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.

No comments:

Post a Comment