Oravais, Northern Finland

Growing up in Sweden, far away from my grandmother, she was mostly just this care taking figure who would send gifts. Not just gifts, but beautiful things with elegance beyond my understanding at that young age. She’d visit our household for Holidays sometimes, mostly Christmas, bringing a “I am just happy to be alive” kind of energy. Potatoes and walks every day, seemed to be the trick.

I moved out when I was 19 , the same year of graduating, and If Im not mistaken, I haven’t seen her since Christmas 2003. So it’s been a while! Since we were already traveling to Helsinki from China for a wedding, we might as well travel up North a few hours for Kyllikki.

She has seen bits and pieces of me and Joakims life together through sannak.se, but she doesn’t really know me. Had no idea what to expect, how to prepare or what to talk about. What to feed us. This was naturally concerning. And Joakim, what about him? What if he is this super serious,super dull Stockholm Swede who cant throw jokes around? Who cant laugh? Who is way too stiff to be any fun at all? I mean, he is an office rat after all, so who would’nt be nervous.

We arrived with the bus to Oravais, which would have cost 10 Euros per ticket, but I was an idiot and bought tickets all the way to final destination Oulu, paying 35 Euros per ticket. Had gotten all nervous about getting on the wrong bus, so I just told the girl in cashier what bus I was getting on, not where I was getting off. You live, you learn.

Grandma was waiting for us outside the shop when we arrived, busy on the phone with mom. Probably going over her last concerns and worries. We greeted with hugs and smiles, then she pretty much immediately put the keys to the “ugly car” in Joakims hand saying simply that – you drive. I am not a chauffer.

Surprised to see his excitement, she climbed in the back seat. Joakim loves this car. Like he loved his old Volvo 360 -84 he drove for 2 years after graduation. That car needed two 50 kg bags of sand in the trunk to even it out, make it drivable. And oh how he has missed that car. Sitting behind the wheel of this well taken care of Ford Fiesta -82 , told him of how this was gonna be a great visit. Obviously Kyllikki had style.

“Blink blink vänster” she told him, to indicate he shall not forget to use the side lights before turning left. She kept doing that, just making sure she has’nt voluntarily gotten in the backseat of a wreckless driver I suppose, and damn well she should. Fortunately we arrived safely, parking the car in kind of carport which has one wall in front, on wall on the side and a roof, with the rest being open. Explaining why the cars has a perfect line going straight through the middle, dividing the polished part from the sunbleached part.

Her neighbors front yard was boring, and until I was sure that this beautiful one was hers, I didn’t dare to say anything. Decorated with an old carriage wheel and flowers. The only paned window in the area.

Inside was like I had imagined it, but with more hand made things by grand father Matti. who had built shelves and made candle sticks. There’s the engagement picture, and the wedding picture sitting on top of the shelf in the living room. Often when she is reminded of him in, her response is “Damn he was a good man!”. Maybe someone mentions him, asks something about him or points at these pictures. I noticed this back in 2003 as well. 

This visit was very inspiring and I learned a lot. Not only about cooking and what to eat, but I got some assurance that I after all, was on the right path in life. I shall not worry. Maybe it is not the greatest thing that me fighting on a personal level is inevitable if I have job long en enough, but it has’nt really cost me anything. It is just bad, on a principle level. Looking closer at all those fights, I still believe they were wrong. I am still backing myself up in all of those arguments. I have always been and always will be, walking away from people I believe are fundamentally doing things wrong. Driven from the wrong energy. Making the decisions for the wrong goals. If I cant support you 100%, I am leaving. Why should I regret that, when I haven’t lost anything? Instead I have managed to  keep my heart and soul, intact. Grandmother seems to be on my side. Measuring one life’s quality after education, title, and savings is the most stupid thing. No need to get in on that. Life is so much bigger than those things. Kyllikki spent a lot of time, took many moments to bring the conversation back to this, really putting effort into it, making sure I leave from here knowing, that I am not doing things wrong just because other people don’t understand what I am doing.

Cant but believe her… It is not really my problem after all, since I am fine. Even often moved to tears of joy by small things and moments of beauty in my everyday. Things I know would go unnoticed by someone else. So this problem within the others, is one I have no obligation to solve. Since it is not mine, but theirs.

Sometimes, what we need is not a change in life, but a change in perspective and attitude. Gain a little altitude on our presence. Look at it all with a wider angle. Even through an image with a slower shutter speed, so that we can understand what brought things to place and where they are going next.

The first meal we had was a laks & potato soup. No matter how excused not getting the consistency right, due to engaging fully in conversation with Joakim and therefor leaving them to overcook a few minutes – it was  an incredible bowl of soup. The first spoonful taught me, she knows how to cook. There is cooking, and then there is cooking. She knows the latter, and completely. For my own selfish reasons, I need to come back here and just cook with her for a week or 2. Doing nothing but grocery shopping, eating and cooking. Or even better, have her come visit our house in Sweden for a week or 2. When we have one, that is.

Another thing for our future home from Kyllikkis is the hand woven carpets. 1 her mother made, 1 her mother had bought and used purposefully that is no longer needed. Just been folded up and packed away for the longest time, until yesterday when she gave it away for another women to take to the second hand market. Shit! I arrived about 15 hours too late!
I was told it was even more green than the beautiful warm colored one laying on the floor in her bedroom. Double shit! This carpet that was intended for me had now stirred up my good old “MUST HAVE!” emotions. How do get my hands on this lost carpet? Can we ask for it back… ? Can we? Where is it now?  Has it already been sold? To WHOM?!  How much will it cost me? What am I willing to pay? If it has not been sold, to ask for it back if would be so rude… And juvenile. Nobody does  that. Except me.

This whole drama brings me back to a story from fourth grade, that I know I have written somewhere on this platform before. It is a wonderful tale about the golden beige silk pajamas with teddy bears on it, that I had grown out of. Pants not reaching my ankles, and the jacket just covering my elbows. Gifted it to my best friend who was  a few years younger. It was the right thing to do, except that night I couldn’t sleep. Shit! I need it back. There was a strange but powerful feeling of loss. Like I had put my favorite pet in her and realizing that I don’t even know if she has ever had a pet before! I didn’t trust her to feed it properly, to walk it or pet it. What if she strokes in opposite direction like an idiot?! As if pajamas would be dissatisfied with her care. Like I had abandoned pajamas and pajamas knew it.

The lovely gal as she was, she completely understood (probably not, but she felt my irrational pain and wanted to ease it off of me), and gave it back.

Grandmother seemed to feel it too, but she was in a pickle, because it is not her traditional custom to give things away and ask for them back. However, this wasn’t for her, but for her crazy grandchild. For days I had this green beauty I had never encountered floating in my head. Upcoming Friday, after we had left, I received a message saying it has been retrieved. Hallelujah! I look forward to meeting carpet. It’s magical, I am sure.

We went for a walk around the old factory where Kyllikki has worked, and where her mother has worked. Where I assume my mother refused to work. It was clothes, then textile now sandpaper. Where she had been growing vegetables on a plot of land before, was now turned into a parking lot for the super modern factory. A lot of women worked in the clothing factory, which attracted a lot of boys. Matti was one of them. “Oh what a great man he was!” I can hear her bursting out now that I am writing his name. She was a girl who loved dancing. Every Saturday they would go dancing.  While her girl friends were chasing mens attention, she was trying to find the best dancer and then waited for him to ask her to the floor. She would never get in on that man chasing business. If anything, they should chase her. Matti couldn’t dance and this was a problem. She liked everything about him. How he carried himself, how he treated her. How he talked and walked. So this dancing thing, needed to be fixed. Within a few years, he was the best dancer of them all and other women would want to dance with him. When his first grand child, my oldest brother Markus was not even 3 years old, he ordered him the whole serious series of Jacques-Yves Cousteau books. Excited to be a grandparent, for sure. He built shelves for Kyllikki. He fixed everything needed fixing. Their relationship was fair. They gave each other space to be on their own, the be with their friends, to grow as they needed and kept balance within the family. Different but equal. Tasks divided after what worked the best. After what made sense. They would go fishing and she would row, while he put out the net. Or was it the other way around? However it was very particular, because the tasks needed to be done right, and they were skilled at different things.

One day he got sick. After 9 months he passed away. It has been more than 30 years and grand mother grieving to this day. She doesn’t like to talk too much about fishing because her heart remember him too much. With the summer house and the little boat, it was a wonderful beautiful time in her life. Grateful for ever being blessed with the experience, saddened because it is in the past knowing no man will ever be good enough to take his place. He was her man. When she talked about how it all happened at the end I understood why she chooses to remember his wonder. It is to put focus where it is useful. Curse about what went wrong, other people incapabilities and stupid decisions, is no way to continue life. To love what has been given to ones life in the past, and from whom, and everything around it, is a much fruitful existence. You are what you think about all day, I heard someone quote the other day and this is true. If you think love, then this is what you are and what you have, also what you give. 

Not only did I get a new profound perspective on my marriage to bring with me from this visit, I also took another kind of wisdom and certainty with me. The simple notion that, you are what you eat. She is 83 now, and has been growing food and pickling food, cooking food, and basically living to eat since forever – and she is so strong and sharp. She broke her arm last winter slipping on the iced pavement, and it heeled quickly. Not all 80 year olds can say that. A lot of people her age jumped on the pre fab wagon, but she never did, and she is still here. And sharp as a whistle! Spending time and money on making sure your plate is nutritious, is never ever a waste. Not of time. Not of money. Of all things in life, this is what you actually need, not what you want or what will give you temporary joy. A proper plate, builds you. Helps you heal both body and mind. Helps you think clearly. Who you gonna be for the rest of your short time on planet earth? A well dressed sick person, or a simply dressed healthy one?

Mind that there might be mistakes in facts in this text. Due to my terrible memory,
might be because I have not been living to eat, merely eating to live.