Finnish at heart / Arnold Toivosen tytär Karin Bauser
When people meet me, they notice immediately that I must be Scandinavian. I proudly proclaim that I am 51% Finnish. In reality, my heart says 100%, but since my mother’s family has been in America long enough to be quite a diluted strain of German, Irish and English descent, it is the Finnish side of me that has a hold of my heart. I favor my grandfather Papa Arvo’´s complexion, blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin, complete with freckles. I was graced to be the smallest one in the family, like my grandmother, Tyyne, and I like to think I have a lot of her personality. In my eyes, I am nothing but a Finn!
I adored my grandparents. I could listen to them talk for hours. Sometimes my grandmother would take my sisters and me to her friends’ houses, and we would sit, dressed up like little ladies and just listen to their conversations in Finnish. We didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but we would listen hard, and every now and then, we would catch something that was kind of like English; just enough that we could figure out what it was about. Of course, when they looked at us and smiled, we knew it was about us! Our grandparents were the greatest and we never had a doubt as to how much they loved us.
On our vacations to our grandparents, we were submerged into the Finnish-American culture. Our mother, the non-Finn, encouraged us in our ties to the Finnish side of our family. We spent Holidays, including Christmas, with Great Aunts and Great Uncles from Finland. Our house was filled with Arabia, Iittala and Marimekko. We learned at a very young age that anything Finnish was special, and that little hands don’t touch the Arabia and Iittala!
We had many relatives come over from Finland to visit with us, but when I was nine years old, one of our cousins came and stayed for many months. I remember thinking that she was just beautiful! Of course this made me believe that all Finnish people were just as beautiful! She shared my room with me, taught me my Finnish alphabet and numbers, and we became very close. We taught her to speak English. We have developed a very close relationship over the last 40 years though letters, photos, and in recent years, FAXes, and Emails. We discovered we had so much in common that we call ourselves “Twins”, and feel more like sisters than just relatives. We had another cousin come stay for a few months when I was eighteen years old. She was also quite beautiful, just reinforcing my feelings about the Finnish people. We also helped her to improve her English. She and I also became very close and we continue this closeness to this day.
I think of your beautiful Finland many times every day. I have been blessed to visit there twice. Merikarvia has many of my relatives there, both living and deceased. On both of my visits I confirmed my beliefs that Finns are a happy group. They are kind and extremely generous! They spoil me rotten when I am there! There is an old-fashioned, almost magical feeling in the small Finnish communities. Finns have great manners, something that is a bit of a “lost art” here in the states it seems. A visitor feels very welcome everywhere they go. Although I speak only a few words of Finnish, I had no problem communicating, as it seems all Finns, and especially Merikarvians, speak that universal language called A Smile.
At this time of year, as the Holidays approach, I wonder once again, what Christmas is like in Merikarvia. I imagine the trees covered white, the streets blanketed with snow, which you hear as you drive down the road. In the quiet, you hear the sounds of tires as they pack the snow down on the road. The church bells echo in the cold of the morning. I wonder what your children expect on Christmas morning?
It is said that America is the Melting Pot of all countries. That is never truer than at Christmas time. When December comes, our houses are decorated with lights, some colorful, some made to look like dangling icicles. People take evening drives just to look at all the houses. Some people use so many lights, they must double their electric bill for the month! We have very large shopping centers over here, and suddenly every center has its own Santa, sitting on a throne, waiting to hear the wishes of all the boys and girls. Moms and dads try to find explanations as to how Santa gets from one Mall to the next as quickly as the family does, and why he looks different at each Mall.
In early December we buy a Christmas tree (or two or three), and put them in our Living Room or Family Room. We decorate them with strings of small lights, and many ornaments, sometimes with a theme, although usually without. We go crazy, shopping for presents for all those we love and wrap them and put them under the tree. The excitement builds as the children (and adults) see the presents piling up under the tree. We hang garland and decorations all around the house and spend hours baking cookies and candies to share with visitors. Usually a family will have a Nativity set, to remind us of what Christmas truly is about.
Christmas stockings hang from the fireplace mantles, empty, waiting for Santa Clause to fill when he comes Christmas Eve night. The stockings are big, much too big to fit even a large man. Usually Santa Clause fills them with candy. On Christmas Eve, while the children sleep, Santa and his team of reindeer land on the rooftop and come down the chimney, leaving presents for all the good little girls and boys, and a lump of coal in the stockings for the bad ones. I must admit, however, I have never known a child to get coal!
Santa is an older gentleman with a white beard, a red hat, red pants and jacket and a large black belt. He has a very round belly and a jolly laugh. When he smiles there is a twinkle in his eye. His cheeks are chubby and his eyes have a sparkle in them.
Children awake very early Christmas Morning, knowing that Santa has come and left them presents. The family goes to the Living Room to discover what Santa has left and then to open all their other presents. (Some families open their presents on Christmas Eve.) After church, the families will gather together for Christmas Dinner, which traditionally may be a ham or a turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, vegetables, turkey stuffing (dressing), followed by Apple and Pumkin pies with lots of Cool Whip. Everyone will eat until they, like the turkey, are stuffed!
Following dinner the families will relax and watch as the children play with their new toys, dads try to follow “Assembly Instructions” for those things that require it, and moms tend to the chore of carefully placing the china, (or in our house, the Arabia) back into the place of honor, the china hutch. At the end of the evening, I will be left, once again, dreaming about that far away place of beauty, one of God’s best creations, called Finland.
So, as you spend this Christmas season with those you love, in that wonderful town of Merikarvia, know that somewhere, way far away, in the great state of California, on the West Coast of the United States, someone is wishing you the Very Best, not only at this Blessed Christmas season, but every day, every year, and she is wishing she could spend it with you!
Karen Sue Toivonen Bauser
Loomis, California, USA
(Arvo Toivonen oli kotoisin Värenmäeltä ja Lyyli Vären veli. Kirjoittaja on Arvon pojan Arnoldin tytär.)