Stacking Stones


The midnight sun ruled the June evening in Sweden, where its fiery red and yellow spears still pierced the solemn blue sky. Children played, tumbling and jumping as though they had not walked three miles to the Lutheran seminary that day and had not spent two hours that evening raking in the hayfields. Suddenly their laughter was interrupted by the shouting of an older boy running toward them down the soggy road.

The small blond ones stood alert, staring at the intruder, who shouted again, “The Mormons are coming!” Expressions on young faces hardened, and little mouths lost their smiles and became straight lines. Bright blue eyes clouded.

The children ran up the nearby hill, picking up stones and sticks along the way. At the top of the hill they gathered in a group and looked out over the rolling meadowland. No one was in sight except the boy who had sounded the warning. They waited for him on the hill.

When the older boy reached the other children, he shouted commands: “Girls, stop crying. Go to your homes and take the little ones with you. Ask your fathers to come help us. Ja (yes)! The Mormons are coming!”

The boys began stacking stones in the furrows near the road. Girls and younger children ran across the fields toward their small wooden houses.

Hulda and Anna, the twins, and their younger brother, Gustav, had the farthest to go. Their house and land, located at the far north corner of the farmland near Hogbrun, West Vinåker, were rented from a wealthy landowner. Gustav fell down, but the girls pulled him up, paying no attention to his ripped trousers. As they neared the house, they could see their mother, Ingrid, a younger sister, Carolina, and baby sister, Maria, picking bouquets of tiny white-belled lilies of the valley.

Mor (Mother)! Mor! The Mormons are coming! Shall we go to Farfar (Grandfather) Lars’s? They’ll eat us up and burn our house!”

The young woman frowned at Gustav’s skinned knees and tried to comfort him. She looked at her five children, whose father had died a year before from pneumonia. “If your far (father) were here, he would not be afraid of the Mormons. I do not fear them either. Those Mormons may be from the devil, but if they come here, I’ll use this devil’s pitchfork on them! Go into the house and say your prayers and go to bed.”

The children crawled into their beds, but they could not sleep. Their mother stood outdoors in the changing light of the midnight sun, resting her body against the house. She sighed and closed her eyes and thought of the approaching Mormons.

Farfar Lars hated the Mormons. He had warned, “Don’t ever shake hands with Mormon missionaries or they’ll get you.” But Ingrid had to admit that those Mormon hymns Britta Larsson had sung, while they were spinning during her last visit, were comforting.

Ingrid’s thoughts were interrupted by the bellowing of the family bull. She looked up and saw him tossing his head and pawing the ground in the middle of the road. Picking up a rope from the front yard, Ingrid hurried toward the road. She voiced her irritation under her breath and snatched up a dead limb lying close by. Holding the limb in front of her and moving slowly, step by step, she approached the bull. The bull, with lowered head, took a step toward her. Ingrid trembled for a moment then retreated a step, caught her foot in a hole, and fell to the ground.

Suddenly the bull charged, and the young woman rolled into the ditch for what little protection it provided. Miraculously, the snorting bull missed her and charged down the road, tossing clods of mud with his horns as he went.

The shaking woman lifted her head and watched the bull grow smaller in the distance. Then she stood up and dropped a rock she noticed was still clenched in her fist.

The sound of shouting was heard from down the road. That bull has met someone else, Ingrid decided. The shouts increased, and the frightened woman picked up her twill skirts with trembling hands, swallowed hard, and forced her feet to run along the rutted road. Just over a rise she saw two men chasing the bull. The big animal stopped suddenly and again began pawing the dirt. The woman’s lips formed some word, but the cry caught and could not escape. Her eyes widened in fear, and again Ingrid swallowed. Her chest heaved rapidly, begging for more air before she started to run again.

One man threw his coat over the bull’s head and tried holding him by the horns while the other young man, who had found an old rope, secured it around the bull’s neck. Leading him toward the woman, the man asked, “Is this your bull?” His hair was dark, and he walked lightly and talked with a strange accent.

“Yes,” she answered in airy gasps. “He broke … out … of the field … and … and … nearly gored me when I fell.”

“Let us help you take him back and mend your fence,” offered the other young man.

The bull kicked and began pulling his captor down the road, and the young man shouted and made play by mocking the bull. Terror again crept into the woman’s eyes, but when the young men began to laugh, she laughed with them.

After the bull was penned and the fence mended, Ingrid said, “May I make something for you to eat?”

The men’s eyes lighted up, but then one of them answered, “We have an appointment in the village and we’re already late.”

“At least let me give you some knäckebröd (hardtack) and smör (butter),” insisted the woman.

“Thank you,” came the warm reply.

Ingrid went into the small frame house and reached up to the rafters, where several months’ supply of knäckebröd hung, dry and crisp. She slipped two of the large, thin disks of rye bread from the pole and carefully buttered each one. Adjusting the braids in her hair, she returned to the waiting men.

“Here,” she said, smiling shyly. “May this satisfy your hunger. And if you come this way again, please stop by to say hello.”

“Thank you, we hope to return soon.”

Ingrid watched the men leave. As soon as they were a few feet from the cottage, they broke off large chunks of knäckebröd and ate hungrily.

Just then the woman thought to warn them. “Watch out for the Mormons! They’re coming this way, you know.”

The men stopped their eating and walked back quietly, “We are the Mormons,” one of them said gently.

“And I hope you still mean your invitation to stop on our way back,” added the other.

Ingrid looked into their kind eyes for a moment. “Yes, I do,” she said. “I would like my children to meet you.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Craig Poppleton