I was four years old when my grand-grand mother, Emma, handed me a gift, a beautiful picture book, “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen on the Sylvester Day. I loved when she read books to me and I could sit for hours and hours listening. Obviously, she liked this sacred connection between the two of us; she would find any significant day of the year to buy a new book, lay on the sofa and read to me, while I would sit beside her on an old, hand-crafted stool.
That Sylvester Day, everything was ready for the family night gathering and I pushed my agenda “forcing” grandma Emma to read this book before the upcoming family celebration. Still remember with green apples crispness a fast dusk falling over the city, grandma Emma reading with her dry mouth as fast as she could to finish the story while hearing exalted Zagreb cathedral bells to get ready for “Misa Zadusnica,” the last mass of the year when the priest reports to the congregation a yearly statistics while reading the names of the new born and deceased. Even today I could remember the parishioners; in equal distribution they would either smile in their blessed bliss or suppress cries that would silently spring from their sadness and losses.
When grandma Emma finished “The Little Match Girl” story she looked tired and weak, and she encouraged us to move from the bitter scene to the upcoming night events, “Now it’s time to move on, go to the church before everybody joins us for tonight’s feast.” I couldn’t believe that she was ready to go back into the common reality dimension after reading the story that shook all my life and spiraled the ultimate questions about human, mortal existence. My eyes were swollen and teary while protesting: “This is not the end Grandma Emma, you should read this story one more time! This not the right ending. You missed something.” I cried, while Emma seemed inpatient, “This is the end, nothing more to read, look I read the whole book from the beginning to the end?!”
I continued demanding another end to the story, “So, is the girl dead or alive? If people found a little match girl frozen in the morning she was dead!” Grandma Emma sighed while she probably wondered was this book the right choice for a four year old girl, “Well, she is now in heaven with her grandmother.” I couldn’t take this explanation, “Are you telling me that the grandmother is dead too? So, all people in heaven are dead? Are they alive?” Grandma Emma touched my forehead with her warm palms and said, “You should think less. You question too much all the time. When people die, if they are good souls, they go to heaven and they have a much better life.” The answer didn’t seem so convincing, “Do they cook dinner in the heaven? Do they eat turkey? Are they the same when they die or they are like souls, the most beautiful spirits?” As always, I went over the limits, but I just couldn’t take the ending continuing, “Could you read the story one more time, please, I have to make sure that I had heard everything right?”
Grandma Emma asked for one more glass of water, promised me to read one more time only last four pages. I expected that she would trick me, change the end and modify the story, but she read one more time the same ending. I cried being disappointed with the puzzled end and grandma Emma’s stoicism, where by which she would not change the story. At that high-pitch moment, the story end turned into a deep retrospection. I regretted deeply all my mischief actions towards Emma, but one event overwhelmed my thoughts. When grandma Emma asked me to stop crying I came close to her and apologized for tricking her so badly one Summer day.
Here is the true story invoked by the Sylvester night read and my great confession. We lived close to the biggest city Market place in the city known as “Platz,” not a minute far away from our home. One early Summer day, Grandma Emma decided to bake some homemade flaky biscuits “pogacice,” but she didn’t have neither enough flour nor yeast to finish her specialty. She asked me would I like to go to the store where everybody knew me. I was happy to do this errand, the first time independent exit from the house and going to the store, like a school girl. She told me that after fifteen minutes she would search for me if am not back home. We lived in the shadow of a big Cathedral, where the church bells would go off at noon loudly. Grandma Emma instructed me that I should be back home at latest when the Cathedral bells mark noon. The whole shopping took only five minutes, but I decided to test Grandma Emma, “Wonder what would happen if I am not back home after ten minutes after noon?” I questioned and decided to hide in the shadow of the “Platz” steps, close to the small grocery shop,where I could observe everybody visiting the store, and I waited for grandma thinking how many minutes will pass after the noon bells before she appears in a state of panic searching for me.
When ten minutes past after the noon bells broke the day in half, I saw grandma Emma coming in her long dress covered with the old-fashion apron, worried, upset, and full of guilt and despair. Surprised to see her so worried with the disfigured face I wandered had I gone too far, but at the same time I laughed excited that my test worked well! Soon I recognized that the game was over and I showed up with a big smile asking her, “Hey, I am here grandma, there was a long line in the store. Why are you so upset?”
After the big story confession I expected grandma Emma to be serious about what happened, a big discussion with my parents, but nothing “big” happened, she looked surprised, but ready to forgive, move on and focus on the mass and later party. Grandma Emma have not seen in my great confession the seed of evil doing, also, she had not seen in H. C. Anderson’s story the horrifying truth about the death, fragility of human’s existence, but she found the story of the ultimate meaning where life lives beyond death and bodily limits….
Grandma Emma died many years later, when I was a teenager. Still the Sylvester nights taste like her homemade “pogacice” and the story that gasps for a change…. Match the Sylvester night!
Glad to share with you Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl”….
Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening– the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.
One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single farthing.
She crept along trembling with cold and hunger–a very picture of sorrow, the poor little thing!
The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year’s Eve; yes, of that she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant’s house.
Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.
“Someone is just dead!” said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.
She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an expression of love.
“Grandmother!” cried the little one. “Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!” And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety–they were with God.
But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.”
Fragile, Lyrics, “Sting”
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we areOn and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we areOn and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are