Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mrs. Claus: When my feeling began

It was the ride to Rhundveld when I first began to look at Nicholas with different eyes.

Of course, I did not know that when I returned to his house for his answer.

What I did know in my heart was that he would say yes.

But I still had fears.

He greeted me at the door, smiling broadly.

He led me to the visiting room again.

This time, tea was waiting. And cookies.

I tried one. I had never tasted anything quite like it.

“This is good,” I said. “What is the flavor?”

“It’s a spice called ginger,” he said. “It’s originally from a land called India.”

I made up my mind to try to get some for the bakery.

“Did you bake these?” I asked.

“Yes. I happen to like cookies.”

I started on a second cookie, but then I put it down.

“Will you come with me?” I asked.

He smiled.

“I will travel with you, with your father’s permission, of course,” he said. “And at least one of your brothers should go with us.”

“Thank you. I knew you were kind hearted,” I said. “Father has already said yes. He says he knew you were a good man. And my brother Nicholas will go with us. We will be back in an hour with a wagon.”

I jumped up and gave him a hug, then hurried home to get my things.

Nicholas, my brother, was waiting with a cart.

“Get your pack aboard or I’ll leave without you, Kris,” Nicholas said.

I rushed into the house. My mother and father were waiting.

“Be careful,” my mother said, giving me a hug,

My father handed me a basket.

“I baked a few things for the trip,” he said.

As I hugged him, he said, “I think there is more to Master Nicholas than we know. Listen to him.”

My brother had already filled the back of the cart with baskets of bread.

I climbed up next to him and we rode the Master Nicholas’ house.

He was waiting with a small bag. He climbed up next to me.

“I’m so glad you came,” I said.

“I am happy to help in any way I can,” he said. “I am a neighbor.”

In his story about the trip, my darling husband said he remembers that ride to this day. So do I.

We talked about all sorts of things. The war and the famine and drought were on my mind. So much suffering. And now the plague.

But as we rode, Master Nicholas also entertained us with jokes. And he sang some songs – in German, in Latin, and in several languages I did not know. Even though my brother and I did not understand them we knew they were funny and joyful, and they made us laugh.

He sang so freely, without the self-consciousness most men had around me.

I was not a beauty. But I was not bad looking. And I was healthy and had all my teeth – something that made me a good catch in some eyes!

My family was not wealthy, but we were comfortable, so I did have a dowry – something that made me a good catch in some other eyes.

Around me, men were often nervous, or tried to show off.

But not Master Nicholas.

He was natural and easy. He felt comfortable around me – and that made me feel comfortable.

“It’s funny to meet someone else with my brother’s name,” I said. “My father was always devoted to St. Nicholas. He used to tell us all sorts of stories about him.”

“You can’t believe everything you hear,” he said. “People exaggerate.”

“They stories aren’t true?“ I said.

“Some are legends, told to teach lessons, or share ideas, or even entertain,” he said. “After all, Our Lord told parables. You don’t believe they were literal stories about real people?”

“True,” I said.

What was also true was that that thought had never occurred to me before.

I looked at him. Perhaps my father was right: There is more to him than we know.

“And the other stories, well, let’s talk about you,” he said.

I was startled.

“Me?”

“Yes,” he said. “You show up with your basket full of bread. You never seem to run out. Maybe some day there will be stories about you performing a miracle so that you never run out.”

“It’s no miracle. We bake it all,” I said.

“True. But what a great story a miraculous supply of bread would be.”

I tried to change the subject.

“Did your parents know the stories about St. Nicholas,” I asked. “Is that why they named you after him?”

He chuckled as if he’d just heard a private joke.

“I don’t believe they heard any of those stories. They just liked the name.”

“Still,” I said. “He must have been a great man that people would tell such stories about him. We don’t have men like that these days.”

He thought for a moment.

“I think there are men and women like him today,” he said. “Just look at your own family.”

“We’re not saints,” I said.

“You can say that again, Kris,” my brother said.

“Kris?” Master Nicholas said.

“Her middle name. Kristina,” my brother explained. “We all call her that, when we want to tease her. She used to be a bit of a tomboy.”

I slapped my brother’s shoulder.

“You should see the scar on her knee from when she fell out of a tree,” my brother said.

“Nicholas!” I said. The thought of a man seeing my knee!

“And that was a long time ago,” I added.

“Yes, I suppose two years is a long time,” he said with a laugh.

“Oh,” Master Nicholas said, “two years can be a long time in a young person’s life. They grow and change so much.”

“Do you have children?” I asked.

“No,” he said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “I never married. But I have always loved children.”

I was surprised. A good and kind man like him never marrying? Maybe he had taken vows, I thought. Many holy people do.

It was at that moment that something happened that made me look at him differently.

As he was talking, a bird landed on his knee. He glanced down, then back at me, and never stopped talking.

He slowly reached into his pocket, and pulled out some seed. He still kept on talking, his eyes on me.

Why he had seed in his pocket was beyond me. Why he did not react to a bird landing on him was also beyond me. It was as if a bird landing on him was a perfectly natural thing, and he just happened to carry seed with him.

He held out his hand with the seed in it, yet kept talking and kept his eyes on me.

The bird hopped onto his hand and began to eat.

When the seed was gone, the bird chirped, and flew away.

Still talking, he reached into his pocket and took out more seed. He held out his hand to the side of the cart.

Two birds landed on his hand, and began to eat. They chirped when done, and flew away.

Master Nicholas never reacted in any way.

It was as if he treated the birds in the same natural way he was treating me, and they too felt comfortable.

I looked in his eyes and for the first time I saw what was there.

Love. Not romantic love. Just love. The kind of love I imagine Christ had in his eyes when he looked at any of us.

And my heart stirred.

That is when I began to look at my beloved Nicholas as more than just a kind old man.

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