I had just sat down at the table to ask Wife about something when the man came rushing to our table and also sat down. His face looked familiar, but so did dozens of other’s and just like all of them, I couldn’t put together a name and a face, let alone figure out how the man was related to Wife.
It was my third time at Wife’s family reunion on her father’s side, and with the reunions being arranged every three years, and us missing one, I’ve been going to them almost ten years now. But I’m still an outside looking in, which is fine. The family is organized like the Mafia in that everybody knows his or her close family, and how people are related, but very few have the big picture.
In the summer of 1983, everybody I knew bought the same two albums. One of them was Police’s “Synchronicity”, the other David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. “Every Breath You Take” was playing everywhere, as was the title song of the Bowie album, and by “everywhere” I mean the EF disco in downtown Oxford every Wednesday.
I spent a month in Oxford that summer, learning English and learning to be English. My English was pretty good before the trip, but it did improve there as well, and as far as being English goes, I did my best and watched Wimbledon and cricket with Jim, the father of my host family.
He was in his 70s, and nothing could make him leave his TV chair during cricket.
One of the coolest pieces of clothing I know is a blue spring jacket. To me, a blue jacket is a true sign of spring, just like running shoes, and a net bag in which I’d carry my soccer ball.
As soon as Mom let me wear running shoes outside, take a soccer ball to the back yard, and wear my blue jacket, winter was over.
When I was twelve, I had a blue winter jacket as well. Most kids in my hockey team had one, a team jacket, as did Mom and Dad, so we, too, made a good-looking team. But Dad also had a blue spring jacket, sort of like a bomber jacket except that wasn’t what we called them then, and it was a little more special than any other jacket I’ve ever seen.
Dad’s jacket was a magic jacket.
“Hej på dig,” he said.
While “hej på dig” [hey-poh day] is not an uncommon way to say hello in Swedish, it’s one that always cracks me up because “Hej på dig” was the name of my first Swedish book in seventh grade. I – and probably thousands of Finns of my generation – can still recite the entire first chapter of the book by heart, or at least the last line, in which a dog barks in Swedish: “Vov, vov”
When Phil Verchota was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1956, pinball machines were still illegal in his home state. However, the state supreme court made a ruling that pinball was a game of skill, not chance – and therefore not gambling – a year later, so it’s safe to assume his pinball playing days weren’t cut short by law.
Although, eighteen years later, when he enrolled in University of Minnesota, pinball machines were still illegal in New York City, and the games took place in back rooms of establishments that already had a questionable reputation.
In 1980, pinball machines were legal almost everywhere in the United States, but by then, Phll was in Finland, and that’s where I met him. We played a few games of pinball in the Helsinki hockey rink cafeteria.
See, Phil was also a pretty good hockey player and had won Olympic gold in Lake Placid about six months earlier. People call it “Miracle on Ice.”
I spent a good ten years of my hockey career, or “career”, if you will, in Finnish minor leagues – a galaxy far, far away from the NHL – where games are played late at night, and the practices held even later at night, where it’s sometimes easier to get to an away game than a home game.
In the minors, the coach sometimes decides to make big league moves, such as shorten the bench in the third period, but most often he doesn’t because he can’t even if he wanted because he only has two lines to work with.
If the team has a coach, that is.
The man at the New York souvenir shop was just trying to make some chit-chat. He was the one greeting us as we walked into the “bobblehead store” which is what Son calls all those souvenir shops now because that’s where he happened to buy his Abraham Lincoln bobblehead doll.
This time, he couldn’t decide whether to get a Kennedy or Clinton, or maybe George Washington so he didn’t buy anything which is why we were hanging around the front door, waiting for Wife and Daughter.
“Where are you guys from?” the greeterman asked Son.
“Oh, we’re from, em, Sweden,” replied Son, and then looked at me.
“And Finland,” he added.
Now, if I’m traveling alone and people ask me where I’m from, I always say “Finland”, but that “I live in Sweden now”. When I’m traveling with the family, I most often say that we’re from Sweden, always making a mental note to myself that technically, we have traveled from Sweden. Sometimes, I add that I’m actually a Finn, but most often I simply don’t want to engage in a conversation, so I let it slide. It’s not important.
Wife’s sister, my sister-in-law, has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of empathy, both character eemraits that make her a caring and a popular person. What it also does is create false memories, because when she hears a good story – and she loves a good story – she gets so into it that when she tells the story later on to somebody else, she may tell it in first-person, thinking that whatever happened, had happened to her.
Of course, it doesn’t happen with every story, and with everyone, it’s often when Wife, her sister, tells her something that their experiences get intertwined. It’s sort of like meeting a celebrity on the street, and saying good morning to her, because you think it’s another one of your friends, when it is, in fact, one of the Friends.
Last weekend, Daughter had another bandy game. Bandy, if you don’t know, is like field hockey on ice, and Daughter, if you don’t know, rocks the sport. She’s a great skater, and more importantly, she’s got the gene that I don’t have, which is the one that makes her want to practice every time she gets a chance.
The games last Saturday were especially exciting because they were her first games indoors.
“You know how the homeless people say “taaaaacksåmicke”, with that long “aah”? I wonder if that’s how they were taught to say it, or if that’s their natural accent?”
– Wife, the other day
My natural accent in Swedish should be Finnish, but is not. Of course I don’t know exactly what my Swedish sounds like, except that probably worse than I think. When I first moved to Sweden, and wouldn’t speak Swedish, my colleagues and new friends often – naturally – asked me how much Swedish I spoke to begin with.
My line – because of course I had a standard line for that – was: “It’s probably better than you think but worse than I think”. And I think that applies to my accent as well.