Early December, 2017
This story is from almost fifteen years ago. Hans was twenty years old, and he had just recently moved to Texas to seek his fortune. Our girl was in the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. Stefan was an eighth grader at the Waldorf School. At this point, many things were still in the future and unknown. Hans had not yet gone to war. A girl we love had not yet attempted suicide. Stefan was dreaming of becoming a chef, rather than the welder that he is now. The people in this story may or may not even exist any more. If they do, they have changed. I have changed.
There was a feeling of innocence then. Perhaps, it is worth remembering…
Snow was falling outside of the classroom window; big, wet flakes swirling in the breeze. The classroom itself was very warm, and it smelt strongly of beeswax. There was a table set up in the middle of the classroom. It held several pots full of melted wax. Near the door was a rack full of strings to be used as wicks. The room was part of the Waldorf school’s holiday fair. I was there to help people make their own beeswax candles as part of the fundraiser. Anybody could come inside and make themselves a candle for two bucks a pop. The room was full of noisy children and harried parents.
The candlemaking took place at the Tamarack Waldorf School on Brady Street. Our youngest son, Stefan, was going to school there at the time. When Hans, our oldest son, was small he had also attended a Waldorf school for a while, and we had been part of the holiday fairs at that time. Our girl went to Tamarack too, and we went to fairs with her. The fairs tend to be big on magic, myth, and mystery. You have to be a bit of a dreamer to appreciate them. You also need a high tolerance for chaos.
As I looked around the room, I saw a little boy who seemed a bit forlorn. He had a shock of blond hair, and he had a string in his hand. He was clearly too small to reach the pots of molten wax, and he didn’t know what to do. I saw his mother sitting nearby, and I asked her if I could hold her son to help him make his candle.
The boy looked at me, and then he looked at his mother and asked, “Darf ich ?”. That is “May I?” in German. The mother replied to him, “Mach’ nur.” ( Go ahead ). I remembered years ago when Karin and I had spoken German with Hans. Hans was about the same age as this boy when we did that. The mother smiled at us, and I picked up the young man and set him on my right hip.
We walked around and around the table, repeatedly dipping the wick and watching the candle grow ever thicker. I spoke to the boy as we made our way from pot to pot.
“Wie heisst Du?” (What is you name?)
“Ich heisse Louis.” (I am called Louis.)
“Wie alt bist Du?” (How old are you?)
“Ich bin drei.” (I am three.) He said this as he held up three tiny fingers.
Louis grew tired as we walked and walked (candlemaking takes a while). He rested his head on my shoulder, and I could smell his hair. He had that “clean-little-boy” smell that told me that his mother had spent some time getting him ready for the fair. At last the candle was complete and Louis ran to his mother, proudly showing her his oddly-shaped candle.
I walked away and a moment later I felt a tug on my pants leg. Louis looked up at me with bright eyes and said, “Ich wille noch mal!” (I want to do it again!). So, I picked up the lad and we started again. I was out of practice holding little boys on my hip. Either Louis got heavier or I got tired, but eventually I had to put him down. He ran to his mother to show her his new candle.
I felt hollow as he ran off. I suddenly realized that I had been holding somebody else’s little boy. This was Louis, not Hans. My little boy was long gone, and he would never come back again. There was a young man in Texas using his name, and that young man was already thinking about joining the Army, although I didn’t know it yet.
I turned to look out the window. My eyes burned. It was still snowing, but the snowflakes were all blurry. The windows must have fogged up.