A Life Truly Lived

ok So last year in my creative Writing for the Media class we were challenged in one of the assignments to write a profile on someone for a newspaper feature article. After much tooing and froing I decided that I would write one on my Nana Soininen. She is an interesting women whom some of you will have met and I have heard many stories from her life but I wanted to piece them together. What resulted was a 5 hour interview where I learnt much more than I ever thought I would. It isn’t as affectionate as I would have written but I needed to have a certain level of distance in the writing for it to be suitable for a newspaper …So here it is …. Enjoy





Terttu-Liisa Soininen has lived a long and tumultuous life. It is one that has left an indelible impression on her face. Just ask and you will find a woman whose past is littered with memories and experiences. With a cupboard full of pure silk, old photos and Finnish books there is much more to her story.


We meet in her one bedroom flat. Smells of fresh baking fill the air as she urges me to eat more pulla (a Finnish bun). She struggles to understand me a little, and then when the question is clear, she unravels stories of joy and heartache. Her hearing loss and my inability to speak Finnish means that I am literally shouting across the table.


Her appearance is neat. Her grey hair is brushed carefully and she is wearing a blouse and cardigan. A different woman from the fresh face in the black and white photos, “My friend used to tell me that I was skinny, but I never told her she was fat.” Her humour is stifled as she catches sight of my bare feet. She rushes to get a bath mat for me so that I “don’t catch a cold.” This act of kindness is unnecessary but is indicative of the way she lived her life.


“I was very naughty when I was young”, she says, “I used to go into the cellar and eat jam from jars but it was ok because there were no windows, and God couldn’t see me.” Born in Mynamaki, Finland, 83 years ago to Senja-Matilda and Hjalmar Rosenlof. Her mother died giving birth to her. There is a sorrow in her eyes as she feels somewhat responsible for the loss. Resolutely she remarks “I had a very hard childhood, but my mother’s death wasn’t my fault”. With two daughters, her father remarried two years later to a woman with two daughters of her own.


This was far from the Brady Bunch though, “My step mother didn’t like me at all and either did my stepsisters”. After wiping away a tear she then says resolutely, “If you let hate in your heart it will grow, I am glad I have never had enemies even if someone is nasty to me.” She then goes on to say “I pray for my stepmother everyday.”


At 13, she was moved to a small Finnish town, Naantali where she completed two years of technical night school. “During the day I was a slave for my stepsister, I used to have to carry 34 litres of water from a well 1.5 km away. We used metal buckets that were originally used for lard”. They lived on top of a dance hall and restaurant. Liisa would also be forced to take extra trips to the well to supply the restaurant with water as well.


Despite the unscrupulous demands on such a small girl, she recalls with joy and a cheeky smile, “Wednesday and Saturday were dance nights, and they were the best times of my life. I would dance the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and German Polka till 3 am sometimes.” Then she motions to me “Have you ever danced around with a chair?” Her cheeky smile gives a sense of the little girl still inside of her.


The war played a large part in her life as she had to endure the trials it dealt out and the lack of resources. “We didn’t know what food we (would) eat this week and next week, but I would think, I am alive.” She would eventually move in with a war widow and her three children. “I cooked and cleaned for this woman for no money because I wanted to help, it was my pleasure.” She would continue to help the widow, even when she got married and pregnant at age 17 to Aaro Hakkinen, a cook in the navy. She would also often cook Pulla for the navy.


One thing she prides herself on is her sewing. “I used to make dresses for the rich and the famous, even Miss Finland.” This is a thread that has woven itself throughout her life.

At the age of five she would make dresses for her dolls and made her first pair of mittens. Then at 12 years old she made her own dresses. She would make clothes for herself, her family, and friends and often at no charge. She recalls “I would sit at the sewing machine and my children would snuggle on my lap as I sung them hymns. Sometimes I would even sew through the night.”


After moving to Turkku, her fun but troubled marriage was dissolved 3 ½ years later and she would meet her new husband through her soon-to-be ex. “Aaro was in the markets, drinking, and he met Erkki who wanted to sell mantels from the army to people who could make them into coats.” By this time Liisa was a professional seamstress. “He brought him home when our divorce was almost final, so Erkki (clearly smitten with Liisa’s beauty) asked Aaro if he could take me out on a date.” His bargaining chip was a bottle of alcohol and all parties agreed to the arrangement.


After a year’s engagement, Liisa and Erkki were married. After bearing another child, she continued to work as a bartender for several years. Her husband, in 1958, insisted that they leave Finland and move to Australia, much to her dismay. She would have “nightmares of never seeing Finland again and would cry for months after the move.” She went on to say “When we moved to Australia, Erkki worked on the railroads and I made tents for the army.” They would eventually raise five children together until Erkki passed away in 1999. Liisa would also spend much of the rest of her life as a seamstress for her children and grandchildren.


It is now almost 50 years since leaving Finland. After many hardships, including two hard marriages and several accidents and sicknesses, she puts her hands in God. “We are all from Adam and Eve and we should all love each other.” She says about the past decade, “Only now can I do things my own way, nothing is more lovely (than) when you can do things your own way.” You can see a real twinkle in her eye. “I really enjoy everyday and every minute, I think it is wonderful.”


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matty Matt Matt
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 07:04:23

    Good stuff sis!


  2. sharry
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 08:39:40

    i remember going to her house as a kid – i think i even got to sit in the sauna a time or two – i was alway really impressed that they had a sauna in their backyard…and that little flat too…for some reason i was babysitting or something one night at nanna’s house and ended up spending the night in that flat…i don’t know why…all do remember is hearing a couple of cats fighting and squwalling outside and being scared to death!!!


  3. Sarah LeDoux
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 23:01:21

    Thanks for the comment, Ellen. We would love for you to visit. There is so much to do in Florida. It’s amazing. i really liked your essay on your Grandmother. What an amazing life. It makes you realize where you come from, and the things our ancestors did for us to have such a cozy life. xoxo!


  4. jessie
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 01:24:59

    murphyis doinggoodthe dog


  5. jessie
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 01:31:48

    whenyouvisit someday dont worry hesnice dog


  6. Anonymous
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 08:25:46

    So many things I didn’t know about Nana. Had no idea about Aaro and Erkki’s ‘arrangement’ and working as a barmaid. Nana the barmaid – Whatthe? I wish I could go back in time and meet Nana as a teenager. How interesting would that be? Great profile Elle Belle.


  7. rebeccaj
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 08:27:16

    The anonymous comment above is by me, Rebecca. Wasn’t trying to be mysterious, just forgot to fill out all the boxes.


  8. ausellebelle
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 08:27:33

    who made that last comment? 🙂


  9. jessie
    Apr 22, 2008 @ 14:45:31



  10. jessie
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 01:42:18



  11. Dee
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 13:36:40

    I avoided reading this for a couple days because it looked like alot to read. now that I’ve read it I’m so cross with my self for being too embarrased to ask Nana to tell me stories before she died. I must go see Papa this week. Thank you


  12. jessie
    May 08, 2008 @ 22:02:51



  13. jessie
    May 08, 2008 @ 22:03:17



  14. jessie
    May 09, 2008 @ 20:32:36




  15. Jorma
    Nov 04, 2016 @ 20:32:24

    Loved reading this. So heart warming


  16. Liisa hakkinen
    Apr 25, 2017 @ 09:01:41

    So much I learnt about my nanna
    Just beautiful


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