open quote     Each of you with your stories will light small candles. And who knows what flames take fire from your candle?    close quote  
 
Margaret Read MacDonald

The Magic Pumpkins

There were once two brothers, Yura and Mikhailo, who grew up in a poor family and knew nothing save need and want.

The time came for them to marry, and Yura, the elder of the two, knowing that she was rich, took an old maid to wife while Mikhailo, the younger brother, married a poor young orphan.

Luck ran against Mikhailo. He had only his bare hands to work the land with and was very poor indeed. Before they married the brothers had been friends, but now their ways parted. One day they quarreled and Yura, who became very angry, told Mikhailo never to set foot in his house again.

Spring came, and Mikhailo did not have enough seeds for even one vegetable bed. He thought of the coming winter and felt very sad and crestfallen.

“What shall I do, wife?” he asked her. “I’ll have to go and ask Yura to help me.”

“Go, husband,” said the wife. “Who knows perhaps he will be kind to you this time!”

His mind made up, Mikhailo went to see his brother. He came to his house and began telling him how badly things had turned out for him, but Yura refused to listen to him.

“Don’t you remember what I told you? Get out of my house!” he shouted.

Mikhailo went home, and he was even more sad than before.

“Well, what did Yura say?” his wife asked him.

“He turned me out and would not give me even one little seed. So what are you and I going to plant, wife?”

“Don’t worry, who knows how things may yet turn out!” his wife said, trying to comfort him.

Spring passed, and summer arrived.

Mikhailo’s hut was small, but there were a great many swallows’ nests under its roof. One day a gust of wind sent the baby birds toppling out of the nests and killed all, but one survived. The bird’s leg was broken, and Mikhailo, who had seen the bird fall, picked it up, tied a little twig to the injured leg and after a while the leg had healed, Mikhailo took the bird outside and set it free.

Several days passed, and the little swallow returned. A pumpkin seed in the beak, it flew about near the hut and then dropped the seed at the door. Mikhailo’s wife was the first to see it.

“Look what the swallow has brought us, husband!” she cried.

Mikhailo was overjoyed.

“Now we are real farmers!” he cried. “We’ll plant the seed and perhaps something will grow up out of it!”

They planted the seed in their vegetable garden, and it soon gave forth shoots and then a vine and leaves. The vine grew longer and longer, it trailed over the ground, and then flowers appeared on it and, after them, the fruit. At the end of summer Mikhailo had three pumpkins in his garden, and so huge were they as had never before been seen.


Said Mikhailo to his wife: “Bring one of the pumpkins here, wife, and we’ll cook and eat it.”

“How can I do that?” the wife returned. “It’s much too big for me to carry all by myself.”

So the two of them went to the vegetable garden together, and it was all they could do to carry the pumpkin into the hut.

Mikhailo cut the pumpkin open with an axe, and low and behold there were all sorts of foods and drinks in it, enough to last him and his wife for many years.

They brought in the second pumpkin, and before Mikhailo had had time to cut it, it burst open of itself, and clothes of all kinds fell out, enough to dress the whole village.

Mikhailo and his wife were eager to see what was in the third pumpkin, so they brought it into the house, and no sooner had Mikhailo struck it with his axe than out poured gold and silver coins, so many that there was no counting again!

And so now the poor brother was no longer poor and did not need to ask his rich brother for anything any more.

Now, Yura was envious of Mikhailo and wanted very much to learn how he had come to be so rich, so he said to his wife:

“Go to Mikhailo and ask him where he got his riches.”

Mikhailo was out when Yura’s wife came to see him. But his wife told her everything she wanted to know and did not keep anything back. She told her how the wind had swept the young swallows out of their nest, how her husband had cared for the injured bird and made it well again, how it had then brought them a seed and how three huge pumpkins had grown out of it.

And Yura’s wife went home and passed it all on to her husband.

Spring came around again and it brought the swallows. They began building their nests and they built some under Yura’s roof and laid eggs in them. In time, baby birds were hatched from them, and their piping filled the house, Yura waited for the wind, but no wind came, so, losing patience, he took a long stick and knocked the nests down. All were killed, but he saved one of the nestlings with a broken leg, Yura took it into the house and cared for it. The injured leg healed, and Yura set the nestling free.

Some time went by, and the swallow brought Yura a seed. Yura was overjoyed and hurried with it to the vegetable garden. He and his wife planted the seed and waited eagerly for fortune to smile on them as it had on Mikhailo.

The seed gave forth shoots and then a vine and leaves, the vine trailed over the ground, but though many golden flowers opened up on it, it yielded only a single fruit. This, however, did not dampen Yura’s spirits and he could hardly wait for autumn to come. And he never left his garden day or night for fear that someone might steal his pumpkin.

The pumpkin was ripe at last, and Yura and his wife brought it into the hut. But no sooner did Yura strike it with his axe than it broke in two, and a flame burst out of it. The hut caught fire and burnt to the ground, and so did the barn and everything Yura and his wife had. The rich brother was rich no longer. But he was ashamed to ask for his younger brother’s help, so he threw a sack over his shoulder and went roaming the world and begging for alms.

An Ukrainian Folktale

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