On Wednesday, my mom invited a Swedish friend from work for dinner. After a wonderful meal, he read aloud the first chapter of Sagor ur Skogen, the book of short stories written by my third great grandmother, translating it line by line from Swedish into English. I transcribed what he read and you can read it below.
Today is May 10, Mother’s Day here in the US (and Mexico, other countries as well?) and all has awakened from a long, cold winter. Flowers are blooming. A strange time of year to read a Christmas story, but Mother’s Day is fitting to share this sweet story of a young girls’ good deed and gift to her mother.
Translation of the book titled “Fairytales From the Forest” by Marie Bjorkman, c.1860
Translated by Per (Pelle) Gedde at the home of G and MJ Robinson
Little Anna’s Christmas Gift
Little Anna was her parent’s only child and she was a small, good and loving girl. She was beloved by not only by her parents, but by everyone who knew her. It was days before Christmas and for a long time, Anna had been working on many beautiful things to give as Christmas gifts. To think of what should be her gift for her mother had been a problem for Anna, because since she was always under her mother’s eyes, it was not easy to come up with a surprise for her. Anna was therefore very happy when her father, one day, gave her permission to go with him to visit the Christmas market.
He left her a small sum of money to be able to buy a gift for her mother and something small for herself; whatever she wanted. So how happy was Anna when she soon was standing in front of so many stands full of beautiful things? She was about to choose a really beautiful gift for mom, but she had a new problem. What should she choose that her mother didn’t already have?
While she was standing and thinking, she noticed a conversation between a poor farmer and his wife. They both looked poor and sad, and Anna was touched by the view of them but more touched when she heard their conversation.
“There is no idea, dear wife, we don’t have any hope. The doctor said the disease that the boy has is too far gone to be curable. He has prescribed a medicine that could lessen the effects but he first told me that the boy doesn’t have many days left. And the medicine he ordered is very expensive.”
“So what should we do. You know that the sum that we have had so much trouble to save together is only five (coins). The Doctor wanted three for his work and so we only have two left and that is not enough for medicine and bread for the other kids for Christmas. If only the medicine can relieve the poor child’s suffering, we have to get it,” said the wife. “It’s the only thing we can do for the little dear child who soon won’t need anything more from us. For the healthy kids, they have just as us, to be happy with less and I still have my cloak that you gave me when the days were better. The neighbor’s wife has often looked jealously at the cloak and now when there is no other way out, I have to go to her and exchange the cloak for food for the holidays.”
The man turned away to hide his tears and they went to the pharmacy to pick up the expensive pain killer for the sick child. Now Anna stepped forward and grabbed the poor woman’s hand and said with a timid and touched voice, “You should not have to sell the only memory you have of better days to get medicine for your poor sick child. Take this small amount of money my father has given to me to buy a gift for my mother. She has so many beautiful things already, she won’t miss if she gets one less thing. And these coins also I have for my own, and therefore I want to you buy something for your sick child to cheer him up and give him my regards.”
The surprised woman didn’t know if she would dare to receive what Anna offered her so she asked is this little Miss was really allowed to give away this much. “No, I guess I am not supposed to,” Anna said, “but I take that responsibility,” and she hurried away before the old woman could thank her.
Anna went to see her father. Smiling, he asked her if she had already finished her shopping. She blushed and said she was done and ready to follow her father home. She didn’t feel well. She didn’t regret what she had done but it was the first time she had made a decision without her parents permission. If her father had asked her again, she would have told him, but she decided to hide the explanation until Christmas. She felt joy over the happiness she hoped she had given to the poor couple and their children. She often thought about their sick boy. Days went by so short and quick until the day before Christmas had arrived.
Anna had all day been thinking of her explanation for not buying her mother a gift, and it was with those thoughts that she went to bed and fell asleep that night. In the morning, Anna thought that the sun shined beautiful and the air was clear. It surprised her that everything in the home was so quiet. She stood up, and dressed and went to her parent’s room to say good morning. Their door was locked.
She went to the garden to find a few branches of evergreen which was to be placed on the Christmas table. Soon she was standing by the entrance to the old cave where she celebrated so many family parties with her parents during the summertime but the cave didn’t have the same appearance as before. It was much nicer and healthier than Anna had ever seen it before.
And there, by the entrance was a small beautiful boy with glowing wings on his shoulders. It was a small angel who nodded friendly and waved at her. She walked closer and asked him, “Who are you little boy?” He answered, “Don’t you know me? I was the small, sick child. My last moments on earth were without pain and my siblings don’t have to starve anymore. So I am now happy and would like to give you something for the good that you did me. Now, follow me and I will show you the full ages of life.”
The small angel picked up a golden key and opened the big door to the cave. Never had Anna seen a clearer light than the one she now witnessed. Where ever she turned she saw flowers, in pots and containers. The most beautiful were in vases and the simplest ones, in small jars made of birch. What surprised Anna most was that every flower had a heart attached to it.
“Where are we?” asked Anna. “We are in the garden of youth,” he answered. “And now you are going to see a lot of strange things. You see, here is one flower for every child on heart and they all have one small heart of their own. Now it’s depending on how this heart is treated and cared for to determine how it is going to be.”
“Look at this golden flower, it is so beautiful but it’s an empty shell. Inside it doesn’t have anything but it’s empty. Here is a heart of glass cut on all sides, if you see straight through you should see everything either upside down or magnified and it gives you a lot of images but never the truth. Here is a heart of amber and it has over time hardened and become what it is. It has a strange shape but it would be so much work to recreate it.”
“Here is this flower that grows on hills, a small wooden heart hanging, with no or little care, but if a friendly soul took care of it, it would be something completely different.”
“But aren’t all hearts from the beginning the same,” asked a surprised Anna. “I don’t know, only He knows who has created them,” answered the angel. “There by the entrance, you see all the small children’s flowers, the children who just made their entrance to the world. Their small hearts all look like small seeds. How they are cared for; no one knows but it’s all dependent on the caretaker.”
Anna asked to see her own heart and she was shown her own flower, a pansy.
“This is your flower. You have a small heart of wax and many small beautiful pictures are on the heart so now be careful during your life’s work so those pictures are not destroyed. The light of happiness, the sunshine of happiness, could easily melt the pictures away if you don’t care for it.”
The angel now opened another door and said, “Look here little Anna and I will let you throw a glance into the garden of youth. The birds’ singing here is more amplified and the sun is glowing hotter and the roses are more red and the butterflies fly with golden wings from flower to flower and the hearts on each flower have more images than they have had from the beginning.”
“Can’t I go in?” asked Anna. “Not yet, I told you you can only glance. Remember I told you once you walk in there you can’t trust the butterflies whispering or the bird song. They whisper about happiness and goodness but they don’t always tell the truth. From there you see the Autumn of mid-age. From the crown of the trees see the fruit of the mature tree, but don’t believe that the most beautiful fruit is always the best.”
But “oh,” said Anna, “It looks cold and empty farther away. I can only see frost and cold, no leaves on the trees.”
“It is the winter of age”, said the angel. “Even there you can have sunshine and joy. That depends on what memories that you bring with you. But now you have seen enough, dear Anna. Keep the pattern that your heart has and you will see me once again and I will show you much nicer things.”
Anna was now standing in the garden and she felt a warm wind on her cheek. It was her mom’s kiss that woke her up. She had had a long dream. She now thought she could see the little angel’s face in the clouds that passed by her window and she sat and waved. She kissed her mother again and her mother said Anna had slept far too long.
Anna was left alone during the day, she took her notebook and tried as well as she could to write down the story of her travel to the market and her dream. She sealed it with the promise that she would faithfully pray that God would keep her heart protected from bad and foreign impression and instead gave her the power to keep the pattern that her good parents had given her. That little story became Anna’s Christmas gift to her mom. So when her mom during Christmas Eve received and read the story, she took little Anna in her arms and assured her that of all the gifts she had ever received in her life, this story is the best. Anna kept her heart pure and surely got to see the little angel again as she had promised.