Harvest Festival, Skördefesten, is over now in the Åland Islands. Winter comes early and the tourists leave like flocks of migrant birds. Their backpacks and bicycles fill the departing ferry boats that take them back to Stockholm, Tallinn or Helsinki. I’ve never been there, I’m not sure I have the time left to get there, but I’ve learned so much over the past days that I feel a kinship that must only be explained as genetic.
It has been ten days since I wrote about my journey trying to find my mother. The journey has changed as all good and productive journeys do. In order to understand my mother I followed my Grandmother, Matilda Serelia Wiberg to her roots. It was no easy task. When last I talked about her I said that she was the youngest of seven children and that I had no clue how she got to America.
Genealogical research is not for the faint of heart even if you have Ancestry.com to help you. But with due diligence, I found that the 19 year old was actually the tenth of eleven children and that she followed her nearest older sister Alma over here. Alma made it straight to New York City but for some reason Matilda landed in Boston. I have no idea.
Well I might. You see I believe that even the young Matilda was hard headed and bent on having her own way. Spoiled? Perhaps. Does an older adult’s character offer a clue to the young girl? If she was unable to follow her sister, (illness? ran out of money?) she would get here however she could.
I feel that they were both running away: away from a rather harsh land of boulders and subsistence farming, a land where your brothers and sisters disappeared from your family’s genealogical chart within a few months of their appearance. Perhaps a land where you were meant to marry a distant cousin and as a woman produce 11, 13 or 15 children in the space of as many years, the last one being born after your husband died. It is all there. Right in her chart.
These days the Åland Islands are out there on Facebook looking Summery, with beautiful beaches and quiet roads where your bicycle will take you to charming cafes that sell local handcrafts. Back then it was not so. Living on tiny Andersö, in the parish of Geta, there was not much to attract a young girl in the early 20th Century.
She made it to the big city, in the land where the streets were supposed to be paved with gold. What made her so afraid later on that she became bitter? Was the freedom she craved too much? Did she long for the cool nights and the sound of the Baltic Sea?
I have much more to write about Matilda and what I think made her the way she was. But that will wait for the next installment.