In one of my first soccer tournaments ever, in one of the biggest ones at least, our coach told me before a game against a Swedish team that he’d make another boy the captain of the team for that game.
“It’s just because he speaks Swedish, you know,” the coach told me.
I took off the captain’s armband and handed it over to the coach who told me I’d be the captain in the next game again.
I was about ten years old, and I knew the coach was right. I didn’t speak Swedish. I only knew how to count to ten, and then fake it to thirteen. I knew just one other word in Swedish: Kött. “Meat”.
When you’re seven years old, I suppose visits to your father’s 70-year-old aunt aren’t your definition of fun. Even when the said aunt is probably a very interesting person, having spent years as a cook and a hostess at sea and all.
Or, maybe it is, or was, for you, but I know that I wasn’t looking forward to our trips to Aunt Hilda. She was named Hilda, after her mother, and she lived in a stylishly decorated one bedroom apartment in one of the highest buildings in downtown Helsinki.
Oh, the tales that she must have had, but all I was interested was candy. The highlight of every visit was when Aunt Hilda took out her candy jar, or a porcelain bowl, and offer me some candy. It was always the same kind, assorted Fazer candy, and I always picked my favorites, one with a picture of polar bears, and one with kittens.
It’s not that it wasn’t exciting to visit her, it was just that I didn’t know what to say to her. And I was a little afraid of her dog, Timo. He welcomed visitors with a very high-pitched bark, and once he’d let everybody inside, the little, white dog alarmed Aunt Hilda of the guests’ every move by barking. So I spent a lot of time sitting in one place while Mom, Dad, and Hilda drank coffee.
But before we got to the coffee and the candy, and even through the door that Timo guarded, there was the long elevator ride all the way to the top. Where we lived, in our little suburb, there was just one building that did have an elevator. Most apartment buildings in our neighborhood were only three stories high, which I appreciated most when my hockey team had to deliver flyers in the area.
Aunt Hilda’s house, though, was at least ten stories high. Well, maybe nine. OK, eight, but compared to our building it was a skyscraper, and the ride to the top seemed long.
That was the second most exciting thing on those trips. The most exciting thing was the gun store. Downstairs, in the ground floor of the building along Helsinki’s main street, there was a store that had a “Smith & Wesson” sign on it, and thick bars in the windows. Of course, I never got to go in there, but it was exciting just the same.
That wasn’t Aunt Hilda’s house. Downstairs in her house, in the ground floor of her high-rise building, there was a tiny store that, too, had a sign on the wall. On it, there were two words. One of them in Finnish, the other was that one Swedish word I had learned.
The sign said, “Lihaa – Kött”.
I’ve learned quite a few Swedish words since then. Now can I be the captain?