- Kirsten Larson
- Lars Larson
- Peter Larson
- Britta Larson
- Greta Larson
- Anders Larson
- Lisbeth Larson
- Anna Larson
- Inger Larson
- Olav Larson
- Mary Stewart
Only in Changes for Kirsten
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: On the Trap Line
John Stewart says Kirsten could not go trapping with them, that it was work for boys, not girls. Lars says Kirsten knew the forest and the ways of the animals and would b able to help them. John says Kirsten could get hurt setting traps. Lars says she would just help decide where to place the traps, and John insists opening the traps and taking the animals out was dangerous as well. Lars assures him they would handle the traps themselves, and Kirsten could carry the pelts, something Jon said they needed help with. John is still insistent that Kirsten should stay at home, trapping was hard enough without a girl to look after. Kirsten, standing nearby as the boys argued, bit her lip and looked down. The winter was cold, harsher then the winters in Sweden, but Kirsten was tired of working in the small, smoky cabin and she knew she could help with the trap line if Jon gave her a chance. Lars tells John to stop being stubborn, and John frowns at Kirsten, asking her what she would do if they found a live Beaver in a trap, saying it may bite her. Kirsten firmly states she would stay back if they found a live animal would not get bitten. John eventually gives in, saying Kirsten could come along this one time, but if she was any trouble, she couldn’t come again. Kirsten looks him straight in the eyes and agrees to his terms. The trio begin to head out to their trap line, and Kirsten wondered why Mary’s brother was so against her coming along. The boys did the trap line as a way to make money while Papa, Uncle Olav and John’s father were at the logging camp to make extra money. The women and children had to do all the winter farm work until they returned in the spring. Kirsten though it was awful that Papa was gone, but knew this was the only way her family could save money for a farm of their own.
As the trio got deeper in the woods, Kirsten pointed out a birch tree bent over by a rope, staked into the ground. John was unsurprised, explaining it was a snare trap. Kirsten notes their traps were metal, and John explains the trap must belong to Old Jack. He was the oldest trapper in these parts, who came out here as an explorer and stayed on. He lived by himself in the woods, never had a family, and preferred to hunt and dress in an old fashioned way. John assures Kirsten that Old Jack was nothing to be scared of; he was different but wise, having shown him where to set traps for foxes. Kirsten hoped they don’t run into him and Hon sates it was unlikely as he avoided other people. As John spoke, Kirsten pointed out a large Jack Rabbit that Lars was able to shoot at with his gun. The trio continued on with the trap line, where they managed to snare two raccoons. John comments on their good luck, and Lars winks that it might be because they brought Kirsten along with them. John stubbornly says they just set their traps right, but Kirsten thought he almost smiled at her.
A small raccoon was in the last trap in the line. The boys realize the raccoon had only been caught by the tail and was still alive. The raccoon pawed at Lars’ mitten, but it didn’t bare it’s teeth, and the boys believe the trap must had knocked out the animal and left it dazed. The boys agree to let the raccoon go, noting it was too small to be worth anything. Kirsten knelt by the raccoon, thinking how it made a noise like a kitten. She knew a stunned raccoon would not live long in the woods. Kirsten asks to take the raccoon home and look after it until it recovered. Lars is shocked; Kirsten knew better than to make a pet of a wild animal. Kirsten insists she would only keep it until it was healthy, like how she nursed the crow with a broken wing. Lars points out raccoons were different, that they caused a lot of trouble on farms. John picked up the raccoon and it still didn’t bare its teeth. John is unsure why the raccoon was so gentle, and Lars states it wouldn’t be so gentle when it came to its senses. Lars tells him to let it go, but instead John hands the raccoon to Kirsten. He tells Kirsten she seemed to know her animals and she might be able to help this one. His smile told her he was happy she had come along with them, and Kirsten smiled back. Kirsten placed the raccoon in with the furs and the trio start to head back home before they got caught in the dark.
Chapter Two: Fire!
After supper, the boys divided the pelts into equal piles and John took his share home. Kirsten prepared a box for the raccoon in the barn. As she helped Lars scrape the pelts, she felt the raccoon was tame already and she didn't need to worry about it causing trouble.
Mama came into the barn to call the two for bed when she saw the raccoon. She asks why they brought one home when they knew how much mischief they caused. Lars and Kirsten explain the situation, but mama is concerned the raccoon was sick and therefore dangerous. Kirsten, remembering how John smiled at her as he handed her the raccoon and how he wanted to be her friend, insists the raccoon was just dazed and she would let it go as soon as it was better.
Mama eventually gives in, instructing Kirsten to keep the raccoon in the box, don't bring it anywhere near the cabin, and let it go the moment it appeared well, and Kirsten gives her promise. She thought how Mama looked very tired, having so much work to do and missing Papa as much as the rest of the family. Before heading back to the cabin, Kirsten put the raccoon's box under the hay where it was warmer, and whispers for it to get well quickly.
Kirsten's first thought the following morning was about the raccoon, but she had to take care of breakfast first. In the kitchen, Mama explains she was going to Aunt Inger's house to bake bread in her oven. She gives Kirsten instructions to help Peter learn his numbers and look after Britta, who was starting to learn how to crawl. Peter wishes it wasn't too cold to go to school so he could get away from Britta. Mama tussles his hair, knowing it was hard to be cooped inside all winter, but assures him spring would arrive soon enough.
As Mama left, Kirsten wished she could go with her and play with her cousins, or go outside with Lars and John on the trap line again, but she knew Mama needed her at the cabin today. Kirsten's thoughts turned to the raccoon, and she decided to take a quick peek before getting started with the washing. Kirsten has Peter look after Britta, promising to tell him what she was up to when she got back, and runs to the barn.
The raccoon's eyes were open, but it trembled with cold. Thinking that warming it up would help the animal recover more quickly, Kirsten decided to bring the raccoon's box into the cabin. She put the box by the stove and invited Peter to look, who comments that the raccoon had a funny, friendly face. Before Kirsten could warn him not to, Peter scooped up the raccoon and set it on the floor. The raccoon immediately ran off, and Kirsten yells at Peter to catch it before it breaks something. Brita laughed as the raccoon scurried around, but Kirsten was alarmed. She realized the raccoon must want to get back to the woods, and opening the front door might work.
Before Kirsten could do so, the raccoon tripped over the oil lamp that sat on the table, starting a fire. Kirsten tried to stamp out the burning tablecloth, but it only spread the oil and the fire further. Kirsten tried dumping water on top of it, but it wasn't enough. Kirsten grabbed Britta and shoved her into Peter's arms, telling him to run to Aunt Inger's house and get help. She shoved Peter out the door, the raccoon darting out by his heels.
Kirsten continued to try to put out the fire, but it soon became clear she had to think about what she should save instead. Kirsten didn’t have time to think about what would be the most important to save, but she spotted the blue trunk they had traveled to America with, and now held their extra clothes and family bible. Kirsten tossed in Mama’s candlesticks from Sweden and the rifle into the trunk and became to pull it out. It was incredibly heavy, and Kirsten was still pulling it through the door when Mama and Inger arrived.
They pulled Kirsten and the trunk out of the burning house and the whole family threw water and snow onto the fire to put it out, but to no avail. Mama made the call that it was too late, and tells everyone to get back. Everyone held one another as they watched the Larson home burn down. Mama cried as she reminded everyone the most important thing was that everyone was safe. They had their trunk, but Mama wasn’t sure what to do now. Inger assures them that they would live in her house, that they can start over, and tells them not to cry.
Kirsten couldn’t stop crying however; everything they had in the world was the clothing on their backs and the things in their trunk. How could they get along? How could they start over? What would Papa say when he hears their home burnt to the ground?
Chapter Three: Good News?
Anna states that she liked it better with everyone living here as she laid out the soup bowls for everyone. She personally found it cozy, and it was much warmer sharing their bed with Kirsten and Peter. Lisbeth agrees it was warmer, but complains that Peter kicks in his sleep, to which Peter argues that Lisbeth talked in her sleep and pulls the blankets off. Lisbeth and Peter start bickering, wishing Peter could sleep in a drawer like Britta or on the floor like Lars. Inger stops the fight, telling them not to fuss over what couldn’t be helped.
As she hands out the soup, Lars asks if there would be enough for John and Mary, who were coming over to help with the trapping. Inger assures him they had enough soup, thankful the vegetables in the Larson’s root cellar had not been burnt in the fire. Lisbeth snarks that the two had better brought their own bowls, and Inger states they could have their soup in a cup. Aunt Inger notices Lisbeth was in a bad mood today, and Lisbeth rubs her head, explaining she was trying to be cheerful but was having trouble. Kirsten gave Lisbeth’s shoulder a friendly nudge, understanding it was very hard on everyone to be crammed together all day and night. Kirsten tells her she would go trapping with Lars and John today, so Lisbeth would have extra table space to play with her paper dolls. Lisbeth tried to smile as she thanked Kirsten.
A knock came at the door and Peter unlatched it to let John and Mary, who Kirsten noticed were both smiling very happily. They announced they had some news, and Mr. Berkoff had delivered the Larson’s mail to their house as they were closer to town. Inger opened her letter and found Uncle Olav was doing well, making good money, misses the family, and would return home when they float the logs down stream to the mills in April. Mama read over Papa’s letter, reading that he was making good money that he hoped bundled along with the money from Lars’ pelts would be enough to buy more land to farm on.
Lars found that to be good news, but Mama began to tear up, saying he hadn’t gotten her letter yet and didn’t know their cabin had burnt down. Building a new cabin would take up all of their money, and they wouldn’t be able to buy their own land. Anna starts to tear up and assures Mama they would help them build a new cabin. Mama squeezed Anna’s hand, knowing they would help, but still finding it hard to start over. When they moved to America, they had hoped to have a good house like they did in Sweden, but now they didn’t even have beds of their own.
Aunt Inger tries to lighten the mood by having John tell them the good news he mentioned earlier. John explains that his father wrote he was going to become a manager of a logging camp in Oregon. Peter asks what an ‘Ore-gon’ was, and Lisbeth tells him it’s a place. John excitedly explains Oregon was a fine logging country and come spring, their whole family would sell their house and take the Oregon Trail to the new job. Lars is happy for John, wishing he could go with them. Kirsten wanted to be happy, but her spirits sank low. Mary was one of her closest friends, and John was almost like another brother. She would miss them very much when they moved.
Kirsten softly mentions that everyone was always changing, to which Lars replies that he liked change. He liked things to be new, a sentiment John shared. Everyone started talking at the same time, asking about Oregon, but Kirsten still felt half happy, half sad. She slipped her arm around Mary’s waist, telling her when she moved, they may never see each other again. Mary assures her they could always write letters. Lars states he would see them again, because he would go out to Oregon as soon as he can. John suggests they could lead wagon trains together there.
Aunt Inger gets everyone’s attention to point out that the Stewart’s move was good for everyone: if the Stewats were planning to sell their house to fund their move west and the Larsons were in need of a new home, they could help one another. Mama states it would be a wonderful idea if they had the money for it, and Inger enters her bargaining mode as she asks John how much the home would cost. John explains the house and furniture altogether would be $500. Aunt Inger frowned; it was a lot of money, but a fair price for the quality. Mama notes Papa’s letter stated he was only getting $100 for his work at the camp, and Lars’ pelts wouldn’t be enough to get it up to $500.
Mama sighs that it was better they not get their hopes up and simply plan to build a new cabin similar to their old one. Aunt Inger sighs and encourages everyone to eat their soups, and urges John and Mary to tell them more about Oregon.
Chapter Four: Old Jack
A few days later, Kirsten was helping Lars to find places to place their traps. Today John was checking the trap line on his own so Lars and Kirsten could set up new ones. They were working extra hard on their trap line, as trapping season would end upon spring’s arrival and both of their families needed all the extra money they could get. The two were having trouble finding good places to set their traps, and come dusk they still had several left to set. Lars states they would have to go home soon, but Kirsten urges him to set up one last trap before they head back.
As they set up the last trap, an owl swoops by, meaning it was even later then they had thought. Kirsten becomes worried; she heard stories bout settlers who got caught in the woods at night. They could freeze to death in this cold, or a wolf could come after them. Kirsten tells Lars they should run home, but their snow-shoes made it difficult to move quickly. Kirsten then suggests they could cut through the woods, follow the North Star, and get home faster then following the stream home. The two go into the woods and follow the star, but with no trail to follow and a heavy toboggan to pull, it was hard to go through without a lantern.
Kirsten spots a snow shoe trail, and Lars realizes it must be Old Jack’s tracks due to the old fashioned design of the prints. Lars considered themselves lucky; they could follow the trail to Old Jack and ask him to lend them a lantern. Kirsten was scared of Old Jack, but Lars asks if she was more scared of him or losing their way in the woods, and Kirsten admits she was more scared of getting lost. The two follow the snow-shoe trail and end up at a narrow ravine. Instead of a cabin, they find a door set into the rocks with a stack of firewood nearby. Kirsten notes Old Jack must not be home as there wasn’t any smoke coming out of his chimney, and silently thinks to herself she had nothing to be afraid of if he wasn’t home. Lars states they could still borrow a lantern if he wasn’t home. As they two approached the door, they noticed snow had started to pile up by the door, as if no one had gone through it for several days.
When no one answered to their knocks, the two had to work together to push the door open. The two tumbled inside as the door opened and when Kirsten’s eyes adjusted to the lighting, she saw an old man sitting against the wall, looking right at them. Kirsten screamed and started to run, but Lars grabs her shoulders. He tells her not to run, that he wouldn’t hurt them, to which Kirsten cries he was going to hurt them. Lars shakes Kirsten, saying Old Jack couldn’t hurt them, even if he wanted to, because he was dead. Kirsten peeked around Lars to study the figure and realizes he was right, the man was dead. Kirsten whispers to Lars, asking what they should do, and he says they should first find a lantern before figuring out their next step.
When they find and light a lantern, they take a closer look at the body. Kirsten felt sympathy for Old Jack as Lars pulled the cap over the dead man’s eyes and tells him to rest in peace. Kirsten asks how Old Jack could have died, and Lars says he was an old man; he likely sat down to rest, his heart stopped beating and his body froze when the fire went out. Kirsten wanted to take the lantern go home, but Lars tells Kirsten they were much saver in this cave then they were in the woods.
Kirsten kept by Lars’ side as they looked around the cave. In the back of the cave, they find a huge pile of pelts, reaching up to the roof of the cave. Lars notes it was twice as much pelts as they had, and it was all the finest furs. Lars notes Old Jack was the best trapper around here for sure, and there wasn’t anyone else like him. Kirsten looks at the body, remembering what John said about him not having any family. Kirsten wonders what would happen to the body, wishing Papa was there to tell them what to do. Lars agrees that Papa always knew what was right.
Lars thinks it over and decides what Papa would say was they had to bury Old Jack. Kirsten points out they couldn’t dig a grave in the frozen ground, to which Lars replies they’ll come back in the spring to bury him. Lars knew Papa would never leave a body unburied. Lars states he thinks Papa would also say if Old Jack had no kin, then his things belongs to whoever finds them, and they found them. Kirsten asks if it was like finders-keepers, and Lars explains if Old Jack were alive, they would return anything of his they found. With him dead, all they could give him was a proper burial.
Kirsten is astonished, realizing all those expensive furs now belonged to them, and Lars notes they may be worth enough to buy the Stewart’s house. Kirsten wanted to be happy about the furs, but she still felt herself tearing up as she pointed out it was dark outside with no moon and it would be hard to bring the furs home with them in the bitter cold. Lars made a fire as he tells her not to cry, he had a plan. Kirsten thinks how Lars could always come up with a plan, and felt grateful that if she had to be lost in the woods, at least she was with her big brother.
Lars’ plan is that it was too dark to go home, so they were better off spending the night in Old Jack’s cave until it was light. In the morning, they could carry the pelts in their toboggan and follow the stream home. Kirsten still felt troubled about Jack’s unburied body, and Lars explains they could cover the body with a blanket and make sure no animals could enter the cave until the ground thawed and he and Papa could give him a proper burial. Kirsten was still nervous about spending a night in a cave with a dead man, and Lars assures her Old Jack was a good man who’s soul was in heave, and they had nothing to be scared of.
Lars tells Kirsten to sleep, that we would keep watch. Kirsten struggled to fall asleep, thinking about how scared Mama would be when they didn’t come home tonight. Lars assures her Mama would know that they can find shelter, reminding Kirsten the time she and Papa had done so before. Kirsten didn’t think she would sleep but before she knew it, she wok up to see the sun peeking through the door and Lars tying the furs into bundles to load onto the toboggan, telling Kirsten they had to take these furs to Mama.
Chapter Five: Welcome Home
The March rains began to melt the snow and once the ice on the stream thawed, trapping season was over. With Old Jack’s pelts and the ones from the trap line, the Larsons had enough money to buy the Stewart’s house. Papa writes that he and Mr. Steward had shaken hands on the deal, and asks his family to make sure their new house was ready for his return in April. Mr. Steward was the first to return from the camps and soon after he arrived, the family set off for the Oregon trail.
The next day, everyone helped the Larsons pack their things and move into the new house. Aunt Inger gives Mama some old pots and pans she didn’t use very much and Mama tries to turn them down, saying she had already given them so much. Inger still packs the gifts in with their luggage, asking how Mama would feed her children otherwise if the Stewarts hadn’t left behind their pots. Mama states the Stewarts had left behind some plates, spoons, cups and a bunch of furniture and blankets; a covered wagon didn’t hold very much. Inger smiles at the Larson’s belongings and notes they could pack everything here into a wagon and still have room left over.
Mama sighs if the Stewarts hadn’t left behind their table, Papa wouldn’t have to build a new one before he could have supper. Kirsten asks where Papa was, as Mr. Stewart had arrived more then a week ago and said Papa and Uncle Olav would come on the next boat. Mama assures Kirsten he would be home as soon as he could. In the meantime, she wanted the house clean and shining for him so he could walk in and find them all just as he left them last winter. Inger comments he’d find Britta had grown twice as big and gave a baby a kiss, before giving Anna a kiss.
Anna moans that it would be lonely without the family sharing the farm with them, and Kirsten felt the same as she did when she waved goodbye to Mary and John. Kirsten takes Anna’s hand as she points out they were only a few miles away and they would see each other often. Anna rests her head on Kirsten’s shoulder, saying she’ll miss their talks at bedtime and asks if she could sleep over at their house one day. Kirsten tells Anna of course she could, Kirsten would have the bed to herself until Britta outgrows her cradle. Mama tells the girls there was no reason for their long faces, that they were moving to their new home and Papa would return soon, but Kirsten noticed her mother was blinking back tears as well. Happy times could bring tears, just like sad times.
Inger fills an old carpet bag with diapers, noting they would need these before anything else. She states they should start getting their things into the wagon, and that she would come along later with Lisbeth and Anna with a big pot of soup for their first supper in the Larson’s new home.
Kirsten had run up the lane to the Stewart’s house many, many times, but today driving up there, the house looked new and special and full of surprises, like a gift. Peter jumped out of the wagon before Lars reigned in the horse, and Caro chased after him, parking as if he knew he belonged there now. Britta smiled and jumped in Mama’s lap as though she’d like to run too. Kristen helped hitch up Blackie and the other horses.
Peter held Britta as the rest of the family worked to push the trunk inside. Kirsten peered into the house, the looking familiar, but feeling quiet and empty without Mary and John. Kirsten says a ‘Hello’ out loud and hears an echo. Lars pulled the trunk into the house, and Mama and Kirsten help push the trunk over the doorsill. Mama comments she didn’t realize how heavy the trunk was, and asks Kirsten how she managed to pull it out of the fire on her own. Kirsten says she was so frightened she was strong, and Peter comments there was much less items in the trunk then, and he could have pulled it out too, to which Kirsten reminds him she saved the baby. Lars adds that the trunk had came all the way from Sweden and now it just needed to go a little farther.
Kirsten and Mama push the trunk until they ended up inside the house as well. Mama admire the home, nothing how big it was, with a fire cook stove, cup boards, clothing chests, a strong table, a wooden floor and even chairs. Mama says when they sit at the table, they can look out of the window and see the big maple tree. She sighs that this was a real home, like the one she and Papa dreamed they’d have in America.
Peter dashed into the next room to take a look at the beds, and Kirsten followed. She recognized the glass window as the one she spent many happy hours underneath with Mary, making up stories, practice reading, played, made secrets, kept promises. Kristen thinks it would be a good place to work on her quilting with her cousins. Looing out the window, Kristen noticed the rope swing on it, something that would be perfect for her and Peter and Britta when she was older, as well as a nice patch of shade that mama could do her mending under on hot summer days. It would be good to live in this house.
Kirsten noticed a piece of paper tucked into the window frame and opened it up to find a letter from Mary. In it, she tells Kirsten to be happy in her new house and next time she writes, it will be from Oregon. She tells Kirsten not to forget her friends, and in a P.S. says John made the toy attached to the letter for Kirsten. The toy was something that could be spun to show a bird flying into a cage, safe and happy like Kirsten was in her new home. The secret goodbye made Kirsten’s heart even lighter; her friends would never forget her, and she would never, ever forget them.
Kirsten then spotted a figure coming into view, far down the road. Kirsten recognized the figure as Papa and yells at Mama that he was back. Kirsten ran out the door, Peter and Lars following close behind with Mama hurrying with the baby in her arms. Kirsten welcomes Papa home as they all hurried to the gate to meet him.
Looking Back: Changes for America in 1854
Discusses changes for pioneer America. Topics covered:
- Increasing number of people moving out west, starting new farms and towns
- Railroads that served as links between cities and farms across America
- The start and growth of mail-order businesses due to the advent of railroads
- Magazines as a form of entertainment and news
- New farming equipment that allowed farmers to grow and produce more food
- The employment of farm helpers to work on farms too large for a family to run by themselves
- Little change in women's workload on the farm despite new technology of the time, such as cast-iron stoves, water pumps, and sewing machines
Items associated with Changes for Kirsten
- Winter Skirt and Blouse
- Knit Woolens
- Flannel Underwear
- Kirsten's Winter Pastimes
- Kirsten's Snowshoes
- Carpet Bag
- ↑ Pg. 48-49 Papa wrote, ...Make our new house ready. I'll be home in April!