The Smugglerking’s son



There, in our little room, my Mum gives a long wail and I drop out into this world in the Tornio Valley, cool as a cellar, on June 26, 1944. It was a Monday, the first working day after Midsummer Night. Seven Swedish miles – that means around 70 km – north of the Arctic Circle the nights are full of light and resound of birds’ song. In the yard, a tamed crow – ours, actually – is begging for food for itself and the little pig that has landed there almost one week before, in a drop-side truck.

Though summer is late this year, ten warm days are enough for the hack-berry trees to burst into bloom, wrapping in their scent both banks of the border-river.

My father Otto, the Smugglers’ King, also known under the nickname of Peaky Nose is on his way home from Sieppijärvi. He has just got rid of a good quantity of Kron saccharin tablets, of about ten sacks of roasted Minas coffee and about as much Santos coffee. And at a good price, too. So now he feels quite rich, as well as proud, because he only deals in good-quality coffee and no junk.

The Smugglers’ King is enjoying the so many scents of spring with which the border-wind covers the sparse woods – characteristic of the Borealis climate. Cloud-berries promise good crop this year. He is walking on swampy land; the air is pregnant with the heavy scent of spring-flowers and almost bring him to daze. In the marshes he runs up into a German soldier and buys cognac from him. It can always change the customs officers’ bad mood; and can make happy the midwife who is supposed to help the delivery of his next child. The Smugglers King’s wife is pregnant with their fourth child. The young couple have already had two elder daughters and a son, so it were the turn of another son now. Otto is only thirty two years old and his wife twenty eight. They will still probably have quite a lot of sons and daughters. Any devilish practice to limit child-birth was completely unknown in Tornio Valley in those times.

You cannot say about the Smugglers’ King that he is a believer but you cannot call him an atheist, either. Smuggling is his life and his philosophy is the philosophy of a smuggler. He believes in “the one and indivisible humankind and the free movement of every person and all kinds of goods over borders of all types”.

The smuggler’s thought never goes along the borders only over the borders; the frontier never means a line, never the czar’s pen stroke (because – as you know – this border was drawn in an arbitrary way, as well); for him it is much more a kind of back-room, where people can meet and get deals established. They don’t sign contracts here – they only shake hands. And where one hand meets the other’s hand, there you can find the third room of the frontier, called also the small room of deals. Stamp and pen are nothing but contraband here. And the deal is always personal. It doesn’t matter what the deal is about it only matters who with. Quite a great and deep thought has been born here – the border-philosophy…

The customs office – on the other hand – is a dividing line, full of stamps and documents, forms and laws; nobody needs them, except the turnpike men, buck-hounds guarding this hell of a frontier. Here, on God’s field, customs is the demarcation devil. It creates an obstacle, separating brother from brother. On the contrary, the smuggler connects people instead of separating them. Those who easily accept the customs and the frontier are Satan’s friends. Oh, yes, that’s what they are – except when the custom’s officer has three eyes: keeps watching with two and turns a blind eye with the third one.


Dad is a born story-teller. I’m listening to him and carefully record everything in my mind, lest anything should get lost. Mum takes everything down in aniline ink in her lestadian hymn-book, the one entitled The Songs and Psalms of Zion. [Lestadianism or laestadianism: conservative, puritan religious movement inside the Scandinavian Lutheran Church, named after its founder Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861).] You can read there in Swedish „Vi har flyttat till eget hem den 10 november 1939” (November 10, 1939, we have moved in the new house – our own property.)

In clear Finnish, she also wrote there that Aino’s (her elder sister) family were refugees in our home because they had to run away on October 6, 1944; she also recorded that the Germans put fire to her younger sister’s house on October 18. Then again in Swedish „Det blev fred i världen den 7 mai 1945” (May 7, 1945 – Peace has come again upon the world.)

Births, deaths, wars and peace agreements have found their way in a neat row in albums and the notebooks containing press cuttings; she specially ordered these albums and notebooks from Wiskadal, Oskar Ahrén, as well as Åhlen and Holm businesses.

Mum has been consciously enriching the family legends by leaving those ink-traces on paper, probably hoping that someday somebody would find them and read them. But her art in writing was pre-determined by her faith, so she only wrote about the everyday events.

Kategoria(t): LITERATURE/KIRJALISUUTTA. Lisää kestolinkki kirjanmerkkeihisi.