Lately I have been scheduling my annual delivery of the Christmas presents to my daughter on the same day that the Toronto Estonian Guiders hold their annual Jõululaat or bazaar. It’s always interesting to drop in to the Estonian House, pick up some interesting items, nibble some real Estonian food and meet old acquaintances.
I use the term “old” because not only are we aging but most of us have known each other most of our lives. Anyway, I was engaged in conversation about Estonian women and we half jokingly remarked that one of us should write an article for the paper on this topic. Some banter occurred about whether the Trenton, North York or Ottawa “bureau” would do the writing. I forgot about this until my mind started wandering on the long drive back to Ottawa next day.
For some years now after the untimely death of my mother, I have tried to drop in to the Estonian retirement community at Ehatare/Eesti Kodu to visit one of my late mother’s best friends. At first she had her own apartment at Eesti Kodu and whenever I showed up it was mandatory that I absolutely had to eat, no matter whether I was hungry or not. I used to half joke to her that she had obviously taken me on as a foster child (kasulaps) since she was looking after me so well. Estonian grandmothers can be quite formidable. I learned to avoid visiting her right after lunch so I wouldn’t disappoint her. The food was always great.
Well, a couple of years ago she was forced to move over next door to Ehatare. For me it was a mixed blessing. Although I no longer had to contend with timing my visits for an empty stomach, it was sad to see that she had lost her mobility to the point where she could no longer cope by herself. Nevertheless, she was always cheerful, apologetic about no longer being able to feed me, but full of happiness that all her children and grandchildren had done well in life. I was introduced to one of them who happened to be the administrator at Ehatare.
She talked about the first difficult years in Canada and how she remembered the time I got my pants caught in a barbed wire fence at their farm and how her sons and I rode an old mare to the one room school house where we tied the horse to the school fence. I particularly remember the story she told about how their large family escaped Estonia to get away from the Soviets over the ice. The ice was rotten in places and some of them had gotten wet and her small children were crying. The coast guard rescued them and they all made it. This story was similar to that my mother told me about how they barely survived a bad storm in a small boat and how she waded to shore barefoot, seven months pregnant, with only a wet dress on her back. Those Estonian women were made of stern stuff indeed!
Anyway, I was looking forward to meeting my “foster mother” again and picked up a couple of small bouquets of flowers, an old Estonian custom I was taught. One was for her and the other was for the wife of my one time Estonian school teacher who I recently learned resided in Ehatare. Thanks to her husband’s Saturday morning classes I have managed to keep in touch with my relatives in Estonia.
When I arrived at the front nursing station at Ehatare I received a strange look from the person on duty. My mother’s friend had passed away a few months ago. I usually read the death notices in Eesti Elu but I must have missed hers. The nurse gave me the room number of the other woman and told me to take the elevator up. While waiting for the elevator one of the ladies sitting in the large waiting area looked over at me, smiled and jokingly asked if those flowers were for her.
When I got upstairs I knocked at the door and received no answer. Another door nearby opened and a woman asked, “Are you looking for so and so? She’s my friend and just left for a walk.” I explained who I was and left one bouquet with her. One the way down on impulse I stopped by the woman who had joked about the flowers, told her what had happened and gave her the flowers. When she got over her surprise she asked me the name of the women they were meant for. Turned out her, my mother and “foster mother” were all very good friends. The flowers somehow went to the right person after all.
So Andres, here is my short article about Estonian women. Now it is your turn. I believe that the North York bureau will shortly be contributing a book review on this topic.
Estonian women (3)