EJ, in her 70’s is a Finnish grandmother, who invited me into her home and politely asked me to remove my shoes before we went into the living room. “No one wears shoes in the house.” Surprising, I told her, both because Finland’s a cold country and also because its a custom to remove shoes before entering the house even in India. “Oh, is it?” she said. She’s in Johns Creek, Georgia visiting her daughter’s family. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with her.
Heart: Tell me anything.
EJ: OK. I was born in the country side in a farm house. My father was a farmer. I studied in that small village until I went to the University after school and graduated in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. After that, I went to teach children in the secondary school, teaching them Math, Chemistry and Physics. Now, I live in a small town of 60,000 people maybe, called Hämeenlinna (you don’t have this “ä” sound in English), 100kms from Helsinki. So, this is where I was also working until I retired.
Heart: So, when you were growing up, were women going to the University? Was it common?
EJ: It wasn’t common at my time. I went to the university from 1965 to 1970. After that, I went to teach until I retired.
Heart: So, if it was not common, did your father or mother encourage you to go study further?
EJ: My father told us “You girls have to study.” He wanted my sister and I to go study.
Heart: How’s life?
EJ: I am grateful for my life. I have 3 children, 2 sons and 1 daughter. I’m very happy about them. They’ve done very well for themselves, they’ve studied, got good jobs and they’ve children of their own. My daughter has 3 sons. And my son has 2 daughters. The last one, my son is not yet married. Maybe one day he will get married and give me more grand children. (Laughs) When I was growing up, it was after the war in Finland and we were poor, we had to do a lot of work at home and in the farm to run the family. But, those times are gone, things have gotten better and I feel like I’ve lived a good life. No more wars in Finland and the economics (sic) are going well.
When I was young, I had to do a lot of work at the farm house. Before we were born my father even had cows, but not at my time. When I was a child he grew gains – wheat, rye and even potatoes.
Heart: Interesting. So, do you think about the past more or the future more?
EJ: My childhood was quite happy, because at that time, we were so free over there on the country side. We would play ballgames, run everywhere, and ski in the winter. I liked my father very much but not so much my mother.
Heart: Was she demanding or was she not nurturing enough?
EJ: Maybe she was not loving me the way I wanted to be loved. She was generally not a loving person.
Heart: You didn’t like her as a person, or you didn’t like the way she treated you?
EJ: Maybe, both. But, of course, they’ve both died now.
Heart: So, what’s the old age situation there? Do you have nursing homes or assisted living facilities in Finland? Or do people live in their homes until they die.
EJ: I don’t understand your question.
Heart: My neighbor who lived next to us recently moved into an 800 sq feet apartment, because she’s 86 and she wants a smaller home for herself. The place where she lives at, for a monthly fee, all her utilities and her maintenance is taken care of for her. She can either cook for herself or order food from the kitchen. People want to stay in their homes as long as they can, but sometimes, they’ll have to go to assisted living, you know?
EJ: People like to live in their homes as long as they can. I get it. My father stayed at home until he died. He stayed for a few days in the hospital just before he died. For 4 years before she died, my mother was in a home for old people and she didn’t like it very much. She only had a very small room and there were two beds in it for another woman. It was not a very nice place but she had to live there.
Heart: Do you have a husband? You haven’t talked about him, why’re you not talking about him?
EJ: I don’t know, I am here, but he wants to stay home. I don’t like that he smokes so much. He’s a heavy smoker and it smells bad. (Laughs)
Heart: Have you tried telling him how you feel?
EJ: Yes, yes. I’ve tried telling him many times. “You’ve to stop smoking.” But he can’t do it. Its difficult for him.
Heart: So, you are trying to make the marriage work?
EJ: Yes, when we’re home, we’re OK. We go to the summer cottage to spend time in summers.
Heart: Do you own a summer cottage?
EJ: But, I’m very used to staying alone. I don’t miss him very much.
Heart: Its OK, I’m married for 15 years, my husband and I keep wondering how we can even stand each other. But, you know we’re kind of stuck with each other. (Laughs)
EJ: I see a lot of marriages that are so unhappy. Only a few of them are really happy.
Heart: So you guys share the same home?
EJ: Yes, yes. He’s a very good man in many ways. But he has a lot of bad habits, like, he drinks too much alcohol too. I think. He’s clever, he had a good job and kept it very well. He worked in Vietnam and I was with him in the 1980’s there. My daughter was 2 years old and my son was 10 months old. That was a very interesting time in our lives. Vietnam was very poor then, and so it was a very teaching time for me. You see these different cultures and learn a lot.
Heart: So, your husband was working?
EJ: I was home with the kids. My younger one was not yet born. We had a nice house, a Swedish shop for groceries. There were a lot of Swedish people there at that time.
Heart: So, did Sweden come there to help Vietnam get back on its feet after the war?
EJ: There was a Swedish Development aid for Vietnam, where my husband’s Finnish company took part. And that’s where my husband worked too. After that my husband worked for a bank. Between 1990 and 1993, we lived in Prague.
Heart: Wow. So, between Vietnam and Prague were you back in Finland?
Heart: Where were the kids studying, when you moved so much?
EJ: In Prague, they went to an American style school.
Heart: Was it because they were taught in English?
EJ: We didn’t want to go to the Czech school, and there was no Finnish school, so we went to the American school.
Heart: How was life?
EJ: Everywhere I was, I did a lot of sports like how I do now. I’ve played tennis, volleyball and I ski. I like many sports.
Heart: Is that your passion?
EJ: Yes, it is. Tennis is my greatest passion. And volleyball too.
Heart: So, is there God?
EJ: I’m very skeptical. I pray a lot, I pray a lot. If I really think about it, I find the whole thing really skeptical.
Heart: I’m like you, I believe that something exists, like a higher power.
EJ: I think so too, because this world’s so amazing. There might be something, I’m not sure what it is. But, I pray a lot.
Heart: When you’ve to move from one place to another for your husband’s work, you’ve to keep adjusting to the new place and culture, all the while your kids are adjusting to school and your husband to work. How do you manage everything and still not cry everyday?
EJ: (Laughs) I don’t know, I think it went very well. I like to be, where I am.
Heart: Wow, that’s profound. It shows your open mindedness. You adapt.
EJ: I think so. It has been very interesting to go to all these countries and experience all these cultures. When we were in Vietnam, I taught in a school because it was a Finnish school.
Heart: Does life have a meaning?
EJ: (Laughs) Its a difficult question. Yes, I think it does. I’m very grateful for my life.
Heart: Let’s move onto something lighter. Do you have siblings?
EJ: My sister lives in the country side like me, and my brother still lives on the farm that we were born in. He is retired and lives there with his wife from Thailand. (Both of us laugh) No, its true. Because its quite difficult to find a wife who’s ready to stay in a farmhouse on the country side, nowadays. She’s a very nice woman. They don’t have any children. My sister has 4 children and we all have a good relationship, even though we are all quite different. My sister is very, very religious.
Heart: What’s the religion of Finland?
EJ: It’s Lutheran.
Heart: OK. Has your sister tried to convert you?
EJ: (Laughs) Yes, she always wants me to come to church.
Heart: Do you want to live in your house as long as you can?
EJ: Yes, yes. Of course, you never know how things will turn out. I am so sorry, my English is so bad. I’ve had all these opportunities to learn it, but I didn’t.
Heart: Give yourself a break, you’ve already done so many things in you life!
EJ: I can understand you because you speak so slow, but when I talk to American people, they are so fast, I can’t understand most times.
Heart: Tell me a Finnish story or proverb that you remember the most.
EJ: I don’t know how to say it in English, I will try. “Forest is answering which way we are shouting at it.”
Heart: Wow. I think I get it. We get what we throw out into the world, isn’t it?
EJ: Yes, yes, if you are nice to people, they’ll be nice to you. Something like that. There’s one more proverb I like, “If you wonder how things are going, think that they are going WELL!”
Heart: We can wrap it up now, do you have to cook?
EJ: I’m never really eager to cook but, sometimes, I’ve to. My husband is very eager to cook that’s why I’m not. She’s a better cook than me. Sorry he. Sorry, in Finland, there’s no he or she. Its all the same. So, I get confused often.
Heart: There’s no gender, that’s funny. What do you think of your Finnish childhood verses your grandkids’ childhood in America now?
EJ: It’s very different. In America, kids can’t go anywhere without an adult. For us, we would go to school by ourselves. We would go out alone and play all day.
Heart: What do you think of technology?
EJ: Technology. I use a computer, I’m not very good at it, but I use it everyday. I use my iPhone for Whatsapp and emails.
Heart: There’s Whatsapp in Finland?
EJ: Yes, it is. Its very common. Finland is quite good in technology. (sic) (Laughs)
Heart: Ha ha, I know that. But, interesting, I thought it was only big in India and South America.
EJ: Yes, its very widely used.
Heart: So, technology doesn’t scare you?
EJ: I mean I do what I want with it, but sometimes, I have to ask my grandsons how to use an app or something.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.
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