Jun 14

oma koti kullan kallis

The evening before Vappu, my grandmother would spend the entire night in the kitchen, kneading dough, slicing cabbage, and whisking batter-- all of this happening simultaneously as we drowned in spice-perfumed air, surrounded by piles of delicate kaalikääryleet cabbage rolls and sweet tippaleipä cakes we were forbidden to eat. While my siblings and cousins played outside, I stayed with my grandmother in the kitchen, transfixed as her careful hands heated the fragrant makea manteli oil over the stove. I was fascinated by the way the thin, wispy tendrils of dove-grey smoke curled towards the ceiling like slithering serpents. The air would fill with the heavy, sweet smell of simmering almond oil and the warm, bright scent of orange peels and vanilla, smothered in a smoky blanket of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.

As she worked, she would tell me stories of when she celebrated Vappu as a young girl in Finland, and how she traveled to Helsinki to join in the tradition of washing the city’s famous statues, and how she ate in Kaivopuisto park and fried vaakon nakki over a roaring bonfire. And as she spoke, a distant look would cross over her face and I remember desperately wanting to travel to Finland; to feel the connection to the earth as I walked over the same ground that my ancestors had walked over. I wanted to experience my family’s living history, and know what it felt like to stand on a spot on earth that belonged to you; to your family; your heritage. 

My grandmother’s cooking was not the only piece of culture she brought with her across the sea. When she was thirty, she wrote a book about growing up in Finland. I can vividly remember reading her book late at night. To avoid the wrath of my parents, I would conceal my secret reading rendezvous by hiding under my blankets, my phone serving as a spotlight for each word. My fingers would glide over every word carefully, making sure to never miss a single letter. I grew fascinated with words and language, and I yearned to be able to control words as she had. I wanted to be able to contain entire countries within the limits of my paragraphs. Words came easily to me, flowing out of the tip of my pen and onto my paper in a smooth, swirling script and I wrote my first novel in eighth grade (only 200 pages of teenage angst!) By my freshman year of high school, I decided that writing was what I wanted my life to be. Through my grandmother’s book, I discovered the beauty and power of words, and I began to understand the power of language. My grandmother helped foster my passion for history, writing, and language. When I could not read my grandmother’s recipe cards because they were written in Finnish, I taught myself to read Finnish. And when I could not do that, I learned to step away from recipes. I reveled in my creativity and freedom and taught myself never to be afraid to improvise. I refused to constrained by other people’s recipes and was ready to define my own path with flair.

For most people, home is a place to live with family. For me, home is a fleeting sense of recognition and pride in my grandmother’s eyes when I can speak to her in Finnish. Home is the familiarity found in the corners of her smile, and the wrinkled edges of her eyes as we cook a meal together. Home is the smell of freshly baked Pannukakku on a Saturday morning, and the sound of “Hyvää aamupäivää!” when you enter into my grandmother’s little apartment. Home is the comfort of being surrounded by your ancestors’ history when I read my grandmother’s book for the hundredth time. But most of all, home is the safety of my grandmother’s words, folded between the pages of her-- or rather, our story.