Photo courtesy of Putikonhovi
How many of us can travel back 50+ years to childhood summers and still find grandma’s house? Perhaps a few still have theirs, but a whole estate more or less intact? Not likely.I can’t believe that the B & W photos in my family album with the buildings behind us grinning kids are still standing today. Now known as Putikonhovi, a tourist travel lodge, tucked away in a corner of unspoilt nature in the middle of nowhere in the south-eastern corner of Finland. Close to the most beautiful lake Pihlajavesi, just a mile downhill from the estate. This was my childhood summer paradise.
The porch in the photo fronted an apartment where the Kosonen family lived.They had 5 kids, and I had a crush on Jaakko, their wild brown-eyed second youngest son. Their place was flanked with two other families who must have had at least 5 more kids between them, and then on the other side is where grandma lived in a place that had a kitchen and one large room, known as tupa. Hers was no ordinary kitchen but one that had a wood burning old-fashioned floor to ceiling stone hearth where she baked bread, cakes and pulla on the hot coles. I remember the smell of sweetbread and cinnamon rolls – those mouth-watering memories of childhood all from her kitchen. How on earth did she know how to bake to perfection on hot cinders? Without timers or turn-on/off knobs?
What the travel lodge website won’t tell of course is the history we lived on this estate. In the late 1940’s, my grandma and her own father then at 80 moved to their rooms. She was the widow of the estate’s miller and was given her rented rooms to live in when granddad died prematurely, his lungs compromised by decades of exposure to wheat flour dust. Workers then wore no protection nor were paid any compensation for illnesses caused by dangerous working conditions. Granddad passed away at 57.
The Kosonen family rented their rooms because the parents both worked in the local sawmill owned by the Auvinen family.The one bourgeois clan that owned just about everything else in the village of Putikko those days – the general store, the community hall, and most of the rental houses. The owner of the estate Mr. Koskinen of course rubbed shoulders with the Auvinen dynasty; rental rooms and apartments were hard to come by in the post WWII Finland. His sprawling main building had plenty of space to spare. And the men returning from the war front needed jobs and a place to start families.
I and my siblings were sent here by our parents from Helsinki during school summer holidays in the late 1950’s to join my aunt and her family who lived in the rooms after grandma passed away. Staying in this place was pure magic! Roaming around with a pack of other kids free without adult supervision. We checked out the horse barns, hid in the hay storage, played hide & seek in the cattle stalls and spent the hottest days swimming in the pond on the property. Mostly we slept in the aitta, the old log outbuilding that had rooms assigned to each family for storage. The room was big enough to hold a bed on which my sister and I slept many a lovely summer night. Another smell from childhood I recall is the fragrance of dried-up hey and oat stalks which were used to fill the mattress we slept on. Curious how all those smells is what I recall from the place. And the tall, very tall spruce and red pine trees that reached out to the heavens.
Our families had no real money, but having money was not what mattered then, at least not to us kids. What mattered were camping trips to the islands in row boats, later equipped with outboard motors, fishing and frying freshly caught lake perch in butter on an open fire and picking blueberries in the forest for dessert.
If you read this and travel in south-eastern Finland, stay a night or two on this estate. You might still catch some of the magic.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Mu_xiHpG88 – a video in Finnish that shows the old heritage railway station in Putikko built in 1906. and the work that the local community activists do to maintain the waterfront beauty of the village. In 1992, Putikko was appointed as the Village of the Year in Europe to honour its history and the conservation of its ancient wooden buildings.