Hanna and Antti Together
As one of her activities, Hanna decided to join the gymnastics classes. My father was the teacher of the
young women. The women were aligned in a row from the tallest to the shortest. My mother was the
tallest, although she was only 5’4”. (My father was 5’8”) So my father wondered who the tall girl facing
him was as their eyes began to meet more and more. So that’s how their romance began. The year was
probably 1916. So dating became a habit although most of their social life was centered around the Hall. My father Antti was involved in acting with the drama society so my mother would go to see his plays.
THE MAYOR’S WIFE
About that time my father and his brother August bought a fancy, long Studebaker together with wooden
wheel spokes and considered a “luxury” car of its time. They would take turns using it. At that time, my
mother was working as a live-in domestic for the mayor of Quincy. The mayor was a penurious man and
didn’t want to spend the money for a personal car. Which irked the mayor’s wife no end as it affected their
social status negatively.
So when the maid’s beau would show up with his elegant Studebaker to take her domestic out on a date,
she would peek at them from behind the living room curtains, seething with envy.
Antti’s and Hanna’s courtship continued until 1917 when they were married. I don’t know the date. Since neither was religious they were married in a civil ceremony at Quincy City Hall. The following
Saturday night they treated all of their friends which were growing in number, to a wedding reception at
Veli Hall, complete with dance band, cake, coffee, the Finnish coffee cake called pulla, for all.
A key characteristic of most Finnish-American halls in those early years was that no alcoholic beverages
were served. So my parents’ wedding party had no champagne toasts for the bridge and groom. Antti did
drink to some extent but wasn’t an alcoholic, while Hanna totally detested alcohol in any form because of
the memories of her father.
THE TEMPERANCE SOCIALISTS
The non-alcohol policy of the Finnish labor halls was somewhat due to a strong temperance movement
of the Finns which also had its own non-politically aligned halls. These were called the Raittiusseuran
Haalit, or the Temperance Society Halls. The marathon runner William Wick, my uncle’s bakery business
partner, belonged to the temperance movement. Many of the Socialists originated from the temperance
movement. The immigrant labor movement saw the heavy damage done by booze to so many Finnish-American workers, who were mostly blue collar.
There was also a political reason for the non-alcohol policies of the labor halls. One of the reasons for
building the halls in the first place, whether temperance or labor, was to provide healthy alternatives to
hanging out in saloons. The Finnish SDP was not only secularist, and sought church-state separation, but its
1903 Forssa program had a program to bring prohibition to Finland!
I remember an anecdote by one of my late Socialist Party comrades, Bill Briggs, about the Austrian
Socialist movement. They had the beer drinking faction, which hung out in the beer halls of Vienna,
waving their steins and lustily singing revolutionary songs. The other faction was the temperance socialists
whose slogan was: “A drinking worker is not a thinking worker, a thinking worker is not a drinking
worker.” This attitude pretty much summed it up for the early Finnish workers’ halls in the United States. This all changed years later when halls began to set up bars at their functions to attract young people to their
dances and affairs, but even in this early period it did not stop young men, particularly, from drinking at
dances. They would bring bottles, stashing them in their cars or in bushes outside the hall, and drink
backstage or in the parking lot during intermissions. By the time the evening was well along a number of
the men were too drunk to dance, or would be wobbling or falling as they staggered to the women’s side of
the hall to ask for a dance. So often by late evening, some of the young women ended up dancing between
themselves, while their would-be swains might be sleeping in a drunken stupor on the grass outside the hall
or getting into a drunken fight.
Hanna’s and Antti’s lives continued as before with their focus on hall life. They’d spend much time with
August and Iita and little Lempi, who was the apple of my father’s eye. They made many friends. For the
record, I mention:Wäinö and Anna Tirri. Wäinö was a shipyard worker at the
Fore River Shipyards and was one of the top javelin throwers in New England, not only among the Finns. They had two
daughters, Tyyne and Toini. Tyyne later became Tyyne Williams and Toini, Toini Chiavaroli(?). There
were Jussi (John) and Aino Siitonen.. They had three children, Paula and the twin boys, Paul and Pentti, all
now deceased. Jussi was a close boyhood friend of my father’s from Helylä, but they weren’t directly related. Jussi was a carpenter and building contractor.
There were Leena and Herman Pitkänen and their children, son Tauno and daughter Toini. Leena became a young widow when Herman succumbed to the great
influenza epidemic of 1918. She
never remarried but lived to a very old age. Henry (Heikki) and Mary Kohonen were in the Veli Hall crowd
and later moved to Cresskill, New Jersey, with Heikki working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Mary as a
day work domestic. When Heikki retired, they moved to Maine to operate a small poultry farm. There
were Anna and Mikko Walling, who had a son, Erkki or Eric. Mikko died young and Anna and Erkki also
moved to Cresskill where they became neighbors with the Kohonen’s. Anna later remarried a carpenter
named Hjalmar (Jallu) Warjo, and they had a daughter Edith, who is now Edith Kaski, married to Paul
Kaski who live in New Jersey at this writing. There were Oscar and Martha Raut (Martha being the sister
of the late Herman Pitkänen). They also had a daughter named Aune. Oscar was for many years a Raivaaja
correspondent reporting on the activities of the Finnish Socialist local in northern New Jersey They also
brought a house in the same neighborhood with the Kohonen’s and the Warjo’s in Cresskill.
Anni Saimann was a dear family friend whose first husband Fredi was killed in France in World War I.
She later married a carpenter, Peter Honkanen, They had two children who were my age contemporaries,
Anna and Peter, Jr. Peter Junior is now deceased, but Anna is still alive in Southern California to my knowledge. Others were Oskari and Aino Lehtinen who bought a farm in Westminster, Mass., later,
although Oskari commuted for years to Chester where he was employed as a quarry worker. Oskari and
Aino had two daughters, Ellen (Elli) and Martha. Elli and my mother became close friends later. Oskari
later went with the Communists in the 1920 split, although they remained personal friends with our family. The same with Joel and Hilja Koski from Norwood, who became pro-CP, my father knowing Hilja from
UNCLE ANTTI PASSES
The year my parents were married, my mother lost her beloved older brother at the age of 27. In the
winter months Antti and a Finn Wobbly fellow worker decided to ride the freights to British Columbia,
where there were prospects of work. While riding the rods, both came down with severe colds. They got to
Minnesota and Antti’s partner died of pneumonia. Although not fully recovered, Antti buried his friend in
Minnesota and continued his boxcar odyssey to the West Coast. He went to work in a gold mine somewhere
near Vancouver, B.C. his cold got worse and he, too, came down with pneumonia and died.
Before he died, he had written a letter to my mother which the owner of the small mine, a distant relative,
sent to Hanna, along with Antti’s personal effects. Among these were a watch and chain and a subscription
to the Finnish IWW newspaper, Industrialisti, which he had changed to my mother’s name. He also sent an
unknown amount of money to her, advising to end it for the care of “the kids”, their young half-sister and
half-brothers living in Finland with Anna, Paavo’s widow. Which Hanna did. This was an enormous blow
to my mother who often spoke glowingly about her brother with whom she had been so close.
THE FIRST SCHISM
Speaking about the Finnish Wobblies, the Finnish IWW people were separated from their Finnish
Socialist Federation in 1915 at the same time that the Socialist Party-USA expelled the Wobblies on the
spurious grounds of advocating “violence’ and “sabotage” during industrial struggles, which became the
first great Schism of the American socialist left in the early 20th century. In reality, the IWW advocated
non-violent direct action as their main focus of revolutionary unionism, and direct action tactics on the job to make gains in conditions which included slowdowns, sit-ins and sickouts. This is the kind of “sabotage”
that the parliamentary socialists exaggerated as promoting violence. Some of the more graphic examples of
labor violence historically involved AFL craft unions like in the example of the bombing of the Los Angeles
Times by the McNamara brothers, not to speak of the violence and even killings perpetrated upon union
workers by the employing class. I suspect it was more of a case of the Socialist Party seeking public
respectability by purging itself of its most radical wing. Also a major reason was the Wobblies’ lack of
officially not supporting parliamentary electoral activity as the basic means of social change, but its
favoring of industrial unionism as the way to go.
Since the First Schism took place in 1915, the year both my parents came to America, they were too new
here to be intimately concerned with the politics of this issue. So I never heard it talked about much in my
family, which was in the parliamentary socialist camp. Also, the Finnish IWW wasn’t very strong in the
New England states and its main strength was in the Northern Midwest , the Mountain states and the West
Coast. It might also be indicated that the IWW did not permit language branches, contrasted to the SP-USA
and its integral language federations. So the Finnish IWW were organized under other organizational
names, whether individuals carried an IWW Red Card or not. In Berkeley, California the IWW Finns were
organized in the Finnish Workers Educational Club, which functioned into the early 1970s or so.
In New England the only Finn Wobbly hall I know about was in Brooklyn, Connecticut, which
functioned I believe into the 1940s. Of course, there was the famous Tarmo club in Finnish Harlem in that
period. In the split entire Finnish SP halls became Wobbly halls in the Midwest and in the Far West. Butte.
Montana had a Wobbly Hall for the entire existence of a viable organized Finnish community. The
Communists later were never able to get a foothold in Butte, although in some other places, some Wobbly
halls went Communist in the Second Schism of the early 1920s.
There were quite few individual Wobblies among the Finns in New England. The IWW was particularly
strong among the quarry workers of New Hampshire and Boston areas. Jack Ujanen, the last editor of
Industrialisti (which expired in 1973) had worked in the New Hampshire quarries. They were popular
among the lumberjacks in Maine where Uncle Antti had worked.
THE WOBBLY ROOMER
After my parents were married, my father continued to work at the Quincy Baking Co. Hanna now did
day work as a cleaning woman for well-to-do households instead of being a live-in maid. Since money was
tight, they rented a two bedroom apartment in Quincy and would sublet the extra bedroom to some single
Finnish laborer. Hanna was a stickler for cleanliness and neatness. I recall her main enemy in her life
seemed to be household dust. She was always proud of her crisp white sheets and pillow cases which she
scrubbed clean on an old-fashioned washboard and tub. She had white curtains in the roomer’s quarters and
throughout the house, and to match the sheets, she had white bed covers to go on top of the quilt or blanket. The room would be impeccably spotless.
It so happened that at least one of their roomers was a Finnish IWW quarry worker. I imagine he and his
fellow workers had a small “job branch” and its five or so members would hold their meetings in the rented
bedroom on Sunday afternoons. The men would wear their only suit, white shirt with detachable stiff collar
and tie. They all smoked and the room was always full of tobacco smoke. There weren’t enough chairs so
some of the men would sit on my mother’s spotless white bedspread.
Hanna was very upset as her brilliant white curtains were becoming gray from the cigarette smoke. She
told my father to tell the men that they couldn’t have their meetings in the room. Antti, being a two-pack-a-day man himself, didn’t want to and said they were all a good bunch of guys. So Hanna got angry, bit the
bullet, and went and told them herself. From my own experiences, I know that at times my mother could
have a wicked admonishing tongue.
So the meetings stopped. Their roomer and the other quarrymen spread the word around Quincy that:
“Siitonen is a pretty good guy, but that wife of his . . . Watch out!”
WORLD WAR I
The country got involved in World War I in 1917 with its repression of foreign radicals. Most of the
Finnish Socialists in Quincy were anti-war, seeing the war was promulgated by opposing capitalist national
interests and harmful to the working class. Some were inducted into the army, and some like Fredi Saimann
Although the Raivaaja was censored, the hall activity continued in Quincy and in other Finnish communities. Yet there was an atmosphere of fear. It was probably for that reason my father did not apply for U.S.
citizenship then, fearful it would be denied him because of his Socialist politics. He did get his papers
about 1943 with no repercussions.
The great influenza epidemic swept the world in 1918 and killed millions. My father came down with it
and almost died. Had that happened, I would never have been born. Nor would have I been born if my
uncles Antti and August hadn’t separately sponsored my parents to immigrate here. Nor would I have been
born if my parents hadn’t been Socialists and hadn’t met at the Labor Society Veli Hall.
FINNISH CIVIL WAR
Another cataclysmic trauma hit my parents and the entire Finnish-American socialist community with the
coming of the Finnish Civil War of 1918. The war came in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917,
and the more revolutionary elements of the Finnish Socialists believe their time had come, especially in the
light of the reactionary politics of the Finnish ruling class.
The war was fought mainly along class lines with the under-armed, under-trained Red Guard militia
being mostly working class. The White Guard, commanded by General Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, a former
Czarist general, was made up of conservative rural elements in the north of Finland, conservative middle
class types and Finnish jaeger units trained in Germany before the Civil War. It was before the World War
I defeat of Germany, so a large German expeditionary force landed in the south of Finland and captured the
Red-held capital of Helsinki. Mannerheim’s professionally commanded forces advanced from the north, and the deciding battle of the Civil War was fought at Tampere, with its solid labor base. Thousands of red
Guards were slaughtered and imprisoned. Most of the top Socialist government leaders fled to the new
Soviet Union, many of whom became Bolshevized from their prior Kautskyist Marxist politics and formed a
Finnish Communist Party-in-Exile.
Most of the Finnish-American Socialists were sympathetic to the Finnish Socialists and the Red Guards
and many had relatives in Finland who were imprisoned or killed.
My parents talked about relief efforts at Veli Hall. With its theater group performing a play named
“Punakaartilainen”, or “The Red Guardsman”. It had been written by Moses Hahl, a Finnish immigrant
Marxist theoretician and writer, who wrote for The Raivaaja and for its theoretical and cultural monthly
magazine called “Säkeniä” , or “Sparks”. The play was a crude black and white agit-prop
effort, but everyone was profoundly affected by it. My father had a major speaking role and my mother a
walk-on bit part. The cast as well as the audience was in tears during the performance, and the actors could
barely get through the play because they were crying their hearts out.
The tragedy of the Civil War affected my family profoundly, both my parents and my paternal relatives in
Although there was a Socialist movement in Karelia, the Red Guard never controlled Sortavala, although
they governed Viipuri, the second largest city in Finland, which was the last city to fall to the Whites, the
German mercenary forces to be exact. But Sortavala and Helylä were under White Guard control right along. Which created a problem for my uncles Pekka and Matti Siitonen, as both were Socialist politicals. My uncle Juho was non-political and was disabled, with his polio-withered arm.
The White Guard demanded that my uncle Pekka, who was a businessman and bakery owner with a wife
and four children, to report for military duty. They very well knew his Socialist political convictions and
wanted to turn the heat on him. Pekka refused. His daughter Elvi Pajunen, who lived into her 90s, told me
in 1994 that her father was a Tolstoyan pacifist who didn’t believe in violence to the extent that he never
even owned a gun because he didn’t even believe in hunting and killing animals. Pekka refused, saying he
had not intention of killing his fellow workers. So he was thrown into a White concentration camp.
Uncle Matti, who knew the White gendarmes were after him, decided to make a break for the border to
cross over to the Soviet side. He traveled through the forests at night and sought a place to sleep in the lofts
of farmhouses along the way during the day. One morning he stopped at the farmhouse of a family he knew
slightly and thought they might be sympathetic enough to allow him to sleep over for the day. They
allowed him to sleep in the hayloft. While Matti slept, the farmer notified the local White gendarmes that a
Red was sleeping in his loft. He put up one hell of a fight when they came, but was badly outnumbered and
was captured and thrown into the same camp as his brother.
My grandmother Cecilia and my uncle Juho went to visit the White Guard commander to secure Pekka’s
and Matti’s release. My grandmother had know the White Guard commander since he had been a child
since they were both from the Helylä area. Uncle Juho said that when they were younger the Siitonen
brothers had done their share of drinking and fighting but were also honest, reliable workers who had
contributed much to the community through their labor.
But the White commandant showed no sympathy. Instead he asked my grandmother that; “You have two
other sons, Antti and August. Where are they right now? I‘d like to talk to them.’ Uncle Juho interceded at
this point and said: “Those boys are someplace where you’ll never get your hands on them. They’re in
America.” So the plea was to no avail.
Many of the prisoners were shot, others became deathly ill from hunger and from deadly epidemics that
swept through the concentration camp. My uncles came down with some lethal affliction and they became
terminally ill and were only allowed to go home to die, still men in their prime.
So the story of Matti and Pekka has weighed heavily upon my family ever since I could remember. On
my trip to Finland in the summer of 2003, I visited the government commission researching the War
Victims in Finland, 1914-1922 in late June, to see if I could find some documentation about my uncles and
their fate. There names were not listed., although project director Lars Westerlund searched for information.
We later went to the National Archives and they weren’t listed there either. Westerlund then checked for the
records of the prison camp at Sortavala where more than likely they were imprisoned. There was no
mention of the existence of that camp. He told me that information on some of the smaller camps were
removed from all government records with their camp records destroyed. So no paper trail apparently
exists on Pekka and Matti.
THE SECOND SCHISM
The initial Russian Revolution created a period of turmoil within the Finnish-American labor
movement which ended in another great political schism. This time the majority of the Finnish Federation
locals left the Socialist Party-USA and aligned with the Communists. The New England states and the New
York City area provided exceptions. With the influence of the Social Democratic newspaper The Raivaaja
and its powerfully influential editor-in-chief Frans J. Syrjälä, most of the New England locals remained in the Socialist Party camp. Most of the Midwestern and western locals went with
the C.P.-influenced elements. Some of the Wobbly halls farther west also went into the C.P.-sphere
although most stayed loyal to the IWW and were skeptical about what was going on in the Soviet Union.
At first, practically all elements in the Finnish-American labor community, including S.P. and IWW,
rejoiced when the Czarist regime collapsed in Russia, that oppressor of Finland in its last decades. They
saw the new Russia as a beacon of freedom for not only the Russian working class and peasantry, but to
Finnish workers as well as those of the rest of the globe. Of course, the ruling classes and centers of
capitalism around the world were scared out of their wits that the revolution might spread everywhere.
But the things began to change in the opinion of the U.S. Finnish labor community with the October,
1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It was then that Lenin, Trotsky and their cadre seized power from the
Provisional Government in St. Petersburg, or Pietari as the Finns called it. They had the support of
significant sectors of the-then small Russian working class, some of the peasantry, and the armed forces
which was defecting by the thousands from the Czarist army which was embroiled in massive bloodletting
in the useless war with Germany in the western part of the collapsing empire. Even then there was a feeling
of good will among most Finnish-American Socialists as well as Wobblies toward the new Bolshevik
regime of which most knew little. At last a government of the workers somewhere in the world, so it was
There was as much rejoicing over the Russian events as there was despair in 1918 over the defeat of the
workers’ government in Finland and the slaughter and imprisonment of thousands of working men and
women by the White Guard in its aftermath.
But then disturbing things began to happen within the Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin and his political
shock troops begin to crack down on alternative left and democratic elements who supported the Revolution, some even the Bolshevik coup in October. Lenin and his cohorts now had the newly
constituted Red Army as military backup. The Czarist secret police agency the dreaded Ohkrana had been
dissolved but in its place the Leninists had created the Cheka, ostensibly to guard against counter-revolutionaries, but eventually became as repressive as the Cheka toward Lenin’s opponents of the left as
The Bolshevik regime outlawed and abolished the Menshevik Social Democrats, the left wing of which
with Julius Martov had even supported October; the Social Revolutionaries, left and right; and the Russian
anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. They eliminated the autonomy and self-government of the workers’
soviets at the factories which became rubber stamp appendages of the regime. Their supposed
“Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, an ominous term in itself, soon became the Dictatorship of the Bolshevik
Party and subsequently a “Dictatorship Over the Proletariat”. Dissidents were imprisoned and shot under
the Lenin/Trotsky bureaucracy and that of the fast emerging Stalin. Red Navy sailors of the Kronstadt
garrison rebelled in support of striking workers in St. Petersburg and were crushed by Red Army soldiers
answerable to Lenin and Trotsky and shot and killed in March, 1921.
The Constituent Assembly had been elected in the most free popular election ever to be held on Russian
soil. The Social Revolutionaries had been voted in as the largest grouping in the Assembly , the duty of
which was to draw up a new constitution for the new Russia. The Bolsheviks had not prevailed in electing
an assembly majority. So Lenin and his shock troops closed down the Assembly since it couldn’t prevail be
democratic process. Another major coffin nail against a fledgling democracy which never got off the
AMERICAN FINNS REACT
All this was not lost upon some of the thinkers and writers on the Finnish-American Socialist Left,
particularly in New England. Syrjälä and his supporters began to write critical articles about Soviet events,that the democratic potential of the revolutionary society was being destroyed by the autocratic Bolshevik
Many others, however, in the Finnish-American radical community were still mesmerized by the golden
glow of what they considered the greatest liberatory event in human history. Even in the ranks of The
Raivaaja editorship there was division. The brilliant but gullible Marxist speaker, writer, editor, and
organizer Santeri Nuorteva, an editor of Säkeniä, sided with the Communists. He quit The Raivaaja, was an
early representative of the Soviet regime in the United States, and was later deported to the Soviet Union,
where he died in 1929 of natural causes, still convinced about his cause.
Socialist Party locals split all over. An attempt was made by the Fitchburg area pro-communists to
physically seize control of the Raivaaja. failed although the Syrjälä Social Democrats did use some dubious proxy tactics to maintain control. The other main Finnish-American labor papers, with the notable
exception of the IWW Industrialisti, went with the Communists. The Työmies, or Workingman,
then being published in Superior, WI, went with the pro-CP forces. So did the Toveri (Comrade) the
Socialist Party paper published in Astoria, OR. The pro-CP Finns later abandoned the Finnish Socialist
Federation title, although they had retained control of the organization in a national referendum vote They
also disaffiliated from the SP-USA, and later banded together in the 1920s and part of the 1930s in the
Finnish Workers Federation. Probably a relatively small number of these actual became CP-USA members.
Yet the Finns were the largest single ethnic block in the CP-USA and in the early days comprised up to 40%
of its early membership, according to some estimates.
Only the Raivaaja daily paper remained affiliated with the SP-USA, and the locals that remained in that
party reorganized as a new federation which stayed with the SP until 1936. Later in the 1920s the
Communists to retain a foothold in New England established the Eteenpäin or Forward
newspaper in Worcester, MA as a counterweight to Raivaaja, published 18 miles away. The initial editor
of Eteenpäin was Elis Sulkanen, a brilliant self-educated writer and intellectual. He was expelled from the
Finnish Workers Federation in 1927 as an “unreliable” element who later became a Social Democrat and
eventually ended up as a senior editor of Raivaaja. In the 1950s he wrote a history of the Finnish-American
labor movement, which remains a valuable resource on the subject. Unfortunately, it has never had an
The splits also affected the Quincy area. The Norwood local went with the pro-Communists.. These
were tempestuous times for the Quincy local, too. The Soviets sent an agent to tour the defecting or
potentially amenable Socialist locals in the United States to Bolshevize them. He was trying to get them to
accept “the 21 points” that Lenin was using to gain control of the revolutionary movements abroad.
MY FAMILY REMAINS DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST
Uncle August was at that time recording secretary of the Quincy Socialist local. When the “21 points’
agent came to convert people to Moscow’s program at a Quincy local meeting. Initially, he won over
everyone but my uncle. August was something of a moderate evolutionary Social Democrat along the lines
of the German Edward Bernstein and remained that all of his life. He addressed the meeting and said the 21
Points were totally alien to the American political culture and traditions, and it was folly for Moscow,
ignorant of these conditions, to try to impose them on the American scene. He said Socialism must come to
America by democratic means compatible with the conditions and culture prevailing here.
I’m not clear whether this local went over to the Communist camp and that my uncle and others
established another to stay in the SP, or whether the initial pro-Soviet enthusiasm wore off and that the local remained in the SP-USA. I suspect the latter was more likely as I know Veli Hall was always in the Social-Democratic camp. Most of the above was told to me by my uncle sometime in the 1950s or 60s.
My parents, too, stayed with the SP, as did most of their closest friends around the Hall. They were
quite critical of the Soviet Union early on, too, influenced by the politics of The Raivaaja and Säkeniä. Antti was less political than August, but more radical in spirit. In conversations many years later with my
cousin Lempi, she compared our fathers. She saw august as always the evolutionary, pragmatic social
democrat while my father had more of a radical streak. So she considered her Uncle Antti as more of an
anarchist. Which probably my father wouldn’t have agreed with as he was always an admirer of Eugene V.
Debs and Norman Thomas, two famous Socialist Party leaders. Later he became an admirer of Franklin
Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Yet I do recall Antti’s independent rebel streak, direct and outspoken. He took umbrage with any kind of political manipulation from above and bureaucratic control. This
became apparent in his activist years with the farmers’ co-op movement which will be discussed later. He
would have made a helluva strong Wobbly with his anti-authoritarian fighting spirit.
There was also a political split in Uncle August’s marriage. His first wife Iita (Ida later) became a strong
and strident Communist while August remained the staunch Social Democrat. Poor Lempi, caught between
Although my parents were strongly in the Democratic Socialist camp, they did not break off their
personal friendships with old friends and comrades who elected to go with the Communists. They
continued their amicable relations and our families would visit back and forth. They did not consider them
the enemy, although my parents would often shake their heads at their friend’s politics, particularly when
they snag the praises of “the workers’ fatherland”. Nice folks, but…. This kind of compatibility was not
true of all the Finns. Others would break off contact with their former comrades and would never speak to
each other again, except perhaps in anger.
CONTINUE NEXT COLUMN
THE MOVE TO THE “OLD FARM”
Having both grown up in the countryside of Finnish Karelia, Antti and Hanna appeared tired of life in a
small industrial New England city, despite the vibrant life of the Finnish Socialist hall. They obviously
wanted to relive their country roots and began to look for a farm they could afford to buy. But they also
wanted in a country town that was close to a city with a large Finnish population and a workers’ hall. There
were hundreds of old Yankee farms gone to seed with the old family strains, some dating from the
American Revolution, dying out or just moving west where the soil was better and farming more
sustainable. It was hard to scratch any kind of living from the rocky, glacier-thinned soil of rural New
But there were Finnish immigrant families ready to take the place of the old Anglo-Saxon Yankees and
began snapping up their depressed, run-down old farms at rock bottom prices. In most cases, the man of the
family would work in the factories and mills in nearby industrial cities and farm on the side, with wives
doing a good share of the farm work as well as housekeeping and raising the kids. The farms in themselves
were hardly self-sufficient in many cases for much of a living. Although hundreds did eke out a modest
living with small dairy or poultry farms without outside work. But with a mill job to provide a low yet basic
income, a family could live a modest but good life and in addition raise chickens or pigs , and dairy cows
for milk, buttermilk and butter for family needs and to sell the surplus. They’d grow vegetables on the
dreadful soil and even revive old fruit trees. There’d be root cellars to store potatoes for the winter. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries were abundant in the wild, and Finnish farmers began to cultivate
these as domestic crops. Blueberry farming was particularly popular in towns with large Finnish
populations like Westminster and Hubbardston in central Massachusetts for home preserves or for
Fresh fish were abundant in the numerous ponds, and during deer season in October, second-generation
Finnish farm boys would go into the woods to try to bag a buck deer to provide venison for the winter. People would also go mushrooming for the table and to make preserves and pick wild dandelions to make
dandelion wine. Also, ice fishing was popular during the winter months
THE WESTMINSTER BUG
Some of my parents’ Quincy friends had the same back-to-the land idea as did Hanna and Antti. Several
focused on the small Massachusetts Yankee town of Westminster, then possibly consisting of 1000-1500
souls. It was situated perhaps about five miles from the small industrial city of Gardner (18,000-20,000
people), called the Chair City because there were several chair factories within its city boundaries which
provided work for the immigrants. About eight miles away was Fitchburg, the great Finnish Mecca which
author Reino Hannula once referred to as the Helsinki of the American Finntowns. For employment
possibilities Fitchburg had paper and textile mills, plus the famous Ivor Johnson gun and bicycle factory
and the Independent Lock Company. In the late 1930s, General Electric Company established an electrical
products factory in the center of Fitchburg.
Of course, there was the attraction of the thriving Finnish-American cultural life in Fitchburg as well as
Gardner for the Finnish farmers of the outlying communities like Westminster, Ashby, Ashburnham.
Townsend, Hubbardston, and Lunenburg. In Fitchburg there was The Raivaaja newspaper, Saima Hall and
its summer venue at Saima Park. Then in the Raivaaja building there was also the Finnish-run Worker’s
Credit Union which still exists today. This was the great success story of an institution founded by Finnish
Socialists where the low-income Finns could make house and car loans and maintain a savings account. I
had my first saving account ever at this venerable credit union. There were also the Finnish Socialist-founded consumer co-op stores both in Fitchburg and Gardner as well as the large farmers’ co-op in
Fitchburg. For the religious Finns there were several Lutheran churches as well the Elm Street
Congregational Church in Fitchburg.
Among the Quincy Finns who bought farms in Westminster were Oscar and Aino Lehtinen, situated on
the old Worcester Road south of the town center. Oscar, being a quarry worker from the Boston-Quincy
area, got a job in a quarry in Chester in Western Massachusetts to which he commuted from Westminster,
coming home on weekends. The Lehtinens kept dairy cows and also owned considerable woodland which
stretched eastward to the banks of Wyman’s Pond. It was lush blueberry land, which Oscar burned every
year to produce an abundance of berries for marketing.
Jussi (John) and Elli Heimo (originally Ikäheimo) bought old dairy farm on I believe Beech Hill Road which they worked full time. Jussi peddled milk door to door in Gardner every morning from his
truck for years. They had two daughters, one named Elsie, who didn’t stay on the farm and young John
Henry Heimo, Jr., who was born on March 20, 1926, two days after I was, who eventually became one of
my best boyhood friends.
Axel and Ida Tuomi also bought a dairy farm west of the center a few miles. They were from Quincy
and had lived in Worcester before moving to Westminster. My father knew Ida from Finland since she was
also from Helylä. The Tuomis ran a dairy farm for many years and switched to poultry farming in the 1940s or 1950s. They had three daughters, the late Lempi Aalto, Irene Kamila, and the late Lili Marble, all of
whom became prominent citizens of Westminster. Ida died in middle age, and Axel remarried and was
widowed again, being the last first-generation Finnish male living in Westminster before his death.
HANNA AND ANTTI MAKE THE MOVE
So my parents got the Westminster bug, too. They bought an old farm on Old Princeton road at the
intersection of Bolton Road a couple of miles south of the center. It was on a hilltop on the shoulder of
mount Wachusett, the highest peak in Central Massachusetts. Westminster was eighteen miles north of
Worcester, the state’s second largest city, and it was about 60 miles west of Boston.
It must have been about 1920 when my folks bought the farm. It was one of the old Massachusetts-style
farms in which the house, barn, stable, and outhouse were serially connected so during the cold winter
months farmers could go feed or milk the animals without having to brave the elements outside. The main
source of heat for the house would be a kitchen stove fueled by wood, which was also used for cooking,
baking and heating water.
I have no idea who the previous tenants might have been. Since my family later had another farm in
Westminster (more on that later), they always referred to this one as the “Vanha Farmi”, or “The Old
Farm”. I learned years later from old school friends Jane (nee Woodward --since deceased) and Bob Mason
who owned the farm in 2002 at least, that there was a secret room in the attic of the house of which my
parents had not been aware. Jane, who was an active member of the Westminster Historical Society, said
that this room had been used as an Abolitionist way station on the pre-Civil war Underground Railroad to
hide runaway slaves from the South headed for freedom in Canada.
WESTMINSTER REVOLUTIONARY MILITIA
The Finns weren’t the only immigrants living in Westminster, which had been known as Narragansett #2
when it had been first settled in the 1600s. There was also a large French-Canadian population which had
migrated south from Quebec to work in the mills. Most of them didn’t farm. Of course, there was the basic
Anglo-Saxon Yankee stock, some of which families dated from before the American Revolution. During the
Revolutionary War, the Westminster town militia, consisting mostly of local farmers, abandoned their
plows, picked up their muskets and marched off as a company to join the Revolutionary Army in the famous
Upstate New York Battle of Lake Champaign to challenge Burgoyne’s British Redcoats as they marched
down from Canada, with their resplendent red uniforms in parade ground cadence. The Westminster men
assembled on the Town Common on Academy Hill to start their march on foot to take on the Redcoats.
They got a spirited sendoff by the town’s citizens and the fife and drum corps as they started their westward
march. They thus became part of that early American guerrilla army which I’m sure in modern parlance
considered themselves :freedom fighters”, while the English crown and their loyal colonists might deem
them the “terrorists”.
During the Revolutionary War, there was an old farmhouse which stood at the bottom of the hill from the
“Old Farm” at the corner of what are now called Bolton and Mile Hill Roads. An old brick house, and
arguably the oldest house still standing in Westminster, it is of historical note as a place which quartered
Hessian prisoners of war who had fought as mercenaries in the British Army. They were employed as work
teams to erect stone walls from the surfeit of loose rocks and stones which could be found in abundance
strewn around the farm fields. The stone walls thus marked the boundaries of the farmlands, and pastures to
contain the cattle and horses. These Hessian-built stone walls can be found all over Westminster to the
LIFE ON THE OLD FARM
My parents did have some milk cows and a horse and wagon on The Old Farm, as well as chickens. They had no car and Antti would drive the horse and wagon to town to get supplies. Since farming alone
couldn’t sustain them completely, he also had a job at a Finnish bakery in Gardner to which he commuted
either by horse and buggy, or on foot into town where he could pick up a street car which may have still
existed running on tracks connecting Gardner and Fitchburg. Or they may also have substituted the
Flanagan Bus Line to substitute for the trolleys by then. I really don’t know. Their horse was also used for
plowing, harrowing and haying.
Hanna and Antti always talked fondly about their lives on The Old Farm. They were still young, my
father in his thirties and my mother in her twenties. They had plenty of energy. They’d go to Gardner to see
plays at the Finnish Socialist Ash Street Hall, which still existed in the 1930s.
A lot of their neighbors on surrounding farms were Finnish immigrants and my parents became lifelong
friends wit a number of them. There were Ilmari (John) and Aino Karvonen, who lived on the next farm
down the hill on Bolton Road. Ilmari was a native of Kotka, a port city in southeastern Finland. They
operated a dairy farm and had a sizeable apple orchard which provided top-quality Macintosh apples for
marketing. Ilmari later drove a school bus for the town as a part-time job, which my sister and I later rode to
school in our nine years at the Westminster public schools. The Karvonens had three children: Sulo, who
later operated an auto body shop in Winchendon or Royalston; Ellen, who served as a Navy WAVE in
World War II, and Oiva, who went later by his middle name Edwin, or Eddie who was an Air Force pilot in
World War II.
My mother and Aino Karvonen became close friends and would often go blueberrying together on the
Mount Wachusett State Reservation, which was awash with the fruit. They were frequent visitors to each
Further down Bolton Road from the Karvonens was the Niemi farm, operated by Kasperi (Casper) and
Hilma Niemi. Kasperi worked in the Dillon Boiler Works in Fitchburg for many years, while Hilma largely
took care of the dairy farm and raised a large family of children. They were; Vaito, Olavi, Arvo, Eugene,
George , and Wäinö, the boys and Lillian (Lili), Helen, and Elsie, the girls. Lili was may age and in my grade in school. All are deceased to my knowledge, except Arvo, Vaino
(or Weini), and Elsie.
Hilma Niemi’s sister Tekla lived on the next farm north of us on Old Princeton Road and was married to
William Wintturi, and they operated a dairy farm. Tekla had been married before to a main named Koski,
with whom she had a daughter named Ilmi Koski. The widower William brought several children into their
marriage: Meimi (Mayme) and Aili, the girls; and Walter and Harry, the boys. (I understand I was named
after Harry.) Between the, William and Tekla had two more daughters, Helen and Helvi. At this writing
Helvi, the youngest, is the last one left alive. Walter later married Ellen Lehtinen (Oscar and Aino’s elder
daughter) after a two-decades long courtship. They had two sons, Walter, Jr., and Bill. Walter, Sr. served
several terms as a Westminster town selectman, even as its chair.
There were two other Finnish families who lived north on Bolton Road, before it terminated at the Old
Worcester Road, or Route 140. The Nappari family had several sons and a daughter. One was called
“Kenraali” (“General“) Nappari, because he thought he was the world’s foremost authority on everything. I
believe his real name was Waino. I also recall the youngest brother, Tenho, who died in 2002 or 2003. The
other was the John Jämsä family who had a son, Eino.
A number of Antti’s and Hanna’s Quincy friends would come visit them on weekends. It would be party
time, sauna, coffee and baked goods plus farm fresh cooking for sinners. I’ve seen snapshots where they
would engage in wintertime snowball fights and build snowmen.
THE FARMERS’ COOPERATIVE
Soon there were thousands of Finnish farmers around in Massachusetts, Maine. New Hampshire,
Northeastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont. Many came with socialist and cooperative movement
backgrounds both in Finland and the United States. So they decided to form a New England-wide farmers’
cooperative to get an affordable central source for animal feeds and farm equipment and supplies and as a
means to market their milk, poultry, eggs, and blueberries without being gouged by commercial interests. It
would serve as a cooperative wholesale, operating primarily in the Boston market. There already was the
United Cooperative Society food market and bakery operating on Fitchburg’s Upper Common. Other cities
like Gardner and Maynard with large Finnish populations had Finnish-run consumer coops. The Upper
Common coop store complex was called “Into” (“Enthusiasm”) by first-generation Finns, and “The U-Coop” by their American-born progeny. As previously cited, we had the Worker’ Credit Union in
Fitchburg run on democratic one-member, one-vote principles.
So it was natural with their considerable background in projects of non-profit mutual aid that the Finnish
farmers , too, would organize Co-ops. So a New England enterprise was conceived, run on democratic
socialist principles that was part of their Hall experience. Theoretically it was run through delegated
member control, from the bottom up. It was incorporated as the United Cooperative Farmers, Inc.,
headquartered in Fitchburg.
Rural towns with sizeable concentrations of Finnish farmers would form “Locals” of the central
headquarters at Fitchburg during the course of the 1920s throughout new England, with the exception of
more remote Vermont. The production, storage, retail and wholesale and marketing and distribution facilities were centered in an impressive complex of buildings in Fitchburg. UCF locals were formed in at least four states in New England. Westminster farmers organized one of these Locals. They weren’t, of
course restricted to Finnish farmers, to retain their democratic character, but since most of the members
were Finnish, and spoke mainly their native language, business meetings were conducted in Finnish at least
into the 1940s when I attended some of them as a boy. So non-Finnish members rarely came to meetings. Each Local would annually elect a delegate to the Board of Directors of UCF. It was this elected board that
would set policy for the Co-op as a whole, affirm expansion plans and hire and fire operations managers.
My parents were among the founding members of the Westminster Local in the 1920s. The Lehtinens,
Karvonens, Heimos, Tuomis, Wintturis, and all the other farm families belonged. Antti and Eeva Hämäläinen, who had a large dairy spread with a lot of land on East Road where Gatehouse Road merges into it in the Wyman’s Pond area, were initial members with whom my folks had
considerable land dealings later on. Another charter member was Otto Leino at the next farm north of the
Hamalainen’s on East Road. The Leino’s owned considerable wooded land on the west bank of Wyman’s Reservoir across from their pond from their large early brick house. Otto Leino built a wooden bridge
across the reservoir and sold parcel lots by the hundreds on the west bank for summer cottages. Most of
these were owned by French-Canadian immigrants living in the Cleghorn District of Fitchburg. Leino was
one of the few immigrants who had a reasonably good command of the English language and was a valuable
asset to the Finnish community in this respect as he could communicate on co-op matters with town officials
without an interpreter. (By that time, the growing second generation Finn kids were beginning to serve as
interpreters for their parents, as I did later.) Some of the other Finns were uncomfortable with Leino as he
was a strong Communist and supporter of the Soviet Union, although no one could quarrel with his
competence and intellect.
AUGUST’S AND IITA’S DIVORCE
Since I’m getting back to the political, in the meantime the troubled marriage between my Social
Democratic Uncle August and Communist Aunt Iita finally fell apart in Quincy. Surprisingly, the main
reason for their breakup wasn’t political. Somewhere along the line, Iita had fallen in love with another
man. He was also married, with children. He wasn’t even a Finn but an Irish-American shipyard worker
named Jimmy Gamble. How they met and got involved I have no idea. But as it turned out, both lovers
abandoned their families, eloped and ran off to New York where Gamble eventually got a job as a shipyard worker in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Iita worked as a cook in New York restaurants. Jimmy wasn’t
even a Communist. He was a beer-loving Irish Catholic Democrat one could see as a regular Tammany
Hall voter in New York.
Of course, this greatly disturbed Uncle August as he was now a single father with a 10-year-old
daughter, Lempi, to raise. All this created a major scandal in the Quincy Finnish community, and it
happened to a well-known Finnish businessman to boot, your neighborhood baker. This was very unusual
in Finnish immigrant families. There’s was the “till death do us part’’ psychology, coming from their old
Lutheran legacy, whether atheist or socialist or not. There were next to no divorces among the Finns in
those days no matter how unhappy or embattled their marriages might have been. They usually stuck it out
to the bitter end, however miserable they were.
But being a practical man, August filed for divorce. What was the point in not doing so? But since he
worked long hours at the Quincy Baking Co. with William Wick, it was impossible for him to adequately
take care of Lempi.
LEMPI AT THE OLD FARM
So Lempi, then ten years old, came to live with my parents at The Old Farm in 1921, and lived there for
a year until August could take her back. Since they had no children at the time, Lempi became a surrogate
daughter to my parents. My father and his young niece had always been close and loved each other, but
more mother who tended to be standoffish then toward children, cared for Lempi, too. She could
understand Lempi since she herself had lost her own mother at age six.
Lempi was a bright, curious, talkative and outgoing child – a true Karelian. She brought life and sparkle
to The Old Farm scene. She attended the Westminster schools, walking back and forth to town, even during
the coldest winter days. She was an omnivorous reader and would haul back all the books she could carry
from the Westminster town library, the Forbush Library. She read constantly even with no electric lights on
the farm, only oil lamps. She would even read in the outhouse. My mother would lecture her about it almost
every day, fearing she would ruin her eyes.
It wasn’t that my folks didn’t read. They not only read The Raivaaja and Säkeniä but the Työkansan Kalenteri (Workers’ Calendar) that The Raivaaja published annually. They read books published in Finland
and circulated by The Raivaaja Bookstore in Fitchburg. My father’s favorite book was Mark Twain’s Life
on the Mississippi in Finnish translation which he reread many times for pleasure. I still have that tattered
paperback. A political agit-prop book I have from that period is Maansa Hylkimiä (Their Country’s
Rejects), written by Finnish-American Socialist Moses Hahl and published by The Raivaaja.
Uncle August would come visit at The Old Farm whenever possible to see Lempi. On one of his visit’s
the aforementioned Otto Leino dropped by to talk co-op business, I guess. August enjoyed needling people
politically especially when he could get them to race their motors and get upset. His choice target was
Finnish Communists. So Otto provided a ready target for August’s game. He knew exactly how to push the
right buttons. Otto Leino, like so many Leninists was short on a sense of humor, particularly when someone
stepped on their tender ideological toes.
Leino didn’t know he was being set up. The more he got flustered and angered, the more august dug in
– poker-faced – and enjoying every second at his hapless victim’s discomfort. Finally, Leino took off in a
rage while August roared with laughter. He was a sharpie on left politics, my uncle.
AUGUST MOVES TO WORCESTER
Finally August left Quincy and established a bakery in Worcester, Mass., another major Finntown where
he stayed for at least a decade. He met a Finnish Socialist woman named Aino Hasu whom he married in
the 1920s. Lempi went to live with her father and new stepmother. Aino was a bright woman, energetic
and vivacious who loved to socialize. She was an excellent prompter of Hall stage plays and built a
reputation of being one of the best prompters in the drama groups of the Finnish-American labor movement
in New England. She had worked on a sewing machine in a clothing factory and had lost two fingers in an
industrial accident. She was a tall, attractive woman whom Lempi said resembled the silent screen actress
But Lempi and her stepmother didn’t get along. There were constant personality clashes. Finally, when
Lempi graduated from Commerce High School in Worcester in 1929, she left for New York to initially live
with her mother.
After four years on The Old Farm, my parents decided to sell out. Auguist again had asked Antti to come
help him at the Worcester bakery and be shop foreman. So my parents decided to move to Worcester and
sold The Old Farm to Sanna Lehtonen, a Finnish miner’s widow from Colorado who had four children:
Oskari, Emil, Ernest (or Ensti), and a daughter Elna, or Eleanor. They remained good friends. So my
parents left Westminster, leaving behind many good friends from among their neighbors and the farmers’
They moved to the Belmont Hill section of Worcester, up the hill from Lincoln Square and which was
known as Worcester’s Finntown. They became active in the Finnish Socialist group which met at Belmont
Hall. The Worcester Finnish Socialists also owned a park called “Mölylä” (meaning “Noisy Place”) with an outdoor pavilion and a boat dock which they used for summer and fall picnics and dances, The New England
Finnish Socialists would hold their fall festivals or “Syysjuhlat” at Mölylä Park. The Midsummer Festival was usually held in late June or early July at Saima Park in Fitchburg. It was a big event that would draw
thousands from all over New England. That festival is still being held, but no longer being politically
partisan. My parents also attended the Fitchburg affair which included plays, lectures, choruses, bands,
dances and track and field events and swimming races which lasted all weekend. Plus a huge volunteer-run
picnic on Sunday. These were called the Kesäjuhlat, or Summer Festival.
My father went to work in August’s bakery in Worcester, such as they had worked together in Fitchburg
and Quincy earlier. My mother did day work, cleaning houses for well-to-do Worcesterites.
There were always great anecdotes in the world of bakery life. This probably happened in the late 1920s
, but one summer Uncle August hired a Finnish-American medical student to drive a bakery truck, giving
him a house-to-house route to sell breads and pastries to Worcester-area Finns. I remember his name as
being Liljequist. His Finnish wasn’t very good but he was a personable young man and he tried his best
with the Finnish housewives. He would say something like this in Finglish, an argot spoken by most
Finnish-Americans: “Tahtoisko Misis kukeksia tänään?” Translation:
“Would Missus like some cookies today?” Rouva or Emäntä is pure Finnish in addressing a married housewife, while cookies are called keksit or pikkuleipiä.
One day the bakery had turned out a fresh batch of cupcakes for the bread route. So the student Liljequist
again made his pitch: “Tahtoisko Misis meidän
kuppakeikijä tänään?” (Finglish for cupcakes was
kuppikeikijä, with kuppa meaning gonorrhea or “clap”. After the young man left, the woman called and
reported the incident to the bakery. I don’t know if it was a protest or to share a good laugh with the bakers.
Of course, when poor Liljequist got back to the shop from his route, the whole staff broke out in
uproarious laughter. The poor chap never heard the end of it all summer. But the fun clincher came when
Liljequist finished his medical studies. He decided to take further training to become a specialist in venereal
diseases. That was the summer that launched an illustrious career!
“A BUN IN THE OVEN”
While many of my parents’contemporaries and friends already had their children years before, my
parents were still without any. My mother didn’t particularly want children, as she remembered her own
unhappy childhood in Finland. Antti again was “soft” on children, as his affection for his niece showed.
In 1925 my mother got pregnant with me. After eight years of marriage, my father was delighted. But my
mother was horror-struck. She wanted an abortion, illegal at the time, and something Finnish immigrant
women just didn’t do. This caused the greatest quarrel of their marriage. A traumatic crisis. My father
finally blew up and said: “Go ahead and have your abortion, but the minute you do, I’m walking out of that
door and never coming back!” After a couple of days’ reflection, during which both underwent anguished
internal turmoil, both decided to reconsider. Antti said: “All right, I won’t leave if you decide to have an
abortion.’ Hanna responded: “All right, let’s have the baby.” That’s how close I was to not being born!
BACK TO THE “VANHAAN MAAHAN” (OLD COUNTRY)
But before I popped on the scene,, on a stormy night my parents went to a public sauna in Worcester. This was a weekly ritual, as their three-story apartment building on Catherine Street, as with most immigrant housing, had no bathroom. You either heated water and
the stove and poured it in a washtub for a kitchen
floor sponge bath, or went to a Finnish public sauna.
Anyway, that night on the sauna benches Antti and Hanna had a brainstorm. “Let’s go to visit Finland!”
With winter coming on! Neither had been back since they immigrated to States in 1915, ten years earlier.
“Why not do it right now, before the baby is born!” Right, let’s just do that!
Among other services the Raivaaja Publishing Company offered was a travel agency to arrange
steamship passage to people visiting Finland. No airplane flights in the 1920s. Charles Lindbergh didn’t
even make his Transatlantic solo flight to Paris until 1927. And commercial passenger air flights to Europe
didn’t start until after World War II. So they contacted William N. Reivo at The Raivaaja who managed
the travel agency. Reivo had spent time in prison on the West coast during World War I when the Toveri
Publishing Company in Astoria, Oregon had published an anti-war book by American Socialist and pacifist
George Kirkpatrick in Finnish translation. Reivo had been business manager of The Toveri newspaper at
Reivo was able to secure an early ship’s passage to Finland for Hanna and Antti. There weren’t many
vacationers braving the stormy Atlantic in October. People weren’t traveling with just backpacks in those
days. My parents took a steamer trunk with them on a trip that lasted from October through January. Uncle
August was left home holding the fort at the bakery.
Most of their time was spent in Karelia where both of their families lived. I don’t recall whose family
they visited first. My mother’s stepmother was with her brood on the Karelian Isthmus. I don’t recall the
town they lived in then. It was either Lahdenpohja or Jaakkima. Hanna’s sister Hilja was 23 then and not
married yet. Her brother Toivo was 21 and Eino a couple of years younger. Otto was only 14. They hadn’t
been eating so well as they were very poor, so my parents bought plenty of food for the household, My
uncles Toivo and Eino would get up in the middle of the night an luxuriate by eating bread with butter. Theirs’ wasn’t the affluent society.
ON TO HELYLÄ
Then they moved on to Helylä where my paternal grandmother Cecilia was still alive, living with her remaining bachelor son Juho. My father was dressed in a suit and a nice overcoat when they arrived at the Helylä railway station from Sortavala. No one in his home town recognized him. Since he looked the
gentleman or herrasmies, some people thought he was new agronomist just hired for the community. Others
suspected him of being the boss of a bootlegging gang,
When they arrived at my grandmother’s place, Antti told Hanna not to say anything because he wanted to
see if his mother would recognize him. When she answered the knock on the door , he asked Cecilia if she
knew who he was. Nearsighted, she squinted at him and shook her head. My father responded: “I’m your
son Antti. “ Showing almost no reaction, she just said: “Oh, Antti. I guess I’d better make some coffee”,
and turned around and headed for he hearth.
They stayed for a few weeks. Being American “celebrity’ visitors, they were invited to dinners by better-off cousins who wouldn’t give the poor Siitonen family, the widow “Siissa’s boys” , the time of day when
they were young. But his time, at least Antti and his wife Hanna were now well wined and dined. My
parents always insisted on bringing my grandmother along. At one such sumptuous banquet Cecilia
observed: “You know, there was a time when I was a girl that I would sit in on feasts like this.“My grandmother would sit all day long reading her Bible. On day, my parents had gotten bored playing a
two-handed card game that they were doing to pass the time. So they decided to bundle up and go outside
to walk for an hour or so. Cecilia was so engrossed in her Bible that she never noticed them leave. When
they finally returned, my grandmother said: “Oh, there you are. I thought the Devil had taken you away for
playing that card game.” Apparently she believed card-playing was a one-way ticket to Hell.
Antti started to lecture her on the facts of life, but my mother urged him not to, that my grandmother being
in her 80s was too old to change and this kind of talk would be too disturbing for her.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went and by January Hanna was really beginning to feel her
pregnancy. She said it was time to go back to the States as that’s where she wanted her baby to be born. So
they did. Thus ended their first and last trip ever to the land of their birth. It was my first trip, albeit in
So, it was back to Catharine Street on Belmont Hill for my folks. Antti returned to the bakery, Hanna
waited for the inevitable. So on March 18,1926, I remember it being said that it was at 4PM that I was born
at Memorial Hospital in Worcester, weight-- four pounds eight ounces. I became the only boy in my
generation of the Siitonen family tree to potentially carry on the family name, which seemed important in
those days. My Uncle Pekka had lost his only son Vilho in a boyhood slingshot accident. His other four
children were daughters. Matti and Juho never married. August only had Lempi. I remember hearing once
that before they married August had gotten Aino pregnant, but he didn’t want to marry her then. Aino got an
abortion. It would have been a boy. Later on he relented and they were married. But it was too late. They
never had another child.
My father wanted me named Antti, Jr. My mother objected, saying she didn’t like that name. So I ended
up being named Harry, after Harry Wintturi in Westminster. He had been a “model boy” my mother liked
very much from the Old Farm days. Ironically, this Harry turned out to be a lifelong alcoholic, though he
somehow managed to live into his mid-eighties.
There was a compromise and I was given the middle name of Antero, a variation of Antti. Antero is the
equivalent of the English name Andrew. Actually my birth certificate shows only the initial “A” as my
middle name. The late President Harry S. Truman never had a full middle name either, just the initial “S”. I used Andrew for some years but actually reverted to the Finnish Antero, as it had a stronger phonetic ring
So life continued in Worcester as my parents were trying to get used to being new parents. When I was
two months old , my mother got acute appendicitis and was hospitalized for its removal. My father went to
Westminster and hired Aili Wintturi to be my baby sitter while my mother was indisposed.
Later on in the spring, we got word that my grandmother Cecilia had died in Finland. So I never knew
any grandparents while growing up.
of Installment 2