Tag Archives: growing up Scandinavian

Growing up Finn


I don’t make real friends easily. Maybe it’s a Finn thing.

We met for the first time a few years ago.  A mutual friend – realizing we’re both history fanatics stuck firmly in the Tudor era – introduced us. Linda is obsessed by the Boleyns, especially Anne and her mother Elizabeth; and I’m related to Anne and the Boleyns through Sir Thomas Wyatt the Poet – on my Grandfather’s side.

Linda is writing fiction about Anne and I’m writing non-fiction about Sir Thomas and his father Henry.

I knew she was Norwegian, but I was shocked when we met. 

Tall and thin, blonde and beautiful, she owns her space. She is so accomplished, so full of the quiet confidence I’ve lacked for most of my life. I remember we looked at each other with some recognition. It was like “same gene pool.”

Thanks to my Gram’s side, I am pasty white of average height with extreme Finnish pudge factor. (I had my Finnish pouting muscles – jowls – removed in 2000, but they’re coming back; dammit.)

Our personalities are more similar than our appearances. She laughs and says “we’re both Vikings.” I wondered how true that was and did a little research. Darned if my Finnish ancestors weren’t from the shores of the Baltic, the great Viking highway.

Linda is straight from Norway and I’m fourth generation Michigan Finn. Yeah, Yoopers dontcha know.

We were both quiet and shy as children; and understated as adults. We are products of very similar cultures.

The Wuolles, Calumet, Michigan - early 1900s.

The Wuolles, Calumet, Michigan – early 1900s.

Great Grandma with her growing brood. Gram had not arrived yet.

I was born into my Gram’s house, raised by her, her mother and my mother (who was a little too young to be raising a kid). Great Gram spoke Finn with very little English. Finnglish meant adding an “ia” to the English words she liked best – especially “ice cream-ia.” (I grew up understanding most of what she said; but was unable to speak it. The Finnish language has far too many vowels.)

There was no whining or crying in that house. You knew someone was angry if the silence lasted for days; and nobody hugged ever.  Well, there was crying and hugging the day I got married.  (For the first time.)

Linda and I talked about people mistaking shy for arrogant when we were younger. She said “you too?!” Absolutely. As an adult, my give a damn is nonfunctional. If people can’t relate to honesty and humor, we aren’t going to get along.

So it occurred to me after messaging Linda the other night that – although I was raised in a multi-generational house – a 100-year-old Finnish presence ruled my life. And I remembered how blessed I was that some of the ice melted as I grew up in Italian neighborhoods in Philadelphia and the Detroit area.

Italians are a great warm buffer for icy Scandinavian types.

Thank God for Italians.

Thank God for Italians.

The early years in Philadelphia.

My first stepfather was Italian. (I didn’t realize he wasn’t my real father until I was 25, but that’s a story for another time.) I cherish my memories of our short time together. (They divorced when I was 7.)

And I remember my uncharacteristic enthusiasm when my uncle married an Italian girl – emotional, loud and affectionate.

With Aunt Marlene.

With Aunt Marlene.

Visibly enthusiastic? Maybe a dimple’s worth. My Uncle Jerry married Marlene, the neighbor’s daughter.

Aunt Marlene kept stale bread for meatballs for Chrissakes. Who does that?? It’s unnatural.

She raged when she was angry, cried when she was sad and said it like it was.  Holy crap; what an inspiration.

I went to East Detroit High School, where all the hottest greasers were Italian. My sassiest, trashiest friend was Marianna LaFata … I remember she was a great writer.

My first husband was acceptable within the framework of religion, but my first real love was – is – ITALIAN. I met him after my first divorce. We are still the dearest of friends. (Photo on my About page.)

He says his biggest regret was not marrying me. Hey, he (probably) would have saved me from two more failed marriages.

I can hang with da boyz, I know how to roll pasta on a spoon, love Godfather I and II and am (once again) watching the Sopranos on Netflix. It has been emotional since the loss of James Gandolfini. LOVED that guy.

But I can’t wait for the return of The Vikings on The History Channel. It’s like “aha … so that’s why they were (we are) like that.”


Most of this blog is about my Gram’s end of the gene pool. Grandpa’s end gets more attention from my creative side. www.sirthomaswyatt.com

How has your ethnicity affected your life?

How are you affected by other ethnicities? Can you see the past in your present? Please share.