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Talking to the animals on the night before Christmas. (photo credit: Lulu, shutterstock)

Aloyzas Baronas and the Christmas harmonica tale

We received an inquiry at Lithuanian Heritage relating to a very short story written by Aloyzas Baronas, about “Kaziuko Armonika.”  The reader wanted to know where one could find more stories like this to read to children about the magical goings on during the night before Christmas, where animals are said to be able to talk.

Aloyzas Baronas. (photo credit: V. Maželis, Biržų krašto muziejus, vikipedija)

Turns out, that the story is titled “Kalėdinė Armonika,” and it is very sweet.  Who was Baronas?  He was born in 1917 in Vabalninkai, Lithuania.  In 1941-43 he studied at the Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania.  He fled during the war to Germany, and then to the U.S. where he got a job as a factory worker.  He helped edit the Draugas newspaper from 1955 onwards, and was later head of the Lithuanian emigree Writers’ Union.  Until his death (in Chicago, 1980), Baronas published a number of novels, novellas, and humorous short stories.  Here for your enjoyment is his short tale about the the Christmas harmonica, first in our own unofficial English translation, and then the original Lithuanian version:

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A HARMONICA FOR CHRISTMAS

Aloyzas Baronas

Translated by J. Daugirdas

These events took place back in Lithuania. Kaziukas was small then and was not yet of school age. He would spend his days playing with his younger sister Elenutė. Some time before Christmas, Kaziukas’ Auntie brought him a gift – a beautiful ball painted with red and green flowers. Auntie warned him, “Kaziuk, you tend to lose your toys. If you manage to not lose this ball that I’m giving you, and don’t puncture or otherwise wreck it, for Christmas I’ll buy you a harmonica. “A real harmonica?” asked Kaziukas. “Yes, indeed,” replied his aunt, “A genuine harmonica, but a smaller one, just your size.”

Kaziukas promised to be good. He obeyed his parents, avoided teasing his sister Elenutė, did not throw any rocks at the rooster, did not pull the cat by its ears, didn’t ride the family dog Margis like a horse, and in general was on his best behavior, as he really needed this harmonica.

But then, just before Christmas, Kaziukas noticed that his ball was gone! He had actually grown tired of playing with the ball, and so it was only just before the holidays that he thought about it. He searched under all the beds and in all the nooks and crannies, but the ball was nowhere to be found! Kaziukas was in a panic. What would happen if Auntie found out that the gifted ball was no more? His Christmas harmonica would never be bought!

Still worrying about his ball, Kaziukas realized that it was Christmas Eve. Everyone was preparing for Christmas, but Kaziukas could focus on only one thought: now he might not be getting his harmonica, if Auntie found out that Kaziukas indeed did not take good care of his presents and toys.

On the day before Christmas, Auntie, speaking with Mom and Dad said, “Tonight, don’t forget to listen to what our horse will say, for on the night before Christmas all animals gain the gift of speech.” Mother said, “You’re joking, of course – I’ve never heard our animals talk!” Auntie was unfazed: “You didn’t hear them because you never listened. They do indeed talk.” “Tonight you’ll be able to listen to them,” smiled Father. “Then you’ll know for sure.”

Everyone laughed, while Kaziukas thought that maybe it would be worthwhile to go to the family dog Margis after nightfall and ask Margis if maybe he saw where his ball was – Margis runs around all over the place, knows a lot, and has a keen sense of smell.

But to get out of bed in the deep of the night – is cold and frightening. Or maybe the cat would talk to him this night? The cat is always lolling about in the kitchen. But who would the cat talk to, as it spends most of its time alone? Although – perhaps the cat could speak to itself, like Auntie sometimes talks to herself? And is a cat an animal? Kaziukas’ mind was going ’round and ’round on this, and finally, he asked his mother, who was busily working around the stove. “Mom, is our cat an animal?” Mother answered while putting something into the oven, “What are you asking? Of course a cat is an animal. A small one, but an animal, nonetheless.”

After the Christmas Eve repast, everyone went to sleep except Kaziukas, who listened and listened. He waited until the clock struck the hour 12 times and then silently, he left his bed. The cold air doused him as if it were water, but on tiptoe he reached the kitchen. Next to the stove gleamed the green eyes of the family cat. It appeared that the cat had been awakened by Kaziukas’ steps. Quietly, Kaziukas bent down and whispered directly into the cat’s ear, “Hey, cat, did you see where my ball went?” But the cat was frightened by Kaziukas’ unexpected moves. It jumped up and swatted Kaziukas’ on the cheek with its paw. Kaziukas recoiled, rubbing his face, which now was quite sore. He tapped the cat on its head and, with a stinging nose, went back to bed. Kaziukas couldn’t fall asleep for quite some time. He was thinking: “I doubt that the cat scratched me deeply. Maybe tomorrow there won’t be any mark.”

In the morning when he arose, Kaziukas found that his parents had already left for church. Kaziukas ran up to a mirror. Indeed, on the right side of his nose there was a red scratch. Kaziukas washed up, and Auntie, when she was serving him and Elenutė breakfast, noticed his scraped-up face: “Where did you scratch your nose? Now you’ve done it. During the holidays you will be all scratched up!”

Crying, Kaziukas told a fib: “I picked up the cat this morning to carry it, and it scratched me.”
“Don’t cry,” comforted Auntie. Look, even Elenutė is laughing. By the way, here’s a harmonica for you. I would have given it to you last night, but I thought that you would spend the night playing it. Your nose will heal. Today is the birthday of Jesus Christ, a holiday of peace, so we need to forgive the cat. If people would all be kind, then there would be happiness for all and everywhere, just like during Christmas. And Santa will be bringing a nice doll for Elenutė.”

Kaziukas had lost his appetite. He tried to play the harmonica, and when Auntie left to go into another room either to sleep or to pray, he played the harmonica loud. Beautiful tones flew from the gleaming little box, and Kaziukas was very happy. Elenutė also liked his playing and listened with her thumb in her mouth. Margis the dog awoke to the racket and started to whine and claw at the door. Kaziukas let the dog outside and resumed mouthing his harmonica. The cat, leaving some milk unlapped on the chair, quitely slipped under the bed. “Maybe it saw something there?” Kaziukas wondered, and he, too, crawled under the bed. There he saw the cat, with paws pulled in, as if it were cold. Kaziukas was thinking of popping back out from under the bed, but just then he saw, lodged under one of the feet of the bed, his lost ball. Joyfully, Kaziukas pulled the ball free, threw it into the center of the room, and in his excitement, started to play his harmonica even louder.

Mom and Dad returned and chided Kaziukas about his scratched nose, and then they all began to talk about Kūčios and Christmas. Kaziukas chimed in, “And animals do talk during the night before Christmas.” “How do you know this?” asked his father. As the no-longer-lost ball was now found, and the harmonica was in hand, Kaziukas felt free to recount how, having gotten up in the dead of night, he had asked the cat about the ball, and about how today the cat had crawled under the bed to direct him to where the missing ball was.” But his father had a different explanation: “You must have scared the animals with your playing. Margis ran from you to go outside the house, and the cat hid under the bed just to be away from your playing.” “Still,” Auntie steadfastly proclaimed, “animals do talk during the night before Christmas.” But at that point no one was listening, as all had finished eating, Father was reading the newspaper, and Mother was clearing the table. Elenutė fell asleep in her bed, embracing her new doll, and Kaziukas – he was now mad at the cat – why was it hiding under the bed in order to escape Kaziukas’ playing? Kaziukas would like to have caught the cat and penned him in a corner and forced it to listen to his playing right next to its ear, but he remembered that Auntie had insisted that the cat be forgiven for scratching his nose. Kaziukas decided to forgive the cat for both the scratch on his nose and for its unwillingness to listen to his playing.

Kaziukas perched on a chair next to the window and fixed his gaze outside, where all was quiet and joyful. Kaziukas thought and thought: why couldn’t people be good to one another all the time, and why couldn’t all days be like Christmas, so that every day he would be able to play his new harmonica.

KALĖDINĖ ARMONIKA

Tai buvo dar Lietuvoj. Kaziukas buvo mažas, nevaikščiojo į mokyklą ir žaidė namie su seseria Elenute, kuri buvo dar mažesnė ūž jį. Kaziukui prieš Kalėdas teta padovanojo raudonom ir žaliom gėlytėm dažytą gražų sviedinį ir pasakė: – Tu, Kaziuk, viską išmėtai. Jei iki Kalėdų nepamesi sviedinio, nepradursi jo arba nesudraskysi ir jei visada būsi geras, aš tau Kalėdoms nupirksiu armoniką. – Tikrą armoniką? – paklausė Kaziukas. – Visai tikrą, – atsakė teta, – visai tikrą, tik nedidelę. Kaip tik tau.

Kaziukas pažadėjo būti geras. Jis klausė tėvelių, neskriaudė sesers Elenutės, nemetė gaidžio akmenėliais, netampė katino už ausų, nejojo ant šuns Margio ir iš viso elgėsi gerai, nes jam labai reikėjo armonikos.
Bet visai prieš Kalėdas Kaziukas žiūri, kad nebėra sviedinio. Juo žaisti jau buvo nusibodę, ir todėl tik prieš šventes sviedinio pasigedo. Išieškojo visus palovius ir kertes, bet niekur nerado. Ir Kaziukas išsigando: „O kas bus, jei teta pamatys, kad nėra sviedinio ir nenupirks armonikos?”

Taip jam besirūpinant, atėjo Kūčių diena. Visi ruošėsi Kalėdom, o Kaziuką kankino rūpestis: tikriausiai jis nebegaus armonikos, jei teta sužinos, kad Kaziukas dovanotų daiktų nesaugo.

Kūčių dieną teta, bekalbėdama su mamyte ir tėveliu, pasakė: – Šiąnakt neužmirškite pasiklausyti, ką pasakys mūsų bėris, nes Kūčių naktį.visi gyvuliai kalba. – Juokai, niekas niekada nėra girdėjęs, – pasakė mamytė. – Neklausė – tai negirdėjo, o vis tiek kalba, – nenusileido teta. – Šiąnakt galėsite pasiklausyti, – nusišypsojo tėvelis, – tada tikrai sužinosit.

Visi nusijuokė, o Kaziukas pagalvojo, ar neverta būtų naktį nueiti pas šunį Margį ir paklausti, ar kartais nematė sviedinio. Jis visur laksto, daug žino ir gerai užuodžia.

Bet naktį keltis ir šalta, ir baisu. O gal kartais katinas naktį kalbės? Jis visada guli virtuvėj. Bet su kuo kalbės katinas, jei jis vienas? O kartais gali ir vienas kalbėti, nes Kaziukas girdėjo tetą kartais vieną kalbančią. Bet kažin, ar katinas gyvulys? Taip begalvodamas, Kaziukas paklausė apie krosnį besitriūsiančios mamytės: – Mamyt, ar katinas gyvulys? – Na, kas čia dabar? Aišku, kad gyvulys. Mažas, bet vis tiek gyvulėlis, – atsakė mamytė, kažką dėdama ant krosnies.

Kai po Kūčių visi sumigo, Kaziukas ilgai klausėsi. Jis palaukė, kol laikrodis išmušė dvylika kartų, ir tada tyliai iššoko iš lovos. Šaltas oras perpylė jį kaip vandeniu, bet jis vis tiek, pirštų galais eidamas, pasiekė virtuvę. Prie krosnies švietė žalios katino akys. Matyt, jį pabudino Kaziuko žingsniai. Kaziukas tylomis pasilenkė ir pasakė katinui tiesiog į ausį: – Katinėli, ar nematei mano sviedinio? Katinas išsigando taip netikėtai Kaziuko užkluptas, pašoko ir koja gribštelėjo jam per skruostą. Kaziukas pašoko atgal, ranka perbraukdamas per veidą, kuris labai perštėjo. Jis sudavė ranka katinui per galvą ir su perštinčia nosimi atsigulė. Kaziukas negreit begalėjo užmigti. Jo galvoje buvo mintis: kažin, ar labai įdrėskė? Gal rytoj rytą jokio ženklo nebebus?

Kai rytą Kaziukas atsikėlė, tėveliai buvo išvažiavę į bažnyčią. Kaziukas skubiai nubėgo prie veidrodžio. Tikrai, dešinėj pusėj nosies buvo raudonas brėžis. Kaziukas nusiprausė, o teta, kai padėjo jam ir Elenutei pusryčius, pamatė Kaziuko sudraskytą veidą ir paklausė: – Kur nosį nusibraižei? Tai vaikas. Būsi per šventes apsidraskęs.

Kaziukas verkdamas pamelavo: – Katiną šiandien rytą paėmiau panešiot, ir sudraskė. – Neverk, – tarė teta, – žiūrėk, net Elenutė juokiasi, štai tau armonika. Vakar būčiau atidavus, bet, sakau, grosi per naktį. Nosis sugis. Šiandien gimė Jėzus, taikos šventė, tai reikia ir katinui atleisti. Jei visi žmones būtų geri, tai visiems ir visada būtų gera, kaip per Kalėdas. O Elenutei Kalėdų senis atnešė lėlę.

Kaziukas net valgyti nebenorėjo. Jis pabandė groti, o kai teta išėjo į kitą kambarį miegot ar melstis, pradėjo labai stipriai traukti (groti) armoniką. Gražūs garsai skrido iš tos blizgančios dėžutės, ir Kaziukui buvo labai smagu. Elenutei irgi labai patiko; ir ji, įsikišusi į bumą pirštą, klausėsi Kaziuko grojimo. Tik Margis pabudo–ir pradėjo cypdamas draskyti duris. Kaziukas jį išleido laukan ir vėl grojo. Katinas, palikęs ant kėdės neišlaktą pieną, palindo palovin. – Kažin ką tas katinas ten pamatė? – pasakė Kaziukas ir palindo po lova. Katinas tupėjo susitraukęs, lyg jam būtų šalta. Kaziukas norėjo lįsti atgal, bet žiūri, kad už vienos lovos kojos užsispraudęs guli sviedinys. Kaziukas jį ištraukė, išmetė vidurin kambario ir iš to džiaugsmo dar labiau pradėjo groti.

Kai grįžo namo tėveliai ir apibarė Kaziuką už apdraskytą nosį, vėl visi pradėjo kalbėti apie Kūčias ir Kalėdas, Kaziukas tarė: – O aš žinau, kad gyvuliai kalba Kūčių naktį. – Iš kur tu žinai? – paklausė tėvelis.
Kadangi sviedinys buvo atsiradęs, ir armonika buvo jau gauta, Kaziukas įsidrąsinęs papasakojo, kaip naktį atsikėlęs, kaip klausė katino, ir kaip šiandien katinas, palindęs po lova, parodė sviedinį. – Išsigandęs tavo muzikos, Margis išbėgo lauk, ir katinas palindo palovin nuo tavo grojimo, – nusijuokė tėvelis. – Vis tiek gyvuliai, kalba, – pasakė teta, bet niekas nebeklausė, nes visi baigė valgyti, tėvelis skaitė laikraštį, o mamytė kraustė nuo stalo indus. Elenutė užmigo lovoj apsikabinusi naują lėlę, o Kaziukas pyko ant katino, kam šis rodosi labai daug nusimanąs muzikoj ir lenda į palovį pasislėpti nuo puikaus grojimo. Kaziukas norėjo pasigauti katiną, uždaryti į kertę ir groti jam ilgai prie pat ausų, bet atsiminęs, kad teta liepė atleisti katinui už apdraskytą nosį, Kaziukas nutarė atleisti ir už muzikos nesiklausymą.

Kaziukas atsitūpė ant kėdės prie lango ir žiūrėjo į lauką. Buvo tylu ir labai gera. Kaziukas tik negalėjo suprasti, kodėl žmonės negali visą laiką būti vienas kitam geri, kad visada būtų Kalėdos, ir jis visada galėtų groti nauja armonika.