I stated that I knew four of Kim’s and my forebears personally. It is funny to me that I have more stories about hers. It seems like I know them better. Maybe, as an outsider joining the family, I have heard more anecdotes. Maybe my family just doesn’t talk about things the way hers does.
Today I will talk about my grandfather on my father’s side. His name was John. His father immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. He came from Finland. I believe the year was 1902, and I’m not sure what the impetus would have been to leave Finland. Nowadays it seems like a romantic place, ideal for vacation, and a leader in technology. It is important to remember that at the turn of the century Finland was still a Russian Grand Duchy, not an autonomous country. Soon it would be caught up in civil war and the political unrest of the Russian Revolution. The peasants had been freed and land reform had caused a decline in agrarian production. At the same time, populations boomed, and the industrial revolution had not really begun in Finland, which was still a farming society. Unemployment and starvation were problems. Also, members of the upper class were suddenly outnumbered by the ones who had been their slaves, and the protections they had been offered in a monarchy were disappearing. World Wars were coming in which Finland would be a desirable pawn, constantly switching sides to fight (successfully) against whichever aggressor had most recently invaded her borders. That is the future my great-grandfather must have faced when he made the decision to move to the new world, but whether he was an emancipated serf traveling in steerage or a member of the upper class with a stateroom I don’t know.
My grandfather John and his two brothers were all born in the United States. Neither of the brothers survived World War II. One died after the battle of Midway, when the B-52 in which he was a passenger ran out of fuel and crashed. The other was also killed in combat. John went to Yale University and became an engineer for the railroads. He did not go to war as his occupation was necessary on the homefront. I had his drafting kit in middle school, the small tools for drawing each nested in its particular compartment in a handsome case like a doctor’s case. I promptly lost all of them.
John Wallenius married my grandmother, Clara, one of ten sisters from Ohio, and they had triplets, my father Roger, his identical twin brother, also named John, and their sister Sue. It was a fertile time.
My few memories of my grandfather and grandmother take place in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where we went to visit them when my sister Arin and I were both still young, probably seven and eight years old. I remember a big house made of stone, with a lush green yard and squirrels. Upstairs was a large loft with twin beds where my sister and I slept. It smelled like all grandparent’s houses, and there were a lot of books. That’s where I first read “The Boxcar Children.” I remember that grandpa played solitaire, and that he loved C. W. Post granola, a sweet cereal that Arin and I weren’t allowed to eat at home. I don’t think that my grandfather and my mother really got along. She claims that he was given to tantrums, and swears that Clara was the sweetest woman who ever lived to put up with him. When we were older we went back to the same house, smaller and less mysterious now, and grandpa’s eyes were rimmed with red and weepy. He moved around less easily. I was really into Anne McCaffrey then, and the Dragonriders of Pern.
When it came time for me to apply to college I applied to Yale to please my grandfather. As his grandson I was granted an interview. It took place with the big man at a manufacturing plant by the river in Portland. He couldn’t wait to get rid of me and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I was not granted admission to Yale and I have never regretted it for a moment.
Kim and I returned to see grandma early in our relationship. Grandpa was dead by then, but we visited grandma in her very nice retirement home. It was always quiet and still, wherever our grandparents were, and I wonder what it must have been like for three young children, triplets, growing up in that home. Severe is the word I would use, but I wasn’t there.