Six-year-old Niklas wiped his eyes and sniffled. He had been pouring out his misery to his only friend, Finn. Mama and Papa didn’t like it that he was friends with Finn. “Foolishness,” Mama would say.
Papa’d wag his head. “It’s unnatural for Finn to stand there while the boy talks to him. And the way he follows Niklas around! I don’t like it,” Papa said.
Although Emilie and Otto were kind parents, they had no time for fun or frivolity for a child born in their later years. They had immigrated to America from Germany in 1840 as newlyweds. Emilie was nineteen and Otto was twenty-five. They settled in a small community in Pennsylvania and developed a prosperous farm. As the years passed, their hopes of having children died, so imagine their surprise when Emilie discovered at forty-nine that she would be a mother. Their lives had settled into a comfortable, although mundane, routine and now after all these years, a baby. Quite a life adjustment for Otto and Emilie!
Despite being lovingly cared for, Niklas was a lonely, introverted child. He had no playmates or toys except those he created. On their trips into town when Mama sold eggs and milk, and Papa sold produce, Niklas looked with longing at the toys in the mercantile.
One day Mama bartered extra eggs with Mr. Johnson, owner of the mercantile, in exchange for a shiny red truck for Niklas. “Mama, thank you!” he exclaimed, hugging the truck to his chest, spinning the wheels with his fingers. He skipped out to the wagon where Papa was waiting.
Papa wasn’t pleased about the toy. “Emilie, take it back. Tis a waste.”
Niklas blinked back tears, knowing better than to say anything as Mama marched back into the mercantile, the shiny truck in her hand.
Holidays were only slightly different than ordinary days for Niklas. On Christmas, Papa read about baby Jesus from the big, heavy Bible-the one with all the family names in it. Niklas never got toys for gifts. He got practical things, clothes and shoes, paper and pencils for practicing his numbers and letters.
On Easter Papa read about Jesus’ death and resurrection, a story that made Niklas shiver. They never recognized Thanksgiving, though, since it was an American holiday- that is until this Thanksgiving.
Papa and Mama had invited the Olsens, their nearest neighbors, over for Thanksgiving dinner. Niklas overheard his parents talking about it.
“Niklas is having a hard time at school, Otto. He cries every morning. We’ve kept him too sheltered. He doesn’t know how to play with other children. He needs friends. The Olsen’s have two boys,” Emilie whispered one evening while Niklas practiced letters at the kitchen table.
“I’ll leave this to you then, Emilie. You can invite them,” Otto replied, his voice sounding old and tired.
Instead of gathering eggs like Mama instructed, it was this very thing that Niklas had been talking to Finn about this Saturday morning.
“Why must Mama invite the Olsens? John and Thomas are mean to me at school,” Niklas moaned to Finn. Finn watched him but didn’t respond. “At school the children laugh at me. They say my clothes are funny and I talk funny. I try to stay by myself. I don’t want to go to school anymore. Why can’t Mama teach me? Thanksgiving? I heard Papa say what that means.” Niklas’ voice quivered with unshed tears as he stared at Finn.
Finn cocked his head to one side before turning and walking away. “Finn,” Niklas called to the retreating back just as he heard Mama call him, “Niklas, where are those eggs?”
Niklas gathered the eggs and took them to Mama, as was his custom for Saturday mornings. Mama smiled. “It’ll be good to have company, yah, Niklas?” Mama asked in her thick German accent. It was Niklas’ thick accent that kids made fun of at school.
Niklas cried and begged Mama the night before Thanksgiving, but it was no use. The next day, the Olsens arrived, bringing pumpkin pies and homemade bread. Niklas hid behind Mama as much as he could.
At the table Niklas blushed when the Olsens laughed as the turkey was passed and he shook his head no. “I won’t eat it. Finn was my friend.”
But it was a good holiday despite Finn being eaten. John and Thomas became Niklas’ friends, and school was better.
And that Christmas Papa gave Niklas a shiny red truck carved from wood with buttons for wheels.
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