Valikko Sulje

Pencils from the sky

A drawn picture where pencils drop from the sky.

On Työsaari island on the east side of Muukonsaari there is a cabin, which today is known as the summer holiday home of Professor Erik Tawaststjerna. During the Civil War it was still the home of fisherman Muikku and his family. In the spring of 1918, when the lake was still decked with ice and snow, there was a strange incident. The fisherman’s little daughters were playing on the frozen lake. Suddenly they heard banging sounds some distance away, and soon a strange rapping filled the air. Small, elongated objects were dropping onto the ice. Recovered from the surprise, the girls gathered them by the fistful, soon running to excitedly show mother their treasures. ”Mother, mother! Look how many pencils we gathered that fell from the sky!” The frightened mother quickly realised that the pencils were bullets. Machine gun bullets fired somewhere on the mainland had carried to Työsaari.

That same summer, the Muikku family sold their cabin to the aristocratic von Boehm family. The artist Aino von Boehm spent several summers on the island with her family and painted the colourful, sun-drenched landscapes opening out to Saimaa lake. Erik Tawaststjerna, the musicologist, later married Aino von Boehm’s daughter, and so the island cabin came to their possession.

We had feared a war breaking out for some time. News about rampant mobs shooting at each other and whispered executions became commonplace pretty soon. Brother rose against brother, like the stories in the Bible come true, and there was no holding back the hate. Even though we lived off the beaten track, we could not avoid it. Not even our little ones.

On a fine late winter’s day, they had gone onto the frozen lake to play. Likely got up to furious speeds with their kick sleds, braids flying from under woolly hats and cheeks glowing frost-red. I sat in the cabin darning and didn’t quite clap my own eyes on it all. But soon both of them stormed in, door slamming and winter boots stomping, faces aghast, telling the tale in one voice.

It took a moment for them to catch their breath sufficiently to make the story intelligible to me. They told of hearing strange banging from the shore opposite, and soon stubby pencils had started raining from the sky. They unfurled their fists then to show me their finds. They were not quite like those they’d got from school, but small and sealed at the tip.

I certainly recognised what the bairns held in their snow-clogged mittens, and I may have let out an involuntary yelp or some sound anyway, which frightened the younger one and started her crying. The elongated objects taken for pencils dropped onto the floor with a clatter, rolling here and there, some under the dresser and table, as if hiding in shame.

The children spent the rest of the day indoors, and the planned move off the island, already discussed with the husband, became more urgent. When summer finally arrived, the Boehms acquired the lands they had long wanted.

Text: Pekka Vartiainen
Pictures: Kirsi Pääskyvuori
Translation: Annira Silver
Location on map

The story and the pictures are a part of Tarinajoki book (River of Stories), made in Rural Explorer project. As part of a culture tourism project, stories arising from the body of folk narratives and history also have a function in relation to the productisation of tourism. The stories are linked to real locations.