Next to the stag fern, in the left corner of our littlest lady’s bookshelf, just underneath the fairy tale collection sat the book with the thick red cover. It was my favourite book as a child. I smiled and picked it up. There was dust on the spine for the cardboard cover hadn’t been opened in years. Flipping open the first page, I noticed the faint pencil outline of my name in the top right corner. Instantly, I remembered the year when the heavy stock pages were turned almost every night.
It was nineteen ninety one; in Yugoslavia the war had just begun and in my kindergarten we skipped carnival for the first time ever. Maybe they thought it inappropriate with all this suffering nearby, maybe they hoped to teach us about the less fortunate in the world, either way our kindergarten teachers decided to cancel our annual dress-up party. No games, no sugar treats and, most unfortunately in my young eyes, no dressing up. You see, I loved dressing up. My imagination to what I could be had no end. I was, simply put, the queen of the quirky costume! Carnival back then in my house was preceded by a month-long preparation of my costume, which was always handmade by my mum and included a sloth, Rainbow Brite (spectacular sewing skills by my mum) and my favourite: a Fanta drink carton. Now, who wouldn’t like to be a drink carton once in their life? Right!
Safe to say, I loved carnival or “Fasching” as we called it. But in 1991, there were no costumes. And instead of getting treats, we packed small parcels of canned food and parted with some of our favourite toys.
It was doubtless a valuable lesson, but my frightened little mind could have done with the escapism. Old enough now to stay awake just until after the news and with many refugees joining our community, school and kindergarten, it started to be confronted with so many frightening stories that year that I found it hard to sleep. Many of those stories involved a degree of hunger, pain and fear that my 8 ½ year-old self could not fathom. However, the same year I happened to come across another story that was entirely different all together. It wasn’t told by a new made friend but came in the form of a hard-covered book with a bright red cover. On the front was a group of small children with bright hats and scarves and big smiles on their faces. The author was named Astrid Lindgren and the story was called “Mehr von uns Kindern aus Bullerbü” (English: The Children of Noisy Village).
Bullerbü became my happy place that summer. The one place I would return to at night, hiding under the blanket in my bed, with a small torch in my hand, whenever the news of the world threatened to overwhelm me. There were no heroes in Astrid Lindgren’s story; just a bunch of children living a quiet and ordinary life. But I didn’t need a hero. What I needed was the reaffirmation that even though the world was at war, life was still alright somewhere. And it was. Oh yes, life in Bullerbü was great. According to Lindgren it was full of ordinary adventures, laughter amongst friends and oh so peaceful. Maybe a bit old fashioned compared to nowadays, but even today it’s hard to argue that a childhood in Sweden doesn’t sound like a wonderful life to be lived.
Obviously I grew out of Bullerbü fairly quickly, as one does in those short years of childhood. I learned of more wars and realized that there are many other things; less dangerous really, that caused me much greater fear and disorientation. But I kept it nevertheless. Because the lesson it taught me was invaluable. There is great power in perspective and if you keep believing that there is a better, safer place in the world, then it is possible to reach that place.
I closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. I wondered whether it’ll bring her as much comfort and love as it did me. Maybe, maybe not, but hopefully she’ll always find a story to guide her.
Oh & H – a homemakers column. A weekly sharing of life’s little stories between a tiny terraced house and an overgrowing allotment.