Salme Stories: A Mother’s Journey
Part 4- War Times and 2 Countries
I’ve been speechless in the wrong way these days.
Reacting, without thinking, to all of the present day fear of refugees, immigration, ISIS, ISIL, tyranny, terrorism, and afraid of what could be coming to my beloved Canada.
I real-eyes that it’s fear itself I need to be afraid of.
It’s what Life-enemies want; weakening it’s prey for the final pounce.
My Mother has been gone for four years now and I need her more than ever.
To calm my heart.
To soothe my fears for my Children and their future.
All I needed to do was to open her journal again and read her experiences during WWII.
She was born in Canada to two very fine immigrant parents from Finland.
When work was tough in Canada, they returned to Finland for work and to continue building and supporting their family.
When war became a headline, they were told they had to return to Canada as my Mother was a Canadian Citizen.
Her story says it all.
The surge of fear.
The possibility, and reality, of separation during the process, though MUCH milder than what is happening today in Syria, it was still felt.
Fear holds no boundaries.
She speaks about settling back into Canada.
She speaks about her courage and stepping up to the plate when she had enough.
Let her words allow you to feel.
You’ll even smile here and there.
Let her courage and open heart as a child, allow you to be open as we prepare to forge ahead,
but this time,
as a strong and loving Nation.
Word for word, here’s what my Momma wants to share with you…
“Well, you know, …then it was 1939, and there was a lot of talk about war. And one day my Father got this letter from Ottawa, and in the letter it said that he was to bring me back to Canada, the Canadian government was calling its citizens back home, and so they made preparations. I don’t remember much about that, but they had to sell our little café. And we left. We went by bus to Dumper Force. And there, I got a fever and so, we had to miss several trains, it was several days before the fever went down. And then when I got feeling better, we were at the railroad station, and we were supposed to wait for our train, when suddenly my Dad leaped up from the bench, and he gave me a little bag to hold, and he told Mother to pick up Aune and her purse, and he grabbed a suitcase with his other hand, and we started to run!
He just told us to ‘Run! Run!’… and so we ran as fast as we could, and Mother was saying ‘What’s the matter with you?’, and he said, ‘Never mind, just do as you’re told!’ He had a way with him that once he told you to do something, you just did it even though, he wasn’t a big man, my Dad.
We got beside the train – it was already moving, this train, and Dad ran, we were running with all we were worth, and then he kind of swung Mother in, he swung the suitcase first, threw it in the door, then he had a hold of Mother and he was telling me to put one hand on each side of him and hang onto his coat pockets and don’t let go! Of course, I still had my bag; whatever it was, I had it too; and then, the last minute, Dad grabbed the bag from me, and I grabbed his pocket and he swung himself onto the train steps. I remember my shins hitting the iron step, and I cut them a little bit, both legs. Anyway, the conductor reached up behind Dad, and pulled me in and of course everybody was just furious, just furious with my Dad and it wasn’t a pleasant trip for us but Dad just told the conductor that ‘When the Man upstairs speaks, I move!’ That is all he said. So I’m assuming he got a message from God and he did what he did.
As it turned out, I’m positive that’s what it was, just before we got to Helsinki the conductor came and told everyone in that car to stay seated until he gave the order that they could vacate after we get stopped; everybody was to sit in their seats and stay there. When the train stopped he came back with some official looking fellows there. They came up to us and spoke to my Dad, and my Dad stood up and they shook hands with him, and this one man said ‘It seems you have Someone upstairs taking care of you and your family.’My Dad said, ‘Why so sir?’ And the conductor replied ‘I want everyone here to realize that if this family had taken the train they were scheduled for, they would not have been here, because that train had been in an accident! The coach where they would have been, and the coach before it, and the coach after it, there were no survivors.’
So, this is something to think about… that an Angel had told my Dad to move, and he had moved. I have to believe it, because that’s what happened, so it was kind of a miracle. And I’ve often thought about it; and I would have died, we would have all died there if Dad had not have been obedient and did as the Angel had told him no matter what anybody had said. Quite the thing, really.
And then of course, we were allowed to leave the train, and we were escorted by taxi to a place where we stayed until the ship (we had missed one ship already you see by changing trains so new arrangements had been made) and we were waiting for the ship to take us to London, England.
Well, now I want to tell you about an experience I had on the ship, on the way back to Canada from Finland. This was just a few hours before Hitler declared war that we had left Liverpool. It all seemed well at first, though the ship went slowly and they had divers going around making sure the ship didn’t hit any mines – they were kind of big round bombs, I guess – and they had picky things sticking out of them and if one of them had touched us, boom, it went! Though they didn’t tell people this, nut they DID have to tell us that Hitler had declared war, that they had to take precautions, lights out, but, before the lights went out they organized people, everybody was panicking… this is what made it all worse… people frightened and panicking and some of them not listening to reason which mades it worse not only for themselves, but everybody else.
The captain came and spoke to my Dad and he had to take me into custody because I was a Canadian and they didn’t know what was going to happen and being under 12 years old I had to be supervised and had to be taken care of, so I was in his cabin, locked in his cabin! It must have been a good 11 hours!
At this point, not really understanding English anymore( after spending the last four years in Finland) I didn’t know what he was saying, and neither did my Dad too much. We were travelling third class; they had to go in the third class section. It was explained to us that if the worst came to worse mothers and children went into the lifeboat first, and they didn’t know what would happen… whether they had to return back to Liverpool where each family would be sent back if possible to the country from which they had come, or what. So, if the worst had come to worse, my parents and my little sister would have been shipped back to Finland and I would have been somehow transported back to Canada.
I did have an aunt & uncle there. My Dad’s sister living on a farm near Cochrane, Ontario, up in Northern Ontario, and I suppose Aunt Maia & Uncle John would have taken me in. I did have another uncle; he was my Mother’s half-brother, Uncle Laurie, in Sudbury, Ontario, but he was a single man so I doubt if they would have left me in his care. There were some people in Timmins that were my Mother’s relations, Mr. & Mrs. Lethisoluon (spelling unsure); they probably would have taken me too. However, it didn’t turn out that way. After 11 hours the okay came and everything was fine and we proceeded.
But, in the meantime, I spent this 11 hours in this dark cabin, 2 rooms, there was a big bedroom, and then a big bathroom and a dressing room because it was, after all, the Captain’s quarters, and his wife, who sailed with him, and their children were probably in a different compartment. But, in my fear I didn’t understand, and I’m afraid I made a slight shambles of his room… that is, I messed up his bed and I dumped his talcum powder on the floor in my fear and wanting my Father and Mother.
There was a cabin boy who was assigned to try to comfort me. He did bring me some food and milk and tried to talk to me. He held my hand for a long time. He would be about 16 or 17 years old, but I don’t think he spoke English either; I think he was another nationality. He tried to be kind to me and stayed there; that calmed me down quite a bit after he came there. I guess I slept for a while because I remember waking up and he was still at the window. Then suddenly the lights went on, and the cabin boy ran around to check on things, but he was there when the captain opened the door. He had gotten my Dad there, so Dad & Mom were there and I ran to them and of course, he was quite vexed with me for making such a mess; but his wife was talking to him and I guess she was trying to tell him ‘come on now, you know, this girl is scared’. Anyway, he relented, and Mom & Dad and myself of course, had to do my share and Dad tried to reimburse him for the talcum powder, but he didn’t want it, so we cleaned the cabin up for him.
We went down to our cabin on the first level down, and my Father didn’t lecture me, he just held me in his arms and didn’t say anything. I guess he figured there was no use in giving punishment on top of punishment.
Then after we docked, I believe it was in Montreal, we took the train and we came back to South Porcupine. I have to tell you about trains… the first time we went on the train, when we left for Finland the first time. The benches were wooden slabs, about 2 inches wide, all polished and varnished of course and on the wall between the windows was a coal oil lamp, and so of course Mother had taken some blankets for us to sit on, because it was hard to sit that length of time on benches like that. When we got to South Porcupine we stayed with some friends for a little while. These people had 2 rooms – a kitchen, living-room and a bedroom. The bedroom was big enough for 2 big beds, so we all slept in the same room; my sister and I in one bed, Mom & Dad in the other. And Dad went to work in the mine…
We only lived for one year in this little apartment, and then, Mom & Dad bought a house in a little village called Pottsville.
For school they put me in Grade 3, I was coming 11 – we arrived just before Labor Day that year, and end of September I turned 11. So, this was like a new beginning for me, again, learning English. I had a rough time. They did let me pass at the end of the year, and then of course we moved on to Pottsville, and I went to the Golden City School. Now, the war was well on its way there…and there was a variety of people around that area. There were lots of Germans, lots of Finns, lots of Polish, lots of Russians, lots of French, you know, there was just a lot of different nationalities and people feeling whichever way they felt. Angry with one another, picking at one another, and this reflected on the children at school.
That was in 1940, and I had a room of my own there, and Mom & Dad had Aune’s bed just outside their bedroom door – in a living room – it was just a 2-bedroom place. My bedroom was so small you couldn’t get anything but a single bed in it. Once in a while, Aune would sleep with me, but most of the time she liked her own bed, I think, partly because Mom & Dad would stay up talking or reading & stuff, and she felt that she could stay up – it gave her a feeling that she could stay up. You got to remember that there was 7 years between her and I, so she was just a little girl when I was 11 – she would have been 4.
So, I went to the Golden City School for a few years. I very seldom had the opportunity to eat my lunch; I was attacked wherever I tried to eat it. Most of the time they dragged me outside, around the corner, where there was no windows, just poking at me, dump my lunch, trample it under… now, they wouldn’t all be doing this. There’d be some sympathizers in the crowd I’m sure, because they’d later try to give me some lunch from their’s. There were these children whose Fathers were mining engineers and that sort of thing from Palmore and Halmore Mines. I don’t think their parents realized what the children were doing; it was a very bad time for me, and a very bad time for several.
Just as I had passed out of Grade 6 and I was going into Grade 7, let me think now, it would be in ’43 I went into Grade 7. There was a new teacher there. His name was Mr. Fisher; he was an American citizen, but he got it in his head right off the beam that I must be stupid because here I was 15 years old in Grade 7, and there was no use trying to explain it to him because he didn’t want to hear me at all… so, it made it rough… he belittled me, made me stand in the corner over trivial things. There was another girl there that got picked on a lot too. And of course, you know what happens when teachers pick on you… the children do!
But, this one bad incident happened… it was a late fall, there was no snow yet but it was cool. It was in October and becasue there was no snow yet that year, it was pretty good and we were still playing baseball. Well there was this girl named Joyce Camsill and Mr. Fisher seemed to get great joy out of hauling her to office and giving her the strap, and this one day she was wearing a pair of odd mitts that were in the lost and found from the year before, and she wanted to play baseball.
Well, she was up to bat. She hit the ball and she hit it good!… walloped it!…it went clean over the field and it went right in the office window. Well I knew she was going to get it again, and I felt sorry for her because she had had quite a strapping and her hands were all sore and swollen. So, I grabbed the bat from her and I pushed Joyce aside, and told her to go to the back, and I turned around and looked at everybody and I said ‘Nobody says anything! You don’t say a word, okay? You don’t say nothin! She can’t have it again today’. It must have been two times anyway that day, and maybe a couple of times the day before, and I thought, that’s enough! He’s going to kill her if he keeps this up.
So, anyway, I made sure that as he was coming out the door that he saw me with the bat. I dropped the bat and I walked over to meet him and he grabbed me. He was a very tall man, and I was never very tall. He grabbed me by the hair at the back of my neck, and hung on, and kept me on tippy toes across the rest of that field, and into the school, and upstairs and down the hall, and he opened his office door and threw me in. I went sprawling on the floor, and then he locked the door behind him and I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in deep trouble. So, I turned around and faced him, and he got the strap out, and I said, ‘Please, don’t!’, but he did anyway. The only thing I could do was put my hands there one by one and watch him close…I didn’t want him to smack me in the face or something, and I kept saying ‘Jesus, I need you. Jesus, I need you. Jesus, I need you.’, over and over again, and this might have angered him more than anything else.
Miss Campbell and Miss Brown searched around and finally found a key to the office. She opened the door and they rushed in and salvaged me out of the room, and ordered him to sit down. They called the authorities. Miss Brown whizzed me into the the teacher’s bathroom, and got my hands in the cold water with some salt because the blood was oozing out of the little pores in my hands and they were swelling up already and bruising.
In a little while, I couldn’t move my fingers they were swollen so bad, and I was crying, so she had to, of course call the doctor who came and looked at my hands. The police came, but no charges were really laid against him, he was given another chance. And he was told that he can’t use the strap, the strap was taken away, and he couldn’t discipline the children that way, he had to find another way, whatever it was. I don’t remember what it was, just hearsay.
Miss Brown drove me and my Dad home and she sent some lessons for me for a few days until my hands began to function properly. So then, I was scared of him. I tried to be very quiet. He didn’t say much to me, but his attitude toward me was quite obvious. The things he would do! I was pretty good with art, and I had made the map of the world the year before – it was on the back wall, and it was fine and dandy until he had, I guess, one day, found out that I had made that and it was ripped in little pieces in a cardboard box and off the wall. So, that was fine. I would have wanted to have it- but it was big. It was the whole back wall.
Then, time went on, and the snow came on furiously and cold, and by the middle of December, it was quite cold. On the way home from Golden City School, there was the lake on one side and I had to go over the bridge… I had to keep on going… you got the wind from the lake, and I was walking home with these books in my arms. We had been given an assignment for exams, and these boys attacked me on the bridge.
Well, I didn’t even think of what they were going to do. They seemed to be just looking at the bit of water running under the bridge. And they were throwing snowballs down, and this kind of thing. They lived not too far away from me, and I never thought these boys would do this, but they attacked me. One jumped on my back, another one kicked me, and so on and so forth… and my books slipped out of my hands and most of them went down between the bridge railing and down into the water…
I went down to the water, and the boys ran away. I went down there, and I walked up to my waist in that ice cold water, and tried to retrieve as much as I could, but of course, I couldn’t get two of them so, I came back up and by the time I got home I was pretty cold and Dad warmed up the steam bath. I sat in fairly cool water at first, because from the waist on down I was almost frozen. My clothes were stiff, and then slowly they warmed up the water and I massaged my legs, and after the steambath Mother made me hot tea and gave me a couple of aspirin and I went back to school the next day.
I told Mr. Fisher when he asked me for my assignment, I said, ‘Mr. Fisher, I had an accident yesterday, on the bridge, and my books fell down in the water and I couldn’t get them all up, so I would like another chance to do my assignment. And my Dad said he is quite willing to pay for the books that I couldn’t get out of the water.’
He stared at me for a while, he stood up, and he leaned over on the desk, and he said, “You’re nothing but a stupid Finlander.”
I was standing there, beside my desk, and I said “Mr. Fisher, you have two seconds to take those words back.”
He said, “Never. Never.”
I said, “I’ve had enough of you, and you have obviously had enough of me, so I’m going to take my books, I’m going to get my coat and stuff, and I’m going to go home.”
Well, I had to go in the cloakroom, I had to come out, I had to get to the door. He was coming from his desk toward me. I stopped, I looked at him, and I said, “You don’t touch me!”
To get out, I had to get to the door, and he was coming from his desk toward me. I stopped, I looked at him, and I said, “You don’t touch me; you don`t lay a hand on me, Mr. Fisher, but you be here when I come back with my Father!“
I took a few steps toward the door. I saw that he wasn`t coming any closer so I said, “By the way, Mr. Fisher, just remember this, I haven’t failed today, but you have failed today. You failed!“I walked out of the room, got dressed, and got my lunch pail, and put my books in my schoolbag, dressed warm and headed out.
I believe it was about a mile and quarter home from there… it could have been two miles… I don`t remember now. When I got home, my Dad was there and I told had happened, and he hired a cab – this was in the early part of the day remember – he hired a cab, and we got there just about noon hour, and Mr. Fisher was in his office, and so were the other teachers, and my Father said, ‘You know – I want to know, are you a Canadian citizen?”, and he said no he wasn’t, but that he was an American. And my Father said, “You make big mistake today (with Finn accent). My daughter is Finn, and she is not stupid, and she was born in Canada and she is a Canadian Citizen. She went to Finland for a few years to school, and when she came back, she had to start over again, with the Canadian language, the English.”
Anyway, it turned out that I was fed up with this stuff, and so my Dad … well, then Mr. Fisher, he… on top of what he’d done before, and this… he lost his job. Well, that wasn’t because Dad had pressed charges so much as other people wanted him out too. He was not right; things were not right.
But, anyway Dad got the cab, we drove all the way past our home, past South Porcupine, and all the way to Timmons to the Unemployment Office, and we got there just in time – cause they closed early there and it was about 3:30 when we got there, just in time, and the very next morning I went to work in the South Porcupine Hospital as a chamber maid. That was the 15th of December, 1943.”
As we prepare to accept more families into our home of Canada, let us not forget the story of each one of our ancestors and how they immigrated onto our Nation’s soil.
I could not imagine the extremities of the conditions that refugees come from! Then nor now!
But we need to!
We need to imagine it in order to find our compassion!
Then we need to step up to the plate and show them what living free means.
This could be
any one of us
With Love and Light,
Lest We Forget.
Coco and Salme
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