A long time ago, yes, back in the 1980s, somebody told me that I was one of those people who wouldn’t live in Finland for the rest of his life. I don’t remember how we got to that topic, but I think it came totally out of the blue. The fact that I still remember it tells you how surprised I was to hear someone say something like that.
Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised, in case you’re wondering.In Finland – like many other, especially small countries – making it out of there is a small sign of success.
I’m not sure of that’s what my friend meant and I don’t remember us having a big debate on what it meant to be Finnish, or whether I’d leave the country voluntarily or not.
We probably just went back to talking about Springsteen or the latest James Bond movie, or something similar.
Turned out that my friend was right. I didn’t live in Finland for the rest of my life. I got a job in Sweden and moved to Stockholm.
These days, news travel fast. We still get the morning paper, and we read it at the breakfast table every morning, always sharing the different sections the same way: News and Culture to Wife, Sports and Stockholm News to me, and if we see anything we think might interest Son and Daughter – who read comics – we’ll give the article to them.
Often when Wife tells me about something she read, both Son and I will have already heard it. Now, my excuse is that I’m a freelance writer so I tend to spend too much time reading my RSS feeds and scrolling down my social media timelines. Son? Well, he’s a teenager.
News hasn’t always traveled that fast. Back in the 1980s, of course, you couldn’t find a video stream, legal or illegal, to any sports event online and even the TV sports news had to use still photos from boxing matches in America.
In 1986, I spent six weeks of varying gloriousness in Harbor Beach, Michigan, on a summer exchange program. It was a memorable summer in many ways but one of the highlights was that I got to taste New Coke. They were exciting times because not only was there Classic Coke and New Coke, there was also Cherry Coke and Diet Coke, which had been introduced to the Finnish market two years earlier as Coca-Cola Light.
Like all families, mine had several Christmas traditions. They were of different sizes, and some of them came and went while others have stayed to this day and have been passed on to Son and Daughter.
The three big ones were Xmas Eve drive, dinner, and movies.
One thing they all have in common is that they all have something to do with the relativity of time.
Five years ago, I wrote “Ten Little Stories About a Ten-Year-Old Boy” and since the little boy is now a broad-shouldered teenager, it’s time to list 15 short stories about him. These aren’t really stories, mostly just random facts. They have not been cleared with him, and any embarrassment caused by them is purely coincidental … and part of being a teenager.
She looked like a grandmother. Not like either one of my grandmothers but a grandmother nonetheless. Her hair was white and her face tanned and wrinkled in a distinguished kind of way. The way that, should you have a face like that, you can just thank your lucky stars for it. There’s nothing you can do to make your face turn out that way.
I was startled to see the face, distinguished as it was, because it seemed to appear out of nowhere and it was very close to my less distinguished face. I had just been sitting there, next to Wife, and while I had noted that she had stood up, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the world.
After all, we were on an airplane. I thought that maybe she just wanted to stretch her legs.
We moved to this house eight years ago, and while Stockholm isn’t in the Top 10 of the most expensive housing cities in the world, it was and is too expensive for us, so we happily relocated from the south side of town to the north side – and a little farther away from the Old Town.
I write this, like most things, in my home office which is one of four bedrooms in the house. It’s also the smallest one because, well – don’t mind me – I’m just writing here. How much space do I really need?
I’ve tried to make it an inspiring writer’s room by having photos and paintings on the wall, and on my desk, things that remind me of a trip or a place, or that I just think are sort of cool. They include a Donald Duck figurine that I’ve had since I was four or five, a Peanuts calendar holder I bought in Tokyo, a tiny bust of H.C. Andersen – my favourite fairytale author – I bought in Copenhagen, and a miniature DeLorean Son convinced me buy at the Universal Studios two years ago.
The latest addition to my desktop collection is a flower I bought last week.
Every time I take the commuter train in Helsinki, I make sure to get a window seat on the left side of the train, so that about seven minutes into the journey, I can press my nose against the window and see if my old neighborhood still looks the same.
From the train, I can see the ten-year-old me’s entire world, minus the skating rink and my school. I can see our balcony, the playground, my daycare, my two buddies’ houses, the small candy store, the pub that the local soccer team’s players were rumored to hang out in, the houses that replaced our small forest, and just after the train passes them, another friend’s home.
The last time I checked, it did look about the same. Of course, upon a closer examination, it’s not the same.
I know that because I have lived in the same apartment first as a pre-teen and then in my late 20s. I know things changed while I was gone.
Thanks to my return there, that neighborhood is where I’ve lived for the longest time in total and until a few months ago, it was where I had lived the longest without interruption. Now, at eight years and three months, that honor goes to Sollentuna, Sweden.
There I was, leaning against a construction site wall, looking out to Sergels Torg, the heart of Stockholm’s downtown. That’s the location of the main subway station and the commuter station hub, with a tunnel connecting it to the main train station. It’s also the place for markets and on most days, demonstrations of all sizes and for all causes.
Right behind me on the wall, there was a gigantic H&M logo and in front of me, a stage where a band was playing Swedish pop. All around me, there were blue-and-yellow flags, and faces and wigs, also blue-and-yellow, as Stockholmians got ready to celebrate the nation’s beloved hockey team, Tre Kronor, the national team that had won the world championship the night before.