“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.