As I walked up the road, I thought over when my mother and my aunts had come to America. It was only the four of them when they came in 1905, orphans and without a word of English in their vocabularies. My aunt Valeria was twenty-two, my mother, Anya, nineteen, and my twin aunts Natasha and Natalya, sixteen. When they came to Littletown, Arizona, they met an American family who was willing to sell them a house for what little money they had. They settled in and soon my mother married the adopted Scandinavian son of that American family. His name was Lorens, he was twenty-one years old, and, as I remember it, very handsome. My mother and my father spent about eleven happy years together, and then, when I was ten years old and my little sister Larisa had just been born, he was suddenly killed in an accident. We had been living with my aunts and still were, but when Father was gone so suddenly, the house had never been the same. As I stepped up to the door I reflected that it had been five years since the accident and I had stopped going to school. I had been the man of the family ever since.
I opened the door, wiped my feet on the mat, then stepped in. I could immediately tell that something was terribly wrong by the way that my five year old sister, Larisa was curled up asleep on the fireplace rug with tear stains on her face. The entire house was silent. The only natural thing happening was Aunt Natasha cooking dinner and Aunt Natalya setting the table, but I could tell that both had been crying. Aunt Valeria was coming over to me with a strained look on her face. She quietly shut the door behind me and was about to speak when something struck me and I blurted out,
Aunt Natalya immediately burst into fresh sobs, and a panicky feeling rose in my throat. I turned to Aunt Valeria, and she had tears in her eyes, which was very uncommon as she was the quiet, serious one. The panicky feeling turned into alarm that must have clearly showed in my eyes as in only half a second, Aunt Natasha had crossed the room and put her arms about me.
"Oh, Lars, I am so sorry," she said quietly, tears choking her voice, "There was just nothing we could do."
By now I was terrified and confused, but before anyone could say another word, Larisa awoke and spotted me. Immediately, she ran to me and flung her little arms around my waist, saying in a quivering voice, "Oh, Lars, did you hear? M-mama is with J-Jesus now." Her words broke into sobs and I sat down hard on the floor as the shock hit me. Mama dead?!
"It was the same thing that happened to your Father," Aunt Valeria said softly, the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks, "She went right to Jesus."
I wrapped my arms tightly around Larisa to keep from shaking, and buried my face in her glossy black hair. At that moment, a sizzling sound was heard, followed closely by a strong burnt smell as a small bit of our stew boiled over onto the stove. Aunt Natalya stopped crying and then threw up her arms with a shriek of despair.
"The stew has boiled over!" she wailed, "Whatever shall we do? Natasha, you should never have left the stove unattended!" She put her apron over her head and wept. There were times my Aunt Natalya could be rather irrational when she was very upset.
"Oh, oh, Natalya, I am so very sorry..." faltered Aunt Natasha, rushing to the stove and looking very much distressed.
Larisa sat up straight on my lap.
"Is there any stew left?" She asked anxiously, blinking the rest of her tears away. Aunt Valeria and I started to laugh, then the others joined in. Perhaps it was a bit of a strained laugh, but it relieved our grief the smallest amount and we all instinctively felt that even though Mama was gone, God definitely wasn't, and he never would be. Suddenly, we all felt secure.
It was now the beginning of August and Larisa and I were standing uncertainly at a train station in Willcox Arizona. When we had no longer been able to find any jobs in Littletown, God had provided when we heard of a farmer living alone on a ranch just outside of Willcox who desperately needed help. He had been thrilled when I decided to go out and help him for awhile, promising to drive me from the station to the ranch. We had decided that I would go alone and send my wages back to Littletown for the rest. When Larisa heard of the arrangement, she nodded calmly and asked, "When are we leaving, Lars?"
"You are not going with him, Larisa," Aunt Valeria replied kindly.
Larisa looked at her reproachfully. "Oh, but I must go! Who else will take care of Lars?" Her tone was full of motherly concern, so hilarious, that we all laughed, and at length, even Aunt Valeria gave in.
Now we were at the train station in Willcox, having gone to Tucson, and having taken the train from there to Willcox. It was getting dark and we had still seen no sign of our promised ride when a wagon rattled up the dirt road. Driving was a slim girl who looked to be about fifteen, her long black hair flowed over her shoulders, reminding me strongly of my mother. She waved cheerfully and called,
"Are you the ones who Mr. Racken is expecting?"
I nodded as the wagon pulled to a halt, "I'm his new hired boy."
"Well then, hop in! Here, pass me up your bag."
I obediently passed her our one small cloth bag, hoisted Larisa in, then climbed up next to the girl driver and pulled Larisa into my lap.
"So are you Mr. Rackens' daughter?" I asked as we started off.
"Sort of," she replied, "I'm adopted."
I looked at her closely. "You aren't American, are you?"
She laughed, "No, I'm Russian. You don't look American either!"
"You're Russian?" I asked in disbelief, "So are we!"
"Well, that doesn't happen every day," she remarked, delight showing in her eyes as she looked at me. "What are your names?"
"I'm Lars, and this is my sister, Larisa."
She smiled at Larisa, who just looked at her with eyes like saucers.
"What happened to your parents?" I inquired rather timidly.
She shook her head and shrugged, "I don't know. I don't remember any parents. The only parents I remember weren't really my parents, they were a Mexican couple. Yours are still in Littletown?"
I shook my head and tried to swallow the lump in my throat so I could answer, but Larisa spoke up, "They're with Jesus," she said softly.
Evelina looked sympathetic. "Who do you live with?" she queried.
"Our aunts," responded Larisa, her bashfulness suddenly leaving, "There are three of them. And two of them are twins!"
By the time we reached the ranch, all three of us were well acquainted and getting along splendidly. As we halted in front of a medium size house, we saw a lantern coming up the dark path.
"That you, Evelina?" The person asked.
"It's me, Mr. Racken," replied Evelina cheerily, as we climbed out, "and Lars and Larisa too, the new boy and his sister."
"Wonderful, wonderful! It's very good to have you!" Mr. Racken heartily shook my hand and his warm smile seemed to illuminate the darkness just as much as his lantern.
After greeting Larisa, Mr. Racken told Evelina to take us into the house and he'd take care of the horse.
"Why don't you call Mr. Racken 'Father' if he's your father?" I asked Evelina as we walked toward the house.
"I don't know. It never seemed right somehow. Maybe it was because his wife died before I got here so there was never a 'Mother'," she said thoughtfully, "I came here when I was ten."
She opened the door and we stepped into the warm house.
"So how long have you been here?"
"Five years," she replied, "I'm fifteen. How old are you and Larisa?"
"I'm five," declared Larisa proudly, "And Lars is fifteen too!"
I grinned at Evelina, "Sometimes I don't even have to talk," I said, "Larisa likes to do it for me!"
Evelina laughed and picked up a candle to lead the way upstairs. "I'll show you your room."
"Two floors!" Breathed Larisa, quite awestruck, "Do we get to sleep upstairs, Evelina?"
"Yes you do! Is your house is only one floor?"
"Yes, and only two bedrooms, one for Aunt Natasha and Aunt Natalya, and one for Aunt Valeria and me. Lars sleeps on the rug by the fire in the living room."
"Ah," said Evelina, "that's lovely. Do you think your aunts will miss you, Lars?" she asked, directing the question to me.
"Oh yes," answered Larisa solemnly, "They will miss us terribly. I would have stayed with them, except that someone needed to come to take care of Lars."
Evelina and I looked at each other amusedly as we reached the top of the stairs, and I said pointedly,
"See what I mean?"
Evelina laughed again,
"You have a very talkative sister, Lars!"
"I am VERY talkative," said Larisa comfortably, "I've been talking ever since I was a teeny, weeny baby, Evelina."
Evelina started to laugh again as I put our bag in our new room. "That long?!" she asked incredulously.
We laughed all the way downstairs.
Life soon settled into a regular routine. Early in the morning the girls would make breakfast and Mr. Racken and I would go the barn and milk the cows, and feed them and the horses. Then was breakfast, after which Evelina and Larisa would clean up the house and feed the chickens, while Mr. Racken and I would ride out and check on the ranging cows. When that was done, the rest of the morning was spent doing chores around the house and the barn. After lunch, the girls worked in the garden, and Mr. Racken and I went and spent most of the afternoon working in the orchards. When it was nearly time for dinner we fed the animals, milked the cows, and went inside to dinner and bed. This was roughly what we did every day except for Sunday, when we drove to the church in Willcox and spent the afternoon resting. The days were never exactly the same, as there seemed to always be something popping up unexpectedly, or maybe some extra time in the afternoon with nothing to do. It was in these times that Larisa played with her doll, or played checkers with Mr. Racken, and I was able to talk with Evelina, who during the weeks that we had been there, had become like a sister and close friend to me. Once, we discovered that our birthdays were on exactly the same day, December third, 1906, and another time, when I told her that my father had been Scandinavian and my mother, Russian, she grew very thoughtful, and said that it was the same with her. I didn't even think about how odd that was, since she had told me before that she knew nothing about her parents, until one cold afternoon in late November when there was no apple orchard to take care of and we were all inside. I wandered out of the living room where Larisa and Mr. Racken were playing checkers into the kitchen, where Evelina was making apple pie. One of Evelina's favorite things to do was to bake. Cooling on the table already, were two loaves of bread, a pan of gingerbread, and some oatmeal cookies.
I started munching on a cookie and asked,"So how much more are you going to bake? Some sugar cookies would be good, and maybe some...some..." I closed my eyes and pretended to ponder deeply while Evelina laughed.
"Oh yes!" I finally said, opening my eyes, "Some pumpkin pie, Evelina..." I sank into a chair with a dreamy look on my face. "Really Evelina, how are we going to manage to eat all of this?" I asked as I picked up another cookie,
"I guess you're just going to have to get busy!" laughed Evelina as she slid the pie into the oven.
"Good. I was hoping you'd say that. You had better get busy too!"
"Well, I will," she replied with a grin, "only we'd better save some for Larisa and Mr. Racken!"
I suddenly thought of something.
"How do you know that your real parents were Russian and Scandinavian if you said you don't know anything about them?"
"I don't know much about them, I never met them. All I know is that they were Russian and Scandinavian."
"Okay, I was just wondering how you know that."
"If you want to know that, I'll have to tell you the entire story," she warned.
"Oh good," I said, handing her a cookie and getting another one for myself.
Evelina sighed and sat down. "It's a really long story," she said, biting into her cookie.
"I'm waiting..." I replied, grinning at her and leaning back expectantly.
She laughed again. "Well, I was born to a Scandinavian father and a Russian mother in 1906," (Evelina really could tell a story!)
I sat bolt upright as a thought struck me,
Evelina looked a little surprised at my sudden question,
"Where?" She repeated,
"I don't know, but I think I have something that says. Do you want me to get it now?"
I leaned back again, "No, it's fine, just get it later. You can go on with the story."
"Okay. So when I was only one week old, I was asleep in my parents room, and a Mexican man whose name was 'Ranco' managed to open the window, get inside, snatch me and shut the window again."
"Why?" I asked, aghast.
Evelina shrugged, "They wanted a baby I guess? Anyway, he and his wife, Lillian, silently and swiftly snuck down back to their home which was a place that was way south of where I was born, and lived there for about five years, telling everyone that they had found me abandoned on the road. Until one day, when some new neighbors moved into town and, like everybody else, wondered about their little girl, me. By now, my 'adopted parents' were immensely proud of their cleverness in getting and having me this long, and they told the new neighbors what had actually happened. The neighbors, immensely shocked, promptly let the authorities know. Ranco and Lillian were immediately put on trial and although they tried to tell them the original story and that the story that they had told the neighbors wasn't actually true, nobody believed it and they were forced to admit that they really had kidnapped me. After that, the authorities got all the information out of them that they possibly could and sent me to the orphanage in Willcox. I was there for five years before Mr. Racken came and got me to keep house for him since his wife had just died. That's the end."
"That was not long," I scolded, "now go get whatever says where you were born; I really want to see it."
"Maybe that's the shortened version of the story," she clarified as she went upstairs.
She soon came back with a square wooden box.
I have never actually looked at these," she said as she sat down and carefully opened the box. "It's what the police gave me when they sent me to the orphanage. I think it has everything."
I went over to stand behind her chair so I could peer over her shoulder. We began to read.
The names of her parents were unknown, her last name was unknown, and the only reason her name was known was because of a little blanket that was with her that had the words, 'Evelina Grace' stitched on it.
I stopped reading. I had a little blanket that had the words, 'Lars Lorens' stitched on it by Mother, my first and middle names. I frowned and went back to reading.
We read through a bunch of other facts, and then we came to two things that stopped me cold.
- Evelina was born in Littletown, Arizona.
- She was with another baby boy, but they only took her.
"Mama, why are Aunt Natasha and Aunt Natalya twins?"
I remember that mama had laughed and said, "Well Lars, that's the way God made them!" Then she added,"I guess twins run in the family, because our mother was a twin too, and so are you, Lars."
I laughed, thinking it was a joke, and said, "I'm not a twin, Mama!"
Mama had looked alarmed, nodded and smiled nervously, and then swiftly changed the subject.
I related this to Evelina and she just stared at me in astonishment.
"Evelina," I said in a shaky voice, "can I see your little blanket?"
Evelina left without a word. When she came back she handed the blanket to me. I could tell at once that the same hand that stitched this one had stitched mine. I looked Evelina in the eye.
"Evelina," I said again, "I think that we are twins."
That was not the way that I had meant it to come out, but I don't think that either of us cared. Evelina started to cry.
"Oh Lars," she said, "I've always felt that I didn't have any family anywhere, but, now I have a brother--a twin brother, and a little sister!"
"You already seemed like a sister me," I said, still feeling rather stunned. After all, it's not every day that you find out that you have had a twin sister for all your life!
Evelina nodded, "I've felt the same way, but somehow it's different when you find out that you're blood related. I guess that's why you told me that I looked like your- I mean, our mother, and why my middle name is Grace, since that's what Anya means."
My eyes were starting to get misty too, when Larisa sped in,
"Guess what!" She squealed, looking thoroughly delighted,
"I won!" She caught her breath as she noticed the table,
"Ooh, Evelina, can I please have a cookie?"
Evelina smiled at me and gave me a hug,
"I'm so glad to have siblings like you, and I can't wait to meet our aunts!"
Larisa sniffed the air and proclaimed,"The apple pie is done!"
Evelina turned in astonishment,
"How did you know there was apple pie in the oven?" She asked incredulously, "It was supposed to be a secret!"
Larisa laughed,"I know why," she sang, flying to give Evelina a hug, "It's because it's my birthday!"
"You...you sweet girl..."
Evelina's tears began again as she stooped down to return the hug...and Larisa was thrilled to learn that she had an older sister.
Isn't it amazing to see what God can do?