Sticks and Stones

         Stones whizzed past her head. Carolina stumbled on the rough gravel. Fritz grabbed her hand and  held on tightly. Pulling her along, he yelled, “Run faster!”  A year older and much bigger, Fritz was sometimes irritating, but Carolina was thankful her brother was with her now. Usually, he couldn’t get out of school fast enough, and Carolina walked home by herself.  Today he waited. Carolina clutched the diary Miss Bach had given her, and tried to make her short legs keep up with Fritz.

         Angry voices hurled hateful words along with the stones. “Dirty Kraut Eater, go home!” A stone found its target. Fritz felt the stab of pain  above his right eye and reached for the wetness. Blood covered his fingers.

          “Go back where you belong!” Sharp words fired along with another barrage of stones were getting louder and closer.

          “Cincinnati is for real Americans! Get out!”

          Fear pushed Carolina and Fritz faster. At the corner of their street, home and safety were in sight. Stopping momentarily to catch a breath, they looked back before making the turn.  The boys were watching, but had stopped chasing them. They turned around and slowly walked back over the bridge that connected “Over-the-Rhine,” the German section, to the rest of Cincinnati. The American boys didn’t dare follow them too far over the canal. They knew that was foreign territory.

          As they started down their street, Fritz continued to press his fingers on the cut above his eye.  Blood dripped down blurring his vision. He wobbled a bit and Carolina guided him the rest of the way home.

          When they burst into the kitchen, Mama was at the cook stove checking the eintopf. Fritz slumped at the table, holding his head. Blood had dripped down onto his shirt.

           “American boys attacked us for no reason,” Carolina cried out, indignant at the unfairness. “They yelled at us to go home. I thought this was home.”

            Mama took one look at Fritz and reached for her medicine bag. She stopped the bleeding and cleaned the wound. Then she spread a salve made with dried plantain leaves over it to help it heal. Mama knew all about healing and said, “Head wounds always bleed like a stuck pig. They look worse than they are. You’re lucky that stone didn’t hit your eye, though.  Now, tell me what happened.”  

            Mama’s face clouded as Caroline and Fritz shared every detail of the attack.  She always looked calm, but Carolina sensed she worried in silence.  With the story told and Fritz on the mend, Mama told him to change his shirt and sent him to the bakery around the corner. She knew how much Fritz loved the rich, dark bread to sop up eintopf juice.   Carolina remembered Mama’s saying, “Busy hands make a calm mind.” Mama had a saying for everything. Maybe Mama believed busy feet walking to the bakery would have the same effect.  Fritz seemed happy to have something to do. Mama went back to cooking.

         Carolina ran upstairs and tucked the diary under her mattress, then went out back to her thinking bench.  She sat for a long time trying to make sense of what had happened. “Why did those boys attack us? What did we do to them to make them so angry?  They don’t even know us. Do Americans hate all immigrants or just Germans?”  Carolina’s questions kept coming. But answers were just out of reach.

         She thought about how her day started and the beautiful diary. “How can today be the best day of my© life, and the worst?”


© 2023 Nancy Noyes Silcox