- Kirsten Larson
- Anders Larson
- Greta Larson
- Lars Larson
- Peter Larson
- Olav Larson
- Inger Larson
- Lisbeth Larson
- Anna Larson
- Miss Winston
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Tornado!
Kirsten and Anna were beating the dust of the rugs, laughing & chatting as they did the work. The winder had been bitterly cold, and they were glad it was warm enough to be outside. The wind started to grow stronger, and Mama looked at the darkening sky in alarm. Aunt Inger studied the horizon, saying that a tornado might be approaching, and they should hide in the root cellar. Mama orders Kirsten to get her cousins and Peter. The wind increased as Kirsten went to get the others, and Peter takes the grey cat Missy with him. The family scurried into the cellar, Inger bringing the family bible and a lantern, and Miss Winston, still staying with the Larsons, bringing her quilt.
As Inger shut the door, Kirsten asks about Papa, Olav and Lars, who were out helping the Peterson's plant the seeds. Inger tells Kirsten not to worry, for they knew to lie in the ditch if they saw a wind funnel coming. Everyone huddled together, and Aunt Inger passes out a few wrinkled apples leftover from their winter supply as their lunch. Inger held the family bible in her lap, the most important item the Larsons owned. Papa and Uncle Olav would read out loud from it, and the names and important dates for everyone in the family was written down in it, including Kirsten's birthday. Kirsten was too nervous to eat the apple. Mama was going to have her baby soon; what would they do if their house blew down?
Miss Winston comments that Maine never had tornados, and she smiles as she says no one would believe her when she wrote back home about these dangers. Anna touches a corner of Miss Winston's quilt, wondering if she was unable to find her cloak. Miss Winston admits she never thought about bringing her cloak with her down into the cellar; she just knew she had to save her quilt. Every time Miss Winston looked at her quilt, it was like receiving a letter from home. Inger tells Miss Winston she was right to save it, as it was beautiful.
Kirsten had never taken a close look at the quilt that laid on her teacher's bed, so she took the time to study it now. Lisbeth comments it must have taken a long time to sew, and Anna asks if Miss Winston had sewed it all by herself. Miss Winston, never passing an opportunity to teach a lesson, proudly tells how her mother, aunts, cousins and sister had made this friendship quilt to remember them by when she left home. Miss Winston gazed off, as if she was looking at her friends and family in Maine.
Kirsten admired the quilt and, wanting to make one herself, asks Miss Winston to teach her to quilt. Lisbeth is eager to learn as well, abut Miss Winston says a large quilt like hers would be difficult, and they should start with small squares of muslin. The girls start planning their squares, but Mama reminds Kirsten she didn't have the time for fancy sewing as she needed her help to make baby clothes. Kirsten sighed, tired of hemming shirts, and wondered if it was really necessary to have so many diapers.
Miss Winston argues that quilting trained the hand and eye, and the quilt was very practical and wonderfully warm. Mama looked doubtful, unfamiliar with quilting. Anna suggests she and Lisbeth could learn quilting, and then teach Kirsten when she had the time. Lisbeth suggests Kirsten could sew before bedtime or during recess, and Miss Winston adds where there's a will, there's a way.
Missy the cat jumped from Peter's lap and curled up around Kirsten's ankles. Missy was pregnant and didn't liked to be fussed over, but Kirsten felt comforted petting her. Kirsten says she'll sew the baby clothes so fast she would have the spare time, and the 3 decide to learn how to make a quilt. Inger comments to Mama who knew what these girls would learn next, then notices that the wind had died down. She opened the cellar door and while the linen and a few roof shingles littered the yard, all the buildings were still standing. Mama breathed a sigh of relief, thankful the danger had passed them by, and they all leave the cellar.
Chapter Two: New Babies
The school's summer term began, and all the girls shared fabric scraps and worked together to make their quilt squares during recess. Mary Stewart, a girl whose family had came from Boston to Minnesota, had worked on a quilt before and was able to help the others when Miss Winston wasn't around. Kirsten makes conversation by mentioning all the baby clothes her Mama was making. Mary comments how her Aunt Sadie had twins, but only one of the babies lived and Aunt Sadie herself died during childbirth. Kirsten tried to concentrate on Mary's handiwork, not wanting to think of her Mama in danger.
Mary continues with her story, saying how her mother took in her cousin and called her Mary's little sister, but she would never know her real mother. Everyone seemed to have stories about mothers and babies dying during childbirth in the frontier, and thinking of something happening to Mama made Kirsten want to cry. It was better not to think about it and focus on the pretty patterns instead.
Anna returned to the sewing circle after getting help from Miss Winston on her tangled thread, saying how Miss Winston was the nicest teacher she ever had. She states she would be sorry when she has to leave Powder Keg School, a statement that startled Kirsten as she had assumed Miss Winston would be with them always, like family. Mary explains that teacher always moved on and in the four years she went to this school, she had a different teacher each year. Miss Winston was the only nice teacher she's had here. Anna adds that Miss Winston often said how she liked it here and Kirsten wishes she would stay, wanting everything to stay as it was now. the only thing Kirsten would change was making Mama feel better; recently she had become as nervous and irritable as their cat Missy.
Anna suggests if Miss Winston did leave, they could add their squares to her quilt, but Mary points out her quilt already had it's border sewn on and was complete. Kirsten suggests they could make another quilt for Miss Winston, just like her family did. Anna loves the idea, but Mary points out it would take a long time to make and they couldn't rush the process. Kirsten knew Mary was right; working on just one square was taking a long time, and Kirsten was busier then ever helping with Mama. She even had to skip school sometimes to help do Mama's chores at home.
Kirsten didn't want to give up on her idea, however, and suggests they sew all their squares together to make a small quilt before the summer term was over. Lisbeth, who always thought through her decisions carefully, thinks they should try. Mary keeps saying no, firmly stating that the final quilt wasn't the best part of quilting, but rather making it with everyone together. Kirsten looked at Mary with new respect, agreeing with her sentiment.
Anna admires Kirsten's design, commenting it looked like a heart. Kirsten explains she was trying to make the flowers Mama had given her to wear in her hair when she turned eight. She hadn't been able to celebrate her ninth birthday, as their family was traveling to America. Mary is sure Kirsten would have a big celebration for her 10th birthday, but Kirsten wasn't as sure. Mama had so much work to do, Kirsten thought she had forgotten it, and she felt it was best not to remind her about it until the baby was born. It was better just to help out all she could and pray that Mama would be well.
Helping out meant more work for Kirsten around the farm, and she had no time to sew anymore. One morning, when Kirsten was helping Aunt Inger milk the cows, Lisbeth bursts in to invite Kirsten to see Missy's kittens. Inger scolds Lisbeth for being at the barn when she was supposed to be cooking breakfast, but Lisbeth explains that Anna had told her the news. Kirsten asks Inger for permission to take a quick look, and Inger tells her to be quick about it.
The two go into the barn loft, where Anna and Peter were both crouched around Missy and the five kittens. The smallest kitten was unable to squeeze it's way to find a place to nurse. Peter comments that it was so little it would never live, repeating what he heard Uncle Olav say about one of the piglets. Kirsten tells Peter to be quiet, that he didn't know everything. She tried to guide the kitten to it's mother, but it still couldn't find it's way. Lisbeth thinks it had a chance, but sometimes the very little ones weren't strong enough to make it. Kirsten felt the kitten's heartbeat and whipsers that it would make it.
Peter asks if that kitten was Kirsten's favorite and she nods. Peter, who always liked the biggest and toughest animals, says that the big black and white cat was his favorite. Kirsten asks Peter to make sure the little grey kitten didn't get lost in the grass, but Peter shoved his hands into his pocket like Lars did and says that Missy didn't need help taking care of her kittens. Kirsten wasn't as sure as Peter, and she whispers encouragement to the kitten, promising to return later, before going back to help Aunt Inger.
Chapter Three: Big Enough
Mama calls for Kirsten from the cabin, and Kirsten goes in to see Mama sitting on the edge of the bed, sweating and looking nervous. Mama asks where Papa and Inger were, and Kirsten reminds her Inger was taking a pot of soup to the sick Petersons and Papa and Olav were helping Mr. Person with the planting. Kirsten was confused by the questions, knowing that Mama knew just as well as here that there was a lot of work to do. Kirsten tells her they would both be back by lunch, and asks if something was wrong. Mama invites Kirsten to sit with her, saying that the baby might come sooner then she expected, today even. Kirsten suddenly panics and offers to fetch Aunt Inger, but Mama assures her that she would be back soon, and asks to help her lie down and rest.
Mama laced her fingers through Kirsten's, sharing how the first thing she thought of this morning was the day Kirsten was born. Mormor and Mrs. Hanson, the midwife, had helped her that day and even though Kirsten was red faced with white fuzz for hair, she thought she was beautiful. Mama was happy because she had wanted a daughter so much, and Kirsten puts her head on Mama's shoulder, saying here she was. Mama strokes Kirsten's hair, saying that she was thinking how it would be Kirsten's birthday in two weeks, and that she'd never forget the day Kristen was born. Kirsten is happy Mama hadn't forgotten her birthday, and thinks herself foolish for thinking she ever would have.
Suddenly Mama squeezes Kirsten's hand extra hard, saying that the baby wanted to be born weather they were ready or not. She asks Kirsten to have Lisbeth stay with her while Kirsten fetches Inger and Papa. Kirsten dashes over to their horse Blackie, shouting the news to Lisbeth along the way, and rides off to the Peterson's cabin. Kirsten urged the horse to go faster and pleads for Mama to be alright. She calls for Aunt Inger as she approaches the cabin, and Inger quickly realizes it was Mama's time. Inger ran back home, telling Kirsten over her should where Papa was, and not to worry about Mama as she was strong and healthy. Kirsten was still worried, and she rode quickly over to Papa to tell him the baby was coming. Papa asks if it was that much of a hurry and Kirsten insists it was, handing over the reigns to Blackie. papa tells Kirsten she was good helper, and Uncle Olav wished him good luck as he rode off.
Kirsten wanted to run after him to help Mama, but Olav kindly tells her walking would get them there soon enough. Kirsten was too young to help, so she and Peter would stay at their cabin with Lisbeth and Anna twhere there was still plenty of work to do. At the big house Kirsten had lunch and helped with the chores, but found it difficult to wait on new about Mama and the baby. Uncle Olav tells her babies came when they were ready and they couldn't hurry it by worrying. Kirsten was in the middle of plucking a turkey when Aunt Inger appeared in the cabin's doorway, waving her apron like a flag and smiling. Kirsten and Peter ran to the cabin and Peter trembled as he asked if Mama was alright. Kirsten knew from her Aunt's smile that the news was good, and Aunt Inger invites them to come in and see for themselves.
The two tiptoed in to see Mama lying on the bed, where she invited the two to see their new little sister, who was sleeping in the cradle. Peter softly says that he thought babies would be bigger and Mama ruffles his hair as she tells him babies start out very small, but she was big enough. Peter grins, repeating that she was big enough. Kirsten breathed a sign of relief, suddenly drained of energy after worrying for so long. Mama states there were six of them now and Papa adds that it was another mouth to feed, but he smiled his biggest smile as he said all six of them were safe and well.
Chapter Four: Party Plans
During supper, Peter asks how soon were they going to raise the barn, talking as if he was one of the men. Papa had explained several times how they would raise the barn next week from Thursday, with 9 other men coming along with their families to help him along with Olav and Lars. Kirsten couldn't imagine how the long, heavy beams could be lifted, and it felt like to Kirsten that Papa and Olav could do anything.
Kirsten went to serve some strew to Mama, who was resting in bed with the baby. Mama wasn't strong enough to work for very long, so Kirsten was still doing most of Mama's cores and hadn't been to school lately. Kirsten missed working on the quilt with her friends, and she thought of them daily. Mama mentions how Kirsten's friends from school would be with their families for the barn raising. While this news pleased Kirsten, she didn't see how she'd have time to play with them. Mama continues, saying how the families would stay for the whole day for the barn raising and have a dance after supper. Mama has something to ask Kirsten and Kirsten signs obediently, certain there was more work for her to do.
Mama says since the barn raising was the day before Kirsten's birthday and she had been doing the work of two women recently, she thought she might like to do something special with her friends. Kirsten grabs Mama's hand in disbelief and joy as Mama states Kirsten's 10th birthday should be a day of her own. Kirsten immediately starts thinking up ideas of what she could do for her birthday, and asks if she could run and tell Lisbeth and Anna the news. Papa was about to say something about washing up, but Mama tells Kirsten the dishes could wait.
Kirsten dashed to her cousin's house and tells them about the party. Anna and Lisbeth are excited, and Kirsten suggests they could work on their quilt for Miss Winston. Anna was about to say it wasn't for Miss Winston, but Lisbeth quickly hushes her, saying it would be the perfect chance to work on the quilt. Kirsten says she was way behind the others with her sewing and it didn't seem like she was doing her part, but she hoped to catch up by then.
Anna hugs Kirsten, saying that everyone knew she was busy helping her Mama and it didn't matter. Kirsten says it mattered to her, that she missed the fun of doing it and she missed being with them all. Lisbeth tells Kirsten they could sew as much as she wanted for her party. Anna lets go of Kirsten and hugs herself instead, saying she couldn't wait for the surprise, and Lisbeth clarifies she meant the party. Anna adds she wished she was turning 10 like Kirsten.
Chapter Five: Friends Come Around
Anna tells everyone to pick as many daisies as they can for their daisy chains. All eight girls fanned out across the meadow, and Kirsten took a moment to admire the progress made on the barn raising. Kirsten hoped Missy had kept her kittens out of the way of the workers, and resolves to check on them later. When the girls finished collecting the flowers and making the daisy chains, they sat outside to sew. While Kirsten's square was still incomplete, everyone else's square was done and the group worked to join the squares together. Mary explains this part would go quickly, but Kirsten hoped it didn't go by too fast so she could enjoy talking with her friends.
The girls finish the quilt by the afternoon, and Kirsten notes that it wasn't as large or as heavy as Miss Winston's quilt. Mary explains it was a summer coverlet, as no one had a spare blanket to sew between the layers. Kristen was sure Miss Winston would like it regardless, and Anna tried to hide her giggles. As Mary folded the quilt, Inger calls them in for sweets. Kirsten was about to fetch her Mama, but she came out from the kitchen with a heart shaped cake for Kirsten. Miss Winston pretended to be stern as she ordered everyone to sit in a circle.
Lisbeth wishes Kirsten a happy birthday as she put a flower wreath on Kirsten's head, and Anna sighs that she looked beautiful. As the girls munched on Mama's cake, Inger gave her gift to Kirsten; hair ribbons in Kirsten's favorite color, pink. Mama then gave Kirsten a fancy new apron, and when Kirsten asks how she found the time to make it, Miss Winston whispers to here where there's a will, there's a way. Kirsten asks if she could wear her new gifts to the barn raising dance, and her mother gives her permission.
Mary then stands up and announces they all had something to give to Kirsten, handing her the quilt they had just completed. Kirsten is confused by the gesture, whispering her reminder it was meant for their teacher. Miss Winston smiles as she says one quilt was enough for anyone, and Lisbeth explains they wanted to give it to Kirsten as she had missed the fun of making it. They wanted her to know they didn't forget her, even when she wasn't at school. Anna points out the blank squares as spots they could sign their name so it could be a friendship quilt similar to their teacher's. Miss Winston takes out a pen and ink from her bag, instructing the girls to use their best handwriting, and the girls take turns signing. On the border of the quilt, Miss Winston used her most beautiful writing to write 'For Kirsten Larson on her 10th Birthday'.
The roof beams for the new barn were fully raised by the late afternoon, and once supper was prepared, everyone ate together. Kirsten was almost too happy to be hungry, certain there would never be a ay like this agin. When it grew dark enough to hang up the lanterns, the music started and the dance began. Kirsten was skipping with Anna when Papa asks her to have a birthday dance with him. Kirsten dances the waltz with Papa, and afterwards was excited and dizzy enough to take a break by the wagons.
Kirsten saw Missy moving her kittens to the new barn, but notices the little grey kitten was missing. Kirsten went to the pile of straw where she had seen them all before, and finds the kitten mewing. Missy didn't seem to be coming back for her, and Kirsten wonders if she had given up on her. Kirsten picked up the kitten and snuggled it before putting her into her apron pocket. Kirsten thinks she could care for the kitten, feed it cow's milk and the cat would live and grow up strong.
By the time Kirsten returned to the new barn, the dance was ending and Papa and Uncle Olav where thanking their neighbors and waving goodbye. Kirsten headed to the cabin, where Mama was rocking the baby's cradle. Mama asks if Kirsten was weary, point out how Peter fell asleep in his clothes in an attempt to stay awake. Kirsten sat next to Mama and pulled out the sleeping kitten, stating her plan to feed it. Mama suggests how she could feed the cat, and tomorrow they could see if Missy wanted her little one back.
It was good to be in the quiet cabin with mama, but Kirsten was too excited to sleep. Kirsten put the kitten and the quilt on her lap, and begins to work on the quilt square she hadn't been able to finish. Mama asks what Kirsten planned to do with it. Kirsten ponders a moment before decided to make a quilt for the baby. It would take a long time to make, but she believed she would have it done before the weather got cold again. Mama states that would be a special gift, and Kirsten smiles.
Kirsten, remembering how her mother said she was happy to have a daughter, asks if it was better to have two daughters. Mama kisses Kirsten on the cheek, saying it was good to have two daughters, but she was her only Kirsten, and wishes her a happy birthday.
Looking Back: Growing Up in 1854
Discusses childhood in pioneer America. Topics covered:
- The role midwives played in assisting childbirth on the frontier
- Child mortality due to lack of medicine
- Dangers children faced around their home, such as burning themselves from fire or falling down stairs
- Instilling obedience in children to stay away from dangers - a common technique parents used in lieu of safety measures
- Typical children's clothing of the time - most children dressed in miniature versions of adult clothing
- Children's roles with regards to household operations, from gathering eggs and wood chips for young children to assisting parents around the house and on the field for older children
- Recreation activities and social get-togethers on the frontier to make work fun
- Inexpensive, practical, or homemade presents pioneer children might have received for gifts
- The freedom afforded to pioneer girls to express themselves compared to their mothers
- Societal expectations of girls when they turned fifteen or sixteen
Items associated with Happy Birthday, Kirsten!
- Apron Dress and Daisy Wreath
- Friendship Quilt and Quilt Kit
- Kirsten's Party Treats
- Kirsten's Pottery
- Trestle Table and Chairs
- Mama Cat and Kitten