—Grandpa, is the Pung-Pelle story a true story?
—Yes, it’s true, but it happened a long time ago.
—You mean old true is not the same as new true?
—Clever girl …
—I want to hear the Pung-Pelle story again, Grandpa.
—How about something else tonight — like Pippi or Duktiga Annika?
—No, I want to hear about Pung-Pelle and the mysterious trunk.
—OK, but then it’s lights-out, no arguments.
—I promise, Grandpa.
—So … many years ago on the island of Gotland there were two farmers who were brothers. Their names were Lars and Anders and their farms, Sigsarve and Dyngarve, were located on opposite sides of the island — a three hour walk if you didn’t have a horse. Sigsarve-Anders and Dyngarve-Lars were no-nonsense farmers, silent types who minded their own business.
—Weren’t they our relatives, Grandpa?
—Sort of. Everyone on Gotland is related if you go back far enough. Anyhow, Sigsarve-Lars had a dräng whose name was Per, but who everyone called Pung-Pelle.
—Why did everyone call him Pung-Pelle?
—No one knows, Sara. That was just his nickname. And every Sunday morning, whatever the weather, Sigsarve-Lars would have Pung-Pelle pick up a trunk to take to his brother at Dyngarve on the other side of the island — a trunk like the one Grandmother keeps linen in.
—Only this was a mysterious trunk, Grandpa. Because nobody in all of southern Gotland knew what was in it …
—Except for the brothers, of course.
— And nobody in all of Southern Gotland knew why Lars sent the mysterious trunk to his brother every week. Even Pung-Pelle was never told why he had to cary that trunk.
—Sara, you should be telling this story to me.
—Grandma’s trunk is heavy, Grandpa. I can’t make it budge.
—Yes, but Pung-Pelle was very strong on account of all the farm work he had to do. And before he hoisted that trunk up on his shoulders, Lars would give him a sup.
—Because a sup makes us stronger — just like dunderhonung.
—No, it doesn’t. Not like dunderhonung. But a sup now and then can help grown-ups forget how hard life can be. The life of a dräng was no picnic in those days . . . where was I?
—You were telling how Pung-Pelle is going to take the trunk to Lars’ brother, Dyngarve-Anders, on the other side of the island.
—Right. So, Pung-Pelle hoists that heavy trunk up on his back and heads off to Dyngarve with it as he does every Sunday.
—And that’s when Sigsarve-Lars starts laughing?
—Yes, as soon as Pung-Pelle was out of sight Sigsarve-Lars would have a real good laugh.
—Grandpa, the Russian Czar only laughed twice in his life. Once when his mother-in-law died, and the second time when he saw the fortress our king had built to keep his Russian soldiers from attacking Stockholm.
—You’re side-tracking, Sara. Anyhow, Sigsarve-Lars would laugh until the tears rolled down his cheeks and he would have to take a sup to keep from choking.
—And he usually never laughed.
— Right. And everyone Pung-Pelle passed on his way to Dyngarve would wonder what was in that trunk and why the brothers were having Pung-Pelle take it back and forth across the island.
—But it was a secret.
—Yes. And when Pung-Pelle got to Dyngarve he would set down that heavy trunk on Dyngarve-Anders’ porch and Dyngarve-Anders would just nod, which was his way of saying, good job, Pung-Pelle, for Anders was even more sparse with his words than his brother, Lars.
—Sparse means, like, stingy, doesn’t it, Grandpa?
—Was Dyngarve-Anders more sparse with his words than Uncle Åke?
—Your Uncle Åke is a regular blabbermouth compared to Dyngarve-Anders, who is said to have never uttered more than 900 words, total, in his whole life.
—Keep going, Grandpa.
—So, now that Dyngarve-Anders had received the trunk he would point with his thumb to the back of his house, which meant that Pung-Pelle was to walk around to where Maja-Lisa lived for a bowl of gruel and a sup to gain back strength so that he could return with the trunk to Sigsarve.
—Because he had to take that trunk back to Lars the very same day, Grandpa — as soon as Anders was done with it. And it was just as heavy.
—Yup. Because, you know as well as I do, Anders never once opened it.
—He just sat there looking at it and laughing.
—That’s right, And after Pung-Pelle was strengthened by the gruel, and the sup, and sometimes a rubdown from Maja-Lisa, he returned to Anders’ porch, and without a word between them, Pung-Pelle would shoulder that trunk and begin the long journey back to Sigsarve.
—And as soon as he was out of sight?
—As soon as Pung-Pelle was out of sight, Dyngarve-Anders would start laughing so that he could hardly stop.
—He had to take a sup to stop laughing, too?
—I don’t know that, Sara. I don’t think Anders drank.
—Didn’t Pung-Pelle ever complain about having to carry the heavy trunk back and forth, Grandpa?
—Pung-Pelle was a dräng and a dräng did what he was told to do.
—They were slaves?
—Not exactly — but almost . . . and if it was winter it could be dark by the time Pung-Pelle got back to Sigsarve, but Lars would be waiting for him just the same. And after Pung-Pelle had put the trunk down, he’d get sent off to the barn where he slept and Sigsarve-Lars would have another good laugh.
—What was in the trunk, Grandpa?
—Ha. You know very well what was in that trunk, Sara.
—But I like it when you tell me, Grandpa.
—There was nothing in there but a bunch of rocks. That’s all there ever was in that trunk, just useless rocks. And Pung-Pelle had been sent back and forth between those two farms carting those rocks for as long as anyone could remember.
—And the rocks were for nothing?
—Nothing at all.
—Why was it so funny to make Pung-Pelle carry that heavy trunk with useless rocks for no reason at all?
—Anders and Lars were playing a gotländsk prank on Pung-Pelle. I suppose they thought he was so dumb strutting back and forth across the island thinking he was carrying out some important business, and that was funny for them.
—Sigsarve-Lars and Dyngarve-Anders were really cruel. We have mean and cruel relatives.
—Maybe they didn’t know any better?
—But Pung-Pelle wasn’t as dumb as they thought. That’s the best part of the story, Grandpa.
—No, Pung-Pelle was smarter than most people realized. The trunk was locked, and only Lars had the key, but Pung-Pelle had a chicken bone collection with which he could open any lock on Gotland, and he had opened that trunk the very first day when he was off in the woods where no one could see him. When he found out there was just rocks in there he emptied them out right away, and carried that empty trunk across the island, laughing about how dumb those two farmers were thinking they could fool him. When he got close to Dyngarve, he filled the trunk with new rocks and dropped them on Lars’ doorstep before going in and getting his gruel, and his sup, and a rubdown from Maja-Lisa.
—Good for Pung-Pelle, Grandpa. Now I want to hear about the Singing Rabbit.