…by Karna Small Bodman
During this time leading up to the Holidays, we have been sharing stories about our own celebrations, challenges and joys. One of my own memories is about a book, one that enabled me to get home for Christmas, and it all happened many years ago (don’t ask how many).
I was a freshman at the University of Michigan, excited and anxious to get home to what was always a grand family dinner on Christmas Eve where one grandmother who was born in Sweden would cook a turkey and serve lingonberries with it instead of cranberry sauce. Lingonberries are more tart, but a Swedish tradition. She also made the most divine Angel Food Cake (OK, trite description, but that’s what we called it). And, of course, she would beat the egg whites by hand.
Meanwhile my other grandmother would quote Bible verses (my grandfather, who had passed away years before, had been a minister — he called himself a “Country Preacher.”) But the children all waited for someone in the throng to read their most favorite verses:
|Ann Arbor train station|
After dinner, since we were following many Scandinavian traditions, we opened some of our presents on Christmas Eve. Then we would go to the Midnight church service and later try to get some sleep while the young ones “listened” for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof. I was anxiously anticipating all of these things as I packed up my suitcase, grabbed a book to read on the trip and headed for the old Ann Arbor train station.
When I arrived I saw a huge throng of students, teachers and town residents standing in the ticket lines. As soon as they paid their fare and had their tickets, they rushed outside while I waited patiently inside for my turn. Finally I got up to the window and pulled out my checkbook. Remember, this was back when there were no ATMs, banks closed at 3:00 and we always wrote checks for our expenses, especially on weekends. When I asked what it cost for a ticket to Chicago, the harried clerk looked at me with my pen in hand, and barked, “We don’t take checks from students. Some of them bounce. Cash only. Big rule!” I didn’t know anything about their big rules. I knew I didn’t have enough money in my wallet, and I quickly turned around, scanning the waiting room for
the sign of any close friend I might be able to ask for a loan — although a quote from Shakespeare kept echoing in my mind, “Neither a borrower nor lender be.” It didn’t matter because I didn’t see anyone I knew standing around anyway. By now most of the travelers were outside getting ready to board a train. At this point, the clerk simply shouted, “Next!”
As I was shoved aside, I was really distraught. I had no money, no ticket, and no idea how I was going to get home in time for Christmas. I have a vivid memory of this scene and recall trying to brush tears away with the sleeve of my overcoat as I walked over to retrieve my suitcase and the book balanced on top of it. As I heaved a dejected sigh and wondered where to go and what to do next, I heard a gruff voice shout, “Hey you!” When I didn’t look up the order was repeated, “I said hey you. Come back here.” I turned around and saw the clerk waving at me with another beckoning call. Did I forget my checkbook? Maybe I left my pen on the counter. I went back to his window and looked up at him as he pointed to my luggage and asked, “Is that your stuff? Is that your book?” I nodded meekly waiting for another reprimand, though at this point I couldn’t imagine what it would be. Instead, his whole demeanor changed. He had the beginnings of a smile on his face. He gestured toward the book and said, “I’m gonna break my own rule today. Now I’ll take your check.” I quickly wrote out the amount, he handed over my ticket, smiled again and said, “Merry Christmas, kid.” I grabbed the ticket, and at that point wished I could lean over and give the old man a kiss on the cheek, but I had to race to make my train.
Now why had he changed his mind? Why had he broken his own rule? Why did he decide to trust me after just looking at my luggage and my book? It must have been because I had decided to bring a certain book filled with great stories to read on that journey. One given to me by my Grandmother. (Not the Swedish one, the other one).