The patrons of this beach span all ages and include both genders. It would never sell on the magazine rack.

If the human body is normalized and undressed, figuratively as well as actually, so that none of it is forbidden, then what power can others have who wish to exploit it, to profit from revealing its secret caves and knolls?

I made three attempts to submerge in the frosty sea. Upon the second try, I only made it up to my waist before shouting, "Es ist kalt! Es ist kalt!" About fifteen feet away, a man who'd already splashed rambunctiously into the sea, sloshing water on his male companion, grinned at me and asked mischievously, "Wollen Sie helfen?" while fanning the water with his hand.

I stood in the water up to my middle, looking directly into his eyes, both of us bare-naked, and laughed, "Oh, nein! Danke! It's too cold!"

I felt more comfortable naked than in my bathing suit. In my suit, I'm covering something up, worrying about how the suit accentuates the fat that hangs out at my thighs, wondering if the suit shows off the parts of my body that I hope will be attractive.

In the nude, there is no covering up, no pretense and so I am free to be honest and real.

I want to be nude.

WIP - Soren Valor - Day 3 snippet

I wrote a quick snippet this morning using prompts from Charli Mills at her Carrot Ranch writer's blog. Here it is in an unedited version. For Charli's prompts, participants stick to 99 words exactly. Mine, here, is 138 words.

Sonja sneaked downstairs, hoping to be the first one to dig into her Easter basket. She spied Tor, who had spent the night in her brother’s room, popping jelly beans into his mouth.
“You’re not eating any of my candy, are you?” she asked.
“Heck, no. Besides, the Easter bunny only left you some little brown souvenirs,” he teased.
“You mean bunny poop? He did not!” she protested.
“Uh-huh, sure did, my little cousin.”
Sonja stared into her basket, shocked to see small brown pellets.
Suddenly, Tor popped one in his mouth. “They taste good, though, try one!”
“Torsten Martin Gustavsson! Spit that out!” she yelled, mindless of the earliness of the day.
Instead, he scooped them all up and started to eat more. “Funny how they taste like raisins,” he said, laughing with his mouth full. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

WIP Soren Valor Day 2

I've built myself up with expectations so highly I found myself near paralyzed today as I tried to write. I have a dozen qualms about what I ended up doing, but I must go forward if I want to go at all. Today's clip is a revision of a piece I wrote years ago. ALL comments are welcome.

Sören Markusson fiddled with his ready-made bowtie, pulled the shirt collar snuggly around his thin neck then wrapped the ribbon around and fastened the hook and eye. His mother had carefully sewn the hook with extra thread so that he wouldn’t accidently rip it out.
He heard feet run down the hall as he inspected the shoulder of the white oxford he was wearing. The shirt belonged to his father; his own shirt lay folded on the mending pile with space for three buttons that had fallen off and a torn pocket corner.
“Sören,” Mor called from sitting room.
“I’ll be right there,” he replied, tying his shoes, one which squeaked whenever he climbed up the stairs. However, there were no stairs in this studio so he walked swiftly and silently to where the rest of the family had gathered.
His father stood near the window, fidgeting. The slightly balding farmer glanced at his son, but offered no comment or smile. Then Far palmed his hair down and squinted at the camera box.  Wexler Photography, Nils’ brother had advised. Use Wexler and he'll give you a deal. But no deal had yet emerged.
Far cleared his throat and began to massage the webbing of skin between his right thumb and index finger.  Seeing this ritual begin, Sören tensed, knowing it was less a calming technique and more the prelude to something volatile. Then the foot began to tap rapidly.
From behind the camera balancing on a tripod, the photographer said, "One more minute, Mr. Markusson, please! I'm adjusting the meter."
“Don't know why Astrid didn't use the Brownie to take our family picture,” Far growled to Sören. Out loud Nils said, "You push the button, we’ll do the rest!” Then with an edge, “Get on with it, man!"
            "Focus…I'm focusing! Look at my handsome picture of our brave President Roosevelt.  It's on the wall across from you.  Say now, his countenance resembles yours, Mr. Markusson, a look of patience and power."
            Sonja giggled while her brother bit the inside of his lip.  Mor raised her brows at the photographer’s attempt to appeal to Far’s vanity, but winked at her fourteen-year old son. Sonja spoke up, “Our far’s no president, Mr. Wexler!”

Her father leveled his gaze first on the ten-year-old girl and then on the photographer, “Take the picture, Mr. Wexler, or we are walking out of here!”
      Sören clenched his teeth.  Sonja's eyes grew wide as she slid the palm of her hand into her brother’s.
     Suddenly Mor's clear voice cut through the warring air, "Du gamla, du fria, du fjällhöga Nord, du tysta, du glädjerika sköna!"
     Sonja, with a catch in her throat, joined in with the English words they had learned, "I greet thee, thou loveliest land on the earth, Thy sun, thy skies, thy verdant meadows smiling."
    A tear welled up in Far's eye and he abruptly turned back toward the window.  "Å min kära Sverige, my dear lovely Sweden..."

Monday, June 15, 2015

WIP Soren Valor Day 1

I'm leaving in the morning to fly to California. I'll be staying at a friend's house taking care of her cats while she attends to family business elsewhere. My primary goal is to produce a finished first draft of my novel, WIP-Soren Valor.

If you'd like to follow along and offer encouragement, I'd love to have you join me. Each evening--California time, I'll post about how the day went and include a snippet of what I wrote that day.