It all began one foggy August day

November 30, 1996|By Antero Pietila

I WAS BORN at 10: 40 a.m. on a foggy August day in 1943. I weighed in at seven pounds and eight ounces, was just over 18 inches tall and looked like ''a small, well-proportioned doll.''

How do I know all this? Because my mother kept a detailed baby book.

It tells me how old I was when I had my first tooth and when I started to crawl. There are outlines of my foot and hand drawn on the day I took my first steps. And because I was born in Finland during World War II, my mother recorded the date when I was first taken to a bomb shelter.

At the time of my birth, my father was away on the Karelian front fighting against the Soviets. There are pictures of him in a lieutenant's uniform but very few mentions of the war, except for an entry about a big Soviet offensive in his sector.

Permission to use a taxi

A slew of documents indicates a wartime birth was a complicated matter requiring planning. There is a copy of an authorization to use a taxi, ration coupons to buy baby clothes and a bill that shows additional milk was delivered to my mother from the governmental ''Breast Milk Center.''

My mother even recorded my first smile. She also saved some locks from my first professional hair cut; I was two years and

eight months old when I lost my curls.

This book ended up in my hands after my mother's death, when I was already 50. I can only surmise that she went to all that trouble because I was her first-born and entered this world during the war. (A baby book was also kept for two of my siblings but not for the third one).

It is good that I did not get the baby book as a teen-ager. I might have considered some of its contents -- like my mother's saccharine poems and my own crude early drawings -- too embarrassing and thrown the whole thing away. Now at least I can appreciate the love that went into to that painstaking documentation.

Scared of Santa

Christmas is celebrated in Finland on Christmas Eve, when every home is visited by Santa Claus (who usually is a relative, although a thriving rent-a-Santa market also exists). According to my mother, I was scared of Santa when I first met the gent in 1945. That Christmas, I got a blue rocking horse, teddy bear, wind-up toy car, three smocks and two shirts.

The only really serious note is from February 1947. Somehow I got tangled into the string of a toy truck and tripped. I fell on the truck and broke it, hurting my head badly. ''We thought he was going to die at that instant,'' my mother wrote. ''Daddy cried aloud.''

I myself have never been a good keeper of systematic records. One of the inserts in the baby book is a diary that I kept when I was nine years old. Seems that I gave it up after five days. Apparently there was nothing much to say, since I noted that my brother and I ''quarreled in the morning and later wrote on a typewriter. Then we went to sleep.''

One thing I hoped would be among the baby book's inserts but wasn't was my first newspaper. It was a typewritten sheet that got me in a heap of trouble.

We lived in a small apartment building. In the winter we kids often built snow castles in its court yard. But because they attracted vagrants, the building superintendent kept demolishing them. My first newspaper condemned his actions and declared that if he did not cease and desist, ''we may have to kill him.''

We had an editorial board for the carbon-copied paper. But when the super threw a fit and threatened to resign, I found myself without defenders. Alone, I had to go to apologize to him.

That was my first lesson in journalism. I was about 10 years old.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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