The Tender Age of Five
by Mackenzie L.
This is a compilation of short stories from the von Trapp children when they were each around five years old. I had a lot of fun writing these because I am just fascinated with the dynamics of the children and love to explore ways that they could interact with each other. The writing for this fic is done in a much simpler fashion than I usually like to write. It seemed appropriate being that the stories are told from a five-year-old perspective.
There will be seven stories in all, ending with Gretl. Yes, this means Gretl's story will take place at the time of the movie, so Maria will be in her story.
Some of the characters used in these stories come from my other fanfic, Ships That Pass in the Night. It's not necessary that you be familiar with it to understand these, but it might be something to consider reading beforehand to get the full, intended effect.
* I do not own anything related to The Sound of Music or material containing information about the real Von Trapp family.
Chapter 1: Roses are Red
An Excerpt from Liesl's childhood
I like to think of Liesl as sensitive and romantic. I think that this memory is appropriate to her because it focuses on the balance between responsibility and romantic idealism, both of which are traits that I see in her as the eldest child. She has a big heart that sometimes gets in the way of logical thinking, and I tried to show this element in her story.
Liesl von Trapp was a good little girl. Everyone said so.
In fact, she was so well-behaved that they had stopped calling her a "little girl" and began referring to her as a "young lady."
Liesl was thrilled with the title and used every opportunity to live up to it, especially around adults.
It was such a wonderful thing to be appreciated. Adults could tell she was something special.
Her younger brother and sister were not nearly as well-behaved as she was. Obnoxious Friedrich liked to break her mother's perfume bottles and pesky Louisa was a suction cup for her parents' attention. But Liesl was smart enough to realize that it wasn't their fault for being so difficult to handle. They were much younger than her, and they didn't know any better. But sometimes it was hard to accept that they could still get away with things that she couldn't.
But there were definite advantages to being the eldest child. She was always doing things that her brother and sister could not do themselves: riding a bike, reciting nursery rhymes, getting dressed without help, climbing trees. Her father sometimes let her stay up later than her siblings, and her mother always called Liesl her 'Little Lady.' That was not a name fit for Louisa. It was reserved just for Liesl.
Her position in the family was not a counterfeit delusion of grandeur. It was a real job, with real responsibilities.
And Liesl already knew what she was going to be like when she grew up. She wanted to be just like her mother. With her porcelain skin, eyes as the color of a misty spring morning, dark lashes, and thin, pristine brows that resembled the swift stroke of a calligrapher's ink pen, Mother had the most beautiful face, and so it was quite a compliment to be compared to her. People were always saying how much Liesl looked like Mother.
Whenever Grandmother Odelle came to visit, she would ask to see the portrait. Liesl would always stand up a little straighter when they asked for the portrait, because she knew they were going to compare her face to her own mother's when she was five years old.
Her mother and her grandma would come down the staircase, carrying the small old picture, set in a silvery-green frame with little leaves carved from brass.
Her grandmother would stand before her and smile and hold it up to Liesl's little face. Sometimes the little brass leaves would pinch her cheek if it was held too close. But Liesl never complained - she felt too important to do that. It was worth it when Grandma Odelle would step back and gasp. "Oh, Agathe, it's an uncanny resemblance!"
Liesl always giggled at the word 'uncanny.' She didn't know what it meant, but it sounded very funny when adults said it.
Adults were always saying the strangest things.
Whenever there were visitors, especially if they were old people, they would always tell her parents that their house was too big for just three children. Then they would get this little twinkle in their eyes and they would laugh at her parents.
Their house was rather big, but someday Liesl and her siblings would be older, and they would take up much more room then. So what was the problem with just three children?
And why was it so funny that they had a large house, anyway?
Even the gardener, Frau Wilmitt, said things that didn't make any sense.
Whenever Liesl got too close to the rosebushes, she would say in her scratchy voice, "Better back away from those roses, little fraulein, or they might bite you!"
As if a beautiful flower could bite someone! As Mother would say, 'That's simply preposterous!'
But even that wasn't the strangest thing Liesl heard.
Her father was always saying that her mother looked at life through a rose-colored spyglass. Whatever did that mean? Liesl wondered. He said it quite often, but she never once saw her mother looking through any such device. It sounded pretty, though. Maybe one day mother would show it to her.
Every night, mother would read to Liesl from a large book of fairytales. The book was so big that Liesl could barely hold it herself. It was pale orange and it had winged horses on the front cover. The cover was not hard like other books - instead, it was slightly squishy. Liesl liked to push her fingerprints into the cover and then watch them puff back up. The pages were trimmed in gold so whenever you closed the book, you could see the shiny gold edges, but when you looked at just one page alone, you couldn't tell that it was gold. Her mother said that was because a single page was too thin, but Liesl believed it was because the book was magical.
Liesl's favorite story was about a servant girl who lived in the castle of a wealthy prince. The prince was going to marry a princess from another kingdom, and the servant girl was very sad because she was in love with the prince and didn't want him to marry someone else. At the end of the story, it seems like all hope is lost, but then the prince runs from his wedding to be with the servant girl, and he tells her that she is the one he wants to marry!
Liesl and her mother agreed that this was the best story in the whole book. Perhaps even the best story ever written!
"Isn't that so romantic?" Her mother would ask wistfully. She said that almost every time they finished the story. And Liesl would always nod and yawn at the same time after she said it.
"Goodnight, angel." Her mother's soft voice would say just before she turned down the lamp. Liesl would watch through half-lidded eyes as her mother placed the book on the bottom shelf and shut the door to her room. She would wait until her footsteps faded in the hall, and if she hadn't fallen asleep by then, Liesl would get slowly out of her bed and tiptoe over to the bookshelf. She would drag the book back to her bed and turn to the second to the last page. In the dim glow of her lamp, she could make out the enchanting illustration of the prince and princess kissing. They were dressed in fancy clothes and framed by a vine of red roses. She couldn't explain why she was so very fascinated by that picture. Her mother would show it to her for a little while when she finished reading, but not long enough as Liesl would have liked.
It reminded her of Mother and Father. They both even had brown hair like her parents. And the prince was slightly taller than the princess.
She didn't get to see her parents kiss very often, but when they did, it looked exactly like that.
When she grew up, she wanted her first kiss to look just like the prince and princess kissing in the book.
When Liesl woke the next morning, the book would right back in its place again: the very first book on the very bottom shelf. Sometimes she would swear that she had forgotten to put it back in its place. But it was never in her bed with her when she woke up. She was convinced that book was magical. But she couldn't tell Mother about it or else she would get into trouble for sneaking out of bed to look at the picture one last time.
During the day, it was much easier to look at any picture she wanted without anyone seeing her. But it just wasn't as magical feeling in the day as it was at night.
In the day, it was fun to sit on the floor in her bedroom and spread out all of her books so that they made a circle around her. She would take a piece of paper and a pencil and try to draw the pictures from the books.
Sometimes they turned out well, sometimes they did not. Sometimes she would cheat and trace right over the pages so that her drawings looked almost exactly like the illustrations.
If she felt her drawings were good enough, she would show them to Mother and Father. Then she would get right back to drawing. She could probably draw all day long if Friedrich didn't keep begging to join her, or if the maids didn't kick her out of her room so that they could tidy up. She just loved to draw all of the lovely people and animals in her books.
Liesl wished she could be more like the characters in those books. She wanted exciting things to happen to her. She wanted to have adventures of her own.
She could sit back and wait patiently for something exciting to come to her. Or she could seek out an adventure herself.
One evening, she decided to do just the latter. Moments after her mother's footsteps disappeared, instead of sneaking back to the bookshelf to look inside the fairy tale book, she tiptoed to the glass door to her balcony and drew the lace curtains, letting the misty blues of twilight flood into her bedroom. She stared out into the endless washed out watercolors of nature, analyzing her temporary escape. She would be all on her own out there, in a chamber of never-ending places to explore, to unlock. It would be just like in the stories.
There was even a small pocket in her nightgown that she could use to put some pretzels inside in case she got hungry on her journey.
She eagerly stuffed her feet into her shoes without first putting on her socks and opened the door to her balcony as quietly as she could.
As the cool night air hit her face, she began to have second thoughts about her adventure. She wanted to be safely tucked back into her bed, but at the same time, she wanted to explore outside without anyone ever finding out.
It couldn't hurt to just try exploring for a while, could it? She had climbed down the little cherry tree from her balcony to the ground many times before. It wasn't really a cherry tree, but she liked to call it that. It sometimes grew strange red berries in the summertime. Liesl once thought they were cherries, but Father told her they weren't. He said they were poison, and she'd better not try to eat them.
But it wasn't a long way down that tree. She just had to do it when no one was looking because they never believed her when she told them it was perfectly safe.
She took a deep breath and clung to the sturdiest branch of the tree. Hoisting herself from the edge of the railing, she perched herself in the center bend of the tree. It was funny how every time she did that, she felt nervous that this was the time she would mess up, but she always ended up perfectly fine. How she loved this tree.
In springtime, it was covered in newly formed blossoms; as she felt her way down the branches she was dusted with their powdery pink pollen, coughing in a cloud of flowering buds.
In the summer, it was full of thick, glossy green leaves. No one would have seen her when she crawled inside of it because those leaves completely concealed her.
In autumn, the leaves would crinkle with one touch and fall from the branches as she climbed down. They exposed her as they were swept away by chilly winds - crimson, orange, purple, and yellow.
The winter was not so simple to face, and she had never before been brave enough to try it when the tree was glazed with icicles. She would wait until she was older for that.
This night in particular was not a problem. It was the pleasant time of year just between spring and summer - ideal as long as the rain stayed in its cloud. She slipped down from the lowest branch of the tree and took off running as soon as she landed in the dewy grass. A grin glowed on her face as she sprinted across the vast yard towards the lake. The blue-green water churned with the ripples of the wind, sparkling like melted gelatin under the street lights. She turned to regard her house far behind her now, and smirked as she imagined how jealous Friedrich and Louisa would be if they knew what great things she was doing in the middle of the night while they were asleep. But the soft golden light illuminating the thin curtains of her parents' room gave her a tiny twinge of guilt. It was the only light still on in the entire house. She hoped they would go to sleep soon so that they wouldn't notice she was missing.
The bright moon lit her way as she skipped deeper into the wooded area to the left of the house. The overlapping shadows of the trees gave the illusion of black lace stretched across the grass. She had decided that she was going to be very brave and go further into the woods than she had ever gone before. And she was going to do it in the dark!
She giggled softly to herself. She was just like the character in a storybook already!
Not far into the woods, she heard a rustling noise up ahead of her. But she didn't run away. If she was going to be brave, she would have to see what it was. She crouched down on all fours and listened for the noise again. Following the direction of the sound, she crawled up to a fat pine tree. With a trembling hand, she brushed the delicate needles aside and found herself face to face with the glowing topaz eyes of a stray cat.
The animal stared cautiously at her, as though afraid it might be in danger. Liesl inched closer to the cat, and cooed words of comfort, "Don't be afraid, kitty. I won't hurt you..."
But the cat looked like it was backing away, and Liesl had to think fast, just like the storybook characters, if she wanted to keep it from escaping. She hastily reached into her pocket and produced the pieces of pretzel she had brought for herself. It was more important to feed this poor little cat, though. She could wait to eat at home.
"Here, kitty. Are you hungry?" She whispered, hoping she wouldn't scare it away. She held her breath as the cat slowly slinked its way to her upturned palm and ate the bits of pretzel right up. Liesl giggled as the cat's tongue tickled her hand, and she carefully reached out to pat its head. It swiftly made its way back into its crawl space beneath the tree trunk and curled up in a bed of fallen pine needles.
"You must be tired." Liesl guessed as the cat blinked back at her. Not able to compress a yawn, Liesl realized how tired she was herself. But it wasn't like a fairytale character to abandon her adventure just because she was sleepy.
She thought for a moment about what to name her cat. Now that she knew where to find it, she could come back every night and bring some food so it wouldn't go hungry. But it wouldn't be like a real story unless the cat had a name.
The cat was pretty, so she had to have a pretty name. What sorts of things were pretty?
Sunshine was pretty, but the cat was too dark to be called 'Sunshine.'
Cakes were pretty, but it would be too silly to call a cat 'Cake.'
Flowers were pretty...What was the prettiest flower of all? Mother always said roses were the most beautiful flowers.
That was it, then. "I'm going to call you Rose." Liesl whispered eagerly to her new friend.
The cat lifted her head a little. She seemed to like her new name.
"I'll be back tomorrow night, Rose. I won't forget you. I promise." Liesl carefully arranged the low branches of the tree to cover the crawl space so that no other animal could find her cat.
She wanted to be sure she was absolutely safe.
Liesl ran back to the house, thankful for the light of the moon to guide her. She could run even faster now that she didn't have to worry about spilling the contents of her pockets. But she ran out of breath by the time she made it to the base of her cherry tree. She worried for a moment or two that she was too tired to climb back up the tree. But then she thought of how much trouble she would be in for sneaking out at night if she called for her parents to let her in the door. Their light was off now, and they would be even angrier with her for waking them up. They might make her sleep in the attic so that she couldn't escape again. And if she couldn't escape again, then she couldn't bring food to the poor cat.
She had to climb the tree - it was what all the characters in stories did. And so that was just what she did.
Being brave really was wonderful - she could have done anything! People were always calling her father brave. And he seemed to always be able to take care of everything, no matter how big the problems were that he faced. Maybe the two went hand in hand.
The only bad part about being in a story was that she couldn't tell anyone about what she was doing. It was fun to keep secrets, but only for so long. In some ways, she wished she could tell everyone how brave and smart she was being. Maybe they wouldn't have believed her anyway.
She had an important job to do now - even more important than being a sister. Rose was counting on her to bring her food at night. Liesl had to sacrifice her well-behaved nature to help her cat. She had snuck into the kitchen every day that week to find pieces of fish or ham and wrap them up so that no one could find them. At night she would make her familiar route back to Rose's hiding place, and every night she would find the cat waiting patiently for her. It was a good thing Liesl stumbled upon her - she really needed someone to take care of her!
Even as the same routine went on for a couple weeks, Liesl never grew tired of helping her little animal. She was doing something brave and important, and Rose would never forget her for it. Maybe one day she would even have baby kittens that would need to be watched over as well. Liesl was committed to being a reliable friend.
But a cloud of doubt settled one night when Liesl ventured out only to find that Rose was not in her usual spot. She checked underneath all of the trees and called for her around all of the bushes. What if she found another nice little girl to feed her at night? What if she ran away because she didn't like the things Liesl was bringing her? That cloud of doubt grew denser as Liesl feared that another animal might have caught her poor, innocent cat...
She could just imagine a vicious green monster with sharp, razor-like teeth and slimy scales coming out of the woods at night to take her cat for his dinner.
What if there really was a monster? And what if it had taken Rose away?
Liesl felt her eyes prickle with tears. She began to fear for her own safety, out here all alone.
Frightened for her life, she tore across the yard and scrambled back up the tree, struggling with her nightgown getting caught on the jagged branches. She slammed her door shut and threw the curtains back over the windows, afraid to even let the moonlight inside her room.
Her dress was soiled and covered with dirt and grass stains. Her hair and hands were sticky with sap from searching the pine trees. She had never returned to her room so dirty before. She had even left a trail of dirt on the beautiful peach carpet. How would she ever find a way to explain the mess?
She wasn't making a very wonderful character now. No clever ideas were formulating in her head, no plans on how to escape the trouble that lie in store for her. No fairytale would ever end like this...
Before she could devise a way to hide what she had done, the distinct footsteps of her mother were already approaching her door. The door swung open and her mother's concerned voice filled the dark room. "Liesl, angel, why are you crying?"
Liesl froze in place as the lamp brightened to reveal her disheveled state. Her mother's eyes widened in shock as she took in the mess. "Why, what on earth have you gotten yourself into?"
Liesl struggled to hold in her tears as Mother knelt down before her and began instinctively brushing the dirt off of her shoulders.
"I...I..." She wanted to tell her the truth, but she was too afraid. All she could do was sputter.
Then she could no longer help it. Sometimes even fairy tale characters have to cry.
She tossed herself into her mother's arms and cried the way only Friedrich and Louisa were supposed to cry. "I'm sorry, Mother! I'm so sorry!"
"Sorry for what, Liesl? What have you done?" She asked, pulling away to look into her eyes.
Liesl didn't like that tone in her mother's voice - it was worried, frightened, angry, and upset all at once. A terribly unsettling combination.
Liesl hung her head in shame. She did not feel like the heroine in a fairy tale, that was true - but more importantly she did not feel like her mother's 'Little Lady' anymore. She had knowingly broken the rules, and that was one thing that young ladies most definitely did not do.
She tearfully explained to her mother her failed attempts to be brave, her encounter with the stray cat, and her hopes to keep it all a secret. It was not easy to tell the truth, and there were many problems even being brave couldn't solve.
But to Liesl's surprise, there was a look of understanding in Mother's calm eyes. She looked as if she were even smiling a little...
"I just wanted it to all be a secret..." Liesl confessed, wiping her eyes on the cuff of her sleeve.
"I understand, darling. But I am proud that you told me the truth. It's important for me to know what you're doing so that I can keep you safe." She straightened a wayward curl of her daughter's hair, "Imagine if I had come into your room to find you missing - I might think something terrible happened to you just as you were worried for your kitten."
Liesl frowned. She had been so busy worrying about Rose, she never stopped to think of how worried her family would be if they found her missing. "I never thought of it like that." She said timidly.
"Well, you're still growing up. And don't ever think you have to be brave to be special. You already are so wonderful to all of us." She smiled and held out her arms. Liesl tentatively walked into her embrace. She buried her face against her mother's hair. It was slightly damp as if she had just taken a bath, and it had a familiar, sweet smell to it.
"Am I still your Little Lady?"
Her mother's soft, sparkling laugh muffled against her ear. "Of course, darling. You always will be."
At least she would not be getting in trouble for sneaking out at night. But she was still worried for her little cat. Would she ever see her again?
The next morning, it was raining so hard that everyone had to speak a little louder than normal just to hear each other. Liesl couldn't go inside of her room because the maids were cleaning up the dirt she tracked in the night before. Friedrich and Louisa were taking their naps.
She sat with her head in her hands, trying to look out the fogged up window, hoping that by some miracle her cat would appear on the doorstep. Maybe if Mother or Father helped her, they could find Rose and bring her to live inside the house with them. She would have to convince them to come and search with her outside, and she doubted that either of them would want to do that, especially since the weather was so awful.
But it was worth a try, wasn't it?
"Mother! Mother! Will you come help me try to find Rose?" She called eagerly to her mother, who was gracefully descending the stairs in a lovely red dress and coat. "I think she might still be around outside our house somewhere. If we could just search for her in the daytime..."
Mother stopped on the landing to finger through her coin purse. "Oh, angel, I'm sorry. I'm just about to go out for some shopping... Besides, it's far too dreary out to search for her today. Don't you agree? We'll look for her on a nicer day."
Her voice was kind but Liesl could tell she really didn't want to look for Rose. Mother didn't care about the cat as much as she did.
Liesl looked at the floor.
"Try to cheer up, darling. I know you're upset. Sometimes things don't always turn out the way we want them to. Life is not like a fairytale. There are not always happy endings."
Liesl's head shot up. What a horrible thing to say! Did that mean Rose might be gone forever?
But Mother smiled as if nothing was wrong and said, "I'll be back before bedtime. Tell your father when your brother and sister wake from their naps." She took the umbrella from the butler, and she was out the door.
Liesl pressed her face up against the window and watched her walk down the front steps into the car. Even though her mother wasn't going to help her find Rose, she couldn't help feeling a little lonely and sad that she was leaving her now...
She sighed and listened to the pounding rain. It was scary to imagine Rose out in the rainstorm all by herself. She might be really hungry and not able to find food.
Someone had to help find her...Someone had to care as much as Liesl did.
Although she knew the answer would be a firm 'No' were she to ask her father, she simply needed someone to tell her it would be all right. She stopped in front of the door to Father's study. Suddenly she felt uncertain - Father didn't know the story of her cat and she wasn't sure she wanted to tell someone about it all over again.
But maybe there was some hope. Maybe Father would have the heart to help her bring Rose back. Now was her chance to be a better character.
She carefully turned the handle and pushed with all her weight to get the door open. The door to Father's study was much heavier than the rest of the doors in the house.
Usually she wasn't allowed inside, and for a moment she thought the look of surprise on her father's face was a look of anger. She was about to close the door and run back out when he quickly stood up from his desk and asked her, "Oh, Liesl... Did you need something?"
She tried to think of what she wanted to say, but she could feel the tears in her eyes again, and that was too distracting. "I wanted...to...to.."
He moved around the side of the desk. "What, dear?" However slight the hint of impatience was in his voice, it was enough to send Liesl's fragile sensitivity into distress.
She ran into the room towards her father, crying helplessly, "I want to find Rose!"
He looked taken aback as she flung herself into him. "You want to find who? Darling, what are you talking about?"
Her father looked all watery as she stared up at him through teary eyes. "I want to find Rose...she's my cat - and she's nowhere to be found!"
She heard his heavy sigh right before he lifted her from the ground. "Ahh, yes. I believe your mother told me something about this cat."
Liesl was slightly frustrated with Mother for telling him about her secret. But she was too upset right now to think about it.
"Shh, shh. Now, there's no need to cry about it." He held her tightly and patted her back until she settled down. Liesl suddenly felt exhausted as the last of her tears melted away from her eyes. She felt her father walk towards the window, but she could hardly move, she was suddenly so limp and tired.
"But I have to find her b..because she needs me to feed her..." She argued weakly, not even bothering to lift her head from his shoulder.
To her surprise, her father was laughing. "I don't think she needs any humans to feed her, darling."
Liesl lifted her head up to look at him, "What do you mean?"
He looked out the rain-streaked window into the yard, and she turned her head to look, too, even though she didn't know exactly what he was looking at.
"Well, stray cats know how to handle themselves in the wild. They don't rely on us like house cats do."
"Yes, and they're very smart. She would know if she needed to move somewhere else if she thought being here any longer wasn't safe. It had nothing to do with you, darling."
"Oh." Liesl didn't tell her father, but his words made her feel much better about the situation. Rose was able to find food all on her own... She wasn't lost or lonely or scared. Her father said she was very smart; she would know what to do to make herself safe.
Liesl could tell her father was looking at her. She shyly turned to catch his eye and noticed he had that look on his face that suggested he was very near to laughing, but holding it back.
"Don't worry yourself over that little cat anymore, alright?" He told her as he gently set her down on the floor again.
"I'll try." She said quietly.
It would not be a while before she had her father's undivided attention again. She might as well ask him something she had been meaning to for a long time. "Father?"
"Will I ever get to look through a 'rose-colored spyglass' like mother does?"
He laughed at her. But not in a mean way. She could tell when Father was laughing in the mean way.
"I believe you already have." He said, smiling mysteriously at her.
Liesl was very confused.
But Father didn't look like he was about to explain anything to her. Instead, he sat back down in his chair and sighed. "Now run along. I have a lot of work to get done before your brother and sister wake up."
She skipped back across the room, somehow knowing that the door wouldn't feel half as heavy as it did when she first pushed it open.
How come she hadn't noticed how pretty the color of the red carpet was when she had come in?
It was just like the red of her mother's dress.
The red of a rose.