Steve and Irene Ruzich
If you put your head to the ground in Gnometown, you may hear many strange sounds of little gnomes, playing and working. If you are still long enough, you may be fortunate enough to actually watch these happy little people and realize how industrious they are, and how compassionate they can be to each other and even to us, who are larger.
It was under these circumstances that I saw the story of Steve and Irene unfold. I noticed a new gnome one day. This gnome was not as small as the others. He was tall, almost 5-1/2 inches. Most gnomes get to be no taller than the height of a juicy red apple. Unfortunately, the young among the gnomes thought him to be very strange and teased him until he finally withdrew to sit dejectedly, under a fallen box elder tree. “Too tall,” he thought, “too tall to hide under the dandelion leaves, my legs are too long to scrunch into walnut shells the others use to slide down the hills in the snow, and too tall to work in the tuber mines, always bumping my head on some root or other. Whatever will become of me, I don’t fit in and I’m not good at anything.” Tiny tears dripped down his face, and he scooted back a little farther in the shadows when he heard a bunch of little happy voices coming.
“Everybody stop here for a minute and look at this flower,” the beloved teacher Irene beckoned. “This is a Sunflower. It is a very tall and beautiful flower which can be planted to produce food for humans and birds to eat and the oil extracted for cooking and the stems used for roofs on our gnome gazebos in the summer.” Trying to observe other plantings and rocks, she turned to notice the tall, weepy gnome in the shadows and cautiously moved closer. “You look so sad, what is your name?”
“Slim,” he very softly whimpered.
“What is wrong and how can I help you?” she said caringly.
“I’m too tall, way too tall, and they tease me. I don’t fit in and I’m not good at doing anything,” Slim answered in absolute dejection.
“Oh, my dear, that is not true, you are like this tall sunflower,” Irene counseled trying to lift his spirits. “You are very handsome and I know you will someday be able to do something many others cannot do as well as you. Let me dry your tears and you come with us. My husband, Steve, who works in tuber mines, may have an idea.” So off they walked, across town to the fertile carrot fields. The carrot crop was thriving and Steve was on feeding detail that day, which sent him deep in the mine to feed each carrot the sweet nectar which the ladybugs brought from the honeysuckle trees. Dirty and sweaty, he met Irene at the gopher hole entrance near the north end of the filed. “Steve, see that young, tall gnome over there. His name is Slim. He feels like he doesn’t fit in and isn’t good at anything,” stated Irene urgently. “Can you help him?”
“I’m glad to meet you, Slim. My, you are tall! You must be 2 acorns taller than I.” observed Steve. “I’m done with work, cone on, let’s go down by the river and play some Berryball with the others.”
Reluctantly, the tall, young gnome followed but soon was involved in a game of Berryball, which was rolling a berry into a coke bottle, lying on its side, with one team trying to keep the other team from getting it in the neck of the bottle. “This is boring,” said a player in disappointment, “It’s too easy to score and the bottle fills up so fast.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” coached Steve with a wink. “Let’s tip the bottle up on end and you’ll have to throw it up and try to get it in the bottle. It will be hard, because it is so high but it could be fun! Let’s try it!”
So they did. It was more challenging and more fun. They played vigorously and made up new rules, like dribbling and fouling and free throws, as they went along. Slim found he had a huge advantage, being so tall; he could get the berry in easier and more often that anyone else. Everybody wanted him on their team. Soon they were having regular tournaments and Teacher Irene and her class came to cheer them on when they played and kept score. From then on, Steve was known as “Coach Steve” for thinking of this great new game of Berryball and he kept watch on the players so they followed the rules and didn’t get hurt.
Thanks to the concern of Irene and inventiveness of Steve, Slim finally felt a sense of belonging to his team and among all the gnomes. He finally found something for which he could be recognized. Now the young gnomes, who had teased him, carried him off on their shoulders in a victory parade. Slim, finally, fit in.
Steve and Irene met as young gnomes in the very beginning of their arrival in Gnometown, on the steps of the school when Steve, a very polite and honorable gnome, opened the door for a new, pretty teacher, who was loaded with books and papers for her first day of teaching. After a few years, Irene was called by the gnomes in Pipestone to teach, but Steve missed her terribly and asked her to marry him. So they were married and lived near the river under the roots of a strong, shady elm tree. Irene taught many little gnomes what they needed to know when they were young and Steve would teach them about the rest of the world when they were older and taught them how to play Berryball. And, of course, he remained “Coach Steve”, who always remembered the special things about each and every one of them.