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Jan Ole Björkbacka writes about his home village of Nabba

The year is 1900. It is midsummer and Oskar Alexander climbed up on the large rock called “aasto storstein”. He sat there to rest a moment while he wondered if it was true, as some older people said, that the big rock was thrown there by giants.

He raised his eyes and looked out over Heimsjön. On the other side he could see the church and twin spires of the bell tower high over the tree tops. Under the shade trees one could actually see the people on their way to church service. Pappa Sander and Mamma Fia were there together with all the others who went to church this midsummer day.

Oskar did not go to church because he had to look after his younger siblings, but now as he stole a moment of solitude, he thought that Matt, Herman, Tedor and Rene could take care of themselves. They could go to Stormamma if it was necessary. She was Oskar’s father’s mother and was known as Anna.

Oskar turned and looked up at the trees above. Some of them by the house and outhouse were small. He thought, not without pride, about all that Pappa Sander had told him – about their ancestors who had lived here 100 years ago. Tervajärvi sea had long been called Tjärsjön. He thought of the tar barrels that continued to stand near the bastu. They smelled so good. He thought of “Nabb—a hundred-year-old man”, an ancestor who was so badly burned by the Russians in the 1700s.

Thoughts continued. Should he, as the oldest son, take over the home after his father? He won’t think about it now. After all, he was only 13 years-old. A breeze swept away his thoughts; the glassy surface rippled on the sea. Below Kaitbäck’s pasture a cow bellowed and somewhere a door opened on a creaking hinge.

It is the time of Nikolai II at Nabba in [Terjärv parish] in the Grand Duchy of Finland in the realm of the great Russian Tsar. Oskar knew of the political circumstances, but it didn’t interest a 13 year-old very much. He had heard the adults discuss the hatred of Governor Bobrikoff who pushed the russification campaign in Finland. The discussion troubled Oskar. Should he be obligated for national service training in the Russian army in Petersburg, or farther away in Russia? No, all of it was rejected in time and space.

A pike splashed among the reeds or was it a bream? Rings of small waves caused water lilies to float, but soon calm was restored. Only crickets could be heard and the singing of birds blended with the sound of the three bells in the bell tower on the other side of the water.

I read the legend of Oskar as an introduction to Jan Ole Björkbacka’s interesting family chronicle of his home village Nabba from where he emigrated to Sweden in the 1960s. Today he lives in Skinnskatteberg where he is a teacher. When the family moved to Virsbo he went to engineering school and his academic studies resulted in a university degree.

Jan Ole wrote with warmth and expert knowledge and his journal and stories from the 1900s are very interesting. From that I had a certain local knowledge about Terjärv and the people who pass in review in the book. It was difficult to leave the book until I was at the last word on page 133.

Ever since his mother died, Jan Ole had thought about writing something that went back to an earlier age about his parents. The motive became greater as the number of grandchildren grew. They would not have any memories of his father’s father and father’s mother and would lack knowledge of an earlier time.

Someone left a war journal about his father and a diary about his mother’s father Otto, with accurate notes about life at Hackas from 1907-08 and from 1916-30. Then he obtained his mother’s diary from the time of the war, a shorter diary about his father’s father Oskar and last but not least, father’s mother Hulda’s diary that she wrote between 1911-1946.

He wove into the framework of the diary for the first half of the 1900s, the history of Oskar and Hulda Björkbacka and Otto and Edit Kaitajärvi and their children. In the latter part he built the narrative on their memories. Jan Ole said that he had a lot of help generously provided by his father’s brother Levi and his wife Linda.

In the legend one can read about Oskar, about Otto, Hulda and Edit. It treats the 1900s first and in the second decade their childhood years, how they found each other, built a family and their eventful life. Finland experienced war years and endured freedom years. Oskar wrote in his diary about when the Russians capitulated in Gamlakarleby and the subsequent times.

Then came 1919 and Oskar wrote in his diary: On the 20th day of 1919 Pappa died after a short illness. A virulent pneumonia and heartbeat ended his life. He was sick only a day. He was fortunate to leave his gout-ridden body and enter into his Lord’s joy.

The new decade came with peace and confidence in a better life. To the new belonged electricity. A power station was built in Kyrkbyn. Power lines were installed from the power plant to the villages. When the farms at Björkbacka, below Nabba, got electricity a curious Levi and his mother went to look in wonder in Hemming Björkbacka’s home.

While they sat and waited for the evening when the power station generator would start again, Hemming told how electricity would come through the roof to the lamp and how it would first begin to glow and then shine. The tension built and as they all waited they heard a humming sound out on the road. An automobile! Levi, who had never seen an automobile, rushed out with his friends but to their great disappointment, they saw only a snow cloud after the automobile disappeared into Tolvman’s yard. The boys who eagerly looked at the wheel tracks of the automobile, hastily ran back to the light, but it was too late! They had missed the magic moment when the flow came and the lamp was lit. To miss two of the 1900’s greatest technical inventions at the same time left an indelible impression on Levi’s memory.

Hulda’s journal related about the Åkerblom emigration. In 1922 Hulda wrote: 14 May. Maria Åkerblom lectured in the church village since she came here. Today she talked at Timmerbacka Hilda’s grave.

On June 17 Edit traveled to America. There was sorrow in the home. Hope that with God’s help she will reach her goal.

Edit lived in [Bronx], New York. Later her brother Teodor sailed to the large Terjärv colony in the Bronx. Edit served, as many other young girls, as a domestic servant while Teodor supported himself in the building trade.

Sickness and death were always present. Consumption ravaged, children and the young people died in their best years. Otto’s and Hulda’s diary related about the rampant sickness. In 1926 Hulda wrote: This Tuesday I go over the sea 27 April when Hackas Elin was buried. She died April 21 in the evening of throat pneumonia. She left 6 children, one only 3 weeks old, so it was sad to see her put in the grave, only 35 years, 5 months and 8 days.

Jan Ole related about the 1930s and the first year when it was a lack of money and work. His father was Leo confirmed on Pentecost. Oskar was a mason in Gamlakarleby the entire summer in addition to hay-making time. Death was a guest at the home. Oskar died and Hulda stood at his death bed, inconsolable in her great sorrow and left with 6 children, ages 6 to 19.

The writer tells about the farm at Nabba, of the winter war, the continuation war and the burden of peace. With his Pappa Leo’s diary as a basis, he put together events from the scene of action at the Karelian isthmus and in far Karelia. In Nov. 1942 the brothers Bror and Onni Byskata died. Nabba is plunged into sorrow, wrote Hulda who was hit by sorrow again in December when her brother Herman suddenly died, only 50 years old.

1950 passed in review. Jan Ole’s father began in the first class at nursery school. The school was called Bastulands seminary. About 30 students in two classes shared the space in one room. Rosa Skullbacka retired and was replaced by Elna Knutar.

Jan Ole experienced the joys of childhood. He wrote about how it felt to look out over Heimsjö. He wrote about emigration to Sweden, about Sund-Sandra and Nabb-Emil who both met Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull. He told about the family’s emigration to Sweden, of his father’s death and about his own family that consisted of wife Siv, nee Strandén, and sons Oskar, Jonathan and Hannes, to whom he dedicated the book about Nabba.

Jan Ole Björkbacka’s family history and presentation of the people at Nabba during the 1900s is a local history achievement. The book is easy to read and written with a warm heart that beats for the home village.

By Ole Granholm, Österbottningen, 2004.

Translated by June Pelo


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