Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Happy 95th, Dad!

Six days ago, on the 21st of June, my father Veikko Talvi turned 95. Although his short term memory is at times problematic, this picture taken at his party proves that he still enjoys life a lot. Even having had prostate cancer for over 30 years hasn’t affected him as it has been kept in control with hormone therapy.

What an interesting life my father has had. He was adored and pampered by his mother, much more than his younger sister. My grandfather was capable of creating anything with his hands: my childhood home was filled with wrought iron lamps and light fixtures, and he even built several violin cases for me. My dad didn’t inherit any of these skills; they seem to have jumped a generation. Instead, he become very involved with the academic life in the Helsinki University and started researching local history, publishing a number of books over the years, some of which are used as textbooks in higher education. He was also a journalist and a respectable musician, both as a violinist and a conductor. During my childhood and until his retirement he worked for one of the world’s largest paper manufacturing companies as their head of publishing and public relations. Although he didn’t have a head for business (unlike my mother), he didn’t have to worry about money as he was well paid. An idealist, he would always do things for free if it was for a good cause. I don’t think any of his many violin students ever paid for their lessons. Although the well-to-do corporation would have given him a nice car to use, he preferred using our family car, never even charging for mileage.

The Winter and Continuation Wars (1939-40, 1941-44) were hard for everyone in Finland. My father had recently been married when fighting started and he was on the front, unable to get a leave, when my brother Tuomo was born. Just a couple days later the mother died and grandparents had to take care of raising the baby. A brief period of peace followed, but then war started again and my dad had to leave once more for the front lines. When I was growing up, he never talked about his experiences. As he was an officer and an adjutant to the commander of the regiment, he didn’t actually have to fire a weapon and kill enemies. This probably was a blessing as he wouldn’t have taken it lightly. Death was still all around him and sometimes he had to send a platoon for a dangerous assignment, knowing that many of the men wouldn’t return. One time a new soldier was waiting for instructions when a Soviet bullet went through his head, less than three feet from my dad. Later my father developed some heart problems and was sent back to a military hospital. This is where he met my mother Irja, a volunteer, and the two fell in love. Their marriage lasted for 55 years, until my mom’s death on the eve of my 50th birthday.

It is interesting to see what parallels there are in one’s life compared with his parents. Although I inherited my mother’s quick thinking and business sense, I also resemble my father with my willingness to teach and help, and his love for music. More than anything I enjoyed playing duets with him: we performed together numerous times when I was little. He didn’t force me to have a teacher as I was able to teach myself at first. I had observed my dad carefully enough to know what to do and how; my perfect pitch took care of the rest. He would listen to me practice, and then play a few card games with me, and afterwards I would practice more or we would play duos until late. He, too, had a long friendship with a man whom he trusted. About 25 years later this ‘friend’ showed his true colors, tried to defame my dad and even to destroy archived material, and to take credit for work my dad had done. This betrayal almost killed my father, and it took him years to get over it. However, wounds eventually healed and he was again busy doing more research and writing books even in his late 80s. It was always important for my dad to be recognized for his achievements. The regional central library in Kouvola has a small exhibit featuring my father's literary output, in addition to having a research room named after him. When he lived near there, he would visit the library almost daily, perhaps to admire his life's work. This is where we differ: I don't even own most recordings I've made. Perhaps a generation is skipped again, as some of the younger ones seem to be much like him, rightfully proud of their achievements.

I look forward to your 100th birthday, Dad!

photo by Silja Talvi