My Winter’s Tale
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Sitting home for a bit over the holidays gives me a moment to reflect, and indeed take time to do a little writing. It is not yet winter here at Hillside Farm in Southeast Ohio… but the winter of life is beginning to swirl around me and the confluence of seasons and time leaves me in a thoughtful mood. I have just returned from an extremely fulfilling two week tour with Jack and my friends, Larry, Teresa, Barry and Justin and as the heady brouhaha of Jack’s fete at the Beacon in New York City fades into the past, I find myself at home with family where I belong.
Almost all of the journaling that I do when I am on the road tends to fall into the category of, ‘I was here… and we did such and such.’ Interesting for me to write about when nothing else is in my head, but I am always reminded that while music is a large part of who I am, it is by no means everything. Home here on the farm, I truly feel that my place in the universe is secure.
I had been corresponding with my old friend Gerry Henkel who lives up there in the far north in Duluth, Minnesota recently. I got to know Gerry a little bit in 1994 when my Dad and I went on a roots trip to his birthplace in Ironwood… in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We flew out to Minneapolis and then started driving north. Past Duluth… across the Dick Bong bridge into Superior, Wisconsin. Dad told me about Dick Bong… America’s Ace Of Aces in WWII. With forty kills in his P-38 Lightning and a recipient of the Medal Of Honor, he was truly, quite a man. Upon his return to the States towards the end of the war, he is reputed to have flown his Lightning down the main street of Superior on a wing. Those were the days!
As Superior dwindled in my rear view mirror, we passed Hurley, Wisconsin and then over the border into Michigan and before I knew it, we were in Gogebic County and Ironwood, where Dad was born in a house on Garfield Street in 1910. To be able to be a silent observer over the landscape of my Father’s memories was an honor!
That said, my Father and I had a contentious relationship for most of our lives. This was just the way it was and I think in a way we grudgingly accepted that reality. Both of us were so fortunate that towards the end of his life he and I became friends. It is not always thus, but that’s how it was for us. Anyway, back in the early 90’s, some of his childhood friends were still alive and as I sat and listened to them talk, the flash of youth was still in their eyes. A lifetime had passed since Dad left the iron and copper country of the UP… but I could see that the ancient bond of friendship and shared experience transcended age and infirmity.
A lot happened on that trip… I saw the house where my father was born… the Old Finn Hall where he played mandolin… the Carnegie Library where he learned to speak English… the building where my late grandfather once had a tailor shop. Good times? Hard to say, but times nonetheless.
Driving back to Minneapolis, we stopped in Duluth which is where I met Gerry Henkel. Gerry was with the Finnish American Reporter at the time and Dad was really active in Finnish/American stuff. Gerry and I sort of became pals in early days of email and I kept in touch after I took Dad back to Mill Valley, California. My Father always loved to write, and I always looked forward to getting his little mini editorials. The notes he would send me were nothing compared to the deluge of philosophizing Gerry was treated to. Recently Gerry was cleaning out stuff he had saved for years (I can relate) and he came across emails that he and my Dad, Jorma Sr. had written back then. He had printed them all out… and when I came home from this last road trip they were waiting for me.
I looked at the dates… they were from the last year of my Father’s life. As I read and reread these bits of correspondence, I was transported back the early 90’s when Dad was still alive. The words brushed my face with memory, as soft as angel’s wings. He was there as big as life for a while… and then on that last page, he was gone. In those entries up to that final day, in spite of his strokes and TIA’s, his mind was vital and he was always thinking of things he was going to do. And then, at 0530, January 7, 1997… his work was done, and his dreams would always be dreams.
It is unfortunate that my children will never know this delightfully idiosyncratic man. The best I can do is to tell them stories. We still have pictures and letters from the old ones, Ida and Jaako… but I can’t read Finnish and no one is still alive I know who could tell us about the pictures… and that is how it goes.
What does this all mean? It was just a door opening for a moment on a bygone time… almost a dream of another life. I miss my Father. This never goes away… but at least he did not outlive his children. I do not know my brother at all. That is sad to say, but that’s just how it is. I hope he and his family are well. I just took Izze to her last piano lesson of 2014, Vanessa is shopping for dinner and my son Zach is coming to spend the holidays with us the evening of the 23rd… my birthday. Maverick, the big dog, is sleeping on the back porch and life is good on this chilly December evening.
As for Gerry, my friend… thanks for sending me those letters. I got to hear Dad’s voice again… many thanks. And for those who might wonder where Mom is in my house of memories, she fills the rooms with her light, but that is a story for another time.
And… that’s about it. I think I’ll have a cup of coffee.