Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dad's Memoir On His Exchange Student Daughter

Elina in Lapland costume
at her family home in Rovaniemi
Dad wrote about our year with Elina Salmi, the Finnish exchange student who lived with us during my senior year at Kimball High School. I know he enjoyed being her host dad, showing her America and the world he loved.

"Elina Comes to America

"Although Elina had studied the English language at her school in Finland, we soon learned that we should talk slowly so she could translate in her mind what we were saying. At first Elina talked very little, so we never knew what she was thinking. We soon learned that Finns showed little emotion.

"The first meal we had as a family was eaten in our dining room. We had corn on the cob and hot dogs. Elina later told us that she had never had corn before and thought it was only fed to pigs.

"Elina loved fruit, a food that was not too available in Finland. When Joyce went shopping she would buy apples and bananas along with the other food she thought would last a week. Elina liked the bananas so much.

"One day Elina spent some time in the kitchen and baked us a Finnish desert with many layers, and reminded me of Danish pastry. It was very good.

"In the small town in northern Finland where Elina lived the local TV stations did not have many channels and most of the programs were not of interest to her. The few American programs she saw were like The Addams Family or Green Acres, so she thought Americans must be very weird.


"Like now in our country, most of the programs on Saturday morning were for children and Elina would lay on the living room floor and watch them. But after a few weeks, I noticed she no longer watched them and I asked her why. She said, "those programs are for little children." I think, though, that she learned more about the English language watching them than any other thing. To me, it seemed that she had gone through an accelerated stage that American children go through.

Elina joined our family during the month of July, 1969. We had a 16' above ground swimming pool in our back yard and she spent much time enjoying the sun and the water.

"Anita called us one day and asked if we could take one more student for a weekend, and we said we would. He was an exchange student from Brazil and he told us that his father owned a shoe factory. I suspect his family was fairly rich because they had maids and servants.
Me, the Brazilian exchange student, and Elina

"During that summer we took a trip to Tonawanda, New York where we stayed with my sister Alice and her family, husband Ken, son Dave, and daughter Beverly. While we were there I wanted to show Elina the area so we went to see Niagara Falls. Joyce did not go along so there was just Nancy, Tom, Elina and I.


"I drove to the Canadian side and we went to the Maid of the Mist dock. I parked the car and we walked down to the building to buy the tickets. The gave us rain gear to put on. When we got onto the boat it was so crowded we had a hard time finding a place along the railing to see the Falls. The water was thrashing and white with foam, and the closer we got to the Falls, the harder the wind blew and the heavier the mist.
Dad's photo of the Maid of the Mist

"As I looked up at the Falls, the boat rocked, and suddenly my back gave out and I sunk to my knees. So here I am, kneeling on the pitching deck, and nobody even saw me. When I tried to get up I could not stand straight. When we got back to the deck I was in pain and had to walk bent over up the hill to the car. I felt bad that this would ruin our day but I thought I would make the best of it and drove to a parking lot near the Falls. I parked there and sat in the car while the others went to observe the Falls from the brink.

"On the way back to my sister's house I drove through the Tonawanda Indian Reservation and the Niagara Power Plant.

"Once back at Alice's house I lay on the floor but I could not get comfortable A friend of ours, Kate Marvin, was a nurse and since it was a Sunday she was home. Joyce called her and she came over and gave me some muscle relaxer pills. Thanks to the pills and a good night's sleep the next morning I could stand straight.


"Kimball High School in Royal Oak, Michigan was the school that Nancy and Elina attended their senior year. There were four exchange students attending Kimball that year. Uta Schnubbe, a girl from Germany, Myrna Guerra from Chile, Toshihiko Fukuyama from Japan, and Elina Salmi from Finland.

Dad and Mom fall of 1969
"In those days exchange students were given free tuition, admission to all school activities, yearbooks, books, graduation gowns and pictures, and supplies. Their classmates ran various fund raising projects for money so the exchange students could go on a ski trip in Michigan, and a trip to Washington, D.C.

"Occasionally all the students would come to the house and tell of their experiences and also about their families and their country.f


Dad with Tosh
"Tosh was the nickname given to the Japanese student. His family lived in Tokyo and he said that the smog was very bad there. He told us that the dream of a Japanese student was to go to Tokyo
University. It was so competitive that many would not be able to enroll until they were 28 or 29 years old.

"Uta came from Germany. her father had a high position as a church pastor. When she went back to Germany she went to university and then became a judge.

"Myrna came from Chile and her family lived at the Southern end of the country near Terra del Fuego. Not long after she arrived it was found she had T.B. and was placed in a sanitarium in Pontiac, MI. One day we went to visit her and told her how bad we felt because of all the experiences she was missing. But she said "Don't feel bad for me. Back home my parents could not have afforded to send me to a hospital and I would not have been treated." We felt better after that.

"Elina's family lived a Rovaniemi, Finland, a small town located on the Arctic Circle. Her mother was an inorganic chemist. Her father worked for the Finnish government overseeing the lumber camps in northern Finland. Elina's brothers were Jaako, Juha, and Risto.

"At the corner of our street, Houstonia, and Main Street was an apartment building where the Brehm family lived. Ruth and Bud were the parents and their children were Pam and Steve. Bud sold broasters and broilers to restaurants throughout the state of Michigan. He had a trailer with a broiler on it that he used for demonstrations to new customers. The machine used hot oil to cook the chicken.

"Once a year during the summer we would arrange with our neighbors on our block to have a party either at Gordon McNab's house or our back yard. There were about ten families and we would all pay Ruth a few dollars for the chicken, and the night before the party she would marinate and prepare it. With the side dishes and pop and beer in the tubs full of ice, the hot broasted chicken completed the feast. Later in the evening we might put on some music and dance in the driveway, or go into the house and sing as Gordon played the piano.

"Once during a party at Gordon's house, all the adults and children were dancing on the driveway when Nancy said she lost her contact lens. Everyone stopped where they were and dropped on their knees to search for it. Luckily, no one stepped on it and it was eventually found.

"Block parties were something Elina had never seen and she enjoyed them very much. Afterward, she thought, "these crazy Americans!"

"Elina brought a box of chocolate from Finland for us, and it was delicious. I would buy chewing gum for her like Clove, Black Jack, and Wrigleys and let her try American drinks like milkshakes, malts, hot chocolate, and sundaes. I think she took much of the gum back to Finland when she went home. I found out also that most Finns don't like peanut butter because when she went home she took some for her brothers to try and they said it stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Elina's Halloween costume 
"Since we wanted Elina to experience different things in our country Joyce and Nancy gathered a few things to make a costume for Elina to go trick and treating with Tom. When they returned home Elina was very excited because of all the candy she had collected.

"Kimball High allowed the senior class to wear a costume at Halloween to school. A neighbor, Sharon Owens, made a pilgrim costume for Nancy and Joyce dyed it gray. Elina wore her native Finnish costume.
Elina and I dressed for Halloween 

"Once school began everyone was very busy. Joyce helped Elina with her English and history classes, and I helped her with Chemistry. Luckily Tom and Nancy were not jealous of all the time we spent working with her.

"We took Elina to a church at Farmington where they had a service spoken in the Finnish language, and to a Finnish American organization where she met many Finns that asked her questions about their native country.

"During the winter Elina went on a ski trip in northern Michigan and spent the day at the Madison Heights city hall observing how the city was run. There was Youth for Understanding meeting with students and their American parents, football games, and a concert that Nancy sang in.

"At the beginning of the school year Nancy and Elina had to walk to school. Elina was always slow to get moving in the morning. If Elina was not ready in the morning when it was time to go, Nancy would say, "I'm going" and starting walking down the street. Elina would run out the door with her books and a half-eaten apple in one arm, her coat dragging down the other.

"Then [in late December] Nancy got her driver's license and she drove one of our cars. Soon the school year was half over and Christmas was approaching.
Elina and Tom at Christmas 1969
"The school year was passing fast and soon it was time to be thinking about the Senior dance. Elina's classmates provided her with a date since she didn't have a boyfriend. His name was Rick and he was a junior and on the football team. He was very nice.

"Nancy at that time did not have a boyfriend and would not be going to the dance. But she took pleasure in preparing Elina. Elina never wore makeup and had a tomboy appearance. So Nancy was going to give her a makeover.  Elina had her hair done and Nancy applied the makeup. Elina had a dress she brought from Finland made by her mother from cloth by a famous Finnish designer, Marimekko. It was a beautiful dress.
I applied Elina's make up in my room

Elina all dolled up, with Dad
"Finally, the time came when Elina's date arrived. When he walked in the door I'm sure he was amazed at how beautiful she looked!

"Elina never talked much about anything so we don't know what happened at the dance, but we think she had a good time.

"As children, Nancy and Tom had always received a weekly allowance as an incentive to do their chores around the house and to learn how to handle money. When Elina joined our family she was also given chores and an allowance. Washing, drying and putting away the dishes after a meal was a chore that was given to both Nancy and Elina.

"At first Elina washed and Nancy dried, but Elina was so meticulous and slow that Nancy got frustrated and they changed jobs. Nancy was able to rush through washing them and leave as Elina dried and but them away. Elina was unhappy about that! They acted just like sisters.

Elina and Tom, Christmas 1969
"Besides the allowance, Elina was also sent money from her parents in Finland. She had saved all year and one day told me that her goal was to buy a 35 mm camera. So one day I took her to Dunn's Camera Shop in Royal Oak. I did not know very much about cameras but after I explained what Elina wanted the salesman told me he had one in stock and would sell it at a very good price. When Elina saw it she said it was exactly what she wanted. I think the prices was $125 and Elina agreed to buy it. I have always thought the photographs Elina takes are of professional quality.

"Then the day came for Elina to return to Finland. All the exchange students in the are were to meet and spend time together and prepare to return home. The location they were to meet at was the Saginaw Valley College at Saginaw, Michigan, about an hour and half ride away. We loaded Elina's things into the car and Elina, Joyce, Nancy, Tom and I drove to the college. We unloaded Elina's things and said goodbye. As we drove away we looked back and saw Elina standing all alone by the curb, watching us leave, and we wondered what she was thinking. No one spoke as we drove home.



I am sure that when Elina returned home to Finland she had many stories to tell of "those crazy Americans" and I am sure she was surprised how tall her brothers had grown.
Elina and Jorma Kivila wedding photograph
"In 1977 Elina married Jorma Kivila. They met at university.

"During the summer of 1977, Elina and Jorma flew to Michigan to visit us on their honeymoon. Joyce and I picked them up from the Metropolitan Airport near Detroit. It was dark but on the way home I could see Eina pointing out overpasses and other sights in the rear view mirror. We had an eighteen foot, above ground swimming pool in our back yard and they spent much time sunbathing and swimming.
Tom, Gene, Joyce and Jorma eating his first corn on the cob
"During the weeks that Elina and Jorma stayed with us we took them to the Detroit Zoo, Cranbrook, Frankenmuth, and to visit relatives.

"Our daughter was married and lived with her husband in Philadelphia, PA. Our plans were that Elina and Jorma would stay with them before returning home.

"On the first day of our trip to Philadelphia, we stopped at Sea World near Cedar Point in Ohio. We drove the Ohio turnpike to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. As it was approaching evening, we started looking for a motel and found a Sheraton that was about halfway to our destination. It was a beautiful building that was located on a hill overlooking a valley. We were lucky to get two adjoining rooms with a door between so we could all be near each other. There was a game room, a swimming pool and hot tub, and a great restaurant.

"While we were driving through the mountains Elina excitedly asked us to stop. I pulled over and she jumped out of the car and ran back down the road. We found that she wanted to get a photo of the valley below.
Elina in Pennsylvania
"We stopped at an Amish farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. it was open to the public and we walked through the house and farm seeing how the Amish lived. They had horses and oxen for field work, made their own clothes, butter, and cheese, and drove a horse and buggy. They were hard working, good business people.
Gene, Jorma and Elina in Philadelphia

Tom and Gene on left; Gary, Nancy, and Joyce in background;
Elina on right in Philadelphia
Our son Tom had worked since he was fifteen and saved much of his money. He joined a Finnish-American organization and learned a little of the language. In 1978 he joined a group that were flying to Finland. He stayed with Elina and her family and went on trips around Finland. He went with Elina's brothers to northern Finland, called Lapland."

Tom with Elina and her brothers in Finland