Friday, September 21, 2007

Celebrating Midsummer Juhannus at Palmquist Farm

The following article appeared in The Finnish American Reporter. We think you might enjoy it.

A surplus of sunshine ushered in summer on Thursday, June 21st. And by the next day, I was celebrating midsummer in little Finland. Well, Midsummer Juhannus at Brantwood, Wisconsin’s Palmquist Farm. The farm’s owners, Jim and Helen Palmquist, hosted a Finnish heritage celebration the weekend of June 22-24. And they warmly welcomed me. Even with German and Norwegian roots.

The Palmquists actually did more than welcome me; they adopted me. Jim claimed me as an honorary Finn, and with the help of Helen and the other guests, he gave me a crash course in being Finnish. I found that to be a true Finn I would need to do three things: eat, laugh, and sing.

In eating and laughing, I naturally fit in with my new family. Helen’s traditional Finnish meals, which included creamed rice with raspberry sauce, oven pancakes with maple syrup, and pulla bread, easily made their way to my stomach, and the guests’ stories and Jim’s jokes kept me entertained. My favorite joke went like this. How can you tell an extraverted Finn from an introverted Finn? Well, the introverted Finn looks at his feet when he talks to you, and the extraverted Finn looks at your feet when he talks to you. I just hoped there wasn’t a way to tell a tone-deaf Finn.

Guest Seppo Palmqvist made it difficult for me to keep my can’t-carry-a-tune secret. The first night I arrived, he handed me and the other guests copies of the lyrics to his favorite Finnish song, “Juhannus on Meillä Herttainen.” When Seppo raised his hands to assume the position of a choir director, I became terrified. Here I couldn’t sing, and I didn’t even know the words. I decided to demonstrate an aspect of the Finnish character— honesty— and warned them about my singing voice. But that didn’t get me off the hook. Seppo offered a great line: “There are no bad voices, only untrained voices.”

While I appreciated the unconditional acceptance, I’m thankful the Midsummer celebration consisted of more than a sing-a-long. Two horses were nice enough to chauffeur me around the farm in a wagon as if I were Laura Ingalls Wilder and not the city girl I am. I got to showcase my hair-braiding ability, developed through the continuous styling of Barbie doll hair as a child, during Helen’s baking demonstration on pulla. At the nearby Knox Creek Heritage Center, five buildings and a diversity of artifacts, documents, and photographs taught me a tangible history lesson. By petting a fur hunting coat and paging through tattered school books, I encountered people from the past.

When I needed some quiet time, there was the wood-burning sauna, which I learned to be a Finnish staple. Guest Ellen Palmqvist compared sitting in the sauna to going to church, both experiences capable of bringing peace and rest. Thankfully, I was warned that too great a desire for peace could leave me a golden brown. Turn me, the baker, into the dough.

The truth is Palmquist Farm charmed me. Now, back in the Twin Cities, I find myself hoping to wake to the sound of croaking bullfrogs rather than blaring alarm clocks. I find myself wanting a morning walk past buffalo and barns instead of cars and condos. I’m a 21-year-old with old-fashioned tendencies, and so the Midsummer Juhannus celebration at the farm definitely agreed with me. I’ll have to make it back for next year’s celebration It was refreshing to be with people who really understand their heritage.

Ai häd a plessnt tuim.
Kari Schuetz, St. Paul, MN