Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Trail For Singers


This Thanksgiving I made a pilgrimage of my own, to visit the graves of my Finnish immigrant ancestors and the land they once lived on.  The place they homesteaded is now a park in King County, just miles from where I grew up, but I had not been out there since I was a little girl.

The cemetery where they are buried is small, and if you are driving up the road in a hurry, you'll miss it easily.  I'm not sure many folks notice it much, but I'm glad to know it's there.  I've made a point of visiting their graves in the past years - I want to thank them and honor them, and let them know I care about them.

They came from what is now known as Kauhava, Southern Ostrobothnia.  My great-grandfather came across the ocean as a tiny child in his mother's lap.  They left behind their family and friends, and hoped to raise their children free from poverty and repression.  All of their names were changed.  Jakob became Jack.  Vaino Juha became John.  Jaako Wilhelm became Bill.  Kaisa became Kate.  The patronymic Juhanpoika became Johnson.  The surname Krootila was abandoned.

They settled on land that had recently been taken from the Muckleshoot people, land that had been advertised as free for the taking.  They tried to find a little bit of Finland in this place, built a sauna by the creek.  Trees were felled, cows were milked, crops were sewn and harvested.  Money was sent to relatives waiting on the other side of the ocean.  Children were born and raised.

I am here because of these quiet, strong, hard-working people and I don't want them to be forgotten.

We visited their graves that beautiful winter day, and, since I didn't have flowers, I sang to them.




Do not, good people, regard that as odd
if I, as a child, sang too much,
a little one, sang feebly and badly.



I was not instructed, did not visit the land of seers,
did not get words from the outside,
phrases from the farther off.



All others were taught; I did not get away from home
from the help of my mother alone, from around that lonely one.


I had to learn about it at home, under the rooftree of my own storehouse, 
by my mother's own distaff, by the chips my brother whittled,
even that as a small boy, a little boy,
a little boy in a ragged shirt.



But be that as it may, I blazed a trail for singers,
blazed a trail, broke off tree tops, broke branches, showed the way.
Thence the way goes now, a new course stretches out
for more versatile singers, for ampler songs
in the rising younger generation, among the people growing up.


~ Kalevala 50: 585-620 (F.P. Magoun translation)



* * *


The homestead took a while to find. I had to call Gramps for directions, and when I arrived the afternoon light was already beginning to slant towards evening.  My sister and I had been wanting to know about the old place, and we'd asked Gramps to share his stories recently.  I kept hearing his words while I was walking about the land, and images of times gone by rippled up from the depths of memory as I explored through the trees and along the creek.

I felt this sense of elation, of warmth and joy and belonging, as I skipped and wandered about and touched the old, old apple trees.  Some still had fruit on them, food for winter birds landing on the bare limbs.


















The ranch house, the barn, the sauna, and the shed all burned down sometime before I was born.  From what I gather, it was an arson.  The city wanted to build a road right through the property, and they got their road, alright.  The homestead is a city park now, some of it well-groomed, some of it left wild, but I was struck by the distinct spirit of the place.  There was a distinctly magical feel to it, a sparkling in the thickets, a subtle quality inherent in the land that has gone undisturbed and is very much living.  It made me so happy, I wish I could put more words to it.

But I will share a few words from my Grandpa, which he emailed to my sister and me ~

* * *

Kris and Kate, 

Here are some of my recollections of the farm days of a long time ago.
Kind of like based around Grampa Johnsons` farm house, the barn and the fields.

Grampa came to the US from Finland around 1889 and homesteaded the section of land the ranch was on. He built some buildings like the Garage, sauna, woodshed and the barn. I believe Grandma Johnson lived in the garage until Grampa had the ranch house built, it was a lovely house and I hope Grandma enjoyed it. I never got to see grandma cause she had died before I was born. I never had the joy of a Grandma on either side of mom or dads family.


Grampa`s house was the center of the life at the ranch, what I remember was the every day effort Gramps, Elsie and Uncle Charlie put into tending to the cows, up early, Charlie`s alarm clock going off, it was one of those old ones with the big bell on top, get the cows into the barn, come back for morning coffee, Gramps sipping coffee from the saucer at the kitchen table, then back to the barn and start the milking.  Then do it all over in the evening, every day for 365 days, and I don`t remember Gramps ever complaining.

The Barn was a place for peace, solitude and where things happen. Gramps, Charlie and Aunt Elsie hand milking the cows, the smell of bag balm, hay, sileage, cows, horses and yes cow poop. The excitement of getting the Delaval milking machine, now all they had to do was strip finish the udder, must have been a great relief for Aunt Elsie.

I was always amazed when the cows would come into the barn and go to their same stall whether it was the first or last stall in line.



One time it was evening milking time, must have been in the winter as it was dark, and Gramps was milking, sitting on his milk stool and I was playing in the lime bucket, not a good idea, and I dropped the scoop into the lime and it splashed into my eyes. needless to say I was crying like mad, couldn`t see, and Gramps jumped up grabbed me by my left ear and marched me to the milk house, where there was a big cement water basin and proceeded to wash the lime out of my eyes. No scolding just made sure I was OK. I think the grab of the ear was the scolding. I never played in the lime bucket again other than to help spread it into the poop trough after milking and cows had left the barn.


Speaking of cow poop, one of the scariest things Karen and I can recall  from are talking about the barn, was the poop pile and the rickity ramp that was used to wheelbarrow the poop up and dump it ito the poop pile. The pile would be huge by the time it was time to use the manure spreader to fertilze the fields and I knew I did not want to fall into it. I thought it was a big deal that Unc would let me ride the spreader while we did the fields. Many days I would come home with cow poop all over me.





The Barn was huge, some 40 stalls in the West side, horse barn and stalls on the East side and  another 20 stalls on the North side. A big hay storage in the center, many places to play in the hay. Not something Gramps approved of, his comment was, 'How would you like to have someone walk in your food?'


The horse barn stalls were for the two work horses, Babe and Dollie. Babe was black and Dollie was gray, Charlie used them for plowing, cutting the hay and pulling the hay rake. We would get the ride them when they were working and you had better be ready to duck under the door when they were going back into the barn and stalls, they were non stopping till heads were into the grain bin.

Yearly making hay and sileage times were great fun, seems us kids were never in the way, all the adults put up with us, we got to ride on the hay wagons and trucks and help stomp down the corn silage in the silo, what fun!




Speaking of fun, one of the memories of life on the farm was the times all of us kids would find all the old empty motor oil tin cans, [before the plastic ones,]  and use them to elevate our shoes out of the mud puddles. If you stomped on the can just right it would clamp onto your shoe and then you would walk around thinking, isn't this cool.



Needless to say, I have great memories of the farm, the ranch house, thought it was so big, the basement so huge, and when it burned down I couldn't believe how small the basement foundation was, and when the homestead was made into a park, it is hard to believe how close the barn, Suice creek and the orchard were. That`s why it is good to be a kid in your life!!  You know, I just don`t remember it ever raining or that it was cold.

I hope this little bit of the farm life is something good for you two to hear about.


Love, Gramps





On the way out to the place I told Gramps I was looking for a rock from the family sauna, to bring back home for the sauna Travis and I are going to build in the coming year.  He said the rocks were stained a nice shade of brownish orange, since the water from their well had a lot of iron.  There had been a lot of water poured on those rocks over the years.  I kept watching the ground as I wandered.  So much had changed there, I wasn't sure it was even possible for me to find one of the rocks now.

Gramps told me that they had held a community sauna on Friday night when he was young, and other Finnish families would come from all around to get together and share the sauna.  I can only imagine how many saunas took place on this land while our family was living there, how many stories were held in those stones.

Just when I decided it didn't make sense to keep looking, I glanced into the bare wild rosebushes and something caught my eye.  There was a large, beautiful stone sitting there, and when I walked over to pick it up, I noticed the rusty stain covering one side of it.  But really, I knew it was the right rock because my eyes suddenly teared up, and I found myself standing there crying, knowing the people walking by were probably wondering what on earth was wrong with me!  They could look all they wanted, I didn't care.  I thanked my ancestors with a smile, and carried the stone back to the car in my arms.

It's sitting under my wood stove now; it just felt right to keep it warm.  Someday it will join the stones offered up by our land and warm our family sauna.


Thank you for reading this long post.  It has taken me a while to write it, but I'm glad to be able to share it with you.

Hope you are having a lovely weekend and staying warm ~

Love,

Kate

4 comments:

  1. Well, I randomly found your blogpost and as a Finnish I am amazed. So wonderful that you still appreciate that graveyard of Finnish settlers. It was interesting and also touchingto read and see those names. I come from Eastern Finland but naturally I know about Ostrobotnian people, who looked for better life over seas. Thank you!

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  2. Kiitos, Caro! That means a lot. I really appreciate you stopping by. :)

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  3. Ihana teksti! How very wonderful to read this, "cousin". I will for sure show it to C. who's family on his mother's side is Finnish. They have opened this whole world for me with their stories of the settlers, that sometimes makes me wish some of my ancestors had been so brave so as to come to America. Big hugs to you and yours this Solstice!

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  4. Paljon kiitoksia, Milla! :) Thanks so much for reading and for passing this along to C. Cool that we have that connection, I love the old stories and feel so lucky to have had folks who shared them with me.
    Hugs to you and your loved ones, too, and hope you've had wonderful holidays. <3

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