Hansel set out just after breakfast. Gretel watched from the front porch as he trudged through the snow, wrapped in his heaviest cloak with a woolen hat and gloves to keep his head and hands from frostbite. In his burlap sack, he carried the parcel for their father as well as a few smaller bundles for the other older shut-ins Hansel intended to visit. His breath froze in clouds about his head.
Gretel stood at the door until Hansel was hidden from view among the snow covered trees. Then with a last glance at his plodding foot prints, she turned and shuffled back into the warmth of the cottage. She leaned against the closed door and closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her anxious heart. She fought against the worry that threatened her peace - worry about Hansel’s trek, worry about her father’s wellbeing, worry about the future and worry about how she would keep herself busy all day.
Opening her eyes, she spotted the kitchen and the breakfast dishes that sat dirty, waiting to be washed. “That’s as good a place to start as any,” she spoke into the empty cottage, and set to work.
The steam from the bucket of water she had heated fogged the kitchen window as she scrubbed the kettle. Setting it to dry on the counter, she noticed that the countertop was covered in crumbs and was sticky along one edge. She plunged the rag into the scalding water and focused on cleaning the counter to a shine. She then moved along to the kitchen table and beyond, fetching and heating fresh water when the bucket’s contents turned grey and cold. In this way, Gretel spent the morning, scrubbing and scouring the cottage, hoping her busy hands would keep her from fretting too much about the day.
As she swept the corner near her cot, Gretel remembered another time with her father. She recalled a morning of cleaning and sweeping while her father tended an ill Hansel. Her brother had suffered with a fever for several days and on this particular morning, Gretel hand chewed her nails to the quick with worry.
Her father, seeing her anxiety, had handed her a broom with the words, “Busy hands quiet an anxious heart. Work our your worry on the floor, dear one, and leave your fingernails alone.” His warm smile had comforted her and she had hidden his wisdom in her heart. This morning as she labored, she found that her mind did not wander from worry to fear and back again, but stayed quiet and focused on the task at hand. Before she knew it, the cottage shone and her stomach rumbled, signaling the arrival of the afternoon.