Monday, September 22, 2008

Roihuvuoren Ala-Aste

The next thing I just had to see was my old school. Next to the mission home itself, it's the place I spent more time than anywhere during those years. It's where I learned Finnish, made friends, learned to knit, and so much more.

In a country that generally pays close attention to creating beautiful things, it's rather strange that my school is such an odd-looking thing:

I had the same classroom, classmates, and teacher all three years. Our room was on the second floor, the one on the far right. You can see the ramp we walked up and down each day to get to class and to come out for recess. Just walking up the ramp and running my hand over the wood brought back a slew of memories.

Something that caught me totally off-guard was the moment I opened the door. The scent of the school washed over me, and I felt transported back in time. It smelled just as it had the first day I walked in those doors with my father (who was with me there again) when I arrived, scared and knowing no more than a couple of Finnish words . . . and the same way it smelled my last day there, when I had made dear friends and now knew the language well enough that I sometimes caught myself thinking in it.

The classroom door was locked, but at one point someone opened it, and I peered inside. I'd forgotten what the curtains at the top of the windows looked like, but there they were. The exact same ones as when I attended 21 years previous!

The halls now have green paint, which is a change. But looking down through the windows at the gym was just as it had been. I think the curtains even looked the same, pushed aside in spots in the same way there were then.

The lunchroom. The tables are different, and they now serve from the other side (you can see the set-up on the left, where it used to be on the right), but it still feels and looks much the same as it did. I can remember in detail the green color of the tables and where our class table stood.

Walking down to the lunchroom felt like old times. I could almost see my classmates lining up and peeling back the foil of their milk cups. I remembered my first weeks there, when the kids try to trick me into thinking the food was scary stuff. One boy, through another student who knew English and translated, tried to get me to believe that the rice was ant eggs!

I tried the door to the handwork classroom, but it was locked. Here it is, though: behind that door, I learned to knit, embroider, and much more.

Walking back down this hall brought back more things I'd forgotten about, like a verbal reading test I took on the other side of that sliding door. (I remember thinking how silly it was to test me on reading aloud when I couldn't even speak the language I was reading in.)

I found a photo on the wall of the current faculty. I didn't expect to see my homeroom teacher or even my other teachers (handwork, music, P.E.), and I didn't. I found out later that dear Mr. Hämäläinen (below) passed away somewhere around ten years ago in a skiing accident.

These look like the same wooden beams we played on two decades ago. Two teams line up, and the front person in line of each tries to knock the other person off balance and off the beam. The idea is for one team to get all the way across the beam, inches at a time. I don't think any team ever won, but it was great fun, and I got pretty good at defeating opponents!

During our time in Finland, President Ezra Taft Benson gave his challenge to "flood the Earth" with the Book of Mormon. Our stake asked each ward to pass along a certain number of copies, and our Beehive class divided it further. Each of us were to give out three copies and to tell someone the Joseph Smith story.

I went to school with three copies in my backpack and a flurry of butterflies in my stomach. By a stroke of fate, we ended up spending part of the afternoon outside, with many of the students playing Finnish baseball and others just playing around. I ended up at the top of this blue play structure with three friends, and there felt prompted to tell the story.

Although I knew Finnish relatively well at that point, I spoke clearer and with vocabulary I didn't know. By the time I was done, quite a crowd of girls had gathered around. One asked, "Is that a true story?" which led nicely into being able to bear my testimony. I gave out all three copies when we went back to class, and one or two more the next day.

Here's our 1985 school picture. Landy, the stories I could tell . . .

I'm in the middle row, second from the left. For more about the girls flanking me, read this post and this one (or just read them all in order, and you'll get there).

Oh, and the boy trying to convince me that the rice was ant eggs? Bottom right in the Bruce Springsteen shirt (does that date this picture or what?). My interim translator, a boy named Christopher (or Tofferi, as they called him), who'd lived in Ireland and knew English, is on the bottom row, second from the left.

I was about to mention my girl friends specifically, but that would pretty much take up most of the class. Sniff.

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