A few years ago while I was renting space at Bournebrook Antique Center, Mike, the owner, called me to his desk one Saturday morning and said he was making a house call to a woman, recently widowed, who was moving out of her house and into a senior citizens home. She had items she wanted to sell and had invited Mike, whom she knew through their church, to come and take a look. I happily agreed to accompany him and we arrived at a lovely little one story ranch style house. The woman, Marta, was a slightly built, attractive Finn who appeared to be in her eighties. Marta was an attentive hostess, walking us through the house and explaining what items were for sale as she rummaged through cupboards filled with Scandinavian and other fine glassware. There were two pictures hanging in the living room that had a Van Gogh-esque feel to them and she had taped a bio on the back about the artist and how he was connected to her family along with a copied picture of the family when she had been young before leaving Finland. A trip to the cellar revealed several very old picture frames, books and pottery. I spied a silhouette and pulled it off the shelf. I asked Marta where it had come from and she told me the couple were her parents when they were first married. Her children didn’t want any ancestral relics and it was for sale. It wasn’t the sterling silver frame that prompted me to purchase it. It was the striking profiles of this young couple whose daughter had ventured from their homeland in Finland to America that enamored me. After a while of browsing, I offered her a price for the oil paintings, several pieces of fine glassware, frames and the intriguing silhouette. I asked her to give me some sort of record regarding her parents and she agreed, beaming softly as I handed her the check and departed.
It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I saw Marta again. She had since moved to the senior citizens home, which I’m guessing was closer to the antique shop than her original home had been. I just happened to be working in my space when she arrived, slightly out of breath and dressed in an old raincoat, though it was a balmy early spring day. Perspiration popped out on her forehead and I was a little taken aback at her appearance. An extended hand held an envelope with a stamp already on it. She explained to me that she wasn’t sure of the address and wanted to make certain that I received it. In it was a neatly written little bio about her parents and where they had come from which included a map of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Here is what it contained
|“In connection with the things you found in my old home, I promised to tell something about my parents and their backgrounds. My father, Olgin Rafael Jansson, grew up in a farm in the southern part of Finland. He studied mathematics and science at the University of Helsingfors and became a teacher as did three of his brothers. Most if his career he spent in Jakobstad at the local middle school and high school. My mother, Regina Maria Aberg, was born and brought up in the Southwestern part of Finland. Her father was a sea captain, who mostly sailed in the Scandinavian and Baltic areas. She went to nursing school, became an R.N. and got a job at the hospital in my father’s home county. My father’s sister, Ina Matilda Jansson, loved to make coffee and invite guests. My father and mother met at these coffee hours in Ina’s home. My parents married in 1927 and moved to Karis, where my father taught mathematics for some years. I was born there and when I was four years old, we moved to Jacobstad.
Some general information about Finland:
People in the western and southern parts of Finland speak Swedish as their first language. Cities and counties have double names if the minority population reaches a certain number. Finland is close to the Arctic Circle. But … that doesn’t always mean snow. This winter (2007-2008) “the winter has not arrived” – letter from a friend, written April 13th.”
She went on to give more biological information in both the Finnish and Swedish languages with English translations. Finally, her letter ended with “Thank you for what you did for me! Yours, Marta R. Andersen.”
She walked out the door on that early spring day after having delivered the letter and I’ve not seen her since. The silhouettes in the sterling frame remain a prized possession on my dresser, adopted grandparents that I gaze at now and again, remembering that they are not just dark profiles of people who were, but parents of immigrants who came to America in the mid-Twentieth Century for an undetermined reason, but who could be descendants of Vikings, descendants whom I have chosen to resurrect through a daughter’s love and a shop logo.