Saturday, 6 March 2010

Pappa's Girl


Tampere 1971
Perhaps it was the violence, perhaps the unpredictability of the event, to me at least, that afterwards totally coloured my life. Before then, I had been Pappa’s girl, in a way that my sister wasn’t. She was so difficult that Mamma always worried about her. As soon as I was born Pappa took a liking to me so it was easier for Mamma.


We lived in a tiny flat on the outskirts of Tampere, Finland. From our living room there was a view of the large cemetery with its imposing statues. A solid red brick wall sheltered the dead from the road between us, and the tree-lined rows of headstones. There was one bedroom and a kitchenette, separated from the living room by a stripy yellow and red curtain. Both the rooms had large windows. The flat occupied a corner of the house and had two aspects: one to the road and the cemetery, one to the children’s play area between our block and the next. These were flats built after the war; made of solid stone, made to house the new generation. Three of them stood side by side, guarding the cemetery and the road, with young families, like us, inside.

My sister Anja was two and a half when I emerged quietly and with little pain to my mother. She’d walked two kilometres to the maternity hospital, Naistenklinikka, past the cemetery to the centre of town. Pappa and Anja were still asleep when the phone call came that another little girl had been born prematurely. There was disappointment in Pappa’s voice, I was told later. He'd been desperate for a son, but when Mamma came home with me, and Pappa held me for the first time he said: ‘This little girl I like! We'll call her Lisa, after Mona Lisa with the mysterious smile.’ From that moment on Pappa was my hero and I could do no wrong.

Pappa was a big man with blue eyes but delicate feet and hands. Those hands could fix anything: a broken vase, a punctured bicycle tyre, a creaky door. His mouth was curved, and when he smiled his eyes had a kind look, instead of the sad one he usually wore. When times were good, he’d joke and make up stories whilst I sat on his lap, tugging his flabby earlobe between my thumb and forefinger. The softness of Pappa’s earlobe made me dreamy, the silky feeling of it comforted my whole being as I rested my wispy blonde hair against his strong chest. I believe we were both happy then.
In Stockholm everything changed.

Picture source: R. Branthin 22.1.1957, Tampereen museoiden kuva-arkisto.

11 comments:

Philip said...

Nice post - I'll drop in again. Thanks for that. I also like "silence not polite conversation".
Philip

Looking Fab in your forties said...

You really take me there with you, I can visualise everything you talk about, great writing.

Wildernesschic said...

You have brought me to tears.. I used to cut my dads hair, and it is something I remember so well the way it grew and the softness of his earlobes.. I miss him so much, yet feel guilty that I don't still think of him all the time as most of my family thoughts are full of anger towards my mother.. thank you for this post you have brought him back to me for a moment xxx

Helena Halme said...

I'm thrilled you like this Fab and Philip.

A very difficult subject to write about for me too, Ruth. Fathers...

xx

Looking Fab in your forties said...

Wouldn't want to talk about mine. A tale I could never tell.

Helena Halme said...

I just have to tell it, just says what a literary tart I am. xx

Margit said...

A super post, Helena. So evocative of times gone by, when things were both somehow better but tougher too....maybe the past is always that sort of a country...

Miss Welcome said...

This is very lyrical - beautifully written!

Happy Frog and I said...

Great post, found you via Mr. London Street. I shall be back. :-)

Helena Halme said...

Glad you enjoyed the story, Miss Welcome and Happy Frog. Part 2 will be up later today. xx

Melissa said...

Beautiful Helena. Made me think of my father and how he got along better with me than my sister, but she was girly and I was a tomboy. Thank you.