Valikko Sulje


Volleyball players in the night.

At the eve of the Winter War, in the summer 1938, a large scouting event was organised on Muukonsaari island. It was officially organised by the scout troop Vuoksen Veikot, but the Enso Gutzeit company, owner of a lot of building stock in the area, was a significant force in the background. The event was attended by Prince Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Guide and Scout Association at the time. One of the items on the agenda was volleyball, a game previously unknown in Joutseno.

They said that seeing as you’ve got hands like shovels, you can come and join the game. They told no more, not about the game nor the players. Knowing the speakers, I guessed they knew no more about it themselves.

I didn’t have the gumption to pursue it. Especially since they had also invited my sister’s intended, who habitually wore a slightly haughty expression on his face. Thought himself more important than he was.

This happened maybe a month before the match. Pretty soon the word was going round the villages that something big was happening. Muukonsaari was to be the venue for great crowds of folk. Enso bosses strode around the lakesides, and the grouchy chairman of Veikot marched along the village road like a courier. Bring this here and that there, and no shenanigans either. Then the word was that the King of Sweden himself was coming, on horseback.

It was no king in the end, some prince or whatever. But it did make for quite a circus. There were all sorts of organisers, bigger and smaller folks, tickets and dockets, men, women and hangers-on. We practised this strange game a little beforehand, where you didn’t kick the leather ball but hit it over a sagging net. They called it volleyball. The sister’s fiancé was the big I am. Reckoned to know how the game was played, but he knew nothing. His head’s always been as hollow as a drum.

So, the occasion was soon underway for real. It was a splendid sight, the hordes marching in single file with heads held high, all wearing the same uniform. Flags were flying and speeches made. Soon we got our signal. I raised the ball in the air and whacked it with my fist. The leather smacked and the ball flew like a shot right by the fiancé’s head, got his ears flapping. He gave me a filthy look. I pretended not to see.

The following winter, deadlier bullets were whistling past his head. He dodged them, too. Volleyball became a lifelong hobby for him.

Text: Pekka Vartiainen
Pictures: Unsplash, Ben Turnbull
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.