Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: NEIGHBOR (06/01/17)
- TITLE: The Prairie Grass Sways
By Ann Grover
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He came one morning, in the beginning, with his mule and wagon. He pointed to his tools and then to our partially finished barn.
“No, thank you,” said Father, who was proud. “I can do it myself.”
“Ja,” said Rasmus, shaking his head. “Ensam är stark. But is big barn, not child toy.”
Rasmus strode over to the half-built barn and Father followed. Rasmus ate lunch and supper with us that day and every day until the barn was done. He devoured mountains of potatoes, great slabs of pork, and dried apple pie, proclaiming “det bästa” with every forkful.
Father accepted Rasmus’s help after that, and then helped Rasmus at seeding and harvesting times. Mom sewed curtains for Rasmus’s cabin and put up beans and venison in quart jars for him.
Rasmus taught us children to count in Swedish and pulled pennies from our ears. He gave us peppermints and oranges and two kittens to live in the new barn. I believed Rasmus Lindström was Santa Claus.
In December 1925, our chickens froze in the forty below weather. Mom plucked them, wrapped them, and put them in a crate out in the shed. We ate well for several days. Chicken stew. Soup. Dumplings.
Father and my older brother took one of the frozen chickens over to Rasmus and discovered Rasmus’d gashed his leg while splitting wood. Dumskalle, Rasmus said. My brother stayed on with him for a few days, feeding Rasmus’s animals and keeping the woodbox filled until Rasmus could get around again.
Such was the way of the prairie. This way and then that way, like swaying grass. Back and forth.
In the summer of 1928, Mom was going to have a baby. Father and my older brother had gone north to work, so it fell to me to watch Ruby and Jimmy, help keep house, and tend the garden.
One searing day, Mom called to me and told me to run to Rasmus Lindström’s and ask him to fetch Mrs. Lavinsky. Mom gripped the edge of the table and droplets of sweat trickled down her neck. I stood rooted to the plank floor.
“Go, Sylvia, quickly!”
I ran across the fields of barley and oats, the blades whipping my bare legs. Through the rippling heat, along the dusty, dried-up creek bed, and past the pile of logs Rasmus had felled and hauled to his yard with his mules. I pounded on his cabin door.
“My mother needs Mrs. Lavinsky,” I gasped. “She wants you to get her.”
“For baby, ja? Ah, but Mrs. Lavinsky is to Edmonton. I took them to train.”
I squeezed my eyes shut.
“No crying. I can come. I can help.”
Jimmy and Ruby were sitting on the step, eating bread smeared with lard, when we got to the house. Rasmus pulled a little paper sack of licorice drops from his pocket and gave it to them. Inside, he helped Mom to her bed, soothing her.
“I have övning. How say, practice?” He explained that he’d helped deliver his own children long, long ago in Sweden. “And not so different from sheep, ja?” he added, eyes twinkling.
When Rasmus came back to the kitchen, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Now be you brave, Sylvia. Come.”
As indigo shadows were settling over the prairie, my new sister slipped into my trembling hands. Rasmus had guided me through every step, calmly and steadily.
Rasmus’s curls were a snowy halo in the lamp light, and though I knew it was just a childish fancy, in that unforgettable, breathtaking moment, I truly believed Rasmus Lindström had come from the farthest north, beyond Sweden.
We never knew why Rasmus had travelled across an ocean and a continent to live on the prairie, what sorrows or joys he’d left behind. But he taught us how to give, even when there was nothing to offer but work-worn hands, a few potatoes, a ride to town. And giving back was never measured, never tallied, never a settling of debts. It was the strengthening of a cord that bound us closer than friends.
Ensam är stark - Alone is strong.
Det bästa - This is the best.
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