Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Good morning from breezy drizzly St. Thomas. It is funny how differently I have begun to view the weather since I moved down here. It is probably in the high 70s outside and I am in sox, long pants and a warm shirt. Your body adjusts to hot and cold no matter what the range of temperature happens to be. I am headed up to Wisconsin next week and my daughter is teasing me about making sure I bring real shoes and not sandals. I have to find my winter coat and see if the moths have eaten holes in it, or if it has "molded". Everything down here is so damp. The paper sticks in the printer and half the page prints on one sheet and the other half on the second sheet stuck to it half way down.

And I am the one who grew up in Upper Michigan with snow banks taller than I am and lived for 15 years in Alaska. I swore I would never go back to cold country after I moved to Texas, but as I get older I miss the familiarity of seasons and the fun of having a 4 season wardrobe. Never thought I would say I am sick of wearing tank tops and shorts, but I am!

So to get myself in the snow country spirit I read William Durbin's The Darkest Evening. (A Junior Literary Guild Selection). It has a very foreboding cover on it. The lower diagonal of the page shows three figures on cross country skis and the top is deep red with a black ink drawing of a man's face with frightening eyes. It sure brought back memories of learning how to ski on the wooden skis my grandfather had made. This cover is very appropriate for this novel about a Finnish American family who bought into the Russian propaganda during the Depression about the utopian Finnish Russia. Thousands of poor Finns moved their families to northern Russia expecting the life of plenty and discovered that they were just an unwanted cog in Stalin's machinery. Many of the men were taken from their homes and executed. This is the tale of the Maki's move to Russia and how different it turned out to be from the promises made to them. Jake misses his friends back in Minnesota, but mostly he misses listening to baseball games on the radio. Sadly, only part of this family is able to cross country ski across the Finnish border to safety.

This novel highlights a part of American History that we don't often hear about - the emigration out of America that occurred during the Depression. Since Finland had only gained its independence from Russia in 1918, after the Finnish Civil War, there were still many Finns with close ties to Russia. I remember the talk when I was growing up about the Red Finns as both sets of my grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. as adults. Many of the Red Finns left Finland, most emigrated to Russia, but others came to the U.S. These were the Finns who then readily left the U.S. for Russia when the recruiters came in to the logging and mining towns and promised them jobs and land and a shining future. But by the 1930s Stalin had begun to purge the Communist Party and of the 6,000 or so Finnish Americans in Karelia, Russia 1000 of them were executed. Including the Finns who had moved across the boarder from Finland, over 25% of the Finnish population of Karelia was executed.

Oh my, but I did start out my day on a downer didn't I? Actually, this book was a wonderful reading experience as it brought back childhood memories of the Finglish that was spoken in my home. Heck, I didn't know the English word "slipper" until I was in fourth grade! My speech is still spattered with Finnish words - it is just part of who you are when you grow up in a bilingual household. Too bad my parents didn't encourage my brothers and I to speak Finn. I only know a few words, many of which have been Finglish-ized. My "daughter" in Finland has taught me more Finn than my parents did and her mother tongue is Swedish!

All for today.