Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cloud Shoes

When my four sisters, my brother and I, were young, in 1957 to be exact, we were given a book as a gift from our Tante Rachel Due, who lived in Manhattan.

Tante is Danish for "aunt." Though my mother's family was very small, they had several close family friends who, though not blood relatives, were given the title, Tante.

Tante Rachel was one of those. We children came to know her when she visited our home in Minnesota. She presented us with the book during her visit.

Tante Rachel had a dear friend from her native Norway, Borghild Dahl. Ms. Dahl was the author of several children's books; among them, The Cloud Shoes.

All of her stories were delightful, most set in her homeland of Norway.

Besides inventing captivating tales and enchanting Norwegian legends of trolls and elves, Ms. Dahl was a remarkable woman, graduating from the University of Minnesota, then receiving a Master's degree from Columbia University. She taught literature and journalism at Augustana College. She was decorated with the Medal of Saint Olaf by the King of Norway.

But there was one thing she did not possess: her eyesight.

She typed her manuscripts on an old Braille typewriter. The kind with round keys, a cloth ribbon, a black roller carriage, and a manual carriage return. No, it was not electric.

Can you even imagine such a thing? No delete key? No insert key? No memory? No backup and restore?

My mother tells the story of a time when Ms. Dahl had worked laboriously for days on end, with little rest, to meet a story deadline. She typed, and typed, and typed, and typed some more. I imagine she typed carefully, as well, with the absence of the above-mentioned keys.

When she finished, she handed over the manuscript for publication.
Only she hadn't realized there was no ribbon in the typewriter.
I can't begin to fathom that degree of disappointment. The story told by my mother ends here. But Ms. Dahl's stories live on in the hearts of children around the world.

The Cloud Shoes is an enchanting tale of a king and queen in Norway during a time of famine. The king promised his people he would do anything to save them.

This led him on a hopelessly difficult journey to bargain with the dwarf of Trond Mountain, aided only by a pair of baffling "cloud shoes" to help him jump off a mountain peak. The "cloud shoes" would become the first pair of skis to be used in Norway.

I managed to find an old used copy of this book for sale. I leafed through its musty pages and I was suddenly a child again.

I'm going to continue to search for the books of my childhood. Maybe I'll get lucky and find The Bobbsey Twins . Or Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. Or even Boxcar Children. Or Black Beauty. Or....