We found Aladdin’s Lamp at our house.
Okay, it’s not a lamp, but a teapot.
And we didn’t find it, my aunt gave it to us.
And, the only magic it performs is it can turn back time. But, that’s not nothing.
We made a sudden trip out of town to visit a relative with health issues. After an appropriately distanced visit, we were about to leave when my aunt came trotting toward us with a tarnished silver teapot. She handed it to my wife. “This was Anna’s. She brought it from Norway with her, and somehow, I ended up with it. We think it should go back to the old house.”
Anna Elvebakke was my Great-Uncle Carl’s housekeeper. He was the classic Norwegian bachelor farmer, who, for about 80 years, slept in the same small bedroom in the house where he was born. He was an excellent farmer and great Mason; he took enormous pride in being a Shriner and raising money for the Shrine Children’s Hospitals.
Anna slept in an even smaller bedroom off the dining room. She had a chest of drawers, a single bed, and not much else. She’d come from Norway as a young woman, and stayed with a brother who lived in the area. After her brother died, Anna spent the rest of her life caring for different families all across the Upper Midwest. She never traveled back to Norway. At one time, she had managed to save enough money for the trip, but instead lent it to the family she was living with, who used it to buy seed. The seed went in the ground, but the crop failed. Anna had to start over.
When I was small and got into some slight misunderstanding at home, I’d peddle my bike the mile and a half to where she lived. She would seat me at the kitchen table and I’d watch her work while she fed me cookies and told me I was wonderful, despite all evidence to the contrary. Much of the trouble in our world would vanish if everyone had at least one Anna in their lives. Sadly, there’s always a shortage, no matter how many children are on the receiving end of their love.
An ornate design is carved into the teapot and a carefully mended hole is visible on the bottom. It seemed like an odd thing to transport across the ocean when all your worldly possessions were limited to what you could carry. But then, what do I know? I’ve never to been forced to abandon my home to avoid starvation and little or no opportunity, to climb on a boat and leave all I know behind, possibly forever.
Just seeing the teapot brought back a flood of memories - raisin cookies and milk at the oilcloth-covered table, a soft voice with a gentle Norwegian accent telling me welcome lies about my worthiness. So many memories, so many lives touched, so many unanswered questions. Was she ever loved, did she ever yearn for a life larger than kitchens and gardens, did she deeply regret never getting back to Norway?
On the other hand, perhaps she did make it back. When she was very old and living in the nursing home, she lost her English. During our visits, she thought I was one of her brothers, come from Norway to see her. She would hold my hand and chatter away in Norwegian. Every now and then her voice would rise and I’d realize she’d asked a question. I smiled and nodded, she’d smile in return, and chatter away again, happy and content.
Maybe magic doesn’t require Aladdin’s lamp. Maybe there are lots of way to travel through time and space, back to a younger world, with happiness and a broad future stretching out ahead.
Nice teapot. Really nice teapot.
Copyright Brent Olson 2020