PostScripts from Blessing

The official blog of author Lauraine Snelling and the fictional town of Blessing, North Dakota

12-18-1903 Week Two The Unexpected Gift

The Unexpected Gift
By Danae Hiltner

Week 2:

Ella looked up. "I'll get it," she said to Hanna. She hurried from the room.
"Someone's here," Freja and Josef, followed by Simeon, almost collided with Ella as she hurried into the hall. "Someone knocked, Mrs. Bischoff."
"Thanks for telling me," Ella patted both of their heads, receiving grins in return. Where's Steven? She opened the door and invited the guest in. "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon," smiled the tall woman, her gray-blue eyes shinning. Strands of graying golden blonde hair peeked from her hat. "I'm Ingeborg Bjorklund and I just wanted to stop by and welcome you and your husband to Blessing." She spotted Freja and Josef peeking shyly behind Ella, "And your children, too."
My children... Ella's heart tightened and she took a deep breath and smiled. "Danke very much. I ah…," she shook her head. "Pardon me. My mind's flying in all directions today."
Ingeborg smiled. "Ja, that happens to us all at times." Her Norwegian accent reminded Ella of home. She forced another smile. "I'm Ella Bischoff and my husband is Andor." She patted the two kid's heads. "And Josef and Freja are hiding behind me."
"Hello," the twins waved shyly. "Our brother Steven is here, too. Mrs. Bischoff is keeping us here," Josef added. Ella could see a confused look in Ingeborg's eyes but the woman didn't ask about it. "We're having an ice-skating party tomorrow afternoon after church and I wondered if you'd all like to come."
Ella felt excitement rise. Ice-skating! She loved ice-skating and still did. The children's shouts of "Ja! Ja!" told her that they agreed it a splendid idea. Ella smiled again, turning her attention back to their neighbor. "Danke Mrs. Bjorklund for your offer. We'd love to join everyone ice skating."
"I'm glad. You'll meet more of the folk around here. And please, call me Ingeborg." The friendly Norwegian woman who stood a few inches shorter than her smiled a motherly smile, her twinkling eyes held a look of love and wisdom. She patted Ella's shoulder. "I'm pleased to have met you and your family. I'm sorry I didn't come to visit sooner."
Her accent reminded Ella further of her parents. It was as if her mother stood there and not Mrs. Bjorklund. Mutti, how I miss you! My family? The thought caught Ella by surprise. Steven entered at that moment, nodding politely and smiling when Ingeborg greeted him.
Ingeborg told her the time to come the next day. "This is such a grand event. I'd hate for you and your family to miss out. It has been forever since we gathered for an ice-skating party."
"Indeed." Ella swallowed. They're not my kids! What do I say? Abe was mine…She swallowed again. "Thank you so much. We'll look forward to being there."

The skating pond already had many skaters twirling and spinning on the ice when they arrived later the next afternoon. Inside the Bjorklund home, people were everywhere, gathered in groups chatting with each other or else outside skating with the children. Where did all of these people come from? Ella thought, amazed. Blessing seemed to be a small town and she had never seen these other people.
From the pond, shouts of laughter and delighted shrieks from children skating made Ella smile. I wonder how Abe would've enjoyed skating? She shook her head. How come memories assailed her to no end?
"You all right?" Andor asked her, concern in his eyes.
"Ja, I am, why?" Ella smiled, hoping he'd not ask anymore questions.
"You looked sad for a moment." He waited for her to say something.
Ella shook her head. "It is nothing. I am fine." At least I think so. Why am I thinking about Abe so much?
Down at the pond, Andor helped Freja and Josef put their borrowed ice skates on. Steven managed just fine without any help and he took off, slipping a bit, then skating as if he'd been doing it for hours already.
"Wow, he is really good," Ella shaded her eyes, watching the boy. She inhaled. Today was such a perfect day. The warm sun shone, the cold wasn't biting, and with all of the laughter around, it felt comfortable.
"Steven's good at lots of things. He can play the violin," Josef said.
"Really?" Andor and Ella both asked.
"Yeah, he plays lots of songs, too." Freja grinned up at her. Ella smiled down at the little girl. "Do you want me to help you walk?"
"Ja, please," Freja took Ella's hand.
Ella watched the brother and sister skate off, wobbling a bit, then falling. A couple of kids their age skated up and helped them stand again before they all skated off together. Steven plays the violin? How remarkable! I wonder why he didn't tell us? Ella and Andor approached the house after some older kids assured them they'd watch the Edelmann's.
"Ella," Ingeborg waved, motioning her inside.
"Hello," Ella smiled, feeling a bit shy. "Isn't this a wonderful day?"
"It surely is. I'm glad we're able to all gather and visit. It's been too long." Ingeborg smiled. Ella introduced Andor to Ingeborg.
"I've heard a lot about Haakan Bjorklund from the other men." Andor said.
"He's over there if you'd like to speak to him," Ingeborg motioned to a group of the men were gathered.
"Danke. I will." Andor nodded. "Good meeting you."
"And you," Ingeborg replied.
After Andor walked off, Ingeborg turned back to Ella. "Would you like to meet some of the other women?"
"Ah…, of course," Ella nodded. By the time the skating party was nearly over, Ella had several new friends. She'd also met Ingeborg and Kaaren's children, too. Kaaren Knutson, Ingeborg's closest friend, made her feel as if she'd been friends with her forever.
"What are your children's names?" Kaaren asked Ella.
Ella hesitated a moment, then replied, "Steven, Josef and Freja. But, they aren't my children. Andor and I met them in town. They got off the train. I…I—er, we just had to help them." Ella folded her hands together.
"I see. Where are they from?" Kaaren asked again.
"Eastern Minnesota. Their parents are dead, and they don't have any other relatives here." Ella watched Steven skate by with another boy. "I just want to give them a happy Christmas."
"You're doing fine," Ingeborg spoke up. "They look as if they're actually your children. I can tell that they're happy."
"Thank you." Ella smiled.
"The church holds a lovely Christmas Eve celebration. Will you and your husband come with the children?"
Ella nodded. "I believe so. Freja and Josef are in the Christmas play. They just told me today and were so happy about it."
"Wonderful," Ingeborg beamed. "The performances are always so magnificent."
"Pastor Solberg told me how Freja kept asking if she could be an angel in the play. When he told her she could be, Freja couldn't quit thanking him," Kaaren added. The three women chuckled, watching out the window. Freja skated by, holding Grace Knutson's hand, giggling and smiling up at the older girl. They chuckled together. "Let's go watch closer," Ingeborg suggested. Coats on, the woman headed out to the pond.
"Abe," A child's shout caused Ella's eyes to widen. She gasped, turned and saw a girl following a boy, obviously her little brother. Not my Abe. I am silly.
"Are you okay, Ella?" Kaaren's gentle voice called her back. "Ja I am. I thought I heard someone call for Abe," Ella turned back to her friends.
"Someone did," Ingeborg studied her. "Are you sure you're fine? You're as white as the snow."
"Ja, I'm fine. Really," Ella smiled her thanks. Ingeborg and Kaaren both smiled, but Ella could feel Ingeborg's gaze on her when she looked away. I'd rather not talk about it. She watched the little boy Abe run by, so bundled up he could do nothing but waddle, mittened hands waving. He stopped and stared up at Ella, a sunny smile on his face, round cheeks bright red.
Pain sliced Ella's heart. She smiled back, but her face suddenly felt frozen. Tears stung her eyes. You will not cry! Do not cry! She blinked and watched the little boy wave at her. She smiled and waved back as he giggled, turned and toddled away, his sister holding his hand. Ella didn't look at Ingeborg or Kaaren, fearing they'd ask what was wrong again. Lord, I miss my baby!

That night at home, Andor lit the Christmas tree. The merry laughter didn't lift Ella's spirit. She watched Freja playing Cat's Cradle with Hanna's husband, Carl, the girl giggling when her fingers got caught. Josef leaned on the other side of the man's chair, head in his hands as he watched the game.
Ella noticed Steven standing with his hands in his pockets, staring into the fire. Forgetting her own sadness, she walked up and rested her hand on his shoulder. The boy looked up at her.
"Are you okay?" Ella asked with a gentle smile. "You're very quite tonight."
"Yeah, I'm all right." Steven shrugged.
"Are you sure?" Ella asked. Steven nodded, his hair bouncing. "Well, if you need anything, just tell me, okay?"
He looked up at her and smiled. "Okay." Then he gave her a hug, surprising her.
Andor spoke up, "How about if I read us a story?"
"Yes please!" Freja ran up to him. "What'll you read us?"
"How about part of the Christmas story?" Andor smiled down at her.
"When Jesus is born?" Freja asked.
"That's right."
"I like that story." Freja hopped a couple of times. A few moments later, Andor sat down with the Bible in his hand. Freja climbed up into his lap, craning her neck to smile up at him. Andor cleared his throat once. Josef climbed up beside him, leaning against his arm. Steven sank down onto the stool at his feet.
They do look like our kids. Ella observed as she picked up her knitting. When Andor read the part of the story when the angel appeared to Mary, Freja spoke up.
"My Momma and Papa are with the angels. I know 'cause I asked Momma before she went to heaven. She told me she'd ask the angels to watch over us."
"You're right, Freja," Andor told her.
"Will my Momma and Papa have a good Christmas, too?" Freja asked.
"Oh I'm sure they will," Andor assured her. "They'll have a wonderful celebration with the angels in heaven."
"Good." Freja snuggled back down.

Later, after all of the children were in bed, Ella picked up the framed photograph of Abe as a baby. She stared hard at the sepia-tone picture. How I miss my baby! Freja didn't even say she wanted her parents back. Andor told her that they'd celebrate with the angels and she was fine with it. Abe is gone, but I cannot stop missing him! Ella set the photo back down on the end table, her head on her hand, covering her eyes. Lord, I want to rejoice in you. I need to move on. Abe isn't coming back. I'll try harder to focus on giving these children a good Christmas. It is so very hard, though.
A small sound made her look up. Freja stood in the doorway, the hem of her white nightgown dragging on the floor. She rubbed her eyes, looking ready to cry.
Ella's heart tightened at the sight of the little girl's sad face. "Freja, what's the matter?"
"I'm scared. I can't sleep. Will you hold me?"
Without another thought, Ella picked the child up and sank into the rocker in front of the fire. When she realized what she was doing, fear gripped her. Freja sighed, her head against Ella's shoulder. Even after the child fell asleep a short while later, Ella kept rocking. A single tear slipping down her cheek.