In her memoir, Miriam shows how challenging life was for her immigrant parents and their family of seven children, especially during the bitter winters in Babbitt, Minnesota.
Excerpt from Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants.
During the difficult years of the Depression, it was not unusual to have a stranger appear at the door. Most of them were itinerant peddlers trying to sell pots and pans, yard goods, or medications, such as Rose Salve. No matter what the time of day or day of the week, mother always invited the stranger in for a cup of coffee or if it was near mealtime, she invited him to share a meal with us.
One stranger left a lasting impression on us. He arrived late at night on one of the coldest nights of the winter. He was almost frozen when he arrived, and when he stepped into the kitchen we were fascinated by the long icicles hanging from his nose and his handlebar mustache. He wore no gloves nor overshoes, and his teeth chattered as he held his cold hands to the warmth of the kitchen stove and said, “Gee, but it’s cold and chilly out tonight.”
He had been forced to walk when his dilapidated truck ran out of gas some miles down the road. Mother quickly prepared coffee, warmed up some leftover stew, and invited him to sit down to eat. After the stranger had eaten, Dad invited him to spend the night in the warm sauna, where a fire was kept going to prevent the water pipes from freezing.
The next morning, Dad gave the man enough gasoline to get him to the neighborhood store, and helped him to start his truck. (In those days, the anti-freeze solution was not as scientifically perfect as it is today, and engines were almost impossible to start in below-zero weather.)
For months afterward, we played a game called “Cold and Chilly Man”. We never knew his name or anything about him. Some years later, he showed up at our door again. This time, he gave Mother a length of blue brocade fabric to repay her for the kindness she and Dad had shown him on that cold winter night.
Editor’s note: Learn more about Miriam Kaurala Dloniak.