Piachaud Gardens, Kandy, Ceylon

THE RETREAT

By my seventh birthday, we had moved again. Since our arrival from Hong Kong to Ceylon just over two years earlier this was our third home. I couldn’t count the temporary homes in three different countries on three continents we had lived in the past six years, but this house felt different. Each step I took towards the house felt like I was walking in a dream. The house became a nurturer of my dreams. Mother sent our address to friends and relatives in Finland.

“THE RETREAT” Piachaud Gardens, Kandy, Ceylon.

I did not know the history of the house at the time, or why it got its name. I just knew it was home. It was my home only for thirteen months, but its impact has lasted a lifetime.

The Retreat

A book- A Key to the Future

The former occupants of The Retreat were Swedish missionaries Einar and Anna Johansson. They had fled with their five children from China to Ceylon just a few months before us in 1949. They shared a Swedish teacher, Marta Persson, with the Bjorkenfors family who had four children. The fact that they had a teacher was one reason why Mother chose to take us to Ceylon. She did not know when she made that decision about the school in Kandy that would form my identity for years to come.

The Swedes had left a behind a book by Elsa Beskow “VILL DU LÄSA” – Do You Want to Read. It had beautiful pictures. I found in it a story which led to important choices later in life. I wanted to learn to read that book. Mother’s native language was Swedish. She taught me. I had read several books in English before I started school. Our home language was Finnish.

Elsa Beskow’s book

Parcels from America

Sometimes we received packages from churches we had visited in America. Once, among all the clothes and dried foods was a post-order catalog. My nine-year-old brother and I studied the pages with pictures of children’s clothes. Can there be so many lovely clothes for children? I wondered. My mother sewed most of our clothes on her hand-driven Singer sewing machine. Some of our clothes came in parcels, but they were never as beautiful as the pictures in the catalog.

  

“If there are such a lot of cute clothes for children, we must have a lot of children when we grow up!” Emmanuel said.
“How many should we have?” I asked.
“Twelve, I think is good. Six boys and six girls.”
“Why six and six?”
“Well, Dad always has so much work to do, so he would need more boys than he has to help him put up his tent for tent meetings and preaching. He has only three of us.”
“Yes, and Mom has an awful lot of work every day, and she has only Mary and me to help her here at home.”
Since we agreed on these matters, Emmanuel went to mom and asked, “Can a brother and sister get married when they grow up?”
“No, that is impossible. A brother and sister can’t marry each other.”

We decided to pray for each other to find the right person to marry – and for the twelve kids, each one of us should have.

 

First Visit to Grandma

Two swallows flew high in the sky. The forest was full of birds’ chatter. All the migrating birds had returned home and were busy with their young. I got a glimpse of a white two-storied house behind a dark spruce fence. A white picket gate stood open.

“This is where we go in,” said Mother. Purple and white lilacs filled the air with their scent.  Scarlet roses surrounded by blue and yellow pansies stretched their stems to welcome us. Grandma was in the kitchen where she had just taken a sheet of golden brown cinnamon rolls from the oven. After giving me a welcoming hug, she let me taste one of the warm rolls. The crunchy crushed almond on top and the sweet, spicy filling just melted in my mouth.  A glass of juice – made of Grandma’s apples from the tree just outside the kitchen window – made me feel like a fairy tale was coming true: a story Mother had told me over and over again.

A fire was burning in the large kitchen stove where Grandma fried meatballs in a big black frying pan. The savory smells from the kitchen made me hungry. Grandma said, “I’ll need some more potatoes from the vegetable garden and some sprigs of dill to go with them.”

Aunt Elna said, “I’ll get them,” as she took a black enameled bucket which stood by the door.

I noticed the buckets in the kitchen. My mother explained: “This white one with a lid is only for clean water from the well outside. That brown pail is for dish-water. The black one is for leftovers.”

Grandma asked Mother, “Anni, do you remember where we used to keep the lingonberry jam in the cellar? That goes well with the meatballs. Could you get me a jar of it and bring in some milk too. Take Lisa with you. Oh, I almost forgot. We must have the pickled herring to go with the new potatoes. There are some jars at the back of the cellar which I prepared just for Midsummer .”

I went along with Mother out the front door and around the house to the steps which led down to the cellar door. A big rusty key sat in the lock. She let me turn the huge key.  As the door creaked open, a musty smell rushed out, along with a blast of cold air.  Mother switched on a lamp. The dim light revealed rows of labeled jam jars from last summer, 1952, the year Grandpa had died. There was strawberry, raspberry, red and blackcurrant, and of course the dark red lingonberry jam, which we had come for.

Mother showed me the jars of herring. I went to get one.  A new experience was waiting for me – to taste the pickled fish.   The milk cans stood on the floor under the shelves. Mother took one of them. We were ready to leave the cellar.

I ran out to see where Aunt Elna was digging the ground.  She had the bucket half-full of small pale baby potatoes. They were the first potatoes of this summer, enough to cook for our arrival. Elna asked me, “Could you take a few sprigs of dill over there.”  I was not sure what she meant. I had never seen any dill plants before.  She came over to me and said, “Here it is. It tastes lovely with fresh new potatoes.” A new fragrance rubbed itself into my hands when I broke a few green sprigs.