IV To a Far Shore
My thirst quenched, I felt totally
exhausted. I stretched out on the deck and fell into a deep, dreamless
sleep, rocked by the steady tow and the drone of the forward engine. I
woke up to voices calling in German, “disembark, come out, leave
everything on board.” I stumbled to my feet, joined my family, and
together we walked down the plank into a wooded area of tall pine trees.
Darkness had fallen by then. We were led to long tables covered with white
tablecloths, lighted by electric bulbs dangling from trees. After days
and weeks of starvation, we were offered food of the Gods: fresh loaves
of white bread and steaming black coffee, and for the children a chocolate
bar and a hot chocolate drink.
Having eaten, we boarded buses to the Finnish baths. Our clothes were
taken to be deloused, whether or not we had any lice. After a hot shower,
we filed into the front room, naked as the day we were born, before an
elderly woman who greased us all over, especially our private parts, with
handfuls of yellow grease she scooped from a barrel. I wanted to do the
job myself, being both shy and ticklish, but she refused and proceeded
to rub her grease everywhere. We put our deloused clothes back on. Disinfected
and greased, we were taken to register at the Philadelphia temple of the
Pentecostal church in downtown Stockholm, the one church that volunteered
to help out with the refugee effort.
We were then placed in quarantine some ten kilometers outside of Stockholm.
Janis, Pete and I were separated from Olga and the little ones. They were
sent to a women’s camp, and for a while I didn’t know where
my family was. Pastor Weger, then president of the Nordiska Misionen,
eventually brought news of them. At the end of the five weeks of quarantine
we were reunited and placed in a schoolhouse in Stockholm. By then we
felt reasonably at home in Sweden—Christmas was approaching, and
we enjoyed our first Santa Lucia festival of lights, complete with candles
and songs and Santa Lucia presiding over the procession like a queen.
Pastor Weger was helpful in other ways. He introduced us to the president
of the Red Cross, a Lutheran. Clothing was requisitioned for us, and we
got to pick and choose from the warehouse —a timely gift, as I had
bartered most of our belongings in Tallinn. Weger also found a Salvation
Army hostel where Olga, Aina and Timothy could rest up and recover. I
was very grateful that Olga could get the break she needed.
Just before Christmas we were given a place of our own, rent-free, in
Svartjö Landed, 30 kilometers south of Stockholm. We occupied the
janitor’s quarters in a Baptist chapel. The church was no longer
used for regular services, only occasional meetings, so we had the place
pretty much to ourselves. I used the small prayer room as my office for
writing, reading and prayer. It turned out to be a cozy place for the
four of us to settle down into a semblance of normalcy. I say four because
Janis and Peteris found work in the Salvation Army boys’ camp, where
they learned Swedish as well. Janis one time appeared in a crisp uniform—he
had joined the Salvation Army.
The next year went by quickly. In our second year in Sweden, Janis entered
high school in Stockholm and Peteris attended elementary school not far
from Svartjö. I worked eight hours a day in the orchard of an apple
processing plant, a few minutes from our church lodgings. I was paid the
equivalent of a dollar an hour, plus a kilogram of apples each day, which
we made into apple butter. We also received child support from the county
for six months.
As time went on, I made other connections. A man called Ingvar Jonson
and his wife, both members of the Salvation Army, took us under their
wing. We communicated in broken German, but they eventually taught us
some Swedish. They had two small boys. I visited their nearby farm and
used his electric saw to do some carpentry as well as help him cut firewood.
When spring came, Olga and this couple started summer Bible school for
the local children. I especially loved to raise the (Swedish) flag every
Sunday. The locals brought over treats for the children, never mind that
we were Baptists and they were Lutheran. I felt no call to join any local
church, because I knew, in my heart, that this was only a waystation for
us. Life in Sweden could have been cozy, but Sweden was too close still
to Moscow. I needed to put more distance between us and the sharp claws
of the Russian bear.
a Far Shore, Again