Castles and Cookies
Agatha Harrington looked out the window of the airplane and saw a long river winding its way below.“That must be the Rhine River!” she whispered to her thirteen-year-old cousin Maxine Murphy who was sitting beside her.
“I can’t wait to see the pictures you will paint, Agatha,” Maxine confided to her older cousin. “Did you bring your art supplies?”
“Of course, I did,” whispered Agatha quietly. “I wouldn’t miss the chance to sketch the castles on the Rhine. Some of them were built in the 1300s. Can you imagine that?” Agatha said with awe. She looked back down at the scenery below and smiled. Agatha, who had just turned sixteen, had always loved to sketch and paint. Thanks to some art lessons that her aunt suggested she take, she had become a very talented artist.
The girls were nearing the end of their seven-hour flight from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany with the other members of their family. Jane, the youngest Murphy, was sleeping soundly across the aisle, and Simon Murphy, was sitting next to her. Jane had been so excited for their big adventure she had barely slept the night before. Now, sleeping on the shoulder of her older brother Simon, she had missed the small breakfast the flight attendants were busy cleaning up.
Maxine looked over at her sleeping six-year-old sister and said, “Jane must be really tired because she didn’t even wake up to eat!”
At that moment, ten-year-old Simon Murphy opened his eyes and smiled at Maxine and his cousin Agatha. “Are we there yet?” he asked them.
Suddenly, Jane stirred and opened her eyes. Then, stretching her arms, she said sleepily, “Hey, isn’t that what I am supposed to ask?” They all laughed.
It felt good to laugh, Agatha thought to herself. Her mom and dad had passed away a few years ago, and she now lived with her mom’s sister Kate Murphy. Kate was a famous architect who had taken on a big architectural project in Germany. She had left two weeks earlier to get everything set up for the children before they arrived. Even though Agatha was sixteen now, she still liked being “one of the children.” Kate had only been gone for two weeks, but it felt like much longer. Agatha loved her aunt dearly. She was also fond of Andrew, Kate’s husband and the children’s father. He worked as an archeologist and loved telling tall tales about his discoveries. He always entertained them with elaborate and, Agatha suspected, exaggerated stories that went along with the artifacts he discovered. Unfortunately, he was on a dig in Egypt and couldn’t join the family in Germany right away.
“I hope that Mom likes working in Frankfurt,” Maxine said, taking Agatha away from her thoughts.
“Kate would get along anywhere just fine because she is kind and makes friends quickly,” Agatha returned, reassuring her younger cousin.
“That’s true, and she is used to meeting new people. Her job always takes her to new places. It’s too bad that Dad couldn’t come with her this time, though,” Maxine said.
“I can’t wait to hear the stories your dad is going to tell when he joins us in two months. I bet we hear a few whoppers,” Agatha said, laughing.
On the other side of the aisle, Simon was busy making sure Jane was ready to get off the plane. “Make sure your toys and books are put away in your carry-on, Jane,” he said to his younger sister.
“Ok, but I want to keep my money out so I can buy something to eat. I’m starving!”
Simon laughed, “You did miss breakfast, Janey. We should be able to find you something at the airport.” He was only ten, but Simon felt responsible for his younger sister. He often took on a protective role towards her. “It’s a good thing we thought to get some euros at the bank before leaving. I read in my travel guidebook that exchanging dollars for euros at the airport can be expensive.” Simon loved to read and do research on anything and everything. His classmates at school teased him for being so eager, but he didn’t care. He liked learning, and he especially liked being prepared.
The plane touched down in Frankfurt, and the children waited patiently for their turn to get off. Since they sat in the second to last row of seats, theirs was a long wait. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, it was the children’s turn to take their luggage out of the overhead storage bins.
As Agatha and Maxine struggled to remove their suitcases from the small space, Simon noticed a tall older woman behind them attempting to remove her luggage from the compartment in the last row. “May I help you take your suitcase down?” Simon asked her politely. Although he was shy by nature, he never let it get in the way of helping others.
The woman had long gray hair braided loosely down her back. She wore a bright yellow summer dress and said gratefully in a strong German accent, “Oh my, yes. Thank you, dear.”
He helped the woman take down her metal case and noticed that it had many interesting stickers of castles on it. “I love the stickers on your case. My family and I have just moved to Germany. I hope we can visit as many castles as possible while we’re here.”
The woman smiled warmly and pointed to a beautiful sticker as she said, “You must come to my family’s castle on the Rhine River. We run a very nice little hotel there.”
He drew in his breath and exclaimed louder than he meant to, “We can spend the night in the castle? That would be amazing!” The woman pulled a piece of paper from her purse, scribbled something on it, and handed it to Simon. He took it and read aloud, “Mouse Castle in St. Goarshausen.”
“When you have settled in, you must come for a visit. I will personally take you on a tour of our castle, and I am sure my grandchildren would welcome the company. They are learning English in school and like to practice whenever they can.”
Simon assured the kind woman they would contact her and turned to his siblings and cousin waiting patiently for him. He smiled broadly and started, “This woman,” but then he stopped. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. My name is Simon Murphy, and these are my sisters, Maxine and Jane. This is my cousin, Agatha.”
“My name is Ingrid. Ingrid Meyer. It is so lovely to meet such polite and helpful children.”
Jane, who had tried to wait her turn, jumped in, “I heard you say that you live in a castle! Do you have scary things there? Are you a princess? Can we come see it?” Everyone laughed at her rapid series of questions.
“Well, I don’t think they are scary, but we certainly have many old things,” Ingrid answered. “I would be so happy if you came to visit. I’d love to show you our medieval artifacts. Do you like suits of armor, swords, and antique coins, Jane?”
“Oh boy, do I ever!” Jane said enthusiastically. The rest of her family looked at her skeptically, so she flashed them a mischievous grin. “Well, I mean, I think I do. I guess I don’t really know too much about anything medval,” she said, mispronouncing the word.
“Medieval,” corrected Simon quickly.
“Well, then it is settled. You must come for a visit so I can make sure that you learn something about medieval history while you’re here in Germany. I can even show you some very rare coins that my family has collected over the years. I hope to see you children soon, but I really must be going. My family will be waiting for me,” said Ingrid. The children and Ingrid said their goodbyes and made their way off the airplane.
It didn’t take long for Jane to remember her empty stomach. “Oh Agatha, can we stop at that bakery stand over there and get one of those yummy-looking pastries? And maybe one of those cake things with apple chunks on it? And…” she said trailing off.
“Ok, ok, Jane,” said Agatha laughing. “You may pick out something for each of us, and we can all share. That way, we can try more things.” Agatha pulled out her book of German phrases, which luckily included the pronunciation of each word. She told the girl behind the counter that they would like some pastries. Jane pointed at each baked good that she wanted to have, and the girl put it in a big brown bag with the bakery logo.
After Jane had finished choosing the fourth pastry the bakery employee pointed to a small cookie and said, “I would like to suggest you try these Frankfurter Bethmännchen. It is a traditional cookie of the region and quite tasty.”
Jane looked at the tiny little dumpling of a cookie. It was golden brown and decorated with almond slivers. She tried to say the word just like the girl behind the counter, “Beth...Beth, oh, I forget how it goes!” The girl took some time to help Jane with her pronunciation, and after a few tries, she could say it perfectly. Jane looked at Agatha hopefully.
“Thank you for the suggestion,” Agatha said to the girl. “We will take five of them.” And then, just to Jane, she said quietly, “One for each of us and your mom.”
After they had paid and thanked the girl again, they turned to leave the bakery stand. At that moment, they accidentally collided with a man wearing a dark brown suit and a brown fedora hat. The man had been carrying a briefcase with one hand and holding a small-sized box in the other. The box toppled to the floor in the collision, but Jane was quick to bend down and pick it up. She was about to hand it back to its owner when the man snatched it rudely out of her hands and shouted, “Why don’t you watch where you are going? Don’t touch that! You could have ruined everything! Silly children!” With that, he stalked off in a huff.
Agatha and Jane looked at each other in surprise. Agatha thought to herself, I wonder why he said we could ruin everything. We don’t even know the man. What could we have possibly ruined by bumping into him accidentally? Strange. She was about to share her thoughts with Jane when Simon and Maxine came over.
“That didn’t look like a very friendly interaction. What happened?” asked Maxine curiously.
So, Agatha recounted what had just happened, “As Jane and I turned around and started walking away from the bakery stand, the man was walking behind us. We didn’t see him or that he was carrying a box. When we bumped into each other, the box fell down. There must be something very precious inside because the outside of the box was covered in stickers that said ‘fragile’ and ‘handle with care.’”
“What does fragile mean?” asked Jane.
“It means that something could break easily, and you should be careful when you touch it,” said Simon to his younger sister.
“Well, I don’t think he was very nice to us. We didn’t mean to bump into his box, and we aren’t silly children,” Jane said in a hurt tone.
Simon put his arm around his sister, “Don’t worry about it, Jane. It was an accident, and accidents happen. Besides, we have nicer things to think about right now. I am sure Mom is already waiting for us at the international arrivals gate.”
Jane’s eyes brightened immediately, “Yeah, you’re right! Let’s go find Mom!”
The children put on their backpacks and started walking towards the customs line. They quickly made it past the customs officials and were wished a pleasant stay in Germany. Next, the children headed towards the baggage claim and waited for their big suitcases to appear on the conveyor belt. Finally, the children collected their luggage and made their way out of the security area and into the Frankfurt International Airport.
“Children! Over here!” said a pretty brown-haired woman waving her hands back and forth.
“Mom!” the three Murphy children yelled in unison.
“Kate!” added Agatha.
They each took turns hugging her, inquiring about her work and how she liked Germany so far. She barely had time to answer each question before a new one came up. She laughed, and her eyes twinkled. Kate Murphy was happy to see her family again.
“Ok, ok, kids. There will be enough time for all your questions when we get home. Well, our home for the next few months anyway. Let’s get a few carts for your luggage and get on the road. I have a surprise for you,” Kate said, winking at Jane. At that moment, Kate noticed the brown bakery bag Jane had clutched to her chest.
“I have a surprise for you, Mom!” said Jane beaming. “Agatha and I bought some delicious pastries when we got off the plane. We even ordered them in German!”
The children found some carts for their luggage and followed Kate to the car. They could hardly believe their German adventure had begun.