By SRO Kjell Michelsen
Last week I posted a picture taken in 1971 on my Facebook page of my late Mother, Charlothe, and I sitting outside our red Volkswagen beetle at a campground in southern Finland. Sometimes, one finds a memory, be it a picture, a piece of clothing, maybe a book or something else that brings back memories of years gone by. For some, the memories can be bittersweet, even bad memories; but I think for most, it brings back good memories, and that was the case for me.
My father, Alex Michelsen, grew up in a household where the adults spoke both Norwegian and Finnish. Because of this, as an adult, he was fluent in both languages. The Finnish language is so different from the neighboring countries like Norway and Sweden. It has its roots from what is known as the Uralic group of languages. In contrast, the languages in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark belong to what is known as North Germanic languages.
So my dad being able to converse in Finnish was probably one of the reasons many of our summer vacation trips had Finland as its destination. I remember our little red beetle. It had a roof rack where my dad would tie down our small a-frame tent and blow up mattresses and other camping essentials. Our trips usually started this way – “about 30 minutes from our home, my mom, bless her heart, more often than not realized that we had forgotten something. My dad, softly cursing under his breath, had to turn around and go back.”
The Finnish border was only a couple of hours drive time from our town. We would stop briefly at the border to get some provisions. Before we set off in our beetle on those long stretches of highways leading into the vast pine forests of Northern Finland. Our first stop was usually the town of Sodankylä. We would find one of the many campgrounds, next to a lake, set up our tent, folding chairs, and table. Our first meal was usually some warm smoked trout, which they sold at almost every campground, that was paired with rustic Finish rye bread and butter. Nothing fancy, but for us, it was the best camping food.
If the weather was not cooperating, we would skip the tent and rent a rustic cabin. These cabins were usually right on the shoreline of one of the many lakes. They all had a little pier that went out a few feet from the cabin. Many cabins had their own traditional wood-burning saunas. My dad would fire it up, and all three of us would sit in there until we could not take the heat anymore. We would run out, down that pier, and jump out into the lake screaming in anticipation of making contact with that cold lake water.
My dad would also make a point to show me one of the many cemeteries from the Finnish war with Russia that started in 1939. Finland lost close to 26,000 soldiers in that war. My dad wanted to instill in me that our freedoms, be it in Norway, Finland, or here in my adopted homeland, the United States, are not free. Someone paid a dear price for what we now take for granted.
Until next time, be safe and cherish your memories – they are a big part of what made you what you are today.