Ms. Reinhardt, First Grade Teacher at the Charlottesville Waldorf School, shared this story with her class in the first week of our Beyond the Classroom program starting March 23, 2020.
As I was thinking about a story to share with all of you today, I thought back to the time when I was your age, a first grader. When I was six years old, I did not live in this country, but I lived in a country far away. If you were to travel to this country, you would need to cross a big ocean, and if you were to take a boat to embark on that journey, then you would have to sail for many days before you would arrive. The country where I grew up is called Germany, and in the southern part of that country is a beautiful stretch of mountains. These mountains are called the Alps, and they are so big that when you look at them, you think that the tips must touch the clouds, and when you climb to the top of one of the mountains, you get the feeling that you could touch the clouds with your fingertips. In the Alps, there are a great many villages, small villages consisting of not more than maybe 10 or a dozen houses – Can you imagine how small such a village would be? It would be as if your classmates and you would make up one of these small villages. And it is in such a small village that I grew up in. Most people in the village were farmers. They tended the fields so people could have good, nourishing food to eat. Many of them had goats, and sheep, and cows, and they would take them to the meadows to munch juicy grass. And in the evenings, they liked to sit on benches in front of their houses and watch the sun set behind the mountains. Many of the people in the village were old. They had seen many springs, summers, autumns, and winters in their lives, but they were very wise, and they always had a story to tell. And so one evening when I was a little girl, a first grader, this is the story a wise woman told me, while the sun was setting, as we sat together on a bench in front of the farm-house:
Once upon a time in these mountains there lived a miller. This miller was very wealthy, but he had a heavy heart. He was a very stubborn man, and he did not like to share with people at all. Now it so happened that a great drought fell upon the land, and many people did not have enough food to eat. They would come to the miller and beg for just a bit of flour to bake a loaf of bread for their hungry families, but the miller would always say, “No. I will not give you any of my flour.” One day a little gnome came to the miller. You see, many gnomes lived in the Alps, well, still live there today, working with joy and gusto inside the earth. They, too, were hungry, and this gnome begged the miller for just a pinch of flour. Yes, just a pinch. But the miller who had sacks and sacks of flour stacked in his store was truly a stubborn, unkind man and he simply said, “No. I will not give you a pinch of flour.”
Now, this miller had a son. As much as the miller’s heart was filled with stubbornness and greed, his son’s heart was filled with love and compassion, and he always wanted to share with people. The miller’s son took the goats to the pasture every day, and there he would sit with them. When he saw the gnome pass by, leaving the mill looking all sad and droopy, he asked him, “What is the matter little gnome?” Then replied the gnome, “I asked your father for just a pinch of flour, but he would not give it to me.” Then the little boy went to where the flour was stored, and he secretly filled a teensy-tiny little bag with some flour and gave it to the gnome who thanked him kindly and disappeared.
Some time passed, and this drought continued. Even the miller’s store was empty now, and the stubborn miller had become very ill. In fact, he was so ill that his family feared he would not live much longer. One day, as the miller boy was tending the goats, the little gnome appeared to him and said, “Come follow me.” And this the boy did. The gnome walked to a tree, and there in the tree was a magic opening – yes truly, such an opening can only be spied by someone walking through life with an attentive eye. The boy even had to duck down a bit to fit through. But then before him opened such a magical world that you would not believe it! The path was lined with sparkling gemstones in all hues of the rainbow. There were crystals so big that the miller boy had to stand on his tip-toes to see the tops of them. The path led to a mighty hall. This hall was splendidly decorated, and before them stretched out a long table. Around the table many gnomes had gathered, and the table was filled with sweet drinks and so much food – oh the little boy had not seen such a feast ever in his life! The gnomes invited him to come sit at the table with them, and he did, and they invited him to eat and drink with them, which he did, too, and he ate and drank until he was filled. Then there were the loveliest tunes of fiddle music, and they danced and celebrated, and had a mighty time together. Eventually, though, the gnomes disappeared into the mountain, and only the gnome who had led the boy into the mountain remained with him. He gave the miller boy a little stone and said, “Give this to your father.” – Then he led the boy out of the mountain, along the same path they had taken to journey in.
When the boy got back to the meadow, the goats were not there, so he went home. There he was received with great joy. You see, his parents were very worried, because he had been gone for seven days, and the goats had come home without him. Then he told his parents his story and he gave the little stone to his father, and as soon as the father held it, he became well. They kept this stone in the dresser from then on, and they were prosperous and happy together for many, many years. And this is why many people in small villages in the Alps keep a stone of health in the dresser until this day.
And that is the story the way it was told to me many moons ago and how it still lives in my heart today.