Adventures in Understanding

by Mabel Jones Gabbott

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    People collect many different things. Milo collects bits of understanding as his family travels. Milo’s father was asked to do special research work in the Scandinavian countries and everyone was happy when it was decided that Milo and his mother could travel with him.

    Milo looked forward to meeting new people and was anxious to add what he learned about them to his collection of understanding.

    It was wintertime when the family reached Helsinki, Finland, and Milo would never forget the first time he took a sauna bath with the boys in his school. They sat on little benches in the bathhouse while the heat seemed to soak out every bit of dirt and grime from their pores. Then the boys tingled their skin softly with willows, ran outside, and jumped in the snow. The cold snow closed the pores in their bodies very quickly. Milo learned to enjoy taking the sauna baths, and when his family left Finland he said to his friends, “Now I know why you have so much courage and fortitude. It’s those sauna baths you enjoy.”

    The family’s next stop was Norway. The fjords along Norway’s jagged coast were magnificent. Milo learned that scientists believed the coastal valleys sank and were flooded by the ocean during the ice age more than one million years ago. The steep cliffs went straight down into the cold blue water. The inlets looked like long slim lakes even though one end opened into the sea.

    The rocky islands called skerries interested Milo too. They jutted out of the sea along the shore, taking the brunt of the wind whipped up on stormy seas.

    Milo read the old Viking tales about their ships, and he saw them come to life at the harbor in Trondheim.

    One day Milo went skiing with his father, a sport that originated in the Telemark region of Norway.

    “Come along, Milo,” said Father. “Let’s try the Norwegian ski slopes.”

    Milo checked his gear, pushed off, and called, “See you later, Dad.”

    It was clear and crisp as he went skiing down the mountain. What a great sport! “Hooray for Norway!” he sang out. “Hooray for Norway!”

    Suddenly he saw two dark figures against the white snow on the trail ahead of him. But Milo tried to turn too sharply and found himself upended in the snow. A man and a boy came over to see if he was all right.

    “I’m Chris,” said the boy, helping Milo up. “Why didn’t you call out?”

    “Call out?” Milo said, rather puzzled. “What do you mean? Should I have said, get out of my way?”

    “No,” said Chris, “but if you had called av vei (clear of the course) when you left the hill, the echo would have carried down here. We would have been prepared for you and could have made room for you to go by.”

    “Is this a custom like calling ‘fore’ in golf?” asked Milo’s father, who had followed his son down the hill.

    “Something like that,” the man answered.

    “Well,” said Milo’s father on the way home. “You have learned something new today.”

    “I have learned two new words,” said Milo.

    “You’ve not only learned the words,” said his father, “but when to use them.”

    One afternoon Milo’s father came home early. “We are going to Copenhagen, Denmark, for a few days,” he said. “Hurry and pack.”

    “Oh,” said Milo excitedly, “will we go to Odense?”

    “Odense,” said his father, lifting his eyebrows and looking at Mother, “now why should we go there?”

    “That’s where Hans Christian Andersen lived as a boy,” Milo answered.

    “You’re right,” said his mother, and Father promised he would arrange for them to visit Odense.

    When Father finished his work in Copenhagen, the family took a little boat to the island of Fyn to visit Odense.

    On the way, Father asked, “Milo, how many of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales can you remember? And which one is your favorite?”

    Milo did not have to think long to decide. “I’ll always remember ‘The Ugly Duckling.’”

    “One of my favorites,” said Mother, “is ‘The Princess and the Pea.’”

    “I’ll never forget ‘The Emperor’s Clothes,’” Father added. “What rascals those men were to deceive the emperor.”

    “Oh, yes,” said Mother, “and do you remember ‘What Father Does Is Always Right’?”

    The joy of the remembered reading warmed their hearts as they looked at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen and walked about Odense.

    “His father was a poor shoemaker, you know,” said Milo’s father, “but he read stories and plays of another Dane, Ludwig Holberg, to Hans.”

    Mother added, “And he made a puppet theater so Hans could act out the plays.”

    “Time to leave now,” said Father at last, but Milo lingered one more moment to look into the face of the famous storyteller.

    The last stop Father had to make was in Sweden. It was Midsummer’s Eve when Milo’s family arrived in the capital city of Stockholm. Everyone was in a holiday mood. People in gay costumes had gathered for the early festival.

    “Why do they celebrate Midsummer’s Eve?” Milo asked Father.

    “The people in Sweden celebrate the return of summer to their land about the middle of June each year,” Father replied.

    Groups of young people were talking, laughing, and dancing. Their gay costumes were bright in the sunshine. Several boys invited Milo to join in their celebrating. He looked at Father who nodded and said, “That sounds fun, but don’t stay too long.”

    “Meet us back at the inn for dinner,” called Mother.

    Near the center of the green where groups were dancing there was a large pole with colored streamers hanging down from the top. The word Majstang (Maypole) was posted on a nearby tree. Soon all the dancers gathered around the pole to sing folk songs. It was a colorful sight and everyone was so happy that Milo could not help joining in with them even though he did not know many of the words.

    After awhile everyone broke into small groups again and began winding the pole. In and out, over and under, went the colorful ribbons as the dancers swayed and dipped and danced to the singing.

    Milo was sorry when it was over. Then he noticed how low the sun was and remembered he was to meet his parents at the inn for smorgasbord.

    The smorgasbord was quite different from any Milo had eaten at home. The tables were piled high with smoked and pickled fish, tongue, sweetmeats, spiced fruits, relishes, cheeses, and various kinds of soda water.

    “After dinner we’ll have to watch some of the young people start up the mountain. They climb to the top every year to welcome the sunrise,” Father explained.

    Milo wished he could go with them but the family was leaving early the next morning to go home.

    It had been an especially happy day for Milo. When his father and mother came in to say good-night to him, Milo tried to tell them about all the understandings he had gathered in the different countries they had visited.

    “But now,” he said wistfully, “I guess all that will end when we go back home.”

    “Oh no, Milo,” Father assured him. “As long as you have a sense of discovery and a desire to know more about other people, there will always be something to learn.”

    Mother agreed. And then she added, “No matter where we live we can collect bits of knowledge and add to our understanding.”

    Milo lay in bed thinking about the many things he had learned in the different Scandinavian countries. He would never forget his wonderful friends there.

    Illustrated by Nina Grover