Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kathryn in America: Life in Redgranite, Wis.

Location of Redgranite, Wis.

Soon after, my father bought this little 3 room house from his brother (at that time it looked large to me.) There was a garden in the back, small sauna and a combination wood-shed and cow-shed, also a small outside “two-holer.” The soil was good garden soil, we grew muskmelons, corn, tomatoes, etc. Even our own popcorn eventually.

Uncle Victor had bought a small farm in Clifford, Wis.  He also had a small lumber camp there later. Linda and Marion “sewed” doll clothes – their mother said “there will be time to sew on the farm.”
So, began life in America. I started school in September, not speaking a word of English. My first teacher was Miss Blanche Brown. First grade – no kindergarten.  One of the first words I remember that she taught me was “ball.” She said to me, “Say ‘ball’” – I said “Say ball” many times with tears in my eyes – before she caught on. She was a good teacher, I liked her very much. She and her boyfriend used to bring me home at first – walking between them, each holding my hand.

My first playmates were Kyllikki and Agnes Sjostrom, Finnish neighbor girls and Mattie Hitchcock, the minister’s granddaughter, they lived nearby also. She was a couple years older than I. We were at each other’s homes almost every day. She had to practice her piano lessons every day – for a certain length of time – I waited for her to get through.  I never remember that she played anything else, except “The Moon Shines Bright on Pretty Red Wing” over and over. Her grandmother made the best baking powder biscuits – which my mother never made.

So I also started Sunday school at the little Congregational church of which her grandfather Philo Hitchcock was pastor. I don’t remember missing a single Sunday. We got a pretty colored picture card with Bible pictures and a message in the back. I saved them all – I wish I still had them – but do not remember what became of them. At Christmas time we always had a program at church, I enjoyed it very much, still I got so involved and “worked-up” over it, that I was often sick afterwards. I was a scrawny kid with a finicky appetite. Mother begged Dr. Clauson to keep me alive as I was their only translator of the English language. We often had oatmeal, cooked in the morning, but in those days it was still coarse with some bean left in; I didn’t care for it. Nor warm milk. Large soda crackers and dried fruits we ordered from a mail order house in large wooden boxes. Mother ate the crackers by the handful; she hadn’t had them in Finland. We could afford very few fresh apples and oranges we only got at Christmas. My favorite breakfast was a cup of coffee with milk and sugar, packed full of crackers, which I ate with a spoon and that’s all.
Life was fun in those days – daisy fields, picnics, and white dresses on Sunday with big blue ribbons in my pale blonde hair. The most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life, I always remember, was a small 2x3 in. white bread with something between. That was when I still hadn’t learned enough English, or was too bashful to ask my teacher. I told mother about it so eventually we found out it was peanut butter! I had never had any before. That was the very first fall, Miss Brown, took us kids from her class into the woods – she had made the sandwiches.  We found hazelnuts and butternuts, which we brought home and dried in the sun every fall.

My brother Waino Johannes* was born June 16, 1907, at home. I remember I woke up, Dr. Clauson was lying down in the bed beside me (resting) I didn’t know what was going on and went back to sleep. Waino was baptized “Philo” – believe it or not. Rev. Hitchcock must have thought we were honoring him by naming the baby after him! My pronunciation (Wino!) didn’t sound right – I guess. Mother sent me to correct the baptism certificate, how I hated to do it, for fear of hurting the pastor’s feelings. Then on Dec 8, 1910 my sister Aina Elizabeth was born at home. Mother called Waino and me to see what she had in bed with her –little red face the size of a cup. That was our Christmas present that year! We did get small presents from friends. Our parents best friends were Maria and Adam Maki – who had no children of their own.

Redgranite had many Finns and Italians working in the quarry. The Finns clung to each other for companionship in this new country, most of them never saw their own folks anymore. They formed a Temperance Society – had plays and dances once in awhile, played cards and visited.  Many single fellows lived with families, even we usually had a couple live with us. We made room. They would buy their own groceries, mother would cook it for them, also wash (by hand) and iron – all for about 2 or 3 dollars a week! The men earned 3 or 4 dollars a day in the quarry. My father finally earned $4 – he cut paving stones and rough cut grave stones. Streets in cities were paved with the stones.

Rev. Henry Sarvela would come from up North (Wis. & Minn.) once in awhile to preach in the Finnish language. He baptized my sister. One year there was a serious epidemic of Black Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever. Almost every house (with children) had a red quarantine sign on the door. Many children died, especially of the Diphtheria. Waino and I were quite sick with Scarlet Fever. Perhaps that is when I lost the hearing from my left ear? Our father and a roomer stayed at the Makis. Every evening they came and carried wood and water on to the porch – they could not come in. The house was fumigated after we recovered – it was a terrible smell. Now, with vaccinations against these dreaded illnesses, we have very few epidemics.** 

In 1913 there was a strike at the quarry. No work – and my parents began to think seriously of looking for a small farm, where there would be no strikes. My uncle, Victor, had lost an eye at the quarry and mother feared the same might happen to father. Splinters of rock were always a danger. They saw an ad in a Finnish paper “Farm for sale” -- $900 – with a creek running though it – 40 acres, in Oulu, Wis. So father came by train to Iron River, Wis. where John Knuutila of Oulu met him with horse and wagon, and took him to see the farm. It had one or two log buildings in the hollow and quite hilly. A path led down from the main “highway”. (Then a very dusty and rough clay road.) A widow Brita Huotari owned it and my father bought the place.
Redgranite Quarry today. It has been decommissioned and is apparently a great place to swim in the summer.

* My grandfather!
** I can't imagine what Aunt Kathryn or so many from her generation who lived through these terrible epidemics would think of all the people nowadays who willfully choose not to vaccinate their children

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When did working a microwave become a game of Pictionary?

This is our microwave. (Okay, this is the control panel of our microwave.)

I have no idea how to use this microwave.

A few days ago, I wanted to cook a squash in the microwave and the "interwebs" told me I needed to cook it for 15 minutes and then, after checking, maybe another ten. But this microwave has no buttons. Only a dial and some pictures that I imagine are supposed to make using this machine easier. Unfortunately, I don't read pictures. What the hell is this? I get some--the picture of the cow and other animals--though I've never cooked a steak in the microwave, so I have no idea when I would use the "cow" button." And the "+30 sec" button--I get that one too. But the wavy lines? And the wavy lines with triangles? What is this?

In India, we had this problem with our washing machine which only had pictures on it, and they were not intuitive. There was a butterfly, which I assumed was "delicates," a ball of yarn (knits), and a dandelion (which I think was supposed to be a cotton boll),  and something that looked like a chemistry beaker. I assumed that was permanent press, because I couldn't think of any other settings. Even our maid in India, the wonderful Indira, was like, "Ma'am, how does this work? I don't understand this washing machine." And I was like, "You know, I don't understand it either." And then I tried to explain what I thought the pictures were. Indira was like, "Why don't they just write the words?" And this is the part that really makes me chuckle, because Indira couldn't read very well, especially in English. I assume she is the exact audience these pictures are made for, but she was like, "Why can't it just say 'cottons'?" I told her that the pictures are supposed to make it easier and she laughed and was like, "Who can tell what these things are?" Exactly, Indira. Exactly.

So now I'm facing this issue again but with the microwave. (To be fair, while our microwave in India didn't have pictures on it, everything was written in Chinese so we had no idea what the buttons meant any way.) This microwave, though, I don't know. The knob doesn't seem to do anything, and so the only way we can figure out how to make it work is by punching the "+30 seconds" button. So basically while I tried to cook this squash for 25 minutes, I had do it in 5 minute increments because that's the highest I could go with the "+30 sec" button. So every 5 minutes I would have to go back to the kitchen and hit the button 10 times to get another five minutes. While not the end of the world, I found this mildly inconvenient.

So, the moral of the story is, please, I beg you, Mr. Vice President of Television and Microwave Oven Programming at GE*, stop focusing on the "biteNUKER" and put the words back on all microwaves.

*I miss 30 Rock. Sigh. Just for good measure, let's throw this old chestnut up, too.

Kathryn in America: Trip to America

Immigrants inspected upon arriving at Ellis Island

I cannot remember details except mother mentioned Hango and Liverpool to load on food for the voyage.  I do remember men carrying large raw carcasses of meat on board.  To me, that looked terrible having never seen anything like that. The sea trip cost about 300 marks ($60) at that time.  North Sea was very rough and we were sea sick. The Atlantic crossing was on the Cunard Liner Carmania. We shared a cabin with two young ladies – we did not travel steerage class, though I’m sure it wasn’t on the first class. I remember someone died and was buried at sea. Wrapped in a blanket on a board and dropped over the side. I saw what were either whales or sharks following the ship afterward. We landed in New York on Ellis Island, where everyone was detained and examined. Mother’s arm was sore and swollen yet from the vaccination in Finland. There was a long train trip next, to Milwaukee, Wis. We sat and waited there for another train. The station agent showed a clock and pointed to some hour (sign language) and he must have asked us if we were Polish – because mother wondered why he talked to us of police! Then another train ride to Bannerman Junction, Wis. where got a sort of box car train to Redgranite which was not too far, anymore. When it stopped we just sat there until a Finnish man popped his head in and said “Tule pais vaan, taalla Ottokin on” (“Come out, this is where Otto is.”) That was Jalmar Lind (Esther Aijala’s father) he somehow always had free time – my father had to work that day and could not come to meet his wife and child.  But, Redgranite was a small town and all the Finns knew when someone was coming from the Old Country.

The depot was not far from the house where my father was living with his brother and family.  Victor’s wife, Anna, came running along the dusty road to meet us, her long, wet skirt trailing. She had been scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees – (it never did get finished that day!) great excitement. They had three daughters at that time already, Linda, born in Tampere, Nov. 2, 1900 – Marion born in Allentown, Pa. and Aina Elizabeth (Alice Salo) born April 13, 1906 in Redgranite. I think the month of our arrival was either July or August.  Father came home after his day’s work – he had already bought a cow – in preparation for our coming. He very proudly milked it and gave me a cup of freshly milked warm liquid – (ugh) I saw where it came from but I drank it just to please him!

Immigrants waiting in line at Ellis Island in 1907 (none of these a relatives of mine, I just found the picture on the internet.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kathryn in America: Memories of Finland


My parents were Emelia Sulkunen and Otto Tikkanen. They were married in Tampere, Finland in 1899.  I was born October 6, 1900.  My mother had worked in a paper mill there and I think my father worked at various outdoor jobs.  Neither one had ever had any formal schooling except confirmation school.  It seems my mother had gone for awhile to a “kierto-koulu” (traveling school) where she had learned to read, and became a very fluent reader and read everything she could get her hands on. My father couldn’t have cared less.  At that time, Finland belonged to Russia – and there was compulsory service in the army.  As a result, many men who could possibly raise the fare, emigrated to America. 

In 1902 my father’s brother, Victor, came to Allentown, PA and later to Redgranite, Wis. where he got work in a small stone quarry. My father came to Redgranite in 1904-5.  He sent for my mother and me in 1906.  The two years mother and I lived in Pispala, a suburb of Tampere. 
Naturally, my memories of that time are rather dim, but I do remember that we lived in a house with a rather large central room, which was both kitchen and living room, with 4 bedrooms off it, 2 on each side.  On one side lived the owners in one room and an old “ruotu-muori” in the other.  I don’t exactly know the meaning of “ruotu” but “muori” means “old woman.”  These “ruotu-muoris” were old people who could no longer care for themselves – so the county paid a small sum for their upkeep to anyone who cared for them.  Across the room lived mother and I and another young woman with a small son, Olavi – about my age.  They also were waiting to join the father in America.  They were still waiting when we left, and I cried bitterly to have to leave my playmate.  I remember offering this old “muori” play “coffee” from my little toy cup – her toothless mouth looked like such an empty cavity, I was afraid she’d swallow it cup and all!  One piece of mischief Olavi and I got into when no grown-ups were around. There was a large pan of beautifully risen dough in the kitchen one day – we sure had fun punching that up and down with our grubby little hands!  Needless to say, we got a good spanking.  That’s why I remember it so well.

Sometime between 1900-1904 my mother had given birth to two more children, a boy, Otto, and a girl, Aina Elizabeth.  The boy died soon after birth and Aina Elizabeth at the age of 3 months.  She would have been three years younger than I.  I seem to hazily remember that I threw a small bouquet of flowers into her grave. (That may be only because I was told that.)

My father’s mother came to say goodbye to us, I remember her as being gaunt and fairly tall – dressed in her Sunday blacks.  Mother and I went to her mother’s home before we left for America.  We stayed overnight and slept in an “aitta”.  That is a small structure used for storing grain and other foodstuffs, also used for extra sleeping quarters in Finland. I woke up in the night, because I heard a strange sound.  Mother said, “Don’t be afraid, it’s only a ‘cuckoo bird’.”  That grandma was short and plump, dressed in a homespun blouse and skirt.  Her little home was by a small creek where there were white and yellow water lilies.  There was a board spanning the creek, I remember two teenage girl cousins crossing it – they were coming to see us to say “goodbye.”  That’s all I remember of my grandmother; seems they were both named Eva. I never saw my grandfathers – I’m not even sure of their names.  This was around Korpislahti and Ulsanka*, not too far from Jyvaskyla. My parents had both been born around there.

Their parents were “torpparis”.  A “torppa” is a small cabin on other people’s property, with enough space around it for a small potato patch. A “torparri” often got his surname from the big house.  They had to work quite a lot for the “talo” (house) in exchange for skim milk, flour, etc.  Children were “farmed out” at a very early age to work for their food and clothes.  My mother told how she was 9 years old when she had to take care of the owner’s children and for that she got an old pair of the lady’s shoes after a whole year!  They were signed up always for at least a year. (My mother-in-law said one place she had to eat standing up – “You eat too long if you sit!”)

My last memory of Pispala was a “lehti maja” in the yard.  That means “leafy-abode” – young birch branches propped up around a table, which was set with a white cloth and flowers, on which was served coffee and “pullaa” Finnish coffee bread.  This was in honor of our leaving for America. That is usually done around Juhannus, Midsummer’s Day, in June.  So, it was around that time of the year that we left. Details, I do not remember, except that we did stop in Helsinki to visit monther’s brother, Otto Sulkunen. He had a wife and two children, then, a boy Otto and a girl Salme. She was a beautiful child. Both these children died later at an early age as a result of poor nutrition during some war or hard times, when they had to add sawdust (?) into the flour for bread.  Anna Lusa and Paula were born later.

That is all I remember of my life in Finland, though I must mention that the women used to go over a hill (in Pispala) to the shore of Nasijarvi (jarvi means lake) to wash clothes. Us children played on the beach. The clothes were scrubbed on the rocks with brushes, boiled in a large black iron kettle over an open fire and rinsed in the lake.

*Velsanka, maybe? One of those words I hand trouble reading.

Kathryn in America: Prologue to Kathryn Newland's "Family Records"

Kathryn Newland’s “Family Records” (1978)

3/15/87 Found in G-ma’s cedar chest. We had long tried to get her to do this and she resisted doing so, saying “Who could possibly be interested?” Until today, 3 days after her death, we doubted she had written anything.  –Jim and Doraine Newland


So before Mr. ATK and I left for Kyrgyzstan, we spent about three week in Guntersville, Alabama visiting PapaTK. We also went to Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans -- but that is neither here nor there.  While at PapaTK's home, I stumbled across a photocopy of 50 handwritten pages of memoirs, written by my father's aunt Kathryn, who immigrated with her parents to America in the early 1900s from Finland. Well, this memoir was written in 1978 and looks like it was discovered and photocopied upon Kathryn's death in 1987. I read it and thought it was really interesting. I imagine I met Kathryn sometime when I was little, but I don't remember, which is too bad, because she sounds like a really interesting person.

I asked PapaTK if it was okay for me to type up the memoirs (at the very least for posterity as I don't see that paper copy holding up for very long.)  He said it was a good idea and so I spent my last days in Alabama furiously transcribing this memoir. And, though it isn't very long, it was sometimes hard to read the handwriting--especially the Finnish words (because I do not speak any Finnish.)  I managed to finish, however, and so I thought I would share installments of it on ye olde blogge.

I think it is important to understand the past, and I especially appreciate having a first person account of immigrant life in rural Wisconsin in the early 20th century. It is interesting to see what life events she found significant enough to include and to see how our culture and lives have changed in the past hundred years.

Now, I struggled with deciding whether or not to correct/change punctuation and grammar to make it more in line with our current standards.  I mean, it's not like it's written in "olde" English or anything, but I imagine there have been some changes in grammar and punctuation over time (like how we use abbreviations like WI instead of Wis. or MN instead of Minn.) Ultimately, I decided it's her voice so I should just transcribe it as is. She hand wrote over 50 pages of her life story and I'm just transmitting it to anyone interested in reading it. I asterisk-ed a few things, though--those are all my asides.  I tried to keep them brief.  Usually, I just mention how someone is related to me.

Oh, and lastly, apologies for any spelling errors in the Finnish words. Like I said, I do not know Finnish and from what I can tell, they use all together too many vowels in their words. Consonants are your friends, folks!