Translated by David Hackston
I was born in 1972 into a middle-class two-child family in which my parents’ political opinions espoused a profound attachment to the non-political way of life. At the age of nineteen my father, the eldest son of a farmer from Laukaa, moved to Turku to study, and after years of diligent cramming he graduated as a doctor in 1968. In the mid-1970s he was appointed a paediatric specialist. He was the first academic man in his family, and to this day he feels a great sense of gratitude for his education. What could he have possibly risen up against as a young man? On whose side? Politics and the economy felt distant and shapeless; from the attic above the barn you couldn’t see out into the wider society. His family inheritance was the land, the forest and the sky, things that were not enough to stir even such a docile young man from Laukaa. From listening to my dad I’d come to understand that the fragile ideology of his childhood home had been a mixture of sniggering Sunday-morning fear of authority and a small-time farmer’s mentality prone alternately to a smug affection for the local area and a disdain for the world at large, both values that were forgotten as soon as the bottle of liquor was opened and people started thrashing out more important matters: work accomplished, the growth of crops, war and the varying success of hunting expeditions. In walking the streets of Turku, Dad thought he was leaving behind the fields of his family and the inertia of agrarian society. He knew that revolutions weren’t the answer, that painstakingly accumulated knowledge was the surest way to a better and more interesting world. My mother is Turku born and bred, the headstrong daughter of a successful family of butchers whose ever-changing boyfriends caused her parents many a headache. It was Christmas 1966 when Dad first saw her in the market hall handing a packet of smoked ham across the counter. My penniless dad started putting money aside and visiting the market more often than he could afford. Early the following spring he asked Mum out for coffee. They sat in the Aschan café on Humalistonkatu. Mum started to worry that Dad, who was otherwise so pleasant, was far too sensible for her. Beaming with smiles, he told her that he used to spend lonely evenings at the beginning of his studies holding his breath and timing himself with a stopwatch. He’d gone for a world record. Once he’d fainted with the watch in his hand. Mum looked at him and the black-and-white Marimekko curtains hanging behind him, and decided that perhaps he had the unbounded craziness that a man needed after all, albeit in small amounts. Mum felt an inner calm. Perhaps her complicated love life had been a form of teenage rebellion against the greasy-fingered capitalism of a family of southwestern Finnish entrepreneurs, romantic little cross-stitches on the bourgeois canvas of the cold-cuts counter. With Dad she felt it was just the two of them.