For the first twenty years of my life, I lived in Finland, a country of night-less nights in the summer and Northern lights in the winter, a country that offered countless riches and comforts.
In the 1950's, a television set came into our house, and with it, Leave it to Beaver. I was fascinated with Beaver's, or Theodore's, mother, June Cleaver, who was ever-so-elegant with her hair carefully coiffed . She was wearing high heels and pearls while vacuuming her house and had a slightly raspy quality to her voice, while speaking a language that flowed smoothly and effortlessly. June Cleaver lived in a white clapboard house with a picket fence surrounded by flowers. She was home all day while her husband went to work. As a 10-year old, I decided that this was the life for me.
I set a goal for myself to become a high school English teacher in Finland. Through the years, I became efficient in translating text describing the installation of the Transatlantic underwater cable, or the spreading of the Reformation through Scandinavia. However, I could not give simple directions in English to a lost tourist looking for the nearest restroom. A trip of language immersion was necessary.
On the first Monday of September, 1967, I boarded a Pan Am flight to New York. After eight hours of sitting in heavy cigarette smoke, I went through customs and handed to the officials a sealed envelope with my confidential medical information, necessary for a year's study in the United States. The Customs officials looked at each other quizzically and then at me. I had put the envelope next to my passport in my purse, and left another sealed envelope with my electric bill for my cousin to take care of. Needless to say, as there was puzzlement at JFK , there was equal bewilderment at the electric company of my home town, when my cousin attempted to pay my bill with the miniature X-ray of my lungs. After a visit to the airport infirmary, a new, very large X-ray under my arm, and missed connections to Upstate New York, I was admitted into the country.
I slowly settled into dormitory life. After the death of my parents, I had held an auction, sold my house, and become an adult too quickly. The antics of the freshman students away from home for the first time were surprising entertainment for me. One day after Anthropology 101, a classmate said to me: “I need to hurry, cuz I have to watch All My Children.” I was impressed that she had children and found time and energy to be a college student. I later learned about soap operas.
American friendliness impressed me from the beginning. I was often invited to various events and get-togethers. One such invitation was to a person's house where we were to talk about squash. I prepared myself by studying the many varieties of winter and summer squash, only to find out that the topic under discussion was a sport.
At first, I struggled to answer questions such as, “How are you?' I quickly realized that this question is synonymous with hello. People did not really want to know about the boils on my butt, caused by the change in water, or the Sitz baths I had to endure for their cure.
It took a while to master the skill of small talk, a foreign phenomenon to a Finn. Idioms were a great challenge as well. I learned that it was not appropriate to inquire about the cost when some one had “bought the farm.”
As I adjusted to the culture, the language, and the customs, I started to feel quite American and more comfortable on this side of the Atlantic and decided to stay, got married, and had a family.
I never became an English teacher. I did want a career where I could be a help to someone. As I had decided early on that mathematics and science were too defined in their answers and chosen not to like them, my path to a medical career was blocked. Instead, I became a Speech and Language Pathologist, a pseudo medical field, where I was not at risk of killing anyone, even by mistake. My exposure to speech pathology taught me that June Cleaver's soft, yet raspy voice was, most likely, a result of vocal abuse, as pleasant as it sounded to me as a child.
Although I do not have June's picket fence, and the deer are eating all my flowers, I will now go home, slip into my high heels, clasp on my pearls, and vacuum my house.