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Several years ago, Linda wrote an essay entitled "My Grandmother" for a school assignment. She talked with my mother about her early life and a part of her essay introduces my memories of my mother. She wrote:
My grandmother was born and lived in Jalasjarvi, Waasanlaani, Finland. Her full name was Mary Justina Freisting/Peterson. She had five brothers and three sisters. They played games similar to the ones we play today. One was "polto palloa", played like dry-land hockey. Another was "sappeli polloa", played with three people like keep-away only instead of throwing the ball, they'd hit it with a bat. They made skates out of wooden blocks, shaped like shoes with a runner on each skate and tied to the foot with a rope. They skated on a big lake that was frozen over.
When she was about fourteen she would've liked to skate to school on the lake that reached from their house to the school. She didn't go because (as her mother said) she didn't have proper clothes. A man would come to their home six weeks a year and tutor them. The family lived on a farm and she tended cattle, and took care of her brother's children.
Work was scarce in Finland and taxes were high. Many people went to bed hungry. They ate mainly herring potatoes. Because it was so hard to earn food to eat, many people took a ship to Canada or the United States. My grandmother's brother Isaac went to Mullan, Idaho, while her sister Sanni, and her brother Samuel went to Port Arthur, Canada. In 1908 when my grandmother was sixteen she went to Canada and In 1914, she moved to Mullan.
Her grandfather died at the age of one hundred one, which was remarkable because of the amount of sickness in the land. He had a full set of teeth when he died.
Linda's essay related some things I didn't know about my mother. I'm sorry I hadn't asked my parents more about their early lives. I remember only some things my mother told me of her life in Finland. I should have kept a diary instead of trusting to memory.
As Linda wrote, there were nine children in her family, she being the youngest. The oldest, a brother, Henry, was born in 1873. It was his children that mom took care of in addition to the chickens and cows. There was another Maria Justina before my mother, who died at 8 months in 1875. These were followed by Matti (Matthew), Juho (John), Sanni (Sussanna), Ikie (Isaac), Sameli (Samuel), Hilja Maria (Died at age 2) and my mother. I believe the Freisting name was given to my grandfather while he served in the army, whether Finland or Russian. Finland was ruled by Russia around that time.
I called my mother "mumma" with the accent on the first syllable like all Finnish words. Finns call their mothers "Aiti". Other relatives in Finnish terms are Tati, Seta, Serku, Isa. (Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Father). Mother, as Linda wrote, came to the Americas when she was sixteen. Karen West in an article in the Sunday Seattle Times (Apr. 14, 1991) wrote that her grandma left for America when sixteen to join two older sisters and one brother. She set sail, leaving behind in Vaasa the ghost of bitter poverty. My mother, likewise, left Vaasanlanni to come to Ontario, Canada, to be with an older sister, Sanni and a brother Samuel, leaving Finland behind in poverty. My mother's home town in Finland, was probably Jalasjarvi which is also the name of the lake on which she wanted to skate to school.
Mother didn't talk much of Finland, except when asked, and I doubt if she ever had a desire to go there. She did gather together good used clothing and sent them to relatives in Finland. During Bettys and my visit to Finland, we discovered that there had been troubles among the relatives when it came time to divide the "gifts".
Some of our Mullan friends did go to the "Old Country" but returned to Mullan when they found that life in Finland was still poor and wasn't as great as they remembered. Ray Hendrickson whose family went to Finland told me that the only thing he liked about Finland was the pea soup. We remember "Good old days" but forget that things change as we grow older. I guess that was how it was with those returning to Finland.
I'm not sure where mom landed and lived in Canada but she knew much about Port Arthur and Kivikoski (in Ontario) when we visited "her family" one year. She worked for a family who taught her a language which Sanni assumed to be English but sounded like "Parley vous Francais?" She came to Mullan in 1914 to be with her brother, Isaac, who was married to my father's sister. When she was 23 years old she married my dad (on March 22, 1915) and through marriage became a U.S. citizen. By the way, her birthday was April 6, 1892 and she would have been 100 years old as I sat before the computer writing about her.
My mother was a homemaker but she did housework and cooking for the C.D. Millers who boarded single school teachers. (Women school teachers were all single then.) The boarding house, made from logs, was across street from the Mullan Schools and two of my grade school teachers, Miss Griffith and Miss Phillips, stayed there. Sometimes I ate at the Millers when my mother was the cook and my dad was on swing shift. Once my mother made a roast that seemed small for the number of people served, but when the leftovers came back to the kitchen, there was more than enough for me to eat. I can't remember men boarding at the Millers, probably the reason there was roast for me.
Mumma seemed to get along with people, and was quite a kidder like the time she offered rhubarb for a friend, Mrs. Sivila, and mentioned the fertilizer she used and the dogs that visited the patch. The friend refused the offer but bought this same rhubarb from the grocery store where I worked instead. I'm having troubles with my rhubarb, another thing I should have asked my mother about. A problem arose once between mom and a good friend of hers that lasted for years. We bought her house at 316 Idaho Avenue that she rented. They became good friends again when her friend's young son died. Another friend was lost because of a fur coat that mom received in payment for housework. The friend said the coat had been promised her. Good Will got the coat a few years ago.
My folks got along pretty well together though there were times when dad went on a three day bender. Finnish women in the community didn't drink very much (in public anyway), and once mom thought she would get drunk to embarrass my dad and stop him from drinking--it didn't work. Another time she moved to San Pedro, California, where her nieces Vienno and Irene lived. She got a job doing housework and this had a decided effect on my dad. I don't know if he went on any binges after that. I was at the University of Idaho at the time and dad, along with a friend of mine came to visit me He didn't look very good with his hives which he blamed on the mutton he had eaten. In 1940, after mother retuned to Mullan, they celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary.
Articles about the Finns say they settled in Finnish communities in America to be able to communicate with people of their own culture. They were stubborn and I remember a butcher, Rodney Truesdale, learning all the cuts of meat in Finn in self-defense. He always gave me a weiner (makkara) when I went to the butcher shop with my mother.
Our town had a Finn Hall where stage plays were presented periodically on Sunday evenings. The plays were followed by dancing and fellowship which mother really enjoyed. I would dance with her occasionally since dad had two left feet and no feeling for the beat of the dance music. I took part in several plays, and sang in a song group and I think I learned to read the language because of it. Once my mother and two of her friends sang a Finnish song and acted out the parts on the stage. They got a nice ovation. I recited a poem and the audience laughed even though it wasn't a humorous reading. I think it was because I forgot the lines of å hiiri menni metsan---
The neighbors often gathered together to play pinochle to three or four o'clock in the morning. Some in the group didn't speak Finn but everyone understood the bids. My mom also organized a sewing club with rules on meeting dates and the refreshments to be served by the hostess. They "elected" me as secretary to keep minutes and to see that meetings were orderly. I quit the job when I mentioned that Mrs. Hendrickson (Ray's mother) had gone beyond the refreshment rule by providing a meal. As my mother said, I should have kept my mouth shut. Mrs. Hendrickson blew up! In later years, the sewing club consisted of Mrs. Ranta and my mother and met only when fresh biscuits had been baked. They didn't need me for a secretary.
The sewing club did other things too. They bought an Ouiji Board to find out things of the future. The board did predict when Mrs. Karki was one of the pointer pushers. I don't remember how accurate it was. An odd thing about that Ouiji Board--I inherited it when my mother died. I brought it to church to a mysticism class I was leading and found a pretty good pusher there too. Once I needed the board for something and spray painted it with green enamel paint. Several coats failed to hide the lettering so I gave up and burned it in the fireplace. That board made the hottest fire-I was ready to get a fire extinguisher!
Mom did a lot of canning and our small basement was usually filled with her products. I had the privilege of peeling peaches, cutting up carrots and beans and tightening the seals on the freshly filled jars. Some of the food she grew in her small garden, like strawberries, carrots, potatoes, and, oh yes, rhubarb, but mostly she would buy boxes of fruits. Sometimes when dad and I were lucky in our hunting expeditions, she would can the meat along with pork we would buy from our farmer friends. I'm glad that Betty and I get our canned food from the grocery store--canning was a lot of work.
Her larder also included many jars of huckleberries. In autumn we would go into hills around Mullan and pick gallons of berries. My mother was quick at the job, but in later years she had trouble climbing the slopes because of varicose veins. She would sit where berries were plentiful and my dad and I would bring her branches to harvest. An Indian blanket would catch some of the berries that fell from the branches while she picked. Others used blankets for harvesting berries by shaking or beating the bushes over the blankets and then pouring the berries into buckets. Although they could fill buckets faster this way, mother didn't like it because berries would be "dirtier" and bruised and caused more work in canning and in making huckleberry pies.
I often think of the of the 1929 depression days when dad quit his job in the mine and we went camping along the North Fork of the Couer d'Alene river. The highlights of the summer were the eggs and butter bought from farmers for nickels and dimes (per dozen or quart), the hotcakes my mother made and the fish we caught. One episode stands out. One day we were standing around our camp (an old lumber camp) when our cat discovered a chipmunk and started chasing it. The chipmunk ran looking for a tree to climb, but in its haste selected one of my mother's legs. The cat followed, my mother screamed and danced and we laughed. Fortunately the chipmunk got away, my mother wasn't harmed, and the cat lost interest in the chase.
My mother had health problems in her life. I mentioned her varicose veins when writing about huckleberries. The veins were stripped at least two times in Spokane but they got worse with age and one of her legs had an ulcer. She tried to heal her sore unsuccessfully with various medicines and homemade remedies. I know she had an appendicitis operation, and she told Betty about an eptoptic pregnancy that I didn't know about.
When I was in the fourth grade she had spinal meningitis and was hospitalized in an isolation ward at the Shoshone County Infirmary. I stayed at the Heikkilas during this time and once when I got a headache in school, my teacher sent me home in a big hurry. Her illness was considered very contagious. During her recovery she craved oranges which dad bought by the crate. The doctor said that she would probably lose her memory. She did a little, but it seemed to improve after awhile. After my father's death in 1952, she lived alone in her home in Mullan and then came to Bremerton in 1965 after the highway department bought her property to improve Interstate 90. We purchased a house for her on Perry Avenue since she felt she could still live alone with her cat Fluffy. (Fluffy was only one of the cats she had for pets during her life.)
She seemed to do all right for awhile in her new home but we found that she existed on toast and coffee, didn't get dressed or know if it was morning or night since she didn't open her drapes. One day we found her on the floor, unable to get up. After a check of her medicine intake and two falls we felt she should be in a nursing home since Betty was working for the Horton Nursing Home at the time. I think she really liked it there because whenever we brought her to our house for a visit and dinner, she would soon ask to go back. As the weeks went by we noticed a change in her. Betty was the woman who had four kids, and I was her brother Henry who's baby chicks were lost. She wondered why those around her wouldn't speak Finn and why we couldn't hear the sounds that she heard. Linda finished her essay with:
My grandmother died in January of 1973, at the age of eighty one.