His hands were huge from heavy work when he was just a boy back in Finland, first at an onion farm and then a foundry. Tired of the drudgery, as a young man he'd trained to be a mining engineer but had never finished his schooling. For a while after he came to this country he worked in the mining industry. But gradually he felt the lure of the land and was pulled to the Great Plains. To the whiteness of the shrouded wheatfields in winter, the goldeness in summer, the endless, open sky.
He lived now in a house he'd built himself, jacked up on bricks like stacks of old Bibles. He'd been married once, to a Chippewaw woman. He liked to think she'd turned into a fish hawk and had one day flown away. In truth, she'd run off with a man named Kraus, who worked in a carnival. Kraus repaired the rides and could twist balloons into poodles and question marks. He bought her beers and told her stories of cities full of light. The Finn drank too much in those days, and used to beat her, so what had she to lose?
The Finn didn't drink anymore, except a shot of vodka at night in winter. His only other indulgence was an occasional slice of rum-raisin cake which he loved but had a difficult time digesting because he had a growth in his stomach that sometimes made him double over in pain and would one day soon, he knew, cause him to die.
He liked wild roses, Chinese checkers and reading the Kalevala aloud.
His baby brother had been a terrible alcoholic in his youth and one day, in a blind rage, had murdered a man with a pair of pinking shears. He'd snipped off the man's nose and both his ears as if he were trimming loose threads from around a button on his shirt--then rammed the weapon into the man's throat.
Later it was discovered that the man the Finn's brother had killed was himself a brutal murderer, who had tortured and raped a young Laplander woman before finally strangling her. As a result, the Finn's brother wasn't executed, but sentenced instead to life in prison. There he discovered the healing power of music and woodworking. In a forlorn white room in Finland, he listened to Sibelius and carved hundreds of miniature violins from driftwood and scraps with which the prison chaplain supplied him.
Many of these miniature wooden violins he sent to his brother in the wheatlands overseas. For a long time the Finn prized them and filled each of the three small rooms in the falling down farmhouse with them. Then he gave them to strangers. Finally, he took to simply planting them in the ground as if they were seeds, to see if they would grow into anything or if they would just disappear into the rich but sullen prairie soil.
Often when he'd bury more of the tiny violins in the earth outside his shack, he'd wonder to himself if he was right in feeling sorry for his brother, trapped in that room of cement and steel far away in Finland. At least his brother had his Sibelius and Mendelssohn and a steady supply of wood. What did the Finn have--beyond his wild roses and the games of Chinese checkers he played with himself?
"Well," he would recite aloud.
"I have the Kalevala."
"I have a growth in my stomach."
"I have the goldeness in summer. The whiteness in winter."
"And always the open sky. The open, hungry sky."