Salme Stories – A Mother’s Journey Part 1
When I was a little girl I remember my sisters and I getting ready for bed.
We would be so excited to stay up a ‘few more minutes’ because Mom said she would tell us a ‘Salme Story’ before we went to sleep.
We were the youngest three of her eleven children, blessed to have a Mom with so many stories of her life in Northern Ontario and Finland.
As we awaited our Mother we would:
- get our teeth brushed
- count 50 strokes of the brush in our hair
- wash our face, behind our ears and freshen our underarms
- scrub the dirt rings from around our necks and ankles
- get in our jammies
- try not to fight over the covers or ‘who was touching who’ or ‘you’re on my side’
- wait to hear her slippers softly patter up the stairs and down the hall.
She would wrap us up in her arms and tell us a story.
A Salme Story.
After she passed a few years ago, at the age of 84, a journal was compiled of letters and stories she had recorded in a cassette recorder for one of my other sister’s.
This other sister was generous to type every word from the weathering cassette tapes and print the stories for all of us to read.
I’d love to share some bits with you.
They are written word for word as they were spoken.
I can hear my Mother’s voice in every letter of every word.
“I’m going to talk into this thingamajig here, and tell everybody the story of my life…
I was born in a little 2 room, tar-paper shack up in South Porcupine, Ontario. It was called the Porcupine Camp at the time; mining and bush town. At the time, now this is in September 30th 1928, there were not very many sidewalks in town; there was more ‘horse and buggy’ than there was ‘cars’. I think only the doctor and pharmacist and mayor had the cars.
Of course, I don’t remember when I was born or anything like that… but my first recollection is of sitting out in the back of the little house, on the steps with my mother, and we had a picnic. And this was early in the spring, so I must have been about a year and a half… I just vaguely remember that. There was still a little snow on the ground. And then later on, I remember being out in the yard and we had a blanket on the ground, and I liked picnics, I guess. We had a picnic out there and watched the birds, and little trees and stuff.
I remember going for a walk with my mother to visit some Finn people, and playing in their yard. I remember that. And then, I remember when we moved… see, there was an old building; it was right across from the police station and Beamish’s Store, then there was the Worker’s Coop, all in a row, and right across there was the fire department, and there was this lot with this old building, just beside the fire department, an old building and not built very good. I guess a long time before that, it was a 2 story building, and Dad bought it, and said he was going to put a boarding house up and I guess it cost him a dollar to register that. Imagine that! A dollar doesn’t buy anything these days. He got some men with a team of horses and some logs and they hoisted the building up and put logs under it and moved it that way; so many logs under, and then pushed it over on top of other logs, and got the back ones to the front… it took several men and this team of horses to accomplish this. And then he later built a building about the same size in front, and that became the Finlandi Café, and it was there for years.
I remember in the early 30’s, I’d be 3 or 4 years old, and there was this little boy; they lived upstairs in Workers Coop and his name was Leo. Him and I, and this other little boy name Wilber – we terrorized that little town, you might say. We did several funny things! Wilber, he was smart. He was a smart boy, he was a good boy. When we started doing something that he figured was wrong, he was gone home. I`ll salute Wilber, I will. He was smart. He might have been a little tiny bit older than us, but not much. This one time, there was this older lady, she was a widow lady, and she had quite a big size lot, a nice little one bedroom house, and she grew flowers, oh, all kinds of flowers, and she sold her flowers and that`s how she made her money.
We had heard, that is, Leo and I had heard, about this lady, and we heard the mothers saying she`d lost her baby. Well, first we spent all day looking in every crack and crevice in town, all the back alleys and every, we looked for this little baby. Where-ever there was tall grass, we looked for this baby. And then, finally, we couldn`t find the baby, so we got this idea that we would bring the lady some flowers, and we went into this old lady’s garden that was growing these flowers, and not knowing how to take the flowers properly, we made a bit of a mess there… which my Dad and Leo`s Dad compensated her with money, that they could scarcely afford, but it had to be done.
We took these flowers and we went over and knocked on this ladies door, and we said to her that we`re so sorry she had lost her baby, and we had looked everywhere, all over town, and we couldn`t find the baby, but we brought her some flowers, to make her feel better. Of course, she accepted the flowers, and gave us some cookies and milk, then she let Leo and I do up some dishes. She thought we were pretty cute. Of course, she realized we didn`t know what it meant when you lose your baby. And that was one of the things that Leo and I did which was bad & good. We were always doing good and bad, or bad and good things around.”~Salme Maia-Liisa Hirvillammi
As I read her words, I tear up and feel that I am, once again, being cuddled by her.
Have I held my daughter and son enough?
Am I aware of my neighbors? Their needs, their triumphs, their losses?
Do I have cookies and milk at the ready for anyone who may need them?
I can smell her scent of baby powder and Johnson&Johnson baby shampoo.
Have I left lasting impressions on my children, family, friends and neighbours, that a simple scent, or song, or story brings them back to me? And ‘How?’
I remember the giggles I would share with my sisters.
I remember loving my Mother so much!
I now understand the love and longing she had for all of us as, one by one, we went into the world to become our own.
Do I pay enough attention to the elders around me?
Do I real-eyes how much a simple smile lightens their day?
I looked at her then through the eyes of a child.
I read her words now through the eyes of a woman.
With every chapter I am getting to know her.
But, mostly I am getting to know my Mother as a Woman.
She was learning along the way as I am with my children! I cannot blame her for a thing! I cannot hold anything against my parents! And, as my own children reach adulthood, how do they see me? How do they feel when they look back and remember their Mother? What have I given them to remember me by?
I miss her.
I need her.
Though she is gone, she does visit me from time to time.
In my dreams she visits me, folding laundry on the couch as she watches her TV favorites, playing scrabble at the table with the kids, and whispering in my heart that ‘everything will be alright’ whenever I need to hear those words.
I love my Mother.
No matter the story.
The good and the bad.
The bad and the good.
She is like me.
A woman with a story.
And her stories
are the tendrils
of the roots
that make me,
With Loving Memories,
Colleen (and Salme)