Villages in Ostrobothnia home


The dry timber cracked when I climbed upstairs in the church bell tower. As a child I often climbed up and down here and now on this early summer day during a casual visit to my home village, I will once again experience a glimpse into the world of my childhood. I remember the dizzy feeling when I looked from the platform down at the abyss between the coarse, crossed beams that formed the skeleton of the bell tower. When the custodian rang the bell, the whole tower shook.

Then one had a creepy sensation while standing on the landing that led out to the rotten wooden balcony. But in the company of other boys it was not suitable to show anxiety. To the contrary, one gamely stepped out on the balcony and turned around a few times. We had thought of a way to manage if the rotten floor suddenly gave in under us. We would stretch out our coats and easily sail down! To our good fortune, we never needed to become acquainted with the parachute jumping profession because the floor still holds up today. But now I have no inclination to step out on the unsteady boards.

I stand here inside the glass covered tower and see the buildings of Solv as on a tray below me. So much is new and changed, but I remember how it was before. Below my feet is the cemetery, now a fine cared-for burial place with gravel walks, grass and family graves, but in olden times a forgotten place, where tired wooden crosses leaned on thorny rose bushes and mossy lilac bushes. I still remember the feeling of absolute and undisturbed peace that prevailed, the air drowsy with the scent of lilacs and roses, with butterflies fluttering over the dazzling scenery. On Sunday morning dark-clad old women, with fringed shawls over their heads and with hymnbooks, handkerchief and sprigs of southernwood in their hands, wandered between the graves on their way to church while the air vibrated with ringing bells.

Directly west adjacent to the church yard was Herrbacken with large red-painted farm houses, and behind them spread the Söderfjärd in a wide green carpet, covered with countless barns. Presently an electric pumping device now brings water from the bottom of the old lake, giving a rich harvest of clover and timothy on the ground, where earlier a scanty crop was harvested by haymakers who waded with scythe in hand between the tufts of sedge and cottongrass. In the northeast there's a similar change that occurred at Grynnan when they drained the bottom of Söderfjärd where we as children ran barefoot on the broiling hot clay soil that cracked in the sun, while startled curlews and snipe flew up out of the reeds.

Surrounded by Söderfjärd and Grynnan lie the villages of Solv, Öster- and Västerfjärd, along the winding ribbon of the highway for a stretch of more than 3 km with the church as a center and connecting point. Side by side along the stretch of road lie the red cottages with white corners and gaily colored porches, surrounded by long outhouses and spreading yards. The houses give evidence of prosperity. Many of them with roofs covered with galvanized sheet-metal or tile. In my childhood, 30 years ago, the village also had poorer unpainted buildings, with roofs of birch-bark or straw.

Several kilometers east is Mobacken with the buildings clustered together. They are facing in different directions with only a little patch of cultivated ground around the individual yards. The same impression of prosperity that is seen outside the buildings is revealed inside the cottages. One now sees pieces of furniture from furniture stores, cooking stoves and linoleum flooring where earlier there were benches fastened to the wall, sturdy homemade chairs and tables, open shelves and high beds with handwoven bed curtains, while in the corner stood a huge white-washed open fireplace and the floor was covered with bright rag rugs in a row over highly polished floorboards. Previously in the cottage there was a pole hanging between the roof edges from which hung round disks of dry bread with a hole in the center. Daily the mother in the house cut much bread from the pole for hungry young children. Butter on the bread was used only on holy days. Wheat was not universal at the time, so white bread was an unusual delicacy.

Hard bread, barley meal porridge and potatoes were the framework of their daily diet. Many sound old men and women lived to be close to 100 years of age. Those old folks could tell about olden times when there were unruly and uncontrolled people. A time when neither schools nor associations were available that could improve the mind; when there were wild fights and people running amok burning houses, inspired by schnapps that was brewed in all the homes. As a memory of this burning time, there are many who in my childhood burned the cottages at many farms in the village.

I remember on Christmas morning the dark journey with the way lined by hundreds of blinking candles in the farmhouse windows, while people in sleds glided along with jingling sleigh bells on their way to the radiant Christmas church. I remember the summers when happy wedding parties wandered along the birch-lined roads with outriders and musicians and the bridal couple, who sometimes stopped and solemnly bowed to the spectators on the edge of the road. A picture that remains the same through the times, though the years and seasons change. One picture that is especially etched in my mind relates to Walpurgis Day in the summer when lively flocks of very happy children leaped around with ringing bells.

The meadow path to Långmossen is a memory connected with the daily trek of 5 km from the village to the pasture behind a herd of cows. Herd after herd the cows came along the way from the village or Mobacken with the children who drove them. It was a problem to make sure that no strange cow came in among ones own because everyone became upset, and it was not good for children of 10 years of age to be involved in fights. The procession of cows and children was enlivened by Gubbin and Brita, two "original" old folks, who could not do much work other than to drive the cows to pasture.

Gubbin's shiny bald head gleamed in the distance. The children were afraid of him. He went barefoot with ski boots hanging from the handle of an axe that he carried on his shoulder. The crazy old man was an effective scavenger; he would poke all the spoor the cows left on the path down into the ditch with a stick. During this state of affairs his herd of cows stopped alongside, to the hindrance of the young herdsmen who came after and dared not hurry the old man along. Brita was a little bent, white-haired creature for whom neither cows nor children had any respect. She screamed and shouted blue murder at her cows but the cows were so accustomed to the noise that they did not mind in the least.

Some of the farms in Långmossen had animal sheds where the women went to milk in the evening. In the morning the milk was taken to the village. The children would be left during the day out in the cow sheds where they fed themselves with hard bread and milk from the cool dark milk room. Days were spent mostly in the woods where the young trotted around, filled with the dread of seeing the wood spirit, or that a big goblin would peep out from behind a large stone. In the deep thicket the air was filled with the suffocating scent of bag myrtle and the black eyes of chickweed wintergreen shone with a splash of gold. The woods crawled and swarmed with small life. By evening every spot on the body was full of itching insect bites. But sleeping in a bed of straw was, nevertheless, good.

From this excursion along the roadway we glance back to the village that lies so peacefully embedded in the early summer greenery, hoping that evil and anxiety would not come there. The line of white markers down in the cemetery speak their silent message of the hard grip of war on parish life. Despite everything, changes are made in ingrained customs and progress advances step by step. But much of the old and bygone days lingers in the memory with a feeling of sadness. It is true that childhood experiences of one's memory are bathed by a shimmer of lost paradise and a gleam that, with time and distance, increases in warmth and brilliance.


June Pelo

Note: The population of Solv before 1943 was 2,744 of which 98% were Swedish. The villages were: Munsmo, Rimal, Västersolv, Yttersundom, and Översundom.

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DATABASE of IMMIGRANTS from Ostrobothnia, Finland