Left in Andover: Starting at the Finnish line

By Susan Leader
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Free-standing saunas, some in excellent condition, others rotted into the ground, still punctuate the hills of Andover. It was not possible to grow up here without being aware of its Finnish heritage.

Yksi, kaksi, kolme … one, two, three” and “Paha tytto, paha poika … bad girl, bad boy.” I can still recite the simple Finnish words I learned as a young girl from our Finnish neighbors.

My parents believed it was important for us kids to become bilingual and citizens of the greater world and so, in 1963, with little money, but a great sense of adventure, we struck out for Montpellier, France, where we were to attend public school for a year.

Clockwise from top left, Rosa and Susan, Mom and brother Emmett.

I quote from my journal written at that time:

“August 13, 1963:

It was early morning on the farm, in Andover, Vermont. For the last time in almost a year, we would wake up sleeping in our own beds.

“With light hearts we headed down Weston mountain. We road through the construction between Weston and Mt. Holly. Then on to East Wallingford, where we almost ran over a dog. When we got to Middlebury, we bought some ‘sociables’ in the First National. Just outside of Vergennes we stopped at an A&W root beer stand.

Literature on the Batory with author’s notes.

“By 7:00 p.m. we reached Burlington, where we stopped to look at ‘our’ former home. We looked around the old Billings Library where Herbert used to work on the ‘UVM’ campus. At the Flemings Museum we looked in on a Shakespeare play. Then we went back to the car and had some nectarines.

“All the while we had been thinking of where we could sleep that night. Herbert thought we could sleep under a bridge, but everybody ‘vetoed’ that one …”

By this time, Dad had been deemed “permanently and completely disabled” by the Social Security Administration. He calculated that once we got to Montpellier, we could survive on his $202.50 per month Social Security check. The issue was tickets to get there.

As vegetarians, we were not impressed by the Batory menu.

Mom contributed money from a part-time, live-in job in Northampton, Mass. With that, we had an impressive sum: $490 in bills rolled up carefully in a mason jar buried on the north side of the house under Mom’s rhubarb patch.

The most affordable way to cross the Atlantic at that time was by passenger ship, and the M.S. Batory, the model ship operated by the communist regime of Poland, offered the cheapest fares. By that time, the Batory was not allowed to dock in the United States. Montreal was its home port, and that is where my family headed.

Dad was still undecided as to whether we would really go: We had funds to purchase one-way tickets only. I was about to turn 12 and, therefore, would lose my half-fare status. It was now or never. Dad described the dramatic days of Aug. 15-17, 1963:

“There were two jars of money we had buried in Andover, one containing around $6.93 in pennies, and the other $490.00 in $100, $50, $20 and $10 denominations. We had left the wrong jar under the rhubarb, as we discovered after we had driven to Montreal. We parked M and R in a tourist cabin with the very heavy luggage – this would be at twilight Wednesday – and E, S and I set out back for the rhubarb patch in Andover, arriving at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Up at dawn, we got the money, spent some time looking for R’s watch (in compost bucket, etc.) … and set off back to Montreal … I dickered and dickered, but got little out of it and we bought $827 worth of tickets at shipside. Sailing time, noon, Friday.”

Among souvenirs from our trip were sketches of Polish dancers

We were off, destination: Southampton, England, from whence we planned to make our way to France. We arrived in England on Aug. 21 and this is where our troubles began.

The customs officers stamped our passports and we started to get off the ship. Then they decided that, since we had one-way tickets only, we were in danger of becoming in “the public charge.” It did not help that the authorities were also eager to make trouble for the Polish ship.

We had no recourse other than to remain captive on the ship as it made its way through the English Channel to the North and Baltic seas. The itinerary was Copenhagen, Gdynia, Helsinki and finally Leningrad.

Based on the canceled stamps on our passports, we were denied entrance at Copenhagen and even Gdynia. Helsinki was our last hope. The Batory’s officers were just as relieved as we were, when, miraculously, we were allowed to disembark on Finnish soil.

I like to think that knowing my yksi, kaksi, kolmes helped to sway the Finnish customs officers in our favor, on that 28th day of August, just days after my 12th birthday in 1963.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Gee, and I thought I was an adventurer, having set off to hitchhike around the world in 1970! But I was 24 years old, not 12, and had $1,000. I want to hear more about your time in Finland, and hope you keep writing about it.