The Surviving Journals of Ester Marie( Forsstrom) White.

31 DEC 1964

The Long Journey

It was barely 6 o'clock in the morning, and still dark. The temperature was about 40 below, cold enough to make the snow sound like broken glass, when we stepped on it. This was Monday morning, January, 1917. We, my mother and two younger brothers and I, were leaving Finland, to come to America. Our last night here, we stayed with my uncle and aunt, and their 5 children. The house was very small, and there was not enough of the beds for all of us, so some of us had to sleep on the kitchen floor. We had quilts with wooly linings. They were soft and warm, but they tickled. There were also fleas in those quilts, and they tickled too. I could not go to sleep. The only sound came from a big clock, ticking away time. Sunday evening we had all gone to church. On our way back, I lagged a bit behind the rest. I wanted to have a last look of the familiar place, that had been our home for so long. It was very cold, but beautiful. There were millions of stars in the sky, and a big, bright moon over the dark forest. The spire of the church was silhouetted, clear as a painting, against the night sky. The snow covered fields lay still and quiet, the moon spread a special soft glow over it all, and I cried. Please, God, take care of my little country, and good bye.
  The world was at war, and it would also include Finland. God must have been extra good to us, making it possible for us to leave at that time. Shortly after we had left, life got more cruel and hard for the people. They had to live with hunger and cold, always in fear for their lives, and in sorrow, for those that were killed.  My mothers 18 year old brother, was one of the first to die. My uncle and two of my cousins had to hide in the forest for days, in the winter time, not daring to go home, for fear of being captured by the Bolsheviks. One of my aunts lived there. After we left the country, she wrote to us and told us just how terrible everything was. She told us how people died along the roadsides. They lay there, frozen hard, like wood, and like wood, they were stacked up along the road, until their relatives had been notified. If there were no one to claim them, they were all buried in a mass grave.
  My father has been in America since 1913. Now we were going there, and we would be reunited, and be a real family again.
  I must have fallen asleep at last. Someone was shaking my shoulder and shouting, “ Get up, right now, or we will be late”. Everyone was already up and dressed. My aunt was making coffee. Ah, the smell of food. My uncle had gone over to the next farm to borrow a horse and sled to take us to the station, several kilometers away. There was not much food in the house. We each had a cup of coffee and a slice of bread for breakfast. It was not near enough to fill our empty stomachs, but it had to do. Mother wanted to pay for our food, but they would not here of it. They gladly shared what little they had with us.
  When my uncle came back with the horse and sled, everybody pitched in and helped to carry our suit cases out to the sled. Mother was carrying a small basket. In it was a loaf of bread, a small tin of tea, and our four tin mugs. Then came the part I could hardly stand, to tell all this dear people, good bye. It was a tearful farewell, and we all kept waving back, until out of sight. We really had to hurry. It was nearly 5 a.m. already, and we had to be at the station by 6. The horse was really running at a brisk trot. The puffs of his breath formed a layer of frost on his body. My little brother was only 5 years old. His little nose was as read as a cherry, from the cold, but he just smiled and thought everything was a lot of fun. My other brother was 14, and I was 16 years old. The really strong one was mother.


  The train was a little late, and we arrived at the station in plenty of time. My uncle said he did not want the horse to stand still for any length of time in the bitter cold, so he unloaded our luggage on the platform, then gave us all a great big bear hug, jumped in the sled, and drove away in a hurry. Tears were running down his face, he did not want anyone to see. I understand.


  There were not very many civilians on the station, but it was crowded with Russian soldiers, all waiting to get on the same train. Just before the train was due, we saw our little, old grandmother walking towards us. We all rushed over to her, and threw our arms around her. She must have walked for hours to get to the station at this early hour. She came to tell us good bye. At the last minute, she tried to plead with my mother, not to leave, “ Please stay. More tears and heartbreak. Just then the train came in with a roar and hissing of steam. Everyone ran for the train, to be sure of a seat and also to get away from the bitter cold. We had to leave grandmother, and get our things and ourselves on the train. Guess I was a creampuff. As I was about to step on the train, I fainted. When I opened my eyes, a soldier was carrying me in, and sat me down on the seat. I thanked him. I knew he did not understand Swedish, but was hoping he knew what I said. I looked out the window. There stood my little grandmother. She was waving at us. She looked so old and alone, standing there, with the tears freezing on her face. I knew we would never see her or each other again. The train gave a long whistle, and it began to move away from the station. Mother must have felt very sad, but she was a tower of strength.
  The train headed straight north, up to Uleoborg. There the train tracks ended. We stayed at a small hotel over night. We were hoping to see some Lapps with their reindeer and sleds, but I guess it was even to cold for them.
  The next morning, we had to be down to the Customs house by 5 a.m. The building was unheated. There the Russian soldiers went through all our belongings. We had a few beloved books we wanted to take with us, but were told we could keep nothing pertaining to art. They took it all. We were packing our stuff back in the suit cases, when a Russian soldier came over, and handed me my small Sunday school Bible and a religious song book. He wanted us to pack them away quickly, if someone had seen him give us the books, he would be punished for it. We were surprised he even spoke in Swedish. I guess a kind heart can even be found under a Russian tunic. They passed tea around in tin mugs. Then we were ordered to be down by the beach in a few minutes. My tea was so hot, I could not even hold the cup, and had to leave it. We were all marched down to the shore of the Gulf of Bottnia, that separates Finland from Sweden. There were a lot of men, horses and sleds. We were going by sled across the Gulf on the ice, to Sweden. It was still dark, a sky full of stars and cold, colder then I ever thought it could be.  The sleds had straw in the bottoms, and they had big, black bear skin blankets to cover ourselves with. Before anyone got in a sled, the driver had a long, sharp rod, that he stuck many times through the seats and the straw. If anyone had been hidden there, they would have been killed. At last we got all our luggage and ourselves packed away in the sled. We tried to cover ourselves and our faces with the fur robes the best we could, but the icy wind blew through everything, including us. At last we were on our way. They had bells on the horses and the men all had long icicles hanging from their noses and beards.
  It slowly began to be daylight. We asked our driver how much longer it would be, before we would get to Sweden? “ Oh he said, about an hour.
  At last we could see a red painted, small house sticking up out of the snow. “ Hurrah, we made it, we were across the gulf, and there was the Swedish shore.  For now our long ride was over. We could hardly get out of the sled. Our feet felt like heavy, frozen lumps, and we were so stiff from riding for so many hours, it even hurt to move.  Mother paid the driver, and he put our luggage down in the snow. We somehow managed to get our stuff and ourselves up to that little red building. What a grand feeling to open the door, and step into a warm room. We put our luggage down in a corner, and all headed for the rest rooms. We were slowly getting warmed up, and then we thought about something to eat. We had not eaten anything since the night before at the hotel. Mother got her basket. She tried to make some tea, but the hot water faucet produced only slightly warm water. We ate bread and drank that warm water , and it tasted wonderful. Hunger is a very good cook.
  We had a 2 hour wait. Finally the little train came puffing into the station. A very few other passengers boarded the train, besides us. And now we were on our way again. The country we passed through, were mostly mountains, with scraggly, tall spruce trees, half buried in snow. The little wood burning engine could not fire up enough of steam to keep going. Every so often we had to stop until they could get more steam to keep going. It was very cold on the train. When passengers wanted to get off, or board the train, they just stopped the train, anywheres on the track. When the door was open, what little warmth was in, went out the door. The seats on the train were just wood. No Upholstered seats for the travelers there.


  Nothing lasts forever. On Sunday afternoon, almost a week from the time we left Finland, we arrived at Oslo, Norway. An agent from the Steamship co. met us at the station. He took us to a hotel. There we got a nice, big room, with 3 beds in it. After sitting up, sleeping, on those hard wooden seats for so long, those beds looked wonderful. There we also got our first hot meal, since leaving home. This was almost heaven.


  But the war kept on and on. Every day we would go to the Steamship Co. and ask,” When can we leave? We always got the same answer,” Maybe tomorrow. It costs money to live at a hotel, and we had to eat. The money was running low. Mother said she wanted to go back to Finland. We begged her to wait just a bit longer. My brother and I each got a job. He, in a printing shop, me, as a baby sitter and mothers helper.


  Then one evening, when we got home from work, mother met us with a smile. The Steamship Co. had called her, and we would be leaving on the SS. United States, on April 26th. It was only 2 days left here. My brother liked his job, and hated to give it up. I hated my job, and was happy to leave it.


  There was a lot of people would be leaving on that ship. The company knew the dangers we would face. The Atlantic was full of mines, floating about. We saw many of them. We could be bombed from above, or torpedoed from below. One dark night we woke up, hearing voices, and people running about. My brother went up on deck. Someone told him the Germans were aboard the ship, talking to the captain, and looking through the ships papers. Everything must have been alright, we did not get torpedoed.


  We were going on a very northerly route. One morning we saw the waves smashing into some red granite rocks. We were close to the coast of Greenland. We even saw a spouting whale The next time we saw land, was when we got to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There was a bit bay. It was closed by a mine belt. There was one opening, and a tug boat guided us into the bay through there. The ship cast the anchor, and we stayed there over night. The next morning, we were guided out to sea again. The following evening we anchored in New York harbour. It was to late in the day for the passengers to leave. We ate supper and once more, we slept in our cabin. I was almost sorry this was our last day aboard the good, old ship, the SS. United States, and I loved the ocean. In the morning, we would be taken to Ellis Island. There we would be examined for what, I did not know, and asked a lot of questions. If we passed, in two more days we would be seeing our dad again after 4 years.


  We had left Finland on January 1. It was now May 8th, when we finally got off the train in Noblestown Pennsylvania, our new home, to a new begining, and the end of our long journey.


( From “ My Thoughts” by Ester M. White )