Maanantai 18.3.2019
Herra, sinä olet laupias, muista minua, osoita ikiaikaista hyvyyttäsi. Ps. 25:6

Blog: History sighing in pine trees

in English 13.2.2018 06:35 | Päivämies-verkkolehti
Heinoo, the landscape of my childhood, the unforgettable background of my personal history. Often when I feel unhappy, I go back there in my dreams. My mother’s home, my grandmother’s place, where people are now trying to renovate the run-down buildings dating back to the 19th century. Banging hammers, summer vacation music for me.
All those magnificent things on the grounds where my grandparents once strolled. Dear grandpa, who used to observe the flight paths of swallows, sitting in a white wooden lawn swing or lying on a wooden bench under a pear tree, with a brick for a pillow, which never stopped astonishing the little girl. Dear grandma, who brought food scraps to magpies and small birds, or sat on a wooden bench in front of the sauna.

The elders who had done their life’s work now enjoyed watching God’s creation and their grandchildren running and romping on the yard. We ran back and forth, searching the old wooden shed for old cinnamon and pepper cans, tattered women’s magazine, spelling books and primers. I remember the smell of old rugs spread on the yard, the rustling of grass underneath them, and how it felt to step on a stone under the rug. And the sun, could it really be shining all that time? 

On washing days we did the laundry with washboards and used a pushcart to bring the wet clothes down to the lake shore for rinsing. We carried water from the well into the kitchen. The little ones had small cans, the bigger ones had buckets. There was the shop-on-wheels! And ice-cream! And then mother came down from the town and always brought something nice, clothes or candy. Oh, the happiness! And the joy! Our speech was full of question marks and exclamation marks. Always full of expectation.

Although Finland is a small country, there is a wide variety of landscapes. My grandparents’ place in the south is so different from my home in Tornio in the north. A pine and spruce forest in the south is like a fairy grove that you can enter through a door. In the intense twilight you are then surrounded by huge, ancient trees.

Close to Heinoo there is Hämeenkyrö, where F. E. Sillanpää, Finland’s only Nobel prize laureate in literature, wrote his books. The long, lingering descriptions of nature in his books show that he found profound peace there. For me, too, this region is a land of golden canola fields, beautiful, rolling crop fields, grazing cows. There are bluebells twice bigger than elsewhere. In the night you can even hear the call of a corncrake, a rare bird mentioned in the famous poem Nocturne by Eino Leino, Finland’s national poet.

The past is solidly present here. In the attic I found old letters written to my grandpa’s brother by his lady friend. She was writing about her concern and anxiety, not knowing if my great uncle was even alive after the Civil War. This region is known for its historical battles. My grandpa told me that one family escaped halfway through cooking dinner, when someone called: “The butchers are coming!” Grandpa and his family hid in a stone cellar, and he crawled along the ground back into the house, when his mother asked him to go and get the precious wall clock.

When my mother was small, there was a neighbor lady who was nearly 100 years old. She wove human hair into cloth. That seemed unbelievable to me as a little girl. My mother and her sister had often visited that lady and had even been given candy by her.

There is the Church of St. Mary. People used to travel miles and miles by boat to attend Sunday service there possibly as early as the fourth century, but certainly in the sixth century. The same stone church still stands, and I want to go there every summer. I once read an old research paper that listed the sitting order in the church, with women’s pews on one side of the aisle and men’s pews on the other. One of the wealthiest men in the village had been assigned a place further back from the front benches. The presumed reason was that he had previously assaulted another distinguished local man.

I sit on the stairs of the sauna. I look at the flying swallows. Time is like that flight. ”All things in life get better all the time”, a friend of mine once said. I guess they do. At least we strive toward improvement. I remember how happy my believing grandmother was when she could go to summer services from her remote home village once a year! Now we have services many times a week, and we can listen to services online any time we want.

Although the world is busy around us, there is something that never changes. I can read about that on the fragile, yellow pages of the Bible dating back to the 17th century which is kept in the glass cabinet in grandma’s sitting room.

Text: Kati Kanto
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen

You will find the original Finnish blog post here.


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