Our cousins appeared from everywhere on our first full day at Mikko’s to help prepare the Juhanuus meal and arrange seating for everyone and by 5 pm, the cottage was full of Leppanens … about 40 of us !! ….. had my head spinning with all the introductions …. a challenge trying to remember all the names of the generations that follow mine!
But no problem at all, despite the decades, recognizing our first cousins: Mikko and his twin sister Anna-Maija, Heikki, Lassi, Pekka, Marti, Jukka and Sirkka! They are all the children of my Uncle Kyosti, my father’s younger brother and his wife, Aunt Vieno, both now passed. It was a pleasure to also meet relevant spouses and children … and a few grandchildren for Aliana to mingle with …. just such a fun evening!! …. full of good food and drink, story sharing, revisiting old memories and lots of laughter.
A break in the evening was made to honour and celebrate our cousin Pekka’s 60th birthday …. a shy man apparently loath to be acknowledged …. but his siblings would have none of that! Asta, Lassi’s wife gave Pekka a warmly poignant and funny poetry reading describing the decades of our lives …. I think I have heard it in English at some point but a delight to hear it read in Finnish. This was followed by a group gift certificate presentation from his siblings. He may not have wanted anyone to acknowledge his birthday, but like all Leppanen men, soft in the heart as they are, his tears flowed freely as he was being honoured and he was very touched. I know when we hugged, our tears mingled. That we share the DNA of this awesome arm of the Leppanen family leaves me humbled. ‘My cup runneth over’. We will be meeting more of the other members of the Leppanen family in the days to come.
I know it must have been lonely for my parents in those early years, with no extended family in Canada and I know my own life would have been enriched with time spent around these many many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, but such is life and I am just as proud today to be a Canadian and all that it entails as I am of my Finnish heritage. They merged well. Finnish sisu lives within us.
Finland is known as the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ during these precious summer months and June 21 being the longest day of the year, the sun sets briefly around midnight, scans the horizon and by 3:00 am, it is light again! We all head to the water’s edge to enjoy the Juhannus bonfire, kept alive until sometime after 5 am, when it is left to flicker out. Everyone appears to make a contribution to the fire …. Aliana threw her little stick in as well, thrilled to be part of the ritual. Margaret and Jennifer stay later with everyone else but Sarah, Aliana and I turn in sometime before 2:00 am. It was the first Juhannus experience I can remember and one I am unlikely to ever forget. A feeling of absolute gratitude fills my heart.
The pictures tell the story …..