heritage

Puzzling pieces of
what if and could have been
they should have checked me in.
Where I stood at lunch
the bathroom stall
waiting for the classroom bell to ring.  (school years 1981-1985)

I visit the blog Photo Finland to catch glimpses of an imaginative life of what if. What if I had been born in Finland. Perhaps I never would have been born. My mother certainly would not have married my father. My Grandma Aina may never have married Sievert Hemilla, which means my mother might never have been born. Why, things could have been so different! Like Alice who fell into the wonderland hole, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

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Mother’s grandparents immigrated from Finland (pictured). Great-grandma Liisa (Finnish form of Eliisabet) and great-grandpa (I do not recall his name) came through Ellis Island in 1884. My mother was a third-generation Finnish-American growing up in Ishpeming and Marquette, MI, where a large population of Finnish immigrants settled. There are relatives who still live in the UP but I know none of them, they do not know me, and so no reason to visit other than the beautiful scenery, especially along the shores of Lake Superior.

Mother was a cold person. She never taught me to knit, would not let me help in the garden and never let me make my own bed. I was not neat enough for her and she would often comment about how messy I was. She knew six words of Finnish and I know three; monkey, stocking hat and poop pants. My grandpa taught the grandchildren those words along with a song “There was a mockingbird, pecking on a frozen turd.” Three words I will never use in conversation nor a song I would sing. Puzzling to say the least.

My grandmother had a stern and obstinate personality. She was very frugal and I remember visiting her one room apartment, shortly after grandpa passed away, to find her cupboard empty for a box of saltines, refrigerator with a bottle of prune juice and the counter top sporting a bunch of green bananas. No kid would want any of those foods so I sat on the couch, mum and hungry.

In high school I developed strange eating habits. I skipped breakfast and cafeteria lunch and would be ravenous dinner time. I easily ate two heaping plates of spaghetti in the evening. My dad found it incomprehensible and would declare “You are going to get fat!” not knowing I only ate that one meal. I imagine he did not care thinking he should have asked why I was so hungry. I wanted him to ask. Mother knew but looked away and even drove off one evening, exasperated with my attention seeking. I was on the verge of becoming anorexic or bulimic, except I was too scared to let myself go that far. I knew no one would care enough to get me help, so I hid and honestly cannot remember eating another meal, although I certainly did. I definitely was not sitting at the dinner table with my brother, mom and dad. It was another girl. I was invisible.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” Lewis Carroll

I have since studied and learned food in Finland is respected worldwide for its healthy and natural origins, according to the official government-funded program. I make a traditional pasty, a family recipe grandma made grandpa while working in the iron ore mines in Marquette County, Michigan. I also bake spicy pig cut-out cookies to entice the senses and announce Christmas is coming.

Here is a link if you are interested in learning more about Finland. It certainly is more than snow and saunas. Here is the closest Finnish word found to express “be well” hyvinvointi (well-being).

(In case you are wondering, I am putting together thoughts as I write my memoirs for my children. I understand they are personal and I write them to heal myself as much as hope they may resonate with visitors who also struggle with similar pains. My intention is not to further estrange family, (by my or their choice) but rather to teach my children to better understand and learn forgiveness in order to move on. Of course, be well. J)

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5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. True Joan. I have come through the other side and though it hidden for 40 some years I am able to speak and it is just fine. I am fine. It actually has been enjoyable to relive even the dark moments to see where I have come from and where I am going… Some times I catch myself before going too deep, lest I not come out of the nightmare that creeps. J

  2. I also write because I find writing healing. I’ve found that I need to watch the feeling of guilt! You can end up feeling as though everything is your fault! It isn’t. It may be no-one’s fault – or there may be someone specific who is to blame for specific things. But, you can’t carry the can, yourself, for everyone.

    • True Joan. I have come through the other side and though it hidden for 40 some years I am able to speak and it is just fine. I am fine. It actually has been enjoyable to relive even the dark moments to see where I have come from and where I am going… Some times I catch myself before going too deep, lest I not come out of the nightmare that creeps. J

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