Sort of Books gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange.
Adele Bergman knows very well that guests out here are always easy to please. If they’re coming from Åbo, they’ve been travelling for at least twelve hours, not counting the time it took them to get to Åbo in the first place. They’ve been thrown about in all sorts of weather and covered with spray. And when they finally stagger ashore, they have sand in their eyes and cold, damp clothing twined about their bodies. They’re hungry but seasick, shivering but sweaty. They snap at each other and wish they’d never come.
This is the basis of the widespread reputation for hospitality that the Örland Islands enjoy. Human beings are put together in such a way that it takes them only half a day to grow hungry, bored, and tired, so when they finally get a roof over their heads and are presented with a hot stove and warm food, they truly believe they have been snatched from the brink and cannot adequately thank those who have taken them in. Of course the people of the Örlands have been showered with gratitude many times over, but the feeling is always sweet, and they have enjoyed firing up the kitchen range and tiled stoves even though it shortened their night.
They stand there looking pleased—Adele Bergman and her Elis, the organist, the verger and the verger’s Signe—for rarely are people so much appreciated for such a relatively modest effort. It is always a pleasure to observe new arrivals, and now, moreover, these five people constitute an official ecclesiastical reception committee with every reason to stand on the dock and inspect the newcomers and take them under their wing and guide them up to the parsonage.
And guide them into the parish, because it might not be such a bad idea to give the pastor a hint or two about certain tensions within the congregation. This fellow is young, and his wife is even younger, and for the sake of his future success, one can hope that they’re smart enough to learn from others.
The priest is happy. For young people, the trip feels endless because they can’t move and there’s so little to do, and now he’s happy because he’s arrived and can go ashore and shake hands and see to the baggage and shake hands with the mail carrier and thank him for landing at the church dock with all their things. But he’s happy in another way as well, because it’s in his nature, and because there’s a fire burning in his breast, fed by everything he wants to experience and accomplish in his life.
How nice it would be, Adele Bergman often thinks, in her heart of hearts, to have a Catholic priest who would come by himself and belong more to us alone. In our Lutheran church there has to be a wife and children and furniture tying him down and making demands on his time. People almost think there’s something wrong with a priest who doesn’t have all that, and so the wife gets terrifically friendly looks from everyone as she steps ashore and sets down a child so small it’s a wonder it can stand on its own two feet. It’s a girl, in a cap and coat slit up the back. “A real little parsonage lassie,” says the organist, who is gallant and loves children and who greets her personally. “Welcome to the Örlands,” he says, and the child doesn’t start crying but gravely returns his gaze.
The pastor’s wife is small and quick. She doesn’t realize that the boat will stay at the dock until it’s been unloaded but glances angrily at the priest who stands there talking, with the child on his arm, while she scurries about carrying ashore valises and boxes and rolls of bedding and asks what they intend to do about all the furniture lashed to the deck. “Petter, come here!” she finally shouts.
The priest hands the child to Signe, as if he understood how she longs for children. He hurries over to the railing and the others follow. The skipper and Kalle are on their side of the railing, talking, and then they quickly heave ashore the large and the small sideboards and chests and tables and chairs, which now stand newly awakened on the dock.
“Ready to move right in,” says the organist. “Sea view and high ceilings.”
Two beds and a crib follow, then a kitchen table and benches and a dresser and a commode and two bicycles, and finally the household appears to be complete. The pastor’s wife counts and checks while the pastor dandles the child, who squirms in his arms and wants down. Adele looks into the cargo space and wonders how much merchandise the skipper has brought from Åbo for the Co-op, the islands’ only store. “Not so bad,” he assures her. “Things are starting to get back to normal, bit by bit.” Which in truth they all have a right to expect, a year and a half after the war.
The skipper and Kalle will take the boat over to the Co-op’s dock to unload its goods before they can head home, and now they look at the pastor’s wife and wonder if they’ve got everything off. She thinks they have, and the skipper looks to the engine and Kalle loosens the moorings and the priest thanks them once again. The boat starts to leave, but on the dock they all stand around talking, though they ought to go inside where it’s warm and get something to eat. As usual, it’s all up to Adele. “Can’t you all see these people are done in?” she says. “Now let’s put the most important stuff in the cart and go up to the parsonage.”