My grandma came to America from Finland when she was 18. Life was tough back in the old world. It was cold. Things were hard. She eventually found her way to Cleveland to make a better way.
I recently came in contact with family still back in Finland. They are sending me old, transcribed letters and pictures of my grandma. Things ended abruptly between her and me even though she lived above us on Colgate Ave in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. She went to Finland for a trip. While there, my father—who was taking care of her—died suddenly. She came back for a minute, but it was determined she should spend the end of her life in the place she began it. I am not sure she wanted this. Cleveland was home, because while she was raised in the forest, her formative years were spent living on Rust Belt streets.
Anyway—with the rush of old letters and photos reaching me—I am learning a lot I never knew. One of those things is that she had a way with words. Don’t get me wrong—she was a worker: a one-time maid, an all-the-time homemaker, but hidden in her body work and her quintessential Finnish silence was the voice of a poet. Below is a letter she wrote to her cousin who lived in Washington state. The year was 1941. Times were lean. Times were hard.
If there is one thing that needs to come across in this letter it is this: no matter what struggles the region thinks it has today we have a heritage of ass kicking and hard work, not to mention a deep-spirited resilience. These traits will revitalize the Rust Belt more so than anything else.
It’s been a long time. I don’t know where the time has gone. I apologize for my slowness. Many times I thought about you all together. It is again spring, the most beautiful spring with beauty and cleanliness around us. So time goes by fast. It is an unshakeable law of nature that time goes on. Everything else can stop in this world, only time goes forward. It’s almost already one year since I visited you. It all feels like a dream. Only a memory is left. How this time really flies. Also in your life it could have happened big changes or nothing.
My life goes forward like earlier. Same direction. Nothing has happened. Same work and home jobs, from morning to night. I do Finland aid work during my free time. I have sent packages home with all the kind of things that are difficult to get from there. I have sent 32 packages all together to home and my sister. They have been very happy to get them. They haven’t been complaining from lacking anything. I just have from my goodwill the desire to help them, when I know in what misery they live. Kahvia and sugar I mostly send. It is hard to get them. They can get some kind of substitute drink ‘korviketta.’
These times are hard. Kovaa on tama aika. War time still goes on, which everyone hopes to end, and you don’t know when it ends. Oh, this is such a miserable time period where people in the world have misery. How long can America be in peace. It is a question. It is not at all my business where the world is going. I just go on the way my Creator has shown from the storm to the peace-land. The poet sings: so dark isn’t the night, not so big the worries. Jesus helps me and brings help and light to the night. He doesn’t take the mercy away. He is with me. Han on luonani.
I got bad news from home. The news wears me down. Sister Lilja is ill and very weak. She is being cared for at the Lapua hospital. She has typhoid fever. I got a letter from her husband Juho. He said there is some hope to stay alive but everything depends on the fate. My dear Sylvia, you can’t guess how painful this is for me. I have shed many tears because of her. I have been hoping and praying to God that His will will happen, what is best. That is not all. My brother Reino is in Helsinki in the Red Cross Hospital. He has been there already one month when he wrote to me. He had an operation on the leg that had been hurt in the war. They found a bad infection in the leg bone. He is now in the Helsinki hospital so difficult this disease is. He said that he can keep his leg. He said that he’s not the only one here. There are many other fellows with the same fate. So hard is the school of life to us. You must live according to your fate. The mighty Father’s hand lead our way.
My brother Artturi is in Savonlinna studying to be an officer. He is going to be an officer in the Finnish army. In his letter, he says he’s very well. He didn’t say anything special. My father and Elias are at home. They are not complaining one day to the other. Spring comes very slowly. They have very little feed for the cattle and they can’t get it without money either. So everyone has their difficulties. The reason is the last summer’s dryness.”