One June morning in the 1970s, when I was on my way back from the park where I had gone to get some government sponsored soup, I spotted a familiar character walking towards me. I was glad that I noticed her first, because I was a little afraid of her. She walked around our neighbourhood almost every day, but it was much more fun to watch her from our kitchen window.
Every time Mom saw her, she let me know.
“Mrs. Sunshine’s out,” she’d yell, and I ran to the window to see what she was wearing that day.
Although, I wasn’t her clothes, really, that was the big deal. It was the fact that she was wearing so much makeup that it looked like she had painted two red balls on her cheeks. She also seemed to be wearing two wigs on top of each other. Anyway, seeing her made Mom happy so, in a way she was Mrs. Sunshine, even if the nickname probably wasn’t all praise to begin with.
“Well-Known Local Orchestra Available for New Year’s Eve due to cancellation.
Dial 5-1595 or 3-4454”
– Reading Eagle, Dec 6, 1952
I wouldn’t say there was panic in the air, but the guys were a little agitated. And understandably so. We had been looking forward to the New Year’s Eve gig for weeks and we had added two new songs onto our set list so that we could play for over an hour.
He coulda bin a contender. His words, not mine. Actually, that’s not true, they were my words because his words were, “Coulda been an A-list celebrity”, but the idea was the same. Had he got his break, the one he thought he had deserved, things would have been different. Very different.
The first time I saw him, I heard him first. I heard the sound of a skipping rope hitting the floor, but not the sound of his sneakers softly landing on the same floor. There was only a centimeter, at most, between his shoes and the wooden surface that had once been blue, and it was almost as if he’d just but now had black scuff marks from all the skipping and other training that took place in the small workout area.
Before we had latte – and that’s with any prefix, whether a tall or grande or venti or just cafe – before Central Perk was on TV, before Swedish coffeeshops had landed in Finland, long, long before Starbucks made it here, and before we even had coffee to go, we had the local gas station’s caféteria.
That’s where people got together, that’s where you heard the news, met your friends, hung out, and maybe had lunch, or even dinner. But at least a cup of coffee and a donut. One of the biggest Finnish comedy characters, Uuno Turhapuro, always hung out at a gas station, another major 1970s hit TV show, Tankki Täyteen (“Fill’ er up”), told the story of a quirky family that ran a gas station, and its cafeteria.
The local gas station was where everybody knew your name, even in a city like Helsinki.
Sweden is a country where “lunch” is not just a meal but a concept of time. Meetings are booked either “before lunch” (11am) or “after lunch” (1pm) – except on Christmas Eve, when everything is different. First, not many people book meetings on Christmas Eve. Second, people may skip lunch altogether and rely on a heavy breakfast to carry them through to the dinner feast.
At Christmastime, Swedes use another concept of time. It’s used only once a year, and it’s not an actual time, either, but it does dictate the movements of an entire nation.
It’s called “Kalle Anka.” You may know it as Donald Duck.
The first hockey camp I ever attended was a day camp in Helsinki. The kids would come in morning, have two practices on the ice, eat lunch, and go home and then return to the rink the next morning to do it all over again. For five days.
The camp was run by two Finnish league players that were Dad’s friends, and from Day 1, they both referred to me a “Pikku-Eikka”, Finnish for “Little Eikka”, in which Eikka is my Dad’s nickname.
You can’t see me from where you are
On the stage, in the spotlight
Because I’m in the back, in the dark
But I see you as you walk out to your place
On the stage, under the spotlight
I watch you make people laugh
and I laugh with them.
I hear the people sigh at the exactly right places,
and I sigh with them
as I mouth each line with you
From my place in the back, in the dark
Then I hear the applause
and I clap my hands and
even though you can’t see me from where you are
on the stage, in the spotlight
I give you the thumbs-up
and I smile as I wipe off a tear
This may look like just another small plastic bag. Just another plastic bag with a plastic bracelet inside. And to most people, that’s exactly what it is. Just another plastic bag, just another plastic bracelet, except that at second glance, you may notice that the bracelet is a Fitbit, one of those activity trackers, workout buddies that count steps and calories, and track sleep.
Yet, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.
And I’m going to tell you why.