"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

The three Finns of Wenatchee

By on February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Tiina Folke, left, and Mimmi Harkola peek out from Mimmi’s backyard sauna. Every Finnish house has one. Photo by the third Finn, Jaana Hatton

By Jaana Hatton

The biggest delights in life are the unexpected ones, those happy events that come your way dancing and singing in the middle of your mundane Monday. 

I was fortunate enough to experience that twice in my four years in Wenatchee when I met two fellow Finns here.

The first encounter was two years ago when Tiina Folke, a native of Finland and for the past 20 years, an East Wenatchee resident, contacted me. She had seen some of the articles I had written for The Good Life and upon seeing my first name, Jaana, knew that I had to be a Finn: such is my name, a guaranteed give-away of my nationality. 

In this case, I’m glad it was.

Tiina, having lived here for the length of a generation and having raised four sons, knows the area and many of its people. She introduced me to several ladies who are of Finnish bloodlines and we arranged occasional coffee gatherings (a very Finnish custom, that is) as time went by. 

Last year, another Finnish lady, Mimmi Harkola, likewise saw my name attached to an article and sent me an email. Thankfully, I had included my email with that particular story — I usually don’t. 

It was a brief story in the Wenatchee World of the Finnish Independence Day celebration we had held on Dec. 6 at the home of one of the Finnish ladies. In the story, I had extended an invitation for any other Finns in the area to get in touch with me. Mimmi did, and many fun times with her have taken place since then.

It’s a wonderful coincidence that all three of us are close in age, in our 50s, and enjoy the outdoors, coffee and the occasional glass of wine. We soon started hiking and spending time together on a weekly basis. 

It has been reassuring finding friends from back home, to be able to speak our native tongue and uphold the little customs and mannerisms that countrymen share. 

During this Finnish friendship I have come to realize how I still, after having been a citizen of the United States for over 30 years, walk on that wobbly line between being a Finn and an American. One day I lean more one way, the next day the other. It is mostly unintentional, but a reality.

I grew up in Finland until I was 23, met my American husband-to-be, and moved to North Carolina, initially. A few years later we began our 25-years of worldwide travel due to his work with the government. We raised two boys along the way, two little gypsies who still enjoy a plate of Indian food more than a hamburger. 

Now we are settled in Wenatchee, and I have all the yearning to travel taken out of me except for a day-trip here and there. 

Mimmi has seen the world, as well, having worked in Saudi-Arabia for some years before moving to the United States. She is a laboratory technician — in the medical field like Tiina, who is a nurse.

We all lived in Finland until adulthood and set out to see beyond our small country’s borders. While each of us ended up in Wenatchee at a different time and by a different route, we now share this town with the sense of having found a home.

 Embracing our Finnish background takes nothing away from accepting the American life. On the contrary, we see in each other the accomplishments we have achieved in the United States, the opportunities that truly were to be found here. 

Some of it has required our inherited Finnish grit, the relentless will to push through when the odds aren’t in our favor.  

For me, that dream since high-school was to be a writer. In order to become one I had to travel through continents and cross some oceans, accumulating some years, but it all served me for the better, I believe. In Wenatchee, I haven’t stopped writing since my arrival, be it journalistic pieces or fictional work. 

 All three of us agree that in this country, we have had possibilities which in Finland we may not have had. We have frequently compared the two countries, the cocoon-like security of Finland and the openness of the United States.  We could go back and forth forever, comparing and debating which territory offers the most advantages, but this much we know: we are here, in Wenatchee, to stay. 

Mimmi, Tiina and I all agree and often mention how lucky we are in our lives, to have these homes and natural surroundings which many lack or only on occasion enjoy as vacationers. As I look at the confluence of the Columbia and the Wenatchee rivers, the contrast of the scented sageland along the hills and the rich riparian growth lining the river, I cannot help but think how much that is like us three Finns, us transplants who put roots in a new country where they took hold, not to invade but to comingle. 

 Whether it’s out hiking or gathering at one of our homes to sip coffee, we celebrate this home, this friendship, this good life every day. 

On occasion, we sigh and talk about childhood days in Finland, the way things were. That was the good life, then.

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  1. Julie Boe says:

    Dearest Jaana — Great, my friend!! Great article and also so great for me to know that you are feeling great about where you and your Finnish friends have settled!! With love always, your buddy down here in St. George, Utah.

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