Friday, January 10, 2014

ANNA KRISTINA


(Continued from previous two posts - scroll down to see them)
As Anders was making the wood ready in the fireplace in order to light the match, yet another memory came plummeting in from nowhere. He remembered his mother, a poor widow trying to raise seven children by herself. Her name was Anna Kristina. People always addressed her by both names. He never heard anyone call her any shortened version of this. It was always Anna Kristina.
She was a small woman with dark hair. Even though her circumstances were difficult, she seemed always to be happy and thankful for every blessing. She would often talk about how she was so thankful for her children. She would say, “No one has such good children as I do. The Lord must love me very much.”
Actually, the remembrance of his mom did not come from nowhere at all; it was the thought of matches that had triggered it. His mother only rarely had matches for their fire when he was growing up. The last thing that she would do at night was to scrape some hot, glowing coals into the corner of the fireplace and cover them deeply with ashes. If the coals were hot enough and the ashes were deep enough, the embers would still be quite hot in the morning.
Since his mother usually had no matches, she had to rely upon this in order to make a fire in the morning. She would always be the first to rise, long before any of the children. The very first thing that she would do in the morning was to rearrange the embers into a small pile, put some kindling on top of them, and blow them into a flame. She called this tinder “fnöske.”
If the coals from the night before had burned away too much to be able to do this, she had a few dry sticks which had been dipped in some molten sulfur. One of these pushed into some embers produced a quick flame and made lighting the fire a little easier.
Life for a poor family was very difficult in every way, and forethought needed to put into every small task. There was no room for error, since any error that may occur could have very serious consequences. Tomorrow’s heat for the cabin not only meant preparing the coals tonight, but also the preparation of fire wood months ahead of the time when it would actually be burned.

Now, on this evening and in his own fireplace, Anders set the match to the kindling that he had prepared. He watched the flame as it began small, then grew as it moved its way up the small stick and caught on some others. Usually he had some curly pieces of dry bark from the birch tree for kindling, but this evening he did not. Nevertheless, the flame quickly caught on the smaller sticks and then began to burn on the larger pieces of firewood. He had dry wood, so it caught the flame easily.
There is nothing that stimulates thought so well as gazing at a fireplace fire as it begins to burn. Anders actually looked forward to this time every day. The day’s work was done, and for the first time all day, he finally had a chance to sit and relax. Anders kept his outdoor clothes on while the fire began to burn. As soon as there was a pretty good blaze, he began heating some water for coffee. He was also very hungry, but he would not begin to prepare his meal just yet. He just wanted to sit in front of the blaze and drink his coffee first.
Not all of his memories were about the difficulties of the time of his childhood. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Most of the things he remembered about his growing up years were pleasant. Like most children growing up in poverty, Anders did not realize just how difficult it must have been for his mother. It was only now, after he had been on his own for a few years, when he began to see that part of it.
As a child, however, he was immune to much of the worry and concern that his mother bore. Since he knew of no better standard of living than their own family had, he assumed that the way they grew up was normal.
Their cabin was a small one room cabin, a torp, they called it. It was much like the one he lived in now. The difference, of course, was that in their little torp, they had eight people living together. Actually, before his father died there were nine.
They had bunks to sleep in. There was rye straw for a mattress, covered with a sheet. The pillows were likewise rye straw stuffed into cloth bags. For coverings, they did not have much, but because there were either three or four children in each bunk, they kept each other warm most of the night. It was only toward morning on cold nights when they got so cold that it was difficult to sleep. Then they would just lie on their straw mats and wait for the fire to be lit in the hearth.
Now that he looked back on it, he had to say that this living situation of his childhood seemed a little challenging. At the time, however, he and his siblings just considered it as the way that life was.
Actually, life was like that for most families of his area. But children have the ability to have fun even in the most difficult of circumstances, at least they do if they do not consider their experience as unusual. Sometimes, being unaware of some of the luxuries of life is more of a blessing than having them. Acquiring luxuries rarely increases ones happiness.
As Anders sat before the fireplace watching the flames grow and begin to consume the wood, he began to warm up. His stretched out his legs to relieve some of his tired muscles. Even though his mother had been a small woman, Anders was tall and had very long legs. He got these characteristics from his father. Anders’ head began to hang a little low as a slow wave of drowsiness came over him in the warmth of the fire…
Suddenly the pot in which Anders was heating the water for his coffee boiled over. Water splashed from the pot and spilled into the flames of the fire. The sound startled Anders and made him jump. He had been lost in thought and weariness as he watched the flame and did not realize that his pot was getting so hot.
Now that he had been snapped out of his thoughts, he realized to that he also was beginning to get a little hot. He had not yet taken off his coat and boots, and he could feel the sweat starting to form under his shirt. He rose from his chair, took off his coat and walked over to get his can of coffee. He would make a couple of cups and allow himself to sit a little longer in his chair while he drank it. The evenings were long in the winter, and he was in no hurry to begin his evening meal.
Anders was given to contemplation. He tossed thoughts around in his head, examining every aspect of them. It was much like he did when he was choosing a rock to be placed in an important part of the structure he was building. He would turn to stone over and over in his hands, examining its soundness and looking for its natural grain of cleavage. He tried to imagine how the face of it would look when placed in the building, perhaps in an arch for a doorway. This is what he did with his own thoughts.

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