Äiti was crying when I left
hugging me close and weeping.
“Et unohta” she whispered.
“Muistat sinun Suomen kielesta,
en osaa puhua englanti!” she sniffed.
You have to remember your Finnish!
I can’t speak English!
“Minä muistan, Äiti.”
I will remember.
Years dripped by
on memories and melancholy
My young niece calls her grandmother Aiti. Families run deep.
Really? It means “Mom” in Finnish.
Beautiful and heart warming. This brought tears of warm memories to my eyes.
This was beautiful. It calls to mind so many hours of anthropological literature review–but from the inside. Always, I have examined the issue of language loss from the stance of an outside observer. Here, the fear of loss was strongly presented–the ache of thinking how fragile the bridge of understanding is, how easily it slips from us, one word at a time. Thank you for the reminder of how important maintaining this bridge between souls is; the supports are rooted in the tongue and the mind.
Thank you, Erin. That is a touching analysis.
I know this has little relation to your poem but it made me think of my Grandmother who was Finnish. Technically as she would remind me she wasn’t as she was born under Russian rule. She passed 7 years ago. Thank you of reminding me of my Grandmother.
The fact that your grandmother would tell you that makes me curious. Was she perhaps born Dec 7, 1917? (i.e. the day after Finland declared independence from Russia). As you likely know, Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia from 1809-1917, but had been part of the Kingdom of Sweden for about 800 years previously.
Grandma was born August 1917. I only know what she told me. She told me she was born under the Russian rule. I claim no knowledge of Finnish history, Grandma only told me a few things and those things were of the farm she grew up on until she was 9, the people her Mother would take in who were travelers, how the house was set up and how her eldest brother learned Swedish in school because they lived closer to Sweden and it was more practical for the children to learn the language.
Oh. I see what you’re saying. She would say she wasn’t Finnish because she was born under Russian rule? I misunderstood.
Most Finns learn Swedish, as it is the official second language of the country. Many communities have 2 names, particularly along the Western coast–a Swedish name and a Finnish one: Helsingfors/Helsinki, Jakobstad/Pietarsaari, Åbo/Turku. My class mates studied Finnish, Swedish, and English in elementary school, and some learned French, German, and/or Russian in high school.
I think that since my Grandmother was 9 when she left Finland she assumed that they only learned Swedish in the parts of Finland that were closest to Sweden. I’ve written down some of the comments she made and kept the Finnish genealogy papers of her family but haven’t talked to her in a while. It fades too fast. Thank you for the info 🙂
My pleasure. I was surprised to learn that there were a lot of Finnish settlers in my area 75 years ago or so. I have plans for a novel or two about them, but they’re down on my list of projects. 🙂
That’s funny you should say that, there are a community of them close to where I live. My Grandmother’s family settled in a state close to the one I grew up in. They had a large amount too. Many worked in the plant there. Her Father though, and brother went to Michigan to work in the mines. Once he made enough money he brought the rest of the family to USA before WWII.
If you don’t mind my asking, why did the Finnish settlers choose BC?
Well, if you’ve been here and been there, it’d be pretty clear. In this area: lakes, hills, and trees! The only thing missing that Ontario and Michigan have is bare rock… 😉 The Finnish loggers settled here to work in felling or in sawmills. There is also a coastal settlement of Finns called Sointula where the fishermen and boat builders settled. In both situations, it looks very much like Finland.
When I was in Astoria Oregon last March, I noticed that there are lots of Finns there as well. They have a Finnish Hall (Suomi Hall) and a couple of stores with Marimekko and Iittala products. 🙂 The lady in the one store could only return my “Hyvää huomenta” but not actually converse. 🙂
I’ve lived in Alaska and I am assuming that where you live is similar to the lower part of AK. I live between New York and Massachusetts and since many immigrants came through Ellis Island (my Grandmother did,) I’m willing to bet that’s why they settled around here. In the countrified part of the state is where the Finnish people settled. There are some community saunas that the Finns only are allowed to use.
My Grandmother stopped using her Finnish once she came here. People were not kind about immigrants here. Only when my Grandfather passed did she start trying to relearn it. She’d never learned it as a child in Finland since she was needed on the farm, a female and had to serve people stopping by to sleep in their house. At least that’s what she told me.
I miss sauna. I was surprised by how pervasive sauna is in Finland. For example- I saw saunas or was in saunas in each of the following: my bank branch, an insurance company (pool and sauna in basement), apartment building, my 4th host dad’s tug boat, the hospital where my 1st host dad worked, a sailing schooner (The Vivan)… Astounding, eh?
Actually that’s awesome. My Grandmother took us to the YMCA sauna whenever we would visit her and my Grandfather. I would love it if saunas were that popular here in America.
I doubt it’s quite the same experience, without the “sauna makara” sausage cooking above the stones, jumping into an icy lake, or beating oneself and one’s naked companions with the vihta! 😉 Not to mention the sitting around wrapped in towels on a deck, sipping a cool beverage. Someday you’ll have to do it in Finland. 🙂
That’s the truth but I’ll take whatever I can find here even if it’s chlorine steeped and tiled not wood built 🙂
It would be a real treat to visit Finland. I only wish my Grandmother was still alive so I could do it with her. I’ve never heard of the “sauna makara” but I do love sausage.
Nice! Love his your character embraces and keeps her culture close. Very moving.
In this case, it’s specifically about my instructions from my 4th host mother when I left Finland to return home at the end of my Rotary Youth Exchange. 😉 But it can mean other things to other people.
Good beginning, excellent middle and spectacular Finnish.
Wow, so tender. Loved this. The beauty. Thank you!
Wonderful! Truly wonderful!
I liked the tears and then, later, the years dripping by – and the mystery of a foreign language.