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Learning To Speak Finnish the Hard Way…

Story ID:8671
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Dillon Montana USA
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More memories from my past...

Learning To Speak Finnish the Hard Way…
By Chuck Dishno
January 2013

In the spring of 1955, my friend Doyle and I decided to attend Reedley College in Reedley, California. My only vehicle was a 1929 Model A and it would never make the trip from Bly to California but Doyle had a 1948 Chevy Club Coupe so we drove down in his vehicle. I had saved enough money working the summer with my Pop to buy some sort of car but since Doyle had his I figured I didn’t need one.

We started school in early January and lived in a small apartment complex just off the campus grounds. There were about 8 units with half of them double rooms for the married students. The one we lived in was small with only a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room. We did have a gas stove and an icebox that required going to the icehouse twice a week for a 50lb block of ice. After all, we had to have something to keep our beer cold and at 25 cents for a 50lb block was cheap. We were soon acquainted with all the tenants and got along fine.

Reedley had a large Finnish population for some reason even with their own Church. Living next to our apartment was a nice young Finn named Rauno but Ron for short. He had been in the US for about a year and chose Reedley because he had some relatives nearby. Ron was a brilliant student taking advance calculus courses while we were trying to make it thru bonehead English. We hit it off right away and soon found that we had something in common…beer. At that time we could buy a quart bottle of beer for 45 cents and when we cold afford it, Ron would whip out his trusty slide rule and calculate that we each owed 15 cents. One of us would then drive to the liquor store and make our purchase. We never intended to get drunk but as the evening wore on we found that we had made the trip several times and were feeling no pain.

Ron was fun loving albeit a lot smarter than we were but nothing seemed to get in our way. Ron had an aunt who lived on a farm near Reedley and on several occasions he invited us out to her place. She and her husband had a real Finnish sauna that Ron liked to use. It was a small building with tiers of benches on one side. Coming out the wall was a metal box filled with round river rocks. These rocks were heated by a fire from outside the building. When they were red hot, Ron would pour cold water over them. This produced mountains of super hot steam. The three of us were naked and the idea was to sit as high up as we could stand it. The steam burned like crazy and the higher you got the hotter it got. I could never make it past the 2nd tier but Ron, being the native Finn would sit on the top tier and tell us to pour more water on the rocks. If we had any alcohol in our system it sure came out our pores. To add insult to injury, Ron would lead us cooked lobsters into an adjoining room and turn on the overhead shower, which dumped gallons of cold water on our over-cooked bodies. It’s a wonder that we didn’t have heart attacks right on the spot. Ron said that in Finland they would go outside, roll in a snow bank and beat each other with fir boughs. I guess this made for tough Finns and the beautiful complexion that the girls had.

The three of us would sit outside our apartment in the evenings and talk of many things. I don’t think Ron had ever met a couple of guys from the sticks of Bly like we were and I know we had never met a Finn like him.

One evening a beautiful Finnish girl walked by our apartment and spoke to Ron in his language. I was fascinated and wanted to meet her. Ron told us of a community dance that was to be held the next weekend and invited me to attend. I don’t know if Doyle went or not. He probably didn’t as finals were coming up and he needed to study. As for me, I never let my studies interfere with my education and thought that meeting a beautiful Finnish girl just might further that education Little did I realize much truth to that there was.

On the night of the dance, Ron and I put on our suits and drove to the Finnish Community Hall. When we got there and I had a look around, I was ready to go back home. I had never seen such a large group blond strapping guys lining the wall. The only thing that kept me from bolting was on the opposite wall were all the beautiful girls. Apparently it was a stag dance and you would make your choice at random. As I said, these were all big bruisers and I was a skinny 120 lb weakling from Bly who didn’t know a word of Finnish. My chances looked pretty bleak.

I told Ron that I thought I had made a mistake but he was welcome to stay if he wanted. All I wanted to do is leave while I could with my head intact. Rod said not to be ready to give up yet and pointed out that beautiful girl that had walked past the apartment. When I looked at her again, I realized I at least had to try but had no idea what to say to her. Ron said that would me no problem and he would teach me something to say in Finnish. Now Finnish is a hard language that has a lot of guttural and deep throat rolling sounds. Ron first had me practice rolling my “r”s and after a few tries I began to sound like a native, or so I thought.”

Ron and I went out on the veranda and he proceeded to teach me a phrase. I practiced it over and over until Ron thought I had it down as well as I was going to. It was pretty long but I thought, “What the heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

When Ron and I went back inside, I headed for the stag line. Soon Ron came up to me and said that he had talked to the girl and she would be delighted to meet me. I was shaking in my boots but swallowed hard and followed him across the room. We walked right up to her and were introduced by Ron. He said that my name was Charlie but everyone called me Stub then showed her my stub finger just to take away any mis-thoughts she might have.

My heart was pounding louder than the band but I got up nerve to take her hand and lead her out onto the dance floor. I still hadn’t spoken to her except for a few words in English. I was fascinated by her sheer beauty and sweet smell. We had been on the floor a few minutes when I got up my nerve to say my newly learned Finnish phrase. As soon as I uttered it, she backed away from me, took a mighty swing and knocked me right on my butt, then stomped off the floor. I looked over at Ron, who was standing with those big galoots laughing his head off. I promptly got up and made for the door. I have no idea what I said but apparently my friend, Ron, set me up. I made it out the door fearing I was about to be taken over by all the Finnish guys in Reedley,

I made it back unscathed and when Ron came in a little later he was still laughing. I asked him what I had said to set her off but he wouldn’t tell me, he just cautioned me not to use it again. I still don’t know what I had uttered in Finnish that almost “finished” me off.

In a short time all was forgiven and forgotten when Ron got our his trusty slide rule and we divided up the price of a cold quart of beer again.

When school ended, I moved to Fresno with the owner of a theater in the nearby town of Orange Cove where I had gone to work as a projectionist.

Doyle went back to Bly and in the fall I started college at Fresno City College where I stayed until I was drafted into the Army

I will never forget that “life threatening” experience and if I should make it past those Pearly Gates, I will be always looking over my wings for a beautiful Finnish Angel. If I meet one, I will certainly keep my mouth shut. I think a black eye would be very obvious in Heaven..