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Lydia Aho - A Finnish-American Story

Ian Ross

Lydia Sophia Aho was born March 6, 1897 in Simojoki, Finland, in the province of Oulunlääni. She left, with the rest of her family, in the early 1900s, when Russia had control of Finland. Young males were have been forced to serve in the Russian army at this time. Land was scarce and the dream of a better life in America seemed a logical answer for the Aho family and their children. In all the Ahos had ten children, although some were born in America.

The family headed out late at night down the Simo River in a small boat with all of their belongings, accompanied by the hired hand Kaarlela. This servant had tended reindeer in Finland and in America he took care of the sick and injured. He lived on a farm adjacent to the Ahos.

Lydia Aho was a child when she made the voyage across the Atlantic to America. She greatly enjoyed the trip, dancing and singing for crew and passengers. When she arrived it is said that she had fun playing on the huge staircase at Ellis Island.

The Aho family settled in Dover, Michigan, a small area located between Tamarack and Calumet, where they rented a plot from the mining company. They started with the sauna, which was built right next to the water supply, and later built the house, barn, root cellar, and a few other outbuildings. There must have been plenty of music in that household, as my grandmother remembers the beautiful pump organ at "Old Ämmi's". The parents never did learn to speak English, but managed fine in the Copper Country with the Finnish which was spoken by such a large portion of the population through about the 1950's.

"Lydi" married Bill Kaarlela and they made their home in Highway Location, another location between Hancock and Calumet, again building house, barn, sauna and others.

Described as happy-go-lucky, Lydia was just under five feet tall and slightly chubby. She had many children in the big house that Bill built, with my grandmother, Kathryn (Ponnikas) the sixteenth. Only eleven survived to adulthood. There was always music, singing, and dancing, in addition to lots of work, to keep the large family stable.

Lydia served as a sort of rural nurse, offering her services as a midwife on occasion. She was also an expert "kuppari", or bloodletter. She used a sharp razor-like tool that made an x-shaped cut in the skin and then worked a bull's horn into it, allowing the blood to drip out. It supposedly relieved high blood pressure and a lot of other things. The blood letting process was done in the sauna, and Lydia would even travel to neighboring farms to do it if patients could not come to hers.

In later years, when most of the children had grown up and left, they bought what is now the Katalina Restaurant in South Range. In addition to running the restaurant, Lydia had to feed six boarders, proving that she knew her way around a kitchen.

All of Lydia's life she spoke both the English and Finnish languages. Church services were often in Finnish, and all her children learned to sing and pronounce the Finnish words. Towards the end of her life when she was very ill, my grandmother would read Finnish newspapers to her. Though she had a dream of one day visiting her homeland, sadly it was never realized. Many of Lydia's children have been to Finland, however, and most have lived a substantial part of their lives in the Copper Country.

© Ian Ross

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