15-17 July 2013
The day following my arrival in Finland I get on a train headed for Kuopio, my mother’s home town. Kuopio is a town with a population of about 100 000, which is located 400 kilometres north of Helsinki. As a child I visited my grandmother in Kuopio once a year, but in later years my visits where always during winter, and it must be 20 years since I last visited the town during summer time. I am staying at my aunt Sirkka’s place. Aunt Sirkka’s house used to be our après-ski place. We would spend the day on the gentle slope of Antikkala, in -20°C (-4°F) and as darkness fell we would ski to Sirkka’s house for freshly baked pulla, and a swim in their swimming pool. My mothers side of the family are talkative and prone to uncontrollable laughter, and I have many fond memories of sitting in Sirkka’s kitchen laughing until my stomach hurt.
For years Sirkka has been trying to convince me to visit her so that she can show me her beautiful garden, which I remember only as mounds of snow. When I arrive it is green and speckled with colourful flowers.
But more than flowers have been uncovered by the snow. There is water all around. It seems a mystery that I have never realised how near the water I was in Kuopio. In fact Kuopio is almost completely surrounded by a lake of 472,76 km², called Kallavesi. On my second day, after filling my stomach with cake at my cousin Taina’s house we drive along Saaristokatu (Archipelago street) which links several inhabited islands with each other. Sirkka shows me the place where my mother’s childhood home used to stand before it was torn down to be replaced by apartment buildings. Her husband’s childhood home on the other side of the street is still there. My mother’s family lived on a hill called Mölymäki. Originally the name was Myllymäki (Mill hill), but as the increasing number of children in the area caused the noise levels to rise, the inhabitants re-named it Mölymäki (Noise hill). The hill was a working class neighbourhood and my mother used to tell us scary stories from her childhood; about the man who chased his elderly mother around the yard with and ax, and the mother who locked her children in a cupboard before setting the house on fire. My mother’s family was relatively wealthy, and owned the neighbourhood’s first fridge and only telephone.
In the evenings we sit and drink tea and talk. I realise how old Sirkka and her husband are by the frequency with which our discussion returns to the subject of illness. Sirkka is 75 years old and has known her husband Risto since their early days at the sandbox. They began dating at the age of 14 and have been married for well over 50 years. Now Sirkka finds it difficult to move and Risto’s diabetes has blinded his left eye. But it is still clear that they love each other very much.
On my final day in Kuopio we visit the Puijo tower. As I walk around the tower I see water in all directions. The day is overcast and I imagine that the view must be spectacular on a sunny day when the water is dark blue and the trees bright green.
After the visit to Puijo tower it is time for me to leave. As I hug my aunt goodbye I hope that it will not be too long until I see her again.