By MAIJA YASUI
Special to the News
One need not be a Finn but it helps to be friendly with one, to understand St. Urho's Day, a quirky celebration of an imaginary saint who drove illusory grasshoppers from the non-existent vineyards trailing over the hills of Finland. St. Urho's Day was instituted in Hood River in 1981 although participants have often been recommended for institutionalization by unenlightened acquaintances after the ribald revelry.
What drove descendants of those first Finnish Hood River immigrants to create such an irreverent holiday in celebration of their culture?
A culture rich in customs, traditions, religions, crafts, food, art, language and song. Perhaps a recounting of the Annala lineage, intermingled with the Hukari heritage might give you a clue.
"Finns actually settled in this valley in the early 1900s but never shared their wacky ways publicly until the early '80s, most likely due to generations of intermarriage, a language where vowels never end but always duplicate and the cumulative effect of having to remember which John Jacob belonged to whom.
"Waves of Finnish families settled in Hood River with names like Salvo, Alajoki, Moilanen, Udelius, Jakku and Lingren. Two tsunamis of prolific progenies, the Hukaris and Annalas joined them in the early 1900s. One must remember familial demographics were different a century ago, with families commonly having up to a dozen offspring, as was the case with these two families.
"There were three Annala brothers, John, Jacob and Zachary who all came from Finland in the 1870s to work in the gold, copper and iron mines of Michigan. When they earned enough money, they sent for their parents John Jacob and Maria Annala, of Vaasa, Finland. With the family reunited, they moved to Frederick, North Dakota and homesteaded in the Finnish settlement of Savo.
Maria became well known as a multi-faceted mid-wife. With no doctors or veterinarians in the area she might deliver a baby calf in the morning and a baby girl in the evening, corncob pipe perpetually pressed between her teeth. John Jacob planted wheat, built a small home and barn and raised farm animals for sustenance. Upon his death in 1894, Maria took the family to Brockett, ND, to homestead in an area where other friends were living. It was in Brockett that her oldest son Jacob, married Selma Sophia Seppa, his much younger cousin.
That union yielded eight children, my father Sulo and his seven siblings, Elma, Alvah, Evi, Arne, Vienna, Wilma, and Ellen. In 1909 Jacob moved his children, mother and brothers to Oak Grove in Hood River Valley at the behest of the Jakkus and Hukaris. Hood River was said to be a land laden with fresh fruit and fish, anchored by snow-crested mountains that provided water for crops year round. The infertility of dry Dakota soil, its harsh winters and parched summers pushed them to the west coast.
Not by wagon train as we children imagined, but by locomotive. The families thrived in this new environment, roots dug deep, yielding new crops of fruit and children each year.
But this plentitude of parentage was difficult to unweave when one sat in the Saturday night sauna and listened to family genealogy wax and wane like the vapors of steam wafting above the wood stove. Hood River's Finnish heritage sounded cataphonic to my childhood ears and went something like this:
John Jacob Annala was the father of Jacob Annala, who was the father of my father, Sulo Annala, who had a daughter Virginia Evi (who also named her son Jake), a son John Jacob, and myself Maija named after mid-wife Maria, followed by youngest sister Selma, named after grandmother Selma Sophia Seppa.
"John Jacob Annala also had a son John Jacob Annala who married Elizabeth and had 15 children, 13 who survived to adulthood. Children's names were similar throughout the brothers' families; John, Hilja, Lempi, Selma, Ina, Esther, Viena, Arvo, George, Zachary, Waino, Aalto, Elmer, Ruth, Toivo.
Third brother Zachary married Hilma Jampsa and had 11 kids, Toivo Jacob, Arvi, Aatto, Zachary, John R., Eino, Hilja, Irma, Oiva Ernest, and Eugene.
Now, all of the Hukaris and Jakkus had Einos, Arvos, Aattos, Lempis, Johns, Jacobs, Arnies, Oscars, and so on. Annala sisters married Jakku brothers, Hukari sisters married Annala cousins, and so on.
So the question is raised, how did we ever tell anyone apart in this far-flung fraternity of Finns? We didn't, but we developed a keen sense of humor one finds reincarnated in the St. Urho's Day Parade each year.
Tongue in cheek humor, for which Finns are famous is the centerpiece of St. Urho's Parade. We mock our language with a "Fargo" accent, when in actuality it is one of the easiest languages to read. It is simply redundant; every vowel is repeated endlessly, each consonant repeated ad nauseum.
We wear clashing colors of purple and green, symbolizing the nonexistent Finnish grapes and grasshoppers. Iron Maidens regal in their bed sheet tunics, purple leotards, stovetop drip-pan breast protectors and horned helmets adorned with flaxen braids of yarn dance with their Knights of St. Urho.
One need only glimpse a knight, to remember them forever, in their purple overalls with glittering gold letters, tie-dyed purple long johns, green boxers and nylon folding chairs.
To see the two teams tango in downtown Hood River at the four corners of a museum, jewelry shop, antique shop and City Hall is a midday Knight to remember.
Spurred on by the famous Finnish Drill team brandishing Black and Decker drills festooned with Finnish Flags to the polka beat of a heavy metal Tuba player, accordionist and mandolin maniac, leaves nothing to the imagination.
A Salvador Dali day as the crowd matter-of-factly pelts participants with grapes and the heavens open with a barrage of snow and hail. Did anyone tell Patti Smith that Monica Lewinsky was Grand Marshal one year?
Each celebration conveys quirky creations from crannies of Camille's crafty cranium, with 2002 bringing the Bevy of Burqua Beauties displaying their glorious spring footwear.
(Readers note: political incorrectness is a Hallmark of Finnish Pride.)
Purple and green Volkswagen bugs carry this year's court, a true Finnish contingency including Queen Mildred Alajoki, Princesses Bertie Downing and Ruth Hukari in absentee spirit, played by understudy Ruth Blackburn.
Previous courts, traditionally females willing to carry the pitchfork impaled grasshopper scepter, have been composed of Irish, Japanese, German and French descendants, with an occasional male or other animal honored to express the Finnish liberal attitude towards all things humorous.
Heinasirkka, Heinasirkka Mene Taalt Hiiteen!
Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away.
But come back soon next St. Urho's Day. Irreverent reverence of the community of man with a Finnish twist.