This year’s trip to the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show is now another memory and it’s back to humdrum of routine retired life.
While I was in Toronto my good friend took me up to the Estonian café and bakeshop on Mt. Pleasant and purchased a huge kringel for me to take home to the wife. He’s been married long enough to know that it’s always wise to bring back something nice for the wife from the Big Smoke.
The kringel was really good and went over well and I got undeserved kudos for remembering that Estonian style kringel is one of her favourites even though she is not of Estonian background.
Unfortunately it’s not always available here and while it’s very good, it cannot compare with what I brought back.
For most of us a kringel is associated with birthdays. I still remember the smell in the kitchen when my mother baked these. They were marvellous and they were uniquely Estonian - or so I thought.
The other day I got an e-mail from a friend’s son that it was his father’s 87 birthday coming up and could I please pass on the news to the other Estonian guys.
Since the kringel had already been quickly devoured all I could do was to find a nice card to take to him next day at the pub where our little Estonian pensioners group usually meets each week.
This has been going on for several years now. Only of us is married to an Estonian so it gives us a chance to at least try to keep up our language skills and an excuse to get out of the house where we sometimes feel underfoot. The last couple of years though the drink of choice has been diet cola or cranberry juice. The waitresses don’t bother to give us menus anymore.
I am the youngest and the only one not born it Eesti. The birthday boy is the oldest. He is one of those we refer to as soomepoisid or Finnish boys that were able to escape mobilization into Nazi Germany’s armed forces during the war and crossed the Gulf to Finland to serve in their armed forces fighting the Bolsheviks. The Germans considered them to be deserters, a rather serious offence during the Nazi occupation of Estonia.
Our birthday boy always has interesting stories about his war days. One day the special of the day was spareribs. He mentioned that ever since his Finnish army days he could not bring himself to order them. It turned out that he was one of those unfortunates that had to clean up bits and parts after an accidental explosion of a store of mines during training that killed quite of few Estonian boys.
Another time I asked him what the equipment that the Finnish army issued them was like. He said that it wasn’t that great. He had an old captured Soviet vintpüss and a pair of boots that did not even match having different heights. I asked how that had happened and he said he was careless at a fire one night and managed to burn one boot. The quartermaster gave him hell and issued a new boot-only one.
He did not come out of the war unscathed. He was hit by mortar shrapnel during an attack on the Soviet positions and suffered serious damage to his lung and back. The wounds were sufficiently severe that he received a lifelong limp and a monthly cheque from the Finnish government. He was also unable to return to Estonia with the rest of the soomepoisid that decided to go back in a last ditch desperate attempt against seemingly hopeless odds to try to forestall yet another brutal occupation by the evil empire.
One day one of us jokingly asked if he had kept any of the Russian steel they dug out of him. He replied yes he had and sure enough, next week we were inspecting a twisted ugly looking piece of metal about the size of a quarter.
Listening to these stories I sometimes found myself asking questions. Do the soomepoisid deserve more respect from my generation because through the vagaries of fate they fought Bolshevism in the uniform of a democratic state rather than in SS uniform? There is little difference between communism and fascism. If we honour those that earned the highest award for extreme battlefield bravery should we differentiate between a cross and a star? Both symbolize foreign occupants and were awarded by two of the 20th century’s worst mass murderers.
Why did Estonia’s decision makers allow the Russians in without firing a shot thereby allowing the tiblad to maintain to this day that the Estonians voluntarily joined the Soviet Union? Why is this period of Estonian history so painful to us that it will probably take at least another generation before it can be discussed impartially? Why would decision makers in Estonia now allow buses in Tallinn carrying large portraits of Stalin?
My generation, which is the first born outside Estonia, does carry a lot of baggage.
I received an e-mail last night. The birthday boy was in hospital. He had had a small stroke so this week’s pub get-together was deferred but he is expected to recover.
You never know what is around the corner in life.
More baggage – the kringel