Carolina remembered when the morning sun peeked through the window next to her bed, how her eyes popped open. She was so ready to be ten years old. Papa promised she would now be old enough to decide some things for herself.
Out of bed she jumped and quickly put on her favorite red plaid dress with the puffy sleeves. This was the one she saved for special days. As she buttoned the front, the dress seemed a little tighter than the last time she wore it. “Do birthdays make you swell,” she wondered. Any tightness was hidden by the white pinafore Carolina slipped over the dress and tied with a bow in the back.
Down the stairs she raced into the kitchen where Mama had breakfast laid out on the table. Fritz was still in bed. He was always the last one to get to school. Sliding into his bench at the last possible second was the way he liked it. He’d rather do almost anything, than be in school.
Carolina usually looked forward to breakfast, but today she was in a hurry. Mama struggled to braid her hair while she ate fresh rye bread with sweet butter, a piece of cheese, and a slice of ham. Coaxing Carolina’s wispy brown hair into two even braids was a challenge even when Carolina wasn’t bobbing her head and wiggling. As Mama tied matching red ribbons to the end of each braid, she asked what Carolina wanted her for her birthday supper. Without a second thought, Carolina shouted, “Eintopf!” Then she flew out the door, poking the last bit of bread in her mouth. Down the steps she raced into the first day of being ten years old.
Carolina loved school. Her teacher, Miss Bach, knew more than anybody. Sometimes she asked Carolina to stay after school to help her with something. That was the best part. Then they talked about everything, just the two of them. They mostly spoke in English, but sometimes in German. Miss Bach was the only grownup who never treated her like a child. She was more like a friend, maybe the older sister Carolina wanted, but didn’t have.
When Miss Bach dismissed the other students at the end of the day, she motioned for Carolina to wait. As soon as they were alone, she said, “Happy Birthday, Carolina. I have something for you.” She was smiling and her blue eyes sparkled. Little crinkles appeared near her eyes and the dimples in her cheeks.
Miss Bach was kind and always called her Carolina, never Carrie or any of the other awful nicknames some people used. Walter Schmidt and his friends at school called her Scary Carrie. Walter was two years older, but was in the same class as Fritz. Carolina was smarter than Walter and knew more than he did. Walter knew it too. Miss Bach said teasing was his way of showing he liked her. Carolina wasn’t so sure. She didn’t care if Walter Schmidt liked her or not. Carolina was her proper name, pronounced Caro-leena with a long “e” sound and the stress on “lena.” He called her Leenie when he felt especially loving or when he was trying to soften something he knew she didn’t want to hear.
Miss Bach opened her satchel and took out a package. “Open it,” she said excitedly as she gave Carolina her present. Carolina untied the string and removed the wrapping. It was a beautiful book with smooth, brown leather covers. The edges of the pages were gold. “Tagebuch” was written on the cover in gold letters. “What was the story inside?” Carolina wondered. Eagerly, she opened the book to find out. The pages were blank. Puzzled, she looked up at Miss Bach.
“Carolina, I love the stories you tell,” Miss Bach began. “You watch what’s happening around you. You listen carefully and remember everything. You have strong opinions, too, that’s for sure. But the special way you have of putting words together is a gift. You need a proper place to write down your thoughts. You need a special place to tell your story.”
Carolina’s eyes moved from Miss Bach down to the golden word “Tagebuch” and back to her teacher. Her very own diary. Carolina was filled with happiness. She liked to tell stories and wanted to be a writer, but she thought it was her secret. Somehow, Miss Bach figured it out.
“Oh, Miss Bach, thank you ever so much,” Carolina gushed. It’s the best birthday present ever!” Words weren’t enough. Carolina impulsively flung her arms around Miss Bach’s waist and gave her a huge hug. When Miss Bach reached down to hug her back, Carolina planted an enthusiastic kiss on her cheek before dashing out the classroom door. Miss Bach smiled and gently touched the spot Carolina kissed. Never had she had a student quite like Carolina.
© 2022 by Nancy Noyes Silcox