Miss Helen In The Bath

Johanna and me on our doorsteps. I still remember those shoes, my toes literally grew through them.

For a very short time Johanna was my best friend. She was a Jewish girl, we were between seven and eight years old at the time when I did not really understand what Jewish even meant. Her family lived very close and they had a piano. Her grandmother could play it and sing, I was fascinated by her voice and her long silver grey hair.

We would sing songs whenever we met. Johanna taught me one of those self-boasting provincial songs from her family’s province and my classmates laughed at me mockingly, when I suggested we sing that song together during our music class. 

When it was time to pick up a song for the exam to get a grade, I chose “I Saw Miss Helen In The Bath” by M. A. Numminen. My teacher, who was from the Karelian region, laughed very loudly until she was in tears, and I got a good mark.

Then suddenly Johanna and her family moved out of town and I lost trace of her for good. I wonder where she is now and what songs she might be singing.

Hands up!

From what I remember, our house was always full of people who would often sit in our only bedroom and play records and drink, or play cards and drink. Happy youth! I passed out once when I had emptied, unnoticed, a large glass of Long Drink, a local gin. 

Among these people there was also K who always wore a leather jacket and a hat. He had guns too. He’s in one of the photos with his hands up. I remember those guns, they were heavy.

A boyband from Pahaniemi*

In this photo my friend is playing flute and I am plucking balalaika, wearing a tatar hat. Judging from my facial expression, we never excelled as a band. But I did like to perform. My grandmother taught me vulgar folklore songs with double meanings and I would entertain the adult audience without really understanding what I was singing. I remember that in the summer my uncles would provoke me to sing some of those songs at the beach just to embarrass young women. #Metoo had not yet been invented. I would also climb up on our rooftop, particularly on Saturday mornings, and sing popular hits to anybody who would come to the grocery shop next to our flat.

*My childhood home was located in a neighbourhood called Pahaniemi. It would perhaps translate into Wicked Peninsula, or Evil Cape.

Open air gym

My Grandfather, one of my uncles and me.

In summers our courtyard was a training ground. My uncles were semi-professionals in boxing, which resulted in a bookshelf filled with trophies rather than books. It fell into my responsibility to polish them twice a year with toothpaste and a rag.

Once my cousin and I were taken to a boxing club (perhaps we had asked for it) and very unsurprisingly, and contrary to my cousin, I did not have it in me. I was more interested in animals and preferred to research for example the community of small Egyptian ants. Our apartment was in a house which had a grocery shop at the other end of the building and the tiny red ants had arrived in a shipment of oranges and nearly invaded the entire house. 

The owner of the grocery shop had a boy of my age and sometimes we would sneak into the storage room of the shop from our boiler room and eat toothpaste. But most of the time I would behave. I was a very easy child, and definitely not a boxer type.

Frozen laundry

My Grandmother, our dog and me

This photo was taken in the late 60’s on our courtyard. It’s a very familiar view in which we are standing in front of some frozen laundry. My grandmother has dyed her hair blond and I am patting our German shepherd. I remember how the frozen bed sheets were like large pieces of cardboard when they were taken in. 

Further at the back is a river and an airport for small aircraft (not really seen here) that was closed decades ago. We are looking in the direction of our home that has since been turned into a Kebab restaurant by a Kurdish immigrant.