An original tale based in Czech folklore
The Mushroom Girl
It’s a strange thing that in different countries babies arrive in different ways. In England you will find one under a cabbage leaf. In Flanders and the German states storks bring them and drop them down the chimney. In Bohemia, though, they are found while picking mushrooms!
Czechs love their mushrooms. Mushroom hunting is the national sport, it seems. Mushrooms are everywhere with their lovely, earthy scent: with eggs for breakfast, pickled for lunch, in soups, in gravy with meat, heaped on a plate with a butter sauce. There is even a mushroom wine to be found in some odd places!
Mushrooms bring luck and health and long life, and the Lucky Mushrooms, the Ancient Mothers, (red capped with white spots, amanita muscaria) are even found hanging on Christmas Trees. No, these are not eaten by humans, they will make you very ill, but dried and hung up in the house’s holy corner, they protect from lightning and other sudden ill fortune. The Ancient Mothers are even embroidered into a baby’s blankets or cap or swaddle to ask for their care for the child.
In the Krkonos mountains, mushrooms are everywhere in the dark woods that cover the slopes and yes, the villages have lots of fat and healthy babies.
There was a Husband and Wife living on the edge of a village in those mountains who didn’t have children, not one baby of their own. Although they were the most skilled mushroomers in the village they never found a single baby! They were very unhappy about this.
Now they had a cozy little Chaloupka, (cottage) with a sound chimney, a smoking bench by the door, and flowers in front by the gate. Their barn was weather-tight and they had not just a few goats, but a cow, so they had butter and cheese. They had a flock of chickens and another of ducks, so they had eggs and Christmas dinners. They had fields of wheat and oats and rye and barley, along with their kitchen garden and herb bed, so their pantry and storeroom were full and they had cabbages the whole year. Their smoking shed had sausages and hams and other meats hung up. The spinning wheel and the loom were never silent. The Wife had inherited an interest in the local flour mill and the Husband an interest in the village’s flock of sheep, so they had hearth, and food and clothing to their needs. …but they were unhappy.
They foraged the forest for mushrooms, finding every variety and in plenty, too! In the evenings after hunting through the woods they would clean the mushrooms and string them to dry in the smoking shed. People would come for 100’s of miles to buy their mushrooms, because they were so clean, properly dried so they would store well, and separated by variety, so they could be put to proper use. They had a store of coins from sales of their mushrooms tucked away in a little pot in a niche on the side of the chimney where it would be safe. They even had a little goat cart that they used to take their mushrooms to the city for the Christmas markets…but they were not happy.
…and being unhappy they began to quarrel. They quarreled in the house. They quarreled in the farm yard. They quarreled in the forest. They quarreled in the village. They quarreled in the church. They quarreled while fixing meals. They quarreled while they were eating. They quarreled when they were done. Oh, they quarreled! The villagers started to avoid them. Their own animals would head for the far end of the pasture rather than run to them for food, animals in the forest and the birds would flee. …and still, they kept quarreling.
Now, this was a dry year, too. There hadn’t been as many mushrooms as usual and they had to go farther and farther to fill their baskets. That didn’t help!
One morning after a particularly bitter quarrel, the kind where things are said that can’t be unsaid, the Husband had stomped off into the forest with the mushrooming baskets, leaving the Wife sitting on the smoking bench and weeping into her apron.
She heard a sweet voice out by the gate. “What is the matter, milacku? (little dear one)” Three women in white-embroidered red shawls and white dresses were standing by the gate. The Wife jumped up and said, “Oh, I didn’t see you! Come in, please! Welcome!” The ladies came into the cottage and sat around the small table with her, sipping at hot tea and nibbling kolace (pastries).
When all the hospitable tasks had been done and appreciative words said, the oldest of the women said again, “What is the matter, milacku?” so, the Wife told them what had been happening.
“Well now, that is something that should be fixed. You should have a fat little baby of your own to care for and feed these delicious kolacki to! Don’t despair, ma mila, just be patient and see!”
As they had been talking a strong shower of rain had passed over, leaving everything sparkling in the sun. The Wife saw the ladies to the gate, thanked them, and went to the tasks that she should have been doing instead of quarreling and crying.
The Husband, meanwhile, had hidden from the rain under a large old spruce. When he smelled the rain coming he quickly added some branches crossways to the bottom layer of limbs of the tree and stood under that tiny roof while the rain came through. His baskets sat at his feet, mostly empty, and he rather despaired, because he didn’t want to go home with empty baskets and another excuse for a quarrel!
He sat down, without the energy to keep going and bowed his head. …and sat …and sat….
The forest was coming back to life after the rain. Birds began to sing. Squirrels were chattering in nut trees not far on the other side of the little stream, little thumping sounds of rabbits and other small creatures started up and a baby was crying.
A baby? What? A baby! The Husband hopped to his feet and looked around. He grabbed his baskets and trotted off in the direction of the sound. A baby! He followed the unhappy cries into a large clearing and there he was a fat little baby girl lying in the ferns and flowers and mushrooms! When she saw him her cries turned to coos, and she grabbed for his beard as soon he picked her up which made him chuckle. She was lovely and perfect with dark fuzz and red lips and the palest skin he had ever seen, and all of his angry feelings melted like snow drifts in the spring sun!
He tucked her tenderly into his largest mushroom basket, blanketing her with ferns and little flowers, and hurried home to tell the Wife that they finally had a baby of their own! As he went he noticed that there were suddenly mushrooms all over and he stopped to pick just a few choices ones for supper, while the baby slept.
Home that evening was heaven! He had gotten the little cradle from the depths of the shed where it had been hidden away from a need to quarrel. The Wife had found sheets and blankets and little embroidered gowns from the depths of the chest where they had been hidden from the quarreling. A white-spotted mushroom hung in the holy corner. Their little Mushroom Girl was prettily dressed and wore a tiny bonnet that had the white-spotted red mushrooms embroidered all over it. A pot of spare-ribs and mushrooms and cabbage simmered on the stove, good bread and butter sat on the table, and the Husband and Wife, their quarrels forgotten, took turns holding her and eating their suppers.
Mushrooms were plentiful that season and made up for the dry early year. Visitors brought gifts for the Mushroom Girl and others bought mushrooms and the little pot in the chimney niche filled faster than ever. When they took their wares to the Christmas Market that year, they rented a neighbor’s horse and cart, both so that they baby could ride in a soft featherbed-filled box and to hold their harvest! …and they had to get a larger pot for the chimney niche.
Mushroom Girl grew and she was a sweet and loving as she was pretty. She learned to care for the garden and animals as well as learning the chores of the home. Her hair was long and smooth and as dark as the dark forest. Her lips were the red of the Lucky Mushrooms. Her skin was as pale as the stems of those mushrooms and she was beautiful. Her needle was swift and sure, she loved her books, and her laughter rang through the woods as she helped with the harvest of the mushrooms. She loved her parents dearly, as much as they loved her.
…but the Husband and Wife were getting older. Their lovely daughter had playmates, but none of them were her equal, and as she grew to womanhood it weighed on their hearts. They talked about this one and that and thought about good young men that the cousins might know, but didn’t find one that seemed good to them. The Mushroom Girl seemed content to wait, though, so they didn’t say anything to her for fear of making her discontent.
One day the three ladies in the white gowns with the white-embroidered red shawls came to visit. They brought with them a fine, strong young man, who was a handsome as Mushroom Girl was lovely, and before the kolace were eaten, the two were in love. They married in the church and the young Husband built three more rooms to the Chaloupka: a bedroom for the Old Husband and Old Wife, a bedroom for the Young Husband and the Mushroom Girl, and a larger room for everything else, so that the old living space could be a kitchen only and then a children’s room when that time should come.
…and so they lived, content, in the Krkonos mountain forest, far away.
…and I know this is a true tale, for I danced at their wedding, ate at their table, and drank them a wish for long life in their own beer!
Page created with original story (C)2020 M. Bartlett
Last Update 5/24/20