Friday, August 29, 2008

The In-Laws

Tomorrow will be our 24th wedding anniversary. I laugh as I recall my husband's marriage proposal. Ilkka didn't ask for my hand in marriage. He stated, "We'll be married."
And since I had a fondness for European men—especially, dark, hot-blooded Finns shrouded in mystique, I said,"Okay."

The next hurdle was to learn some choice Finnish phrases, in order to converse with my in-laws, Irja and Veikko Talvi. After we purchased our home in Seattle, Ilkka's parents visited us at least once a year, for many weeks at a time. They loved Seattle, preferring it over all other American cities, and I thought Irja and Veikko were adorable; holding hands one moment, teasing one another the next, arguing over trivialities, and then forgetting they had ever argued; to me, an ideal married couple.

After my mother-in-law passed away, the highlight for Veikko when he visited was following us in our everyday lives through music. Those days, we were actively involved with Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Northwest Chamber Orchestra and Pacific Northwest Ballet. For Veikko, a duo performance of ours at Finnish Lutheran Church was no less meaningful than a concert in front of thousands at the opera house. And when Anna, our young cellist, performed in her teacher's student recital at a church in Magnolia, my father-in-law sat in rapt attention, his white-knuckled hands gripping the pew. Little beads of sweat dotted his forehead as he endured the other cello students. He couldn't comprehend why the students were performing works beyond their capabilities, and it made him edgy. I could always sense when Veikko was dissatisfied with a performance; he'd pull himself into a rigid sitting position, perspire profusely, puff out his cheeks, and slowly exhale. At the cello recital, I was afraid he'd drop dead.
I whispered, "Don't worry. Anna's cello teacher is excellent."
"Toivon niin," he replied, pulling out a hanky to wipe his brow. I hope so.
And sure enough, once Anna took the stage, tuned, and stabbed the cello endpin into the donut, she soared through a piece by J.S. Bach. Veikko's cheeks deflated like a tire, his pallor returned to normal, and the sweating subsided.

After shindigs at the opera house, my father-in-law would expect tea and cake while he'd offer a blow by blow description of each composition played, as well as the performers' standards. And I swear, I think Veikko counted audience attendance at each event, because sometimes he'd say: "niin paljon ihmisiä", so many people, and then, try and calculate the exact number. The program book he would clutch in his hand, like a hard won prize. And then he'd chuckle softly to himself and say: The conductor likes himself too much. That was it? His whole opinion of the conductor? He had such deep opinions of everyone else. I'd ask him to elaborate. "What do you mean?"
He shook his head, pointing to each and every photo of the music director in the program.
Another sip of tea.
"Hän pitää itsestään liian paljon." He likes himself too much.
Veikko Talvi, tea and cake 1996

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