Written by Jaana Jokinen, told by my mother Mirja Anneli
September 1949 in Kallio, Helsinki, Finland
Slowly but surely, the days were getting colder and darker. School was back and autumn was upon us. I have always been a summer person, so even as an 8-year-old I wasn’t too happy about the changing weather.
There was a chill in the air overnight and frost on the ground in the mornings.
The bell rang, telling us the school day was over. I gathered my books hastily, eager to get home because I had a new kitten.
She had such a little meow. I loved the way she felt that downy tabby fur, so soft and cuddly. I simply adored her. But I knew she was still too young to be left alone for too long.
Not only did I want to get home in a hurry to play with my new kitten, but I also had an important job to do. Before my mum had left to work, she had asked me to give it some milk when I get home from school. My mum told me she would put the kitten in our living room and lock the door so that my friends couldn’t play too roughly with it, tossing the cat around.
We always had a cat at home, so I had learned to love animals from an early age.
I was an only child, so my cats and the neighbourhood children were very important to me. They were my playmates.
When I was given my kitten, my neighbour Soili got one too. We were so excited and had lots of fun playing with them, pretending they were our babies. We put clothes on them, put them to sleep in our doll-prams and covered them with blankets. The kittens were still too little to run away, so they put up with us, their new mothers.
Dry, dead leaves crunched beneath my feet as I hurried home along Neljäslinja. My school was only half a kilometre from our home, so I would reach Näkinkuja in no time, yet I was puffed out. The air was so cold, clouds appeared when I breathed out.
My little, safe neighbourhood was made of eight timber townhomes, forming a square, with a courtyard in the middle.
In wintertime the courtyard filled with high snowbanks. All six of us, the neighbourhood children, had lots of fun playing there and making snow castles.
I couldn’t help but giggle as I remembered the time mum and I watching our Maikki-cat outside when the first snow fell. The snow was so strange to the cat as she walked in it, every step she took she licked her paws and sometimes stood with just her hind legs. She was so funny!
Even though we lived only two kilometres from the centre of Helsinki, and 100 metres down the road trams travelled on their tracks, it was a peaceful neighbourhood and nature felt close by. Maple trees lined the streets and lilac bushes our courtyard. Planted tulips added an extra colour to our surroundings during springtime.
My childhood was a happy one. I received lots of love from my parents. Our home was homely and welcoming. The neighbours all knew each other well, they felt almost like part of our extended family.
My mum had to go back to work when I was a year old as my father was engaged in fighting the war. Now the war had ended, but mum still had to work. A close friend of my parents looked after me when I was little. But since I was a big girl now, I was allowed to walk home alone from school and wait there for mum to finish work.
Life was peaceful. I was more fortunate than many others. Even my good friend Raili, lost her father in the war.
I finally reached home.
By the front door was a woven mat, fashioned from rustic strings, enriched with the mud of multitude of shoes, a testimony to the life that dwelled in the house.
I smiled, took off my shoes, and picked up the key from under the mat.
Unlocking the front door, I was greeted with the sanctuary of my happy home.
I ran to the dining room. Through windows that welcomed the passage of light, the dining room was alive with the vibrant hues of the afternoon sunlight.
But it was then that my heart was filled with panic. For the life of me I could not remember where my mum said she had left the living room key!
I paced the wooden floor, back and forth. My heart filled with intense worry. I could hear my kitten crying and now my carelessness was going to be the end of her.
I was shaking. I was terrified. The constricted feeling grew, as if I was strangled by the air about me. My tiny gorgeous little kitten was going to die of hunger because I couldn’t give it milk.
My eyes filled with tears. I did not know what to do. In my desperation I kneeled by the solid wood sideboard hutch. I crossed my hands on top of the linen tablecloth. In my hopelessness I cried out to God to help me!
It was then I felt something hard under my hands. I checked under the table mat and sure enough the key was there!
A few hours later I sat by the kitchen window and waited eagerly for my mum to return from work. I loved my mum above everything else.
There she came, carrying a bag of goodies in her hand. My heart was filled with so much joy, I couldn’t contain it. I ran to my mum and told her all about my day. My mum gathered me in her warm embrace.
God had heard my cry, my kitten had got her milk, my mum was home, and my world was back to being happy and carefree once again.
Note from Jaana: I grew up hearing this true story. My mum is now 81 years old and lives around the corner from me.
She still has a soft spot for cats and other animals. Interestingly this love-for-animals has been passed down from generation to generation.
At times while I was writing this story, I felt I could have just as well be writing it about my daughter’s daughter Elina, who is now ten years old. She too has an enormous loving heart towards her cat Archie as well as all other animals.
Writing this story has been a powerful, moving and soul-stirring experience for me. At times my eyes were filled with tears. I felt as though I was transported back in time and was able to see into my own mother’s childhood. I also could feel my grandmother’s embrace because it was the same warm comforting squeeze, I received so many times from her when I was a child.
My mum tells me that her faith in God was strengthened by this experience of God answering her prayers for help. So, it has been in my life. It’s those simple childlike prayers, at times of need, that have been heard and answered time and time again that have built, nourished, and cemented my own faith in God.
My mum’s childhood home isn’t standing in its spot at Näkinkuja anymore. A new modern building has taken its place. But it still stands there in my mother’s childhood memories.
I have a new desire to walk that half a kilometre between Kallio Primary School where my mum went to school and Näkinkuja, the place of my mum’s childhood home. Dare I dream, I could walk it with my mother one more time?
ps. The picture is of my mum taken in 1949 when she was 8 years old, around the same time as the setting of this true story.
To receive notifications of new blog posts, please enter your email address below:
4 Comments Add yours
What a wonderful story from your mother’s childhood! Funny how places from our childhood may no longer stand where they once stood, yet we can still see those places clearly in our minds.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Dana! Yes, this is true, but also so sad when old buildings give way to new ones. I wish we would restore and preserve more and waste less.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What a wonderfull story.
My childhood home still stands on its place. I have droven by it many times. There will raise beautiful memories on my mind – I can see us girls playing with neighbourhood children in our garden. We played with our cat Petteri ( called Pete) the same way as your mother. Pete was so kind he let us clothe him too.
But there is a sad part also. In the neighbourhood there are no one I know anymore. The street seems so narrow and sad somehow. It is me who is sad, I suppose. I am getting old 🤗
LikeLiked by 1 person
There is something significant about visiting our roots, the places where we grew up in! Some things make us happy and some sad! I remember visiting my childhood summer cottage (mökki) when last in Finland in 2019 and it was a highly emotional experience for me! Thanks for sharing Hanna! I greatly appreciate it!