The everyday life of an everyday woman with a passion for writing, and a dream… Mommeeeee! I need help wiping! Oh yes, and five little kids.

Heart of Karelia

Chapter 1

March 5, 1907

Terror filled Aleksei’s heart as the blackness surrounded him, the wind tearing at his back. Will I make it in time? The icy air burned his lungs, mocking him with its song as it twisted and turned, dancing between the pine, fir, and silver birch of the thick Karelian forest. It was as if the dark earth of Karelia demanded this as tribute to cross through its rich lands. And so the wind exacted its toll, singing and dancing its way, bringing with it bitter cold. A cold so fierce, Aleksei thought it to have been swept straight from the most northern parts of Lapland herself with the purpose of inflicting the Karelians’ with an early spring snow storm, a farewell reminder of winter’s fierce power.

At night, families throughout the village were usually gathered in jubilant song and dance, their feet pounding the floors, as if they could pound away the uncertainties of their tumultuous times. Tonight was no different, and as the first delicate flakes began to mix with the wind; dipping and swirling no one seemed to notice, except Aleksei.

His small feet pounded as well, not in dance but in a frantic dash to make it to the small stone cottage in time. The small village Kuokkala was dark with night and he hoped he had the right house as his small legs carried him and his message to the door. Pounding as loudly as his little frozen fist would allow, he waited pulling his threadbare coat tighter around his slight frame as the wind tore at his back. His ears stung with cold and he blew on his hands attempting to warm them before he had to try to knock again. The cold always made knocking hurt.

The heavy wooden door opened revealing a young woman and he rushed to deliver his message. “Kätilö!” He shouted, gasping for air, his anxiety seeping through each letter. The Finnish word felt strange on his tongue, they all did, but in this border town Finnish and his own native Russian, weaved through and around each other like the heavy braids the women wore under their scarves. He knew he only needed to speak the word ‘midwife’ to deliver his crucial message. The young woman stepped back yelling, “Äiti!” Her mother, the midwife, approached the door. The ancient wrinkles etched on her face exuded wisdom and experience. Her grey hair was wound tightly braided above her head and her gentle eyes spoke of understanding. It was said among the locals, that Irja Kommulainen was a wondrous woman of discernment, and as she aided in bringing each new life into the world, she was allowed a peek into their souls.

Approaching her door she exclaimed in horrified disbelief, “Aleksei? Voi ei! Oh, no no ! It is too soon!” The old woman and her daughter flew into a flurry of running, grasping, and bundling. He watched her with raw anticipation until she ordered, “Run back to your home, and be sure your sister Katya has hot water ready!”

He ran as swift as his five year old legs could carry him through the bleak storm, his heart weighing him down with a fear his mind couldn’t fully comprehend at his tender age. Just when he thought his chest would split open, he spotted the familiar light.

Aleksei burst through the door to his own stone cottage bringing with him a blast of snow and air. He hastily closed the door against the icy fingers of the storm and breathed a sigh of relief to have accomplished his task, but the dire circumstances within the walls of home stole his brief moment of peace. Their home was small with only two rooms. His mother lay panting upon her bed as she moaned for her husband, Sergei. Katya, the oldest child home, placed a rag in a wash basin to soak up the cool water. The nine year old girl then placed the rag to her mother’s lips dripping the water into her mouth, gently coaxing her to drink.

“She is coming!” Aleksei panted, breathless from his run. “She said to have hot water ready.”

“The water will be ready, it is Mama who is not.” She spoke in a voice wise beyond her years.

“Will Papa be home soon?” he asked his voice full of hope. But Katya shook her head. Aleksei looked dejectedly toward his mother and felt the fear churning in the pit of his stomach. Another blast of frigid air invaded the room as Irja entered the cottage. She removed her coat, hat, and gloves placing them on a chair as she strode directly to Alyona’s bedside. She raised the quilt that was twisted around the laboring woman’s legs, clucking her tongue against her remaining teeth as she checked her progress.

“Alyona,” she said gently, but her voice carried an undercurrent that frightened Aleksei. “The baby is coming, we cannot stop it.” Alyona cried out searing his young heart like a knife. The old midwife patted her hand and continued to speak calmly, “Where is Sergei?”

His mother tightly closed her eyes as she spoke between panted breaths, “He went to Kerttu” she whispered, her statement split in two with a moan, “to prepare the houses.”

“Alyona, will he come home through the storm?” Irja asked. Aleksei’s hope ebbed to a bleak void as his mother shook her head, silent tears streaming down her cheeks.

He watched gratefully as Irja pulled her aged shoulders back and took charge of the Vasilyev household instructing Katya how to prepare for the birth of their sibling, and instructing Aleksei to keep a warm fire going.


Katya cringed as the fierce storm howled merging with the cries of Alyona, coursing needles of fear through Katya’s veins, Irja muttered to her what a terrible night it was for a baby to be born. “The weather my child, is an omen to the life the baby will live.” She spoke quietly while her weathered hands prepared a warm bed by the fire for the unborn baby. “If a child is born during times of serenity, and calm; then that child will live a peaceful and fulfilling life. But to be born on a night like tonight” she paused and clucked her tongue “it will face a life full of turmoil and struggles. There will be little peace for this small one if it manages to survive such an early birth.”