The women who came before me

My Finnish grandmother 

My Swedish grandmother 

During the monthly hormone disruption, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own femininity and my body. The menstruation cycle is just as private as it is a connection to the women in the line behind me. Genetics. A shared familiarity in symptoms, cycles, physicality. Like a secret society of womanhood. Then I started to think about my two grandmothers, who were so different from each other and colorful in their own unique ways.

My Finnish grandmother on my father’s side was kind of spiritual and very artistic and creative. The Finns are quite mysterious and they hold a lot of pride and integrity – and I see my grandmother as an enigma at times. I used to visit her after my grandfather died and we would listen to classical music together or she would translate her poems and read them to me. She had a lot of depth but I think she was starving for some intellectual stimulation. Even though she was a happy person, there was always a streak of darkness to her. It intrigued me. I was fascinated by the way she could walk through her childhood memories with such ease, talking about it with her whole body, and then tell gruesome stories about the war (the winter war against Russia) that would transport me there. She was a good story teller. Her life was hard at times and she sacrificed a lot of herself and her creativity to be able to be a good homemaker. But – there were times when she would create something beautiful for her family. Like the time when she created a forest in her living room for the kids to play in. She went out in the forest, collected moss, grass, branches, stumps, leaves, small tress, sticks and stones and arranged it on a huge rug in the corner of the room to make it look like a real forest.

My aunt, uncle and my dad in my grandmother’s living room forest

My grandparents

After a few weeks it all began to decay and smell, so she went back to the woods and gently returned the moss and the trees to its natural environment. It was a lovely project. It inspired me when I was decorating the living room in one of my earlier apartments as a ‘winter room’ where I went all in with a wintry style in June:

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My Swedish grandmother was very different. She was almost childlike at times. Especially in the brutal way she used her honesty and was loud about it – and in her naive view of the world, but she had a lot of spunk to her – and a very dirty sense of humor. When I think about her I see a free spirit trapped in a time and place where society didn’t accept it, so she tried to fit in, trying to fit the norm but not in the most graceful way. She was forced to move out from home in her early teens. I think that abrupt end to her childhood and the need to do what it takes to survive in a harsh world colored her temperament and behavior. My grandmother was very warm and she really loved me. I think my Swedish grandparents were the only relatives, except for my parents, who showed me genuine love and affection when I was a child. I felt seen by her. Not understood, but at least I felt seen. Because she was like a child and I was an old soul.

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Me with both my grandmothers, 1999

I think they are both part of me somehow. Here and there in the genes, but they have also influenced me in various ways. I inherited my talent and creativity from my Finnish grandmother and my sense of humor, my honesty and my childlike quality from my Swedish grandmother. They are both gone now but I still talk to them in my head once in a while. And I am sort of a close neighbor to my Finnish grandmother, because she’s buried in the cemetery across the street from my building. If I squint, I think I can see her grave from here.

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3 thoughts on “The women who came before me

  1. Being an American, we are usually ignorant of events outside of our own realm, but I have taken a real interest in the Winter War. The most important lesson that I gleaned from the conflict is . . . don’t fvck with the Finns!

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