There was a piano where she lived. I was in my early 20s and I would pay a visit every now and then and play for her. She was somewhere between 50 and 60 years older than I, and she had spent her whole working life in Canada, having arrived here as a young girl from Finland. Despite the time spent in Canada, Finland remained her true home and I knew at some point she wanted to return there.
I would run through a whole bunch of tunes on the piano, whether or not she knew them, and then at some point I would play the hymn from Finlandia. If there is a more beautiful national song anywhere in the world, I haven’t run across it. It is one of the most moving pieces of music I know. Sibelius knew what he was doing.
She would sit perfectly still while I played, never interrupting. When I played the Finlandia hymn she wouldn’t say anything, sitting on one side of the piano with her hands in her lap, but tears, untended, would run down her face.
Anything after that, I thought, would be an anticlimax and so I usually stopped right there. “Thank you, Mr. Deane,” she would say, with her charming accent. She was an excellent cook and would always offer me cookies. In summer she would come outside when I was leaving and as there were two neighbourhood cats that were often around, I would ritually check under my car before starting it and driving off.
I’m not entirely sure if she made it back to Finland, but I hope she did. She certainly deserved to.
The following piece is all about revisiting a place or a time that has deep and special meaning.