Friday, August 24, 2012

Better Than Fiction Guest Post: Erin MacPherson, "Smudged Ink and Fish Factories"

It's a pure delight to introduce you to today's guest, Erin MacPherson. She was one of the very first to welcome me to the Books and Such family, and since that time I've been grateful for her prayers and writing accountability along the way. A warmer, more giving person you'll not meet, which is why I am particularly thankful for her story today. As she points out early on, without this story, we'd have no Erin! ...Let's not think about that.

Erin and I swapped guest posts this week, and I have no doubt you'll find yourself smiling and laughing as you dive into her tale below. Thank you, Erin, for your tale of...

Smudged Ink and Fish Factories

I'm not normally one to applaud slow-moving government bureaucracy—but every once in awhile, it can be a good thing.

Because a slow government envelope is the sole reason that I exist.  And that my grandparents fell in love more than 60 years ago.

It all started in war-torn post WWII Finland.  My great-aunt Vera had applied for a Visa to go to the United States.  She dreamed—get this—of moving to a tiny town in Oregon and getting a job in the fish packing factory where her cousin had landed a job.  The American Dream at it's best. 

An Oregon factory, 1939, by Dorothea Lange
So, Vera filled out her visa application and got letters of reference from her sponsors in the United States and submitted her papers with every t crossed and every i dotted.  But apparently a lot of people had crossed those t's and dotted those i's in Finland that year.  Because weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.  And by the time those slow moving bureaucrats stamped "approved" on Vera's visa paperwork, she had decided that her love of fish-packing paled in comparison to her love of the farmer's son down the lane.   So Vera got married.  And those coveted papers sat unused.


Of course, the story doesn't end with a festive wedding in Finland.  (Which you probably guessed that since I'm sitting here writing in almost perfect English.)  Because you see, my great-aunt Vera had a little sister.  A little sister who happened to be pretty darn skilled with q-tips and typewriter ink if you know what I mean. 


Now before I go any further, let me be clear:  that little sister—passionate, brave and savvy—had no intention of working in the fish-packing factory. 
En route to fish packing plant, 1942. By Howard Liberman.

 Or any other factory to be exact.  Her plans were simple:  First thing she was going to do when she landed in Oregon was going to be to find a Finnish-speaking lawyer who understood immigration law well enough to help her file papers so that her childhood crush of a boyfriend in Finland could join her.  Upon his arrival, well, he could get a job in the fish-packing factory or whatnot after they got married.  Either way, she was going to grab that American dream by the horns.  Or the q-tips, as it were.


Using q-tips to smudge the typed-print on her sister's visa, my grandmother Kerttu suavely erased Vera's name and added her own.  I've seen the papers—and I’m not sure if anyone post mad-men could've gotten by with such a hack job—but apparently back then, immigration officers weren't concerned with little black smudges.  Or clearly erased names.  Details, details.


Hacked up papers and all, my grandmother arrived in Oregon in 1950.  And true to her plan, the first thing she did was look up a Finnish speaking lawyer to help her bring her fiancé to the states. 


But that's where her plan got a little off-track. 


Because—in an ironic twist of fate—Kerttu fell hopelessly in love-at-first-sight with the Finnish-speaking lawyer.


My grandpa—small-town lawyer, first-generation American, World War II Hero and dual Finnish and American citizen—fell in love, too.  In fact, he tore up those papers without sending them.  And marched down to the house where my grandma was staying and proposed.  


They were married within three months.


Had a baby within a year.


And I still wish I knew how long that poor guy in Finland waited for word from my Grandma before he finally realized that it just wasn't coming.


Anyway, in 2010, we celebrated 60 years since my grandma arrived in the United States.  Sadly, my Grandpa, the lawyer, passed away and wasn't there to see the festivities.  But the rest of us were.  Their 5 children.  Their 9 grandchildren.  And their 13 great-grandchildren.  A big, loud bunch, screaming in a mix of English and Finnish and Texan. 


All because the government bureaucrats took forever to stamp "approved" on a piece of paper.


Erin MacPherson is a third-generation American who still loves to hear her mom speak to her siblings in her native Finnish and to hear stories of Finland during the wars.  She is the author of "The Christian Mama's Guide" series as well as a contributing author to countless other books and magazines.  She blogs at

**Note from Amanda: I am looking for more guest-bloggers for this series. If you have an idea for a Friday "Better Than Fiction: Real Historical Romance Tales" Feature, visit this post for criteria and submission details**



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