Spring 1879 Ramsey, PA
Karl Hardt looked down at his chalk tablet and studied the numbers he
had just written. His fingers were dusty and white from the chalk, and
he was distracted by the choice to wipe it on his dark trousers or wait
until recess to wash his hands. He glanced around the one-room
schoolhouse. The other ten children in Washington school appeared to
have finished their work well before him, as usual.
Arithmetic had never been Karl's strong subject. He wondered whether he
even had a strong subject. Nothing came naturally to him, and it
seemed to Karl as if he had to work twice as hard as the other children
just to keep from embarrassing himself.
Miss Rudnitsky was watching him, wondering whether he would be able to
finish in time for recess. She, too, was frustrated with Karl's
difficulty. In spite of several tutoring sessions after school, he
always seemed to be lagging behind the other children.
The teacher glanced out the window, rose from her desk at the front of
the room and began walking toward Karl. He blushed as he waited for her
announcement that it was time to put his tablet away and he would have
to finish his work during recess ... again. Miss Rudnitsky walked right
past him to the back of the room and opened the door to invite in a
woman and a small girl.
"Class," the teacher began, "we have a new student joining us today. Her
name is Hayley Dalen, and her family has recently come to America from
Norway. She's almost eight years old, and I'm sure she'll quickly make
friends with all of you." She smiled warmly at the little girl and her
Hayley had been looking down, her eyes hidden under the brim of her
light green bonnet. When she finally looked up and shyly returned the
children's inquiring stares, Karl gasped. Hayley was the prettiest girl
he had ever seen in his nine years of life, and he was certain he would
never see one prettier even if he lived to be a hundred. He quietly let
out his breath and prayed nobody had heard the quick intake a moment
Her eyes were the color of the sky on a cloudless summer's day, and her
hair, still tucked mostly under her bonnet, was the color of Samuel's
yellow dog but much shinier. Until now, Karl had thought Emilie Starke
was the most beautiful girl in Pennsylvania, but Hayley Dalen might just
be the prettiest in the whole world. He didn't dare blink for fear she
might disappear before he reopened his eyes. When she untied and removed
her bonnet, Karl almost gasped again but quickly caught himself. Her
hair appeared to be made of sunshine.
Samuel shifted in his seat, then he looked at Karl with a serious
expression on his face. Samuel Perschbacher had been Karl's best friend
since they were both babies, and they knew each other so well that the
boys claimed they could communicate without speaking. Samuel's face
warned Karl not to make a fool of himself over some dumb girl. Karl
decided it wouldn't be so bad unless Hayley also thought he was a fool.
He would control himself, or at least try to, until he and Samuel were
on their walk home after school.
The teacher continued, "Hayley, you may take the desk in front of Karl.
Karl, please raise your hand so Hayley knows where she'll be sitting."
He obligingly raised his hand, and Hayley gracefully made her way to the
desk in front of Karl as he wondered exactly what "making a fool of
yourself" might look like today.
She placed a small bundle of school supplies wrapped in grocery paper
and string into the cubby of the desk then she sat with her hands folded
in her lap. She still hadn't made a sound. She hadn't spoken when
introduced to the class, and her silence as she had walked to and then
sat at her desk made Karl think of a butterfly, so graceful and silent.
He even wondered if she might be a figment of his imagination. Daydreams
were often partially responsible for his getting behind in class. Maybe
that was all she was. No, he decided, she definitely wasn't a daydream.
He had never dreamt anything so spectacular. Karl concluded she must be
He glanced at Samuel, who by now looked like he was suffocating. He knew
his friend was choking back laughter, as he must have guessed what Karl
was thinking. Now Karl realized his chalk-covered hand was still in the
air, and he quickly snatched it down. Yes, that might be an example of
"making a fool of yourself." Karl sighed.
"Children, please introduce yourselves to Hayley during recess and try
to help her feel comfortable in her new school." Miss Rudnitsky secretly
expected the girls to comply; however, the boys would be a harder sell.
Most of these future men still thought girls were best left alone
— all except Karl Hardt, who was often seen consorting with Emilie
and her friend, Blossom.
During recess, most of the boys ran to the far side of the school
grounds while the girls swarmed around Hayley. Karl climbed the old oak
tree in the middle of the schoolyard to a branch just high enough so he
could observe what was happening in both assemblies.
The boys were searching the yard for sticks to mark a course for a
footrace they were about to run. Karl didn't care much for racing since
he usually came in dead last. If they played a ball game he might join
in, but for now, he would stay on his perch.
Emilie and the other girls were chattering and laughing in the shade at
the side of the schoolhouse. The beautiful new girl from Norway stood in
the center of the cluster. Karl wondered exactly where Norway was and
whether all the girls in Norway were as beautiful as Hayley Dalen. He
had just entered into one of his daydreams, trying to imagine what
Norway must look like, when Emilie waved to Karl and motioned for him to
join them. She had obviously caught him staring, so he had no choice but
to comply. He waved back, scurried down the tree, and attempted to walk
leisurely to where the girls had congregated.
As he approached the group, he heard Blossom introduce herself. Hayley
responded with, "Ooooh, I love flower names. I don't really like my
Blossom asked, "What would you like your name to be?"
Hayley thought for a moment, as though she were making a groundbreaking
decision, then she responded, "Lily, or ... Rose, or ... Daisy." Karl
thought she sounded like she was from somewhere far from Ramsey,
Pennsylvania and guessed it must be the way people talk in Norway.
"But I like your name!" Blossom said. Hayley smiled and thanked her new
friend as Karl reached the girls. He tried to ignore the lovely smile
and melodic voice so that he might be able to offer a word or two
without getting them wedged between his tongue and lower front teeth.
"Hello. I'm Karl, but then you already knew that 'cause you sit right in
front of me and Miss Rudnitsky told you my name so you would know where
to sit and I hope you like Ramsey and school and make lots of friends
The girls giggled. All except Hayley. She simply stood there, quietly
staring at Karl, who was wishing the jumble of words he had just dumped
on her had gotten stuck somewhere.
She smiled again, this time directly at him. Then came the sweet voice,
"Thank you, Karl. I like everything about this place, especially my new
friends." Karl smiled back and decided he would give up speaking
* * *
Miss Rudnitsky was pleased with Karl's progress over the last three
years since Hayley Dalen had joined the class. He was getting his work
done almost as quickly as the other children were, and most days, he
seemed able to focus on the task at hand. Miss Rudnitsky suspected
Hayley had a great deal to do with the improvement. She had often seen
them sitting in the shade of the big oak tree during recess. They
appeared to be working, probably studying the material they had just
covered in class. It might have been this extra tutoring, or maybe it
was the confidence that Hayley seemed to nurture in Karl, but the
teacher had noticed a new level of maturity in him since the girl's
arrival three years prior.
Karl often thought of Hayley's first day at Washington School, how
pretty she had been, how sweet when meeting the other children, and how
poised she had appeared. He knew most children wouldn't have done so
well had they been in her petite little shoes that day. It may have been
her confidence that had impressed him most. Karl recognized it as one of
her many admirable qualities he himself lacked.
However, the admiration went both ways. Hayley appreciated Karl's
sincerity and sense of humor. Although she was an only child, she
thought of Karl as a big brother. He made her feel safe, as if he would
do anything for her.
Those first few days at the new school had been challenging for the
newcomer. Although she was fluent in English, some words were difficult
to pronounce. "Rudnitsky," for example, was a name she had never heard
in Norway. She had mentioned the obstacle to Karl, who had then broken
it down for her. "Rude ... knit ... ski," he had coached. By the time
recess had ended that day, she had been able to pronounce the teacher's
name like a Ukrainian, and she'd had Karl to thank for it. She had
returned the favor by helping Karl memorize his math tables, and they
often took turns reading to one another after school.
Then there was the time Hayley and Blossom had been laughing about
something silly, but Emilie had thought they were laughing at her. She
had erupted in anger, accusing Hayley of stealing her best friend, and
had angrily announced she didn't want to be their friend any more. Karl
stepped in and told them he thought the three girls were the best
"friendship group" he had ever known. Within minutes, the girls had all
become happy once more and had given Karl the credit for having rescued
their friendship. Since that day, he and the three girls had been quite
Karl still considered Samuel his best friend, but the time they spent
together diminished as his friendship with the girls deepened. Karl
gravitated toward them, while Samuel was drawn to the rough-and-tumble
activities the boys offered. Neither Karl nor Samuel seemed to notice,
nor care, that their relationship was weakening over time.
The trend continued for the next five years. In the spring of 1887, Karl
and Samuel were nearing completion of their education at Washington
School. These days they seemed to have very little in common, although
they shared the anticipation of graduating at the beginning of June.
Both were seventeen, Hayley was sixteen, Emilie was fifteen, and Blossom
would turn fifteen in a few months.
Herman Pfahl had been added to the enrollment the previous August.
Although he was a year younger than Karl and Samuel, he would graduate
in June with the older boys. Until he had registered at Washington, his
mother had schooled him at home. She had done an excellent job, and
Herman was by far the most advanced in the class. He was also certainly
the largest, well over six feet tall and had broader shoulders than any
other sixteen-year-old Miss Rudnitsky had taught in her ten years at
The teacher had been a bit relieved that enrollment was down that year.
The school only registered eight students: Emilie Starke, Blossom
Reagan, Hayley Dalen, Karl Hardt, Samuel Perschbacher, Herman Pfahl, and
the eight-year-old Dolinsky twins: Yuri and his sister, Yeva. The pair
had arrived from the Ukraine only a few days before registering for
school and had spoken no English. Miss Rudnitsky hadn't minded speaking
her native language with the children for the first few weeks, but she
had pushed them to learn English as soon as possible. By that spring,
they were nearly fluent. She was glad to have others from her homeland
in the community, even if the twins were unable to sit still for more
than a few minutes at a time.
Everyone in school seemed to cooperate and get along well. That was
until, on an otherwise ordinary Friday morning in early May, Miss
Rudnitsky mentioned the upcoming Ramsey Community Picnic.
The affair was held every year in the city park the second Saturday in
June. It was considered a major event and was reputed to be responsible
for many of the marriages in the community. Peter Bergendahl, the town's
oldest bachelor at the time; and Edna Findley, the organist at the
Presbyterian Church, had begun their courtship the previous June and
were married by summer's end. Several students at Washington School were
the product of relationships launched or renewed by picnics over the
past several years. The annual function had secured a reputation such
that the word "picnic" had its own meaning in the town of Ramsey.
Courting couples were often said to be "going on a picnic" when they
were simply taking a walk down main street.
There was no minimum nor maximum age limit for attendees, and those
without dates were also encouraged to come. This meant that the months
of May and June were the peak of the year for the local florists, Mr.
and Mrs. Edmunds: May, in preparation for the event, and June for the
results of it.
The children reacted to Miss Rudnitsky's reminder about the picnic as
though they had completely forgotten about the annual event. They all
began looking around the room, trying to predict who was going to ask
who. It seemed logical that the three older boys would somehow pair up
with the three young ladies in the class, but it would be difficult to
predict exactly how that pairing would ensue. Karl and Samuel could
still read each other's faces, not to the degree they used to, but well
enough to know there would be a competition if they vied for the same
Karl still had his cap set for Hayley, although the other girls also
appealed to him in some ways. Samuel knew this, and Karl suddenly
realized the competitive look on Samuel's face must be because he also
There would be a race to the finish for the two young men. Karl
remembered all those footraces lost to Samuel and to all the other boys
in school. Fortunately for Karl, this wouldn't be that kind of race.
When school dismissed for the day, the three older girls were out the
door a full minute ahead of the others. Samuel and Karl gathered their
books and hastily headed for the door. Herman took his time, watching as
the older boys raced to be the first through the doorway. He assumed the
challenge was all in fun, until the two hit the doorframe at the same
time. That was when the brawl began.
Miss Rudnitsky shrieked as Samuel punched Karl in the stomach. Karl
returned the assault with a blow to Samuel's nose. The twins looked on,
enjoying the skirmish because finally someone else would be getting into
The teacher rushed toward the boys, unsure of what she would do upon
reaching them, but she had the clear sense to pull Herman with her as
she flew past where he stood. "Help me, Herman!" she shouted as the
He did as ordered, and he soon had the boys separated. Miss Rudnitsky
sat down with an ungraceful thud, completely out of breath from the
excitement. She looked up at Herman, who still had one boy's collar in
each hand while the offenders stood almost tiptoed to avoid being
choked. She tried to say "thank you" to Herman, but all that came out
was a whisper.
Samuel's nose was dripping blood, and Karl appeared to be on the verge
of a very impressive black eye. Both were filthy from rolling around on
the floor of the entry hall, which until minutes earlier had been
sullied with grime from the schoolyard.
The exhausted teacher cleared her throat and ordered Karl and Samuel to
opposite corners of the schoolroom, chairs facing the corners. She shook
as she scolded the boys with the announcement that they would be staying
after school. She would immediately write notes, which they were to
deliver to their parents. Herman remained holding the boys, hesitant to
free them too early. He looked to Miss Rudnitsky for instruction, and
Herman released Karl and Samuel, then he gathered his books and went
outside to wash off the blood and debris before heading home. His mother
would certainly ask what happened if she saw him as he looked now. She
worried too much about him as it was, so he made sure to remove every
smudge, including a couple of specks of someone's blood that had landed
on his shirt.
Excerpted from "Whence You Came" by Annette Lindaas-Kanko. Copyright © 2013 by Annette Lindaas-Kanko. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.