Monday, November 17, 2008

Elf or Gnome? ( For Sophia)

Life In Kickapoo Center At The Turn Of The Century

A rare photo of Elfred T. Gnome anxiously waiting for a train at midnight in Chicago's Union Station.

His mother is ill. She lives under a gnarled oak tree in a field behind Gustafson's farmhouse on Elk Creek Road in Liberty Pole. For 35 years the Gnome family worked and lived with the Gustafsons:hard working Norwegians with no sense of humor. Dad died several years ago in a farm accident. No one really knows what went wrong.

There was a party at the gnome center outside of Esofea. Folks who attended said that a good deal of hard cider was consumed by the gnome menfolk. Floyd( Elfred's father) left the party early because old man Gustafson was night plowing the cornfield and needed a hand. Floyd would ride the horses while Gustafson manned the reins. His perch was high on the mane of the left-hand horse named Bill. He held a kerosene lantern high for Gustafson. If he whispered loud enough, Dolly, the other part of the team could hear stories the gnome would tell the horses. He told the team tales from the old country about mythical giants, muscular, snorting horses, battles with Norsemen and ribald parties with blonde, buxom Norse women. It kept the horses entertained during an otherwise mind numbing job. Things could be worse. They could be Amish horses hitched to a buggy for hours at a tree behind Wal-Mart waiting for the Amish family to finish shopping.

Floyd was a bit sloggish. Holding on to Bill's mane with his left hand, he reached inside his trousers to scratch an annoying itch on the inside of his thigh. That's when Gustafson hit a limestone boulder. The horses stopped dead. Floyd flew over the heads of the hitched team into the swamp at the edge of the cornfield adjacent to the Kickapoo River. Floyd couldn't swim. The bullfrogs in the swamp ignored his tiny calls for help. Bullfrogs are mean. Gustafson never knew why his team was so patient and hard working. He did not know of the fine job this gnome performed keeping the horses entertained.

Finally, a raccoon passing by heard the calls for help. Save me. Please help me for I am drowning. Haaalp! said Floyd. The raccoon dipped his furry paw into the water and pulled Floyd out onto the grassy bank. By this time Floyd's wife and several children heard the shouting. They carried him back to the oak tree and laid him on his rope bed. By morning Floyd had caught a cold which turned to pneumonia. Doctor Atley was called. He looked grave with his white whiskers and round belly. I'm afraid I can't help him, he said. Keep him comfortable and warm. Brew him some tea with lemon and honey. A few days later, they held a brief wake and buried Floyd in the Kickapoo Center Cemetery off the highway around the bend at the junction of County Road U. If you visit the cemetery there a tiny marker made of wood down the hill under a locust tree. It reads Floyd: a gnome with a large heart in a tiny bod:1884-1994

The trip from Chicago was hazardous. On assignment for a jewelry trade show at the McCormick Center, Elfred receives a message via elf wire. Mom baked bread early that morning. The wood stove heated the kitchen nicely now that the first snow had fallen and temperatures outside in the coulee behind Fred Gustafson's dipped into the 20's. She tripped and fell while carrying a tray loaded with wheat bread.

Gnomes aren't allowed in the first class cabins. In fact gnomes aren't even allowed on trains. That's because people cannot tell the difference between an elf and a gnome. Elves are mischievous. Gnomes are not. Elfred found a spot between two cars where he could ride unnoticed.

To be continued

There's something wrong with this story, Sophia. Can you tell what it is. Imagine Floyd riding on the horse's back. Can you see him scratching his itch? Can you see him falling off the horse when Gustafson hit the rock. You can? Good. What is wrong?

You can find more about Elfred, the gnome at or at

part two of Elf or Gnome

That's quite a worried look on Elred T. Gnome's face. Midnight in Chicago at the Union Station. Waiting for the train. Hopping aboard before the conductor catches him. Finding a hiding spot between two cars. He's cold. He hungry and he's tired. The ride from Chicago will take four and a half hours. He hums a gnome song to himself. As the train begins to pull out of the station, a Dutch girl stares down at him.

She's holding her skirt because this is the Windy City you know. "Hey, little fella" she says in perfect English. "What are you doing down there?" At first he's frightened. He's never seen a Dutch girl, at least not one this big. Back in Liberty Pole all the girls were either elves or gnomes. The others were Norwegian.She extends her hand in a friendly gesture. "I have a berth in the next car, she says. Carrying him in her palm, she hides him under a handkerchief until she reaches her compartment. She sets him down on the leather cushion and lowers a folding table from the cabin wall. "My name is Bertha," she says. Elfred tells her his name and the reason why he's on the train. " Oh my that's terrible," Bertha says to him when he tells of his mother's fall. On the floor next to the table is a canvas rucksack. She opens the pack and takes out some strong cheese and crusty bread. She opens a small bottle of Dutch grape wine and pours a thimbleful for Elfred. He's warm now and happy. The bread and cheese make him drowsy. He falls asleep.

When he awakes, the train pulls into the station outside Liberty Pole. It's still dark. He wonders how he'll find his way in the dark to Gustafson's farm and his mother. The Dutch girl sees the look of concern on his face. "I'll take you, she says. She pops him into a pocket on her apron, holding it open slightly so that Elfred can breathe and tell her directions to the oak tree.

When the two arrive at the oak tree the windows are glowing with a warm light. The tiny door to the gnome house is too small for the Dutch girl. She says good-bye. She walks in the direction of the Osterlink family over the hill and down the road from Gustafsons. She'll stay with them and help with the summer farm chores:putting up hay, milking cows, baking bread, weeding the garden and tending the herd of goats for making feta cheese.

Elfred opens the door and walks inside. His mother is lying on a straw mattress next to the wood stove. Several of Elfred's brother's and sisters are taking care of her. "Oh Elfred," she says. "I'm so glad you're here." he can tell she's resting comfortably. There's warm bread on the table and tea with honey. Elfred's brother Manny, his sister Annalie and his younger brother, Fred Jr. are sitting at the table making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Elfred loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, especially if the jelly is peach marmalade. After the tea and sandwiches are eaten they all join in with a rousing chorus of a family favorite,the song My dog's bigger than your dog. Mom is snoring on her straw mattress. For now all is well. Elfred decides he needs to stay closer to home. Perhaps he can get a job at the elf factory in town making toys. Or, maybe a night watchman, because that's what gnome do best. Guard precious valuables.

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