by Everett Arthur Niemela
Ida Maria Bastubacka was born in Peraseinajoki, Finland on March 19, 1877, but her late childhood and young adult years were spent in Tampere. During her growing years there was an awakening of a national Finnish spirit. The universities were now using Finnish as well as Swedish. Elias Lonnrot had collected folk poetry in the backwoods of Karelia and elsewhere, and had written the Kalevala in 1835. He kept adding to his literary research in later years. Other writers such as Snellman, Kivi, and Runeberg also helped Finland to achieve its own identity. Jean Sibelius, who was born in 1865, would soon be stirring patriotism through his music.
Finland was at peace with its neighbors at this time. Earlier, Sweden and Russia were at war many times. Finland bore the brunt of this warfare due to its geographical position. In the 1808-1809 war with Russia, Sweden lost the Finnish territory that it had controlled for centuries. Fortunately, the Finns, through some careful negotiations, were able to have Finland declared a Grand Duchy of the Czar. This enabled them to have a government quite different from the one that ruled the ordinary Russians. The Finnish democratic government with elected officials reported directly to the Czar instead of to the Russian bureaucracy. Finland had its own laws, schools, and courts. Perhaps the Russians welcomed a buffer state between themselves and Sweden. The feeling in Finland at this time was "Swedes we are no longer; Russians we can never be; we must, therefore, be Finns." This view was first expressed by historian and journalist Adolf Iwar Arwisson and his contemporaries.
At the end of the nineteenth century the Russian attitude toward Finland was changing. There were attempts to make Russian the official language, to conscript Finns into the Russian army, and to take away the constitutional rights of the Finns. There was a short relief from this pressure in 1904 and 1905 when Russia was at war with Japan, during which time the Finns revamped their constitution. Women were given the right to vote. Finland was the first country to have women's suffrage. Ida had left Finland in 1903; therefore, she was not able to take advantage of this new freedom. For the women that remained in Finland, this was only a start of new opportunities that were to develop after Finnish independence.
Ida was the youngest of three children. With her two older brothers she grew up in the Peraseinajoki and Tampere areas. Her oldest brother, Victor, left for America in 1888 when she was eleven years old. When her mother died three years later, all she had left was her brother Edvard and her father. In later years, she would speak of her fond memories of her brother. As a young adult, Ida worked in a textile factory in Tampere. She seemed to be proud that she had been a city girl.
Even today Tampere is an industrial city, but it is different from most urban industrial areas. Finnish architects and builders generally try to preserve nature. In modern Tampere, the city can be observed from a revolving restaurant high at the top of a tower. The panoramic view shows a beautiful city surrounded by lakes.
In 1898 Ida was married to Kalle Kustaa Niemela. He was a stone mason who grew up in the Ahtari area. As a young boy he had been a stable boy for the Lutheran pastor. Among his duties was to drive the pastor's sleigh and wagon. During the time that they lived in Finland, Ida and Kalle had two children. Henry was born in 1900, and Oliver was born in 1902.
Kalle departed for America in 1902. He settled in Allenport, Pennsylvania and began working in the coal mines in the area. Regardless of the type of work that immigrants to America did in Finland, they usually started to work in the coal mines or steel mills when they came to western Pennsylvania. The coal mining villages near the mine entrances were owned and operated by the mining companies. Even the general store in the village was operated by the company. The following year, in 1903, Ida started her journey to join Kalle in Allenport. It took her first to the port of Liverpool, England. From there she made the long trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aboard the ship Belgenland. The old trunk that she brought with her was probably from earlier times. It was made of spruce wood with a hand wrought lock and metal bands. Similar trunks in Finland date back to 1700. Besides her two small children, Henry and Oliver, Ida was accompanied by her sister-in-law, Hilma Niemela. The long journey was made more pleasant by people who were kind to them. These young, attractive women travelling with two small children probably stood out among the immigrants. On September 7, 1903, they arrived at the port of Philadelphia. They were met there by Emil Savenius, a friend of the family. Kalle had become ill and could not make the trip. Ida arrived in Allenport by train to start a new life that was quite different from the one she had in Finland.
The ensuing years brought both good times and troubled times. In 1909, their third child, Marta Marie, died at the age of five. There was an epidemic of some kind that year. Many children died. Marta was buried in the old Fayette City Cemetery. There were no records kept of the old section of the cemetery, and, due to the confusion at the time, the site of the grave was lost.
As the family grew, they lived in various sections of Vesta and Dunlevy. Kalle had to work hard to support his ever-increasing family. The coal miners got paid by the amount of coal they produced. Kalle was impatient with poor working partners in the mine. He sometimes worked alone so he could acquire more pay by getting credit for more cars of coal.
When Oliver became a young man, his father took him into the mine with him. Henry, the oldest boy, was disabled and walked with great difficulty. He made up for his physical handicap with intelligence and a good memory. Henry's disability prevented him from starting elementary school until he was eight years old. When he did finally begin, he completed his eight years of elementary education in just four years. He was then sent to Douglas Business School in Charleroi.
In 1920 the family with nine children moved to a small farm in Long Branch Borough. The final count rose to ten children when I was born in 1922. The children in this household included Henry, the oldest, followed by Oliver, Elizabeth, Charles, Eva, Ida, John, Helen, Elsa, and Everett.
The move to the farm increased the work for Mother Ida. Monday was wash day for the large family. Clothing was boiled over a coal stove, scrubbed by hand on a wash board, and sent through a hand-operated wringer before it was hung outside to dry. Tuesday, of course, was ironing day. The irons were heated on top of the coal stove. Then there was a bread baking day. The cows had to be milked and butter churned. Every day had its particular hard work. Even Sunday, the day of relaxation, was the day to prepare a special Sunday dinner. Old friends from town were very likely to appear to enjoy the country air, and of course, a delicious Sunday dinner. The main course was generally chicken, but occasionally roast beef or pork roast was served. The favorite dessert was apple or berry pie. The ingredients were never measured, so it was amazing how the crust was always flaky and the pies delicious. Other desserts were the traditional Finnish fruit or berry soups.
The summer months were spent canning fruits, berries, and vegetables for the coming winter. In the fall another chore began. Mother Ida was up at daybreak as usual. The fire in the kitchen coal stove was started. Before breakfast could be started there were six or more lunches to be packed for people going off to school or work. Breakfast for twelve people usually consisted of eggs or rolled oats and sometimes pancakes. The kitchen was the center of activity in the house the entire day.
Living in this large family required a cooperative spirit with the older members helping the younger ones and everyone doing what they could do best. As family members became employed outside the home, they contributed to the support of the rest. It was with this spirit that daughters Eva and Ida Ellen were able to go to college and become teachers during the Great Depression years.
Mother Ida must have been proud of this achievement. In Finland, educators were honored more than they were in the United States. Two more family members were given the opportunity to become teachers. Small California State Teachers College can be credited with giving many children of immigrants a chance for a higher education.
From the early nineteen hundreds until the late nineteen thirties, the family doctor was D.D. Haines of Allenport and Charleroi. He mixed his own medicines in his office. It all had the same bad taste. If a patient had time, he would occasionally take out his violin and play a tune for them. For two dollars you received a physical examination, a bottle of medicine, and a tune on the violin. This was quite a bargain.
Kalle and Ida were members of the Finnish Lutheran Church in Monessen. They could not attend church regularly because the distance was too far to travel without a car. The distance was especially long when the family moved to the farm. The children were all baptized in the church and most attended confirmation school as teenagers. They stayed with Mrs. Riihimaki in Monessen. She was Mother's cousin. While living on the farm the children attended Sunday School at nearby Mount Tabor Methodist Church. One daughter, Helen, occasionally played the piano for the church services. One winter, when I was a teenager, it was my duty to take care of the church furnace on Sunday mornings.
In 1945 the farm was sold, and the family moved into a house on Speers Hill. Ida was sixty-nine, and Kalle was seventy-three. Life finally became a little easier with most of the children married and no farm work to do. By the early 1950's, Mother Ida could relax enough to occasionally watch television. Her favorite program was "I Remember Mama." Perhaps she identified with the Swedish mother in the program who quietly taught moral responsibility.
Fifty years after he arrived in his land of opportunity, Kalle died of a heart attack on July 12, 1951, just one half year short of his eightieth birthday. In the same manner, Ida died on September 1, 1956, just one half year before her eightieth birthday. They were buried in their adopted Monongahela Valley at the Belle Vernon cemetery.
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