Every family’s got them. Their very own legends. Stories that may or may not be true but that get told so often that even if they didn’t start out true, they’ve become such a big part of the person they’re told of that they might as well be.
Like the one about how I learned to read. The family legend is that I always asked my parents to read for me, and tell me what each letter was, until one day, when I once again asked my father to read comics to me, and he just told me to do it myself. So I did.
Or how the reason for my not eating tomatoes – (Except that I sort of do these days, on pizzas and in salads, but never just a slice of tomato) – is my father making me eat one at dinner even after I said I didn’t want to. I put it in my mouth, but threw it back up again right away.
That’s the other thing about family legends. There may not be a moral in all stories, but there aren’t bad guys, either. My father tells those stories proudly. After all, we all survived, we’re in good shape, and well, I did learn to read, didn’t I? And I was only three. And Dad never made me eat anything after the episode with the tomato.
My mother tells, just as proudly, a story of how she used to tie me onto a chair with a scarf so I wouldn’t fall down watching TV. Now, to you, it may sound a little odd, but to us, it’s a family legend. It’s creative, it’s fun. That’s the stuff that Pakarinens are made of.
That’s what Risto Pakarinen, the man, the legend, is made of.
Of course, there are many, many more of these. How I used to sit next to the cashbox at my grandmother’s clothes store, telling her not to worry about it, because I was guarding the money. Every time there was talk of money, my grandmother would tell me that story.
There was only one story she used to tell me more often than that, and it was my promise to buy a motorcycle and then take her for a ride on it.
She reminded me of that when I got a moped, and when I graduated from high school. When I first showed up at their house driving a sky-blue Volkswagen Beetle, she admired it first. And then:
“Remember when you were just a kid, and you said that one day you’d get yourself a motorcycle, and then you’d come here and give me a ride,” she said.
“Yes, Grandma, I remember that. And I will. I will,” I said.
I spent a lot of time around my grandparents’ house during college, visiting my cousins who lived on the same farm, and often I’d find her sitting by the fire behind their house, as I came around to tell her that I was leaving for Helsinki again. Going back to my college dorm.
She’d be smiling there, staring at the fire, every once in a while admiring the wheat fields behind her little outside fireplace.
“Hey, Grandma, I’m leaving now. Back to Helsinki, you know,” I’d say.
“Oh, oh, well, why don’t you sit here for a second. Are you hungry? Want a sandwich?”
“No, no, I’m good, thanks.”
“OK. Well, sit down for a minute.”
And I’d sit down in her garden swing, and we’d talk about school, and my plans.
“Isn’t it a little funny that you’re in business school now since when you were just a little boy, you used to sit next to the cashbox in my store, and tell everybody that you were guarding it,” Grandma said once.
“Yeah, I guess. I guess I like money,” I’d say, playing along.
“And remember how you said you’d buy yourself a motorcycle?”
“Yes, Grandma. One day!”
And we’d laugh.
That’s what I always told her, and I really meant it. My plan all along was to surprise her one day, and ride in on a motorcycle, and take her to the grocery store. Maybe when I graduated from the business school. Or maybe when she turned 65.
All those milestones went by, and there was no motorcycle. But we had the legend.
Today, Daughter called me from Finland where she and Son are on vacation. They’re at their Grandma’s, having fun, getting spoiled. This afternoon, they had been to the Helsinki zoo.
“Yeah, we saw tigers and lions, real lions, and … you know what I’m going to buy when I grow up?” she said, interrupting her own train of thought.
“No, silly. I’m going to buy a motorcycle,” she said. Apparently Son had said that he was going to buy a scooter and she was trying to one-up him.
“Wow. Isn’t that something? Want to give me a ride then?”
“Ha ha, very funny,” she said, and then added, in a serious voice: