December 10, 1924
Walter threw open the heavy, dark-paneled front door shouting, “Howdy, partner!” in his best American accent.
“Look at my cowboy hat. My uncle sent it to me all the way from California! You’re late. We didn’t think you were coming. I already opened some of my presents! Come and see what I got! These are my friends from school … and this is my mother and…”
“Walter, for goodness sake, stop, let him come in!” Frau Less stepped forward. Hans had always been a bit afraid of her. She seemed so stern, so unlike Walter’s father, who always had a laugh and a smile for everyone. But now she was smiling, too.
“Guten Tag, Hans,” she said, formally shaking his hand. “We’re very glad you could come. Let me take your coat and hat.”
As Hans clumsily handed her his coat, he removed his gift from his pocket and hid it behind his back. He was glad he had worn his Sunday church clothes, especially his best dark-blue sweater. His mother had knitted it for him as a Christmas present two years ago. He noticed the other boys staring at him. They probably wished they had a sweater like his, he concluded.
Not knowing what to do next, Hans glanced around the spacious living room. The beautifully patterned Oriental rug filling the center of the room was soft beneath his feet, even with shoes on. A large, dark-red sofa and three intricately embroidered armchairs were placed around the room. Family photographs were displayed on a beautifully carved cabinet containing a radio. A phonograph stood in front of a bookcase filled with records and what were clearly hundreds of books. On a desk stacked with papers, there was something else Hans had never seen in a house before, a telephone!
In the center of the dining room, a linen-covered table with silver candlesticks was piled high with cookies, candy and a birthday cake. A bag containing two different kinds of chocolate was at each place setting. There were small round pieces stamped with the shapes of chimney sweeps, clovers and soldiers; and thick strips of dark chocolate, Borkenschokolade, that looked just like tree bark.
“Look what I got, Hans!” Walter exclaimed. I got a coloring book and colored pencils; new stamps for my collection from my brother; a chess set from my sister; some books; and look out the window! It’s a wagon from Mama and Papa! You get in it and pump it to make it go! What did you bring me?”
“Walter!” Frau Less shook her head and sighed in dismay, “Don’t be so impolite!”
“I was just asking!” Walter turned back to Hans, an expectant grin on his face.
This was the moment. Slowly, Hans brought his gift from behind his back, cupping a beautiful orange in his hands. It almost seemed to glow. He couldn’t even imagine what it must taste like. But with so many other wonderful gifts from Walter’s family and friends, how would his compare? For a moment, he hesitated, then held it out for everyone to admire.
“Happy birthday, Walter! I hope you like it. I bought it just for you! And,” he couldn’t help adding proudly, “with my own money!” He placed it carefully in Walter’s hands.
Walter looked down, turning the orange over and over. “But it’s just…” Walter began, sounding a bit puzzled.
Hans thought he probably had never eaten an orange either. He heard the other guests whispering to each other.
“It’s just the best gift you’ve ever received!” exclaimed Frau Less, finishing Walter’s sentence and bestowing a huge smile on Hans.
She clapped her hands together and then cast a quick, sharp glance at the other boys. They looked at each other and immediately grew quiet. Frau Less took her son by the hand. Together they placed the orange on the long table directly in front of the birthday cake. She whispered something to Walter. He listened, smiled, and then nodded in Hans’ direction.
“This is the place of honor for the most special gift,” he announced in an important voice. “Mutti says it has some magic! She’ll explain it to me later. Come on, everyone, let’s have some cake. Hans, you sit next to me!”
Soon, all the boys were laughing and talking with mouths full of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a cake layered with chocolate and cherry filling.
Hans’ head was spinning. Everything was happening all at once! He was sitting next to his friend, and he had bought the best gift with his own money! Frau Less had even given him a hug. He couldn’t have been happier than if it was his own birthday.