Once upon a time, in the faraway village of Mariestad, Sweden lived a lively teenage girl named Punzel Nordström and her father Lars. When Punzel was a young child, tragedy struck with the death of her mother. Though Lars Nordström was a loving father, he was also an important businessman and had little time for child rearing. So he left Punzel in the hands of Anna, a kind but over-protective governess. Anna kept Punzel safely behind a fenced yard—but with little chance for playmates. Thus, Punzel spent a lonely childhood. She was soon to graduate from the Finishing School where she’d made a few friends, but she remained shy and longed to be more comfortable with people her own age.
Nevertheless, Punzel had learned to keep a positive attitude and soon she would begin her summer visit with her grandfather, Arne Nordström. Punzel adored her grandfather and appreciated his companionship, as he was a bit shy, too. At Nordvik, her grandfather’s farm, she was free to run with the wind and dance in the fields under the long midsummer skies. Besides her beloved Farfar, the farm animals and wild flowers were her favorite companions.
It just so happened that on this particular day, May 12, 1907, Punzel would discover a sudden and unexpected opportunity for change. An official looking letter with black borders was delivered to Nordvik. The message was from an attorney in the United States and stated that Arne’s brother, Alf Nordström, had died on his homestead in the distant land of North America. Arne was to inherit his land and legal matters were in urgent need of Arne’s attention. A trip was imperative.
Arne, saddened by the news, decided to travel that day to the village of Mariestad, a short distance from Nordvik to tell his youngest son, Lars, about the letter.
“I don’t know what to do about this,” Arne declared as he handed Lars the letter. “For years Alf begged me to visit him. Now this!” Tears welled up in his sad, weather-lined eyes. “I feel that I have let my bror down. I never felt I could take time away from the farm to make the long journey to America. However, since your mor has passed away and your older bror and his fru have come to live with me, they manage Nordvik as well as I.
“Anders and Ingrid have seen this letter and they told me I should go to America and not worry. I suppose I could be gone and back in a few months. Travel time to America has shortened since Alf left these shores. I can hardly believe that he has been gone from Sweden for thirty-seven years! I wish I could have seen him one more time.”
The older, sturdily built man looked down at his well worn leather boots and then back to the concerned look on his son’s face. As Arne touched his bushy gray mustache with one forefinger and brushed his fine gray hair back from his furrowed brow, a look of resolve gripped his face.
“Ja, I must go, Lars. This much I can do for him. Tack for listening to an old man’s muttering. I will go home and tell Anders and Ingrid my decision.”
Punzel was concentrating on her embroidery in the next room but overheard the conversation between her father and grandfather. Suddenly, an idea popped into her head. She put her needle down, flipped her blond braids over her shoulders, as was her habit when she changed thoughts, and began to ponder.
America must be a fine place because Farfar’s bror lived there a long time, she said to herself.
I will be graduating from Finishing School this spring. Far wants me to go on with my studies and become a nurse. That I also would like to do, but this might be my chance for the adventure I’ve been longing for. Perhaps this is my opportunity to become more sure of myself and learn about the new land of America. Far and Anna have decided to marry at Midsommar. They have raised me well, but now I am a young woman. I’m sure Far and Anna would enjoy some time alone after their wedding. I’m old enough to be a lot of help to Farfar on his trip.
Satisfied with this reasoning, her excitement grew as Punzel deftly smoothed her white ruffled pinafore and reached for her scissors. Her blue eyes sparkled as a plan to ask her father’s permission started to form.
At the first opportunity, Punzel spoke to her father about her idea. “Far, I happened to overhear Farfar telling you of his decision to go to America. I was thinking . . .” Then, before she lost her courage, she quickly explained why she wanted to go to America with her grandfather.
Lars was very reluctant to give his permission. “Crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean to a strange land where you do not speak the language could be a very dangerous journey, Punzel.”
Punzel reminded her father that she was no longer a girl but a young woman. “But Far, I will be seventeen in October. I’ll make a terrific companion for Farfar. I am quick to learn. Four hands are better than two. I am good at running errands and can be a big help with the housekeeping while he stays in his bror’s cottage. It will only be for a few months. Please Far,” she begged. “You won’t regret it, and just think of the wonderful education I will get. I’ll even have a chance to learn the English language.”
Arne also thought the trip would be good for Punzel. They tried very hard to persuade Lars. Reluctantly, Punzel’s father finally gave her permission to go. Punzel was filled with pride that she had stuck to her cause and won. But celebration turned to busy preparation as she realized that much had to be done before the day of departure. Steamship tickets had to be purchased and travel papers put in order. Appropriate travel clothing needed to be organized. (It would be cooler on the ocean, and there were many discussions of what items might be needed for their visit to the new land.) Even though it would be summer on both sides of the ocean, a large leather-bound steamer trunk and two leather satchels were required to contain their possessions.
And then, between graduation from Finishing School and preparations for their voyage, Punzel had to spend time at the dressmaker. She was to be the maid of honor at her father’s wedding and was to wear a beautiful ankle-length light wool skirt, a white cotton full-sleeved blouse, an embroidered vest and striped apron—a traditional folk costume.
The wedding day was radiant with sunshine beaming on the fresh fields of wildflowers surrounding Nordvik. Early in the day, Punzel and the wedding guests gathered some of the wildflowers for garlands to wear in their hair. Punzel felt like a princess in her new folk dress and enjoyed the company of relatives and her father’s and Anna’s friends as they ate, sang and danced in celebration. Punzel thought this Midsommar was the best one of all!
Punzel and Arne departed for America two days later. The early morning dew glistened on red tile roofs as a happy but tearful Punzel, sitting in a carriage beside her grandfather, waved farewell to her father, Anna and half a town of well-wishers. She promised to write often and include detailed descriptions of their experiences in the far-away country. Their carriage took them to the port of Göteborg, where they sailed to England. In England they boarded the regal steamship, H. M. S. Lusitania, that brought them to the unknown, but beckoning, land of their future.
• • • • •
When they arrived in New York, their gateway to the new land, Punzel was relieved to learn that her deficiency in the English language was not a problem. At first they had difficulty, but luck traveled with them. They met a Norwegian man who spoke Swedish and English. He helped them find a boarding house with clean, comfortable rooms for their first night in America and gave them directions to the famous Grand Central Station to continue their journey by train the following morning.
Thank goodness for the kindness of that man, she thought.
They had to change trains twice and both times there were problems. At the first change, they almost lost their baggage due to an inattentive porter. During the second change, they misunderstood the train number and nearly ended up on a train going in the opposite direction! The hot, stifling air in the crowded passenger cars gave Punzel a terrible headache made worse by the noisy confusion of people speaking in many languages. After the crisp fresh sea air and relatively smooth Atlantic crossing by ship, the train ride was tiring and made for a disappointing introduction to America.
As Punzel and Arne arrived at the end of their rail journey in the village of New hope, an empty passenger car, serving as a depot, was their only greeting.
Quite a difference from our departure in Sweden, Punzel thought.
Since there was no railroad attendant on duty they decided to leave their satchels and trunk on the narrow train platform and walk toward the cluster of wooden buildings that made up the village.
Punzel stepped gingerly around the tree stumps that dotted New Hope’s main street. “Stumps in the middle of a road!” she laughed. Her long strides kicked up a fine film of dust that clung to the hem of her dress, lace petticoat and dainty high-buttoned shoes. Now, this isn’t so funny, she thought in dismay. Soon they came to a series of rough-sawn plank walkways that made a makeshift sidewalk by the store fronts. Though the boards were a welcome respite from walking on the soft dusty ground, Punzel still had to watch her step lest she lose her footing on the uneven boards.
They found Karl Lundquist’s office, Alf’s attorney, however he had been called out of town.
Then, another disappointment. New Hope didn’t have a livery. With no place to hire a horse or buggy, Arne and Punzel asked several people if they knew of someone who might help them with transportation to the Alf Nordström homestead. Many of the village people spoke Swedish and fondly remembered Alf, but they didn’t know anyone who had a spare horse or conveyance of any kind.
New Hope had one general store and in its window hung a sign announcing “Fresh Cheese.” Punzel’s rumbling stomach reminded her that the small sandwiches served on the train weren’t going to satisfy her appetite for much longer. She turned expectantly to her grandfather.
“Perhaps the store’s proprietor can help us find transportation and we can buy something to eat,” Punzel suggested.
Then she grabbed her grandfather’s arm and almost pulled him through the front door.
Gracious, she thought. I haven’t been in this country very long and already I’m getting more determined, or is it that I’m really hungry.
After their dusty walk they were surprised to see the store’s spotlessly waxed wooden counters. Their weary spirits revived with the tantalizing smell of freshly baked bread and they were delighted to find milk, eggs, butter and that wonderful smelling homemade bread for sale next to large wheels of the advertised cheese. Mr. Nelson, the proprietor, was very welcoming and glad to help them with supplies, but he was sorry that he couldn’t give them help regarding transportation to Alf’s homestead. While Arne paid for their groceries, a tall slender young man approached the counter. He spoke in Swedish and introduced himself as Gus Larsson. Punzel noticed he had brought a new shovel and an ax to the counter.
“I heard you ask about hiring a rig. We do not have spare horses in this area. Every animal is needed to work the soil and haul logs. I live on my parents’ farm two miles to the north, past Mr. Nordström’s property. I will be glad to take you and your baggage there after I make my purchases. I was very sorry to hear of Alf’s passing. He was a fine man and a good friend. He did much to help my parents and I would welcome the opportunity to return a favor to any relative of his.”
Arne gratefully accepted the young man’s offer. They each carried an armful of parcels out to the waiting wagon. Gus helped Punzel climb onto the high wagon seat where she perched between the two men as they rode to the train station to pick up the Nordströms’ trunk and satchels.
Sweden seems more civilized, she thought, as they bumped along over the ruts, stumps and loose sand on the narrow road running north from the village. Where the road ran through a swampy area, logs had been laid like corduroy fabric across it to keep the wagon wheels from getting stuck in the soft ground. The springs on the high seat squeaked with each jolt as the huge wheels lurched, rolled and slid over the slick logs. Their slow travel gave Punzel time to observe the forests they passed through while she acclimated herself to the wagon’s motion. Surprisingly, she saw that many trees were the same as those in Sweden—oak, pine, birch and beech. Even the crops of wheat, oats, potatoes and beans growing on the cleared farmlands between the forests were familiar. This country is not so strange after all, she concluded.
Gus certainly is kind, Punzel continued to muse. When they arrived at Alf’s homestead, he unloaded their baggage and purchases from the wagon and helped Arne carry the heavy trunk into the cottage. After they thanked him, he promised he would stop by soon to see if they needed more supplies.
Gus is not only kind but good looking too, with the warmest brown eyes, and much taller than me, she observed as his wagon continue down the road. Maybe we could become friends if I could get over my bashfulness. Meanwhile, she couldn’t help smiling as she thought of his last name. It meant Lar’s son. There had been a Lars in his family also.
Arne broke into her thoughts. “Punzel, you sure do like to daydream. Are you admiring the flowers over yonder or are you thinking about the young man who brought us here?” He had seen the smile on Punzel’s face and now the sudden blush on her cheeks gave him his answer. Her grandfathers words drew her attention to the masses of flowers and herbs in the nearby fields.
“Farfar, look! There is a beautiful heart-shaped pond behind Alf’s cottage!” Punzel, her flaxen-hair flying, dashed across a fragrant carpet of thyme, tiptoed through a wild strawberry bed, leaped over patches of pink and blue cornflowers, and finally came to rest upon a weathered, vine-laden bridge spanning the pond’s shores. Her hunger was momentarily forgotten as she looked back at her companion and waited for him to join her.
Arne, Punzel’s travel-weary grandfather, slowly made his way toward her, and as he approached the pond’s clear waters, she saw his face brighten and his steps gain in vigor. Arne paused by a thicket of berry bushes beside the foot of the bridge.
“My bror’s homestead looks just like his letters described.” He sighed and looked beyond the pond to the forest’s majestic old trees. “It has been a long, difficult trip, but I’m glad we came.”
“I never dreamed that our journey would bring us to such an enchanting place, Farfar.” Punzel stooped to pick a small bouquet of daisies growing at the waters edge. “These flowers, your bror Alf’s little cottage, and the old forest remind me of home and your farm, but this heart-shaped pond looks truly magical!”
“Ja,” her grandfather agreed as he studied the unusual purple berries growing in the bushes before him. “There must be magic here to grow such fruit as this. Look at the size of these berries! Each one is bigger than my thumb nail!” They eagerly sampled a few berries and promised that they would be back to pick more.
“Now,” Arne insisted as he popped the last juicy berry into his mouth, “we need to get settled in Alf’s cottage. I looked over the inside when Gus and I brought the trunk in and it is amazingly free of dust. The air must be special, too,” he teased.
“I’m right behind you,” Punzel replied thinking that she would be back soon to explore the area around the beautiful heart-shaped pond.
Alf’s rustic cottage was in good condition, both inside and out. Punzel was surprised at how cozy the inside was as she admired the stone fireplace that rose into a loft and out through the roof. Between a large cast iron stove and the sink, a black pitcher pump stood highlighted by the sun’s rays peeking through the cheery kitchen window. Oh, good, she thought, at least we don’t have to carry water from the pond.
On the bare oak floor stood a wooden trestle table with a pine tree carved in each end leg. Two benches adorned with smaller carved pine trees rested on either side. The back door was flanked by a wall cupboard on the right and a linen cupboard on the left. The wall cupboard was filled with a large variety of carved bowls, plates and utensils. Across the room a single stool crowded a small table laden with knives and partially carved wooden pieces. Nearby, pegs hung clothing as though buttoned to the knotty pine wall. One peg held a leather carving apron.
As if to oversee the carving process, a tall narrow bookcase stood at the ready to offer advice. “Alf must have liked to read”, observed Punzel, admiring the shelves containing books of all sizes and shapes. I will spend a lot of time looking as these, she promised herself.
In the far corner rested a handsome, intricately carved closet bed. A carved moose standing at the edge of a pond adorned with water lilies crowned the top. Its supporting posts were entwined with the heart-shaped leaves of the moonflower vine. The bed’s side panels depicted small woodland animals: rabbits, otters, field mice, and the like. Two front doors opened to reveal a bed with a down mattress. A large cut-out heart surrounded by carved lingonberries was centered in each door. “Oh, Farfar, what a fanciful bed!”
“Ja, I can see that Alf became a master at woodcarving.” Arne remembered his brother always with a knife and piece of wood in hand. “Many times he got bawled out by our Far when he was caught whittling instead of watching the cows in the pasture. He preferred working with wood to farming. The family thought that he should have paid more attention to farming, but now I see carving was his real joy. I think that is why he wanted to leave home and find a place where he could do what he wanted.”
“I like this cottage, Farfar. I could make it into a real home for us. I can braid rugs and make curtains for the windows. I’m a pretty good cook, too. I learned a lot at Finishing School.”
Her grandfather tried to hide a smile. “Whoa, little one. You are going too fast for me. You remind me of a galloping young pony. We came here to take care of Alf’s affairs, not to make a new home for ourselves. We must take each day one at a time. First let us eat. You must be as hungry as I am.”
“I’m glad we bought the fresh food in the village. Those few berries did little to satisfy my hunger. I’m starved!” Punzel quickly set the trestle table with a couple of plates, cups and utensils she selected from the cupboard. “This is like our very first picnic, Farfar.”
After their meal they were anxious to examine the many bowls, cups, spoons, and knives in the cupboard. Each piece had exquisitely carved details, some with woodland flowers, others sporting leafy vines or wild fruit and berries. An immediate favorite of Punzel’s was a rather large bowl with a swooping bird on the side. Even the utensils had ornate designs on the handles. There were many spreader knives, used for spreading butter, jams and soft cheese. These were smaller than regular knives and their blades were carved into the same wood as the handles. Punzel remembered her grandmother was especially fond of using this kind of knife.
The spoons came in all sizes and shapes too, but one spoon stood out. The end of its handle was shaped into an elf’s head wearing a tall hat. Now, why would a tomte be carved onto a spoon? Punzel wondered. She had seen pictures of elves in storybooks, but on a spoon?
After admiring the cupboard’s treasures, Arne declared that they needed to find a cool place to store their perishable dairy products. “Punzel, it seems that I get side-tracked as easily as you. It must be a family trait,” he chuckled. To complete this task, they decided to investigate the area by the waters of the heart-shaped pond. From the back door, a short path led them to a bubbly spring of cold water where a wooden box had been built over its flow.
“This spring must feed the pond,” Arne noticed as he watched the water disappear beneath the box and reappear in the direction of the pond. He opened the clasp on the side of the box, lifted the heavily hinged lid and felt the enclosed, cool, damp air escape. Along the sides of the box they saw rock ledges. “And this must be where Alf kept his milk and butter from spoiling.” Smiles of satisfaction spread over their faces.
They also needed to secure light for the late evening and early morning hours. (In those days, electricity was only the dream of a promise to come for country folk.) “The sun doesn’t seem to stay in the sky as long as it did in Sweden,” observed Punzel.
“Ja, we have many new ways to get used to.” Arne was already at the task of locating oil for the lamps. They found the oil under the kitchen sink. There were three oil lamps in the main room, one hung over the sink and one stood on each table. There were also two oil lanterns hanging on iron hooks—one at the front door and one at the rear door—that looked like they were used to guide night and early morning visits to the out house and the large shed beyond.
While Arne checked the oil level in the lamps, Punzel thought about where she would sleep. As Arne was a tall, rather portly man, she decided that he should sleep in Alf’s bed.
“It’s only right for you to have your bror’s bed, Farfar. I would like to use the loft, if I may. It would be fun to sleep up there—like having a room to myself. The ladder at the end of your bed is just my size.” She didn’t wait for his answer as her slender body was already climbing to the loft. At the top she found a small, filled oil lantern, which she quickly lit.
The room above was as simple as the room below. A railing with cut-out pine trees guarded the loft’s edge. Her lantern cast friendly shadows on the ceiling and illuminated a huge, wooden steamer trunk hugging the wall in front of her.
It’s cozy under the peak of the roof. I might get some warmth from the chimney in winter, she mused. Oh, she caught herself, here I go again thinking I can convince Farfar to let us stay.
Punzel couldn’t resist opening the trunk and was rewarded by finding several blankets and a down comforter. I’m glad I looked in there, she congratulated herself.
“Farfar, I just found an old trunk with extra bedclothes!” she called down. “I’m going to fix a place for myself to sleep and then I’ll prepare dinner.” As she finished her task, she noticed small furniture made visible in the waning daylight by a tiny window cut into the end wall next to the chimney. She carried her lantern closer for a better look. A small chair carved out of a solid log, a miniature trestle table, a small posted bed, and a dainty bedside table sprang to life under her lantern’s glow. This end of the loft looks like living quarters for a small child, she thought. Why would Alf have such furniture, she puzzled, and what purpose would a tiny window like that serve?
The lantern’s light also revealed a shelf niche in the chimney’s stones. The shelf contained several books of normal size. She was a curious girl and didn’t see any harm in looking at them. An old book with wooden covers caught her attention. She reached for the book, noticing the soft patina that wood gets after much use. She ran her fingers over the upper cover and their touch revealed a relief carving of an elf surrounded by a heart of lingonberries. Another tomte! Her hands shook with excitement as she carefully turned back its cover.
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