Something else

The power of a postcard

1989. The phone rang in the Andersson household. My uncle Rolf answered and immediately gestured to his two children to get dressed and ready to go. It was my grandmother who had called. Something urgent.

They all got in the car and drove over to my grandparents’ house. Rolf rushed in and saw that the table was all set with coffee, cookies and home-made cinnamon buns.

My grandmother was glowing. She pulled out a postcard from the front pocket of her apron and urged everyone to sit down for the read.

It was a postcard from me. Her first grandchild, who had ventured beyond the safe borders of our native country. The granddaughter, who had decided to spend many years living abroad, touching down in Sweden now and then, just to start looking at new opportunities to get to know other ways of life, other cultures, other languages.

It was a long stretch from my grandmother’s life. She was a poor farmer’s daughter from the swedish-speaking part of Finland. A small village called Sideby, where her family had lived since forever.

After having started researching my family history I’ve found relatives in the same village all the way back to the 17th century. My grandmother had no education, no future, no life in her small village. She had nine siblings, several who died early on. She decided to go to Sweden to make herself a better life. Thus, she came on a boat – like so many others – and started working as a maid in middle class families in Stockholm. Eventually, she met my grandfather – a tin smith from a working class background, who had founded his own company. He could even build them their own house, roof and all.

Their first daughter died at an early age. She never talked much about Sonja. Her grief was immense, and silent.

A year after the funeral, my mother was born, and seven years later, my uncle Rolf.

All in the same house, playing in the same garden, going to school where my grandmother eventually started working in the canteen.

My grandmother never left that house. And it was from that kitchen, she called her only son to come listen to the postcard his niece had written. It was a big event.

I didn’t even know this happened until my cousin told me, a few weeks ago. My grandmother kept all my postcards from different countries in a big, porcelain serving pot on the kitchen counter. According to my cousin, it was her treasure. Perhaps a proof, that she had made a journey, which had led to her grandchildren having a far better situation than she’d ever dreamt of for herself. My mother was the first one in the family who went to university, and for her, it was a given that her children should do the same. But I was the only one who ever went to live abroad.

Had I known that my postcards held such a great value to my grandparents, I probably would have written a lot more.

It’s such a strong image of how the choices you make in your own life can impact someone else’s. I don’t even know if my grandmother thought in the terms of class journey. Or, that the fact that she had the courage to move to Sweden, was also the first step towards pushing her future family towards a better life.

I hope she felt proud of herself. She was the one who made it happen. And that is no small thing for a poor maid from Finland.

Ruth Andersson making a life in Sweden.

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