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Grandma's Multi-Level Family

by Phyllis Martens

Part 2

Meanwhile, there was the matter of children to attend to. She intended to acquire a family, though not necessarily in the orthodox manner.

One Sunday morning she was sitting in the Bethel Church, turning the ring on her finger and thinking about the potato salad and cherry moos she had made for dinner, when Pastor Regehr in the midst of his announcements made one that caught her ear. She sat up to listen, along with all the other two hundred people in church that day.

"Next Sunday," Pastor Regehr was saying, "a small boy will be brought here for someone to adopt. His mother died a few weeks ago. The father is a miner, his name is Carill--a Finnish family in St. Paul. There are several children and the father is unable to care for them. Brother Eytzen heard about it when he went to visit relatives up there, and he is bringing one of the boys down, age four I believe. You will be doing a great service if you provide a home for this poor child."

On the way home Helena said to her husband, "Maybe we should adopt him."

Johann considered the idea in silence as they walked down the sidewalk beside the part toward home. They climbed the long stairway to the second floor, went in, took off their Sunday hats. Only then did Johann speak. "No," he said, "we want our own children."

Helena put on a clean black apron and set dinner on the table. She did not however put the Finnish child out of her mind.

The following Sunday she took her accustomed place among the women on the right-hand side of the church. Johann sat with the men on the left side. When Pastor Regehr appeared leading a small boy by the hand, all conversation ceased. The pastor lifted the child onto one of the high-backed ministerial chairs behind the pulpit, then turned to his congregation. "This is the boy from the Carill family I told you about," he announced. "His name is Frank. After the service I hope one of you will offer him a good home." Behind him the boy sat on the hard black chair, high-laced shoes dangling, and watched the audience gravely. His brown hair was combed flat across his forehead.

The women behind Helena began whispering. "We could board him a while, I guess. He could help Hank with the cows when he gets older." "Emil could use someone to sweep up the store. Doesn't look strong though, maybe he has some disease. You never can tell with them foreign families."

Helena listened, grew indignant--a fine job they'd do of giving that boy a home! Work, that's all they wanted. That Mrs. Wall, her tongue was like a razor, even her husband was scared of her. She studied the boy sitting quietly on the platform. He was looking directly at her, she thought...appealing with his big brown eyes to save him from these women.

The service went on while Helena fidgeted. During the sermon she thought about Johann's "No." The boy on the platform slid down a little in the high-backed chair, his little hands clinging to the seat on either side of him. He was still looking at her, she was convinced of it.

Pastor Regehr said his final "amen." The congregation began to stir. Helena suddenly stood up. "I'll take him," she announced in a firm voice. There was instant silence; every head turned toward her. Helena did not move.

"Well, Mrs. Jungas!" Pastor Regehr looked down at her in some surprise. He lifted the boy off the chair and led him to the edge of the platform. "You and Johann want him, then?"

Helena looked into the child's face, now level with her own. "Do you want to come with me?" The boy gazed silently at her smooth face, her young blue eyes, her elegant brown hat and coat. She took him by the hand and helped him off the platform. Unresisting, he walked beside her along the aisle, between the slowly moving, watching people now beginning to talk and joke. The women continued to stare, some with kindly eyes and some with cold sideways hostile looks.

Johann, what would he say? He was shaking hands with friends, squeezing his way toward the aisle past Mr. Schellenberg and Peter Rupp, who were still sitting in the pew discussing something about farming. He caught up with Helena just inside the door, walked beside her down the wooden steps to the road, and said nothing. He stood for a moment stroking his fine dark beard, looking intently at the child. Then he took the boy's other hand. "Welcome," he said.

During the walk home Helena explained. "I couldn't help it. Those women behind me said they wanted him to work for them--this baby! Dumma Lied!"

Johann did not argue. When Helena made up her mind, logic had no effect. Anyway, it would be nice for Helena to have a child upstairs. "You take good care of him," he said mildly, and patted the boy on the head.

Thus did Frank Carill, subsequently legally adopted and renamed Henry Jungas, enter the family. He turned out to be a friendly, quick, delightful child. Helena had made no mistake.

Johann and Helena Jungas with son Henry