This is a story about one of the worst things I did at the Brown House. To me it’s almost like the story of the Garden of Eden when the first man and woman ate something they weren’t supposed to and got into big trouble.
This happened on Christmas Day 1942. I had turned three in October that year, so I would have been able to do what I’m about to tell you. A year earlier I couldn’t have pulled it off, and a year later we no longer lived at the Brown House. We left the Brown House in the summer of 1943, so I know this happened on Christmas Day 1942.
The day was clear, bright, and cold. A sparkling blanket of snow had snuggled in around the corn stubble in the field behind the Brown House, and the house felt especially warm and cozy. A sparkling little Christmas tree stood on a table in the living room. Sunlight poured in the south window, and food smells filled the house. It was good to be alive and three years old.
Sometime late that morning, I heard adult voices in the kitchen. Company had come! We didn’t have company often, so I ran to see who the people were and if they had any kids with them. There were no kids, so I kept playing in the living room. The big people came through the kitchen and looked into the living room. They looked all around, saw the Christmas tree and the sunlight, talked among themselves for a minute or two, and then turned back to the kitchen.
Then a strange thing happened. While the group stood looking into the kitchen, a man at the back of the group put his hands behind his back and clasped them there. The man probably was John Johnson, an old Swedish carpenter who went to our church. He had been born in Sweden, and he probably did things like clasping his hands behind his back in the Old Country, but it looked odd and ominous to me. I didn’t know about the Old Country, and I wanted to put a stop to it, so I walked over and tried to pull his hands apart. The man jumped when I touched him, and he pulled his hands away.
“Don’t hold your hands like that!” I said.
The man raised his bushy eyebrows at me, turned back toward the kitchen, and held his hands behind his back again. Frantically I pulled at his hands to stop this strange thing until one of the visiting ladies saw me and said, “Now don’t do that! Don’t touch that man!”
The commotion caught Mama’s attention. She asked what I had done, and she made me go sit on the couch. I sat on the couch a long time, maybe almost two minutes, my eyes straying around the room. I saw the pretty Christmas tree with presents and toys under it, and I noticed decorations hanging from the ceiling.
This was the year we got the metal cat that held a wooden ball between its front paws and had wheels for hind feet. We could wind the cat up by pumping its metal tail, and it chased the ball. It was also the year we got the small wind-up metal train that sat on a metal base about the size of a dinner plate. The metal base was painted to look like mountains, with a tiny tunnel for the train to go through. A wire held a little airplane above the train, and the airplane flew in circles as the train ran around and around its track.
As I sat there staring at the wrapped presents and wondering what they might be, I saw something else. What was it? A small crockery bowl sat in the sunlight on the windowsill at the far end of the room. It was only about a quart size bowl, gray on the bottom and brown on top, with a brown crockery lid. I didn’t know what was in it, but it seemed to call out to me. “Nyle!” it whispered, “come here! Look inside.”
I glanced toward the kitchen and could tell that the adults had forgotten me. Without making any noise or any sudden moves, I got up and walked smoothly to the crockery bowl. Lifting the lid, I saw brown squares full of nuts, and I smelled something wonderful. I didn’t know what it was, so I picked up a piece of it and stuck it in my mouth. It tasted so good that I wanted to wave my arms and run, but instead I walked calmly back to the couch. I bounced a little on the couch, but then I thought that might make people notice me, so I sat very still.
The taste of the soft chocolate and walnuts flooded my mouth. I swirled the first piece in my mouth as it melted, and I looked steadily at the candy bowl across the room. It was still calling me: “Nyle! Come back!”
My senses were overwhelmed by that wonderful flavor. I lost all feeling of my conscience, which usually warned me when I did something that could get me in trouble. Right then I didn’t even care about the difference between right and wrong. I didn’t feel guilty about what I’d done. I just didn’t want to get caught.
Another glance at the kitchen door and another calm walk to the fudge bowl, and I was back on the couch, sucking and chewing the wonderful fudge. Again and again I went to the window and took another piece of fudge each time.
I don’t know how many trips I made to the fudge bowl, but I never was caught. Finally I had eaten so much fudge that I thought I might get a stomach ache or be sick and throw up in front of everybody, so I decided to stop. I sat quietly on the couch, innocently swinging my legs. When Mama came back into the living room, she found me sitting there quietly and obediently, as she had told me to do.
“Well! It looks like you are being especially good now! How about coming in to the kitchen for some dinner?”
For the first time that day, I felt a little guilty, but I soon got over it.
I followed Mama to the kitchen to have some Christmas food, but the fudge had already satisfied my hunger. We probably had roasted chicken and mashed potatoes and many other good things to eat, but that wonderful fudge and the thrill of having more than my share was all I could think about. It was like the Bible story I’d heard in Sunday school about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
The Brown House was like the Garden of Eden to me. That’s where I first knew about life, and it was the first place I sinned. Also, like the Garden of Eden, the Brown House was a beautiful place where I can’t go again.