I learned a lot about Trolls when I was just a tyke.
My maternal grandmother’s family had immigrated to America in the late 1800s and settled on a farm near Little Wall Lake, just south of Jewell. They’d come from the town of Odda, which is located up the Hardangarfjord in the mountainous western coast of Norway, near the North Sea.
Norway is known, among other things, for its stories of Trolls. The Hardangarfjord area of Norway was a center for those Troll stories.
In the 1940s, television had not yet arrived in rural Iowa. Families gathered around radios and listened to shows like "Fibber McGee and Molly," "Abbot and Costello," "Burns and Allen" and scores of others. And, some of us had parents who couldn’t miss the music of "The Six Fat Dutchmen."
But, folks couldn’t listen to the radio all the time. In many families, I’d imagine, moms and dads still tell stories to their children, but not as often they did more than half-a-century ago. Then, it was an everyday occurrence..
My mother told us many stories, and her favorites were tales of Trolls.
Most youngsters can’t distinguish between fact and fiction; to me, Trolls were real - they were ugly, fearsome monsters.
As a nearly 5-year-old, I believed Trolls were the most fearsome creatures on earth.
When I started kindergarten in the fall of 1948, there were no school buses for children who attended country school. Most walked to school. There just wasn’t any other way to get there.
My brother was just 2, so my mother was pretty much confined to home. Despite my age, it was expected that I was "big" enough (as my parents assured me) to walk by myself to school.
The first school I attended was about a mile and a-half west of Stratford. We lived that same distance farther west and north down a narrow winding dirt road.
My parents drove the route with me several times to make sure I knew just how to walk up the hill from our house to the dirt road and on to my school. I doubt, though, that they noticed my angst when we crossed the railroad bridge roughly half-way between home and school.
I knew something my parents didn’t.
A Troll lived beneath that bridge. Not just any Troll, mind you; this one was the ugliest, most fearsome creature on God’s earth.
He was a smart one, too. He would never show himself to my parents; he was waiting for the day I’d be alone.
When that day arrived, the first day of school, my mother handed me my lunch box, gave me a kiss and sent me on my way, assuring me that I was "a big boy now."
I tried not to let on how absolutely terrified I was and how I dreaded the long walk to school.
As I neared the railroad bridge, I slowed my pace, making as little noise as possible. Hardly breathing, I neared the bridge, walking on tip toes to the edge of the road where I could look down to see if the Troll was there waiting. Seeing nothing, I quietly went to the other side of the road and peeked over the side. Still no Troll.
I was convinced he was hiding beneath the bridge. He wouldn’t appear until I was on the bridge.
"Ha!" I thought. "I’m too smart to fall for that old trick."
Back and forth, from one side of the road to the other I walked, each time peering down to the tracks, looking for the monster that lived there.
Finally, I decided, I had to make a run for it; I had to get to school. Mustering up all the courage a 4-year-old could, I stepped back, smack-dab in the middle of the road and sprinted across the bridge.
I made it. I looked back and still saw no Troll.
My father picked me up after school. He said little, but I could tell he was concerned with something.
I soon learned the reason.
My parents wanted to know why it was almost noon before I’d arrived at school. When I told them about the Troll, I believe they saw the fear on the face of their oldest child.
I never had to walk over that bridge ever again.
They arranged for a couple of old bachelor men who did some part-time work in the area to pick me up and take me to school every day.
Ha! I guess I outsmarted the old Troll after all.
(Bill Haglund is a writer with Stephens Media.)