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"... more fun than ...

Dedicated to Alice Zinn and Mary Johnson,
Grampa Lavel and the Kivisto Family,
and Ros-Marie Linnerborn*

2011

Do you recall a few years ago when I made the acquaintance of a family of pigs, the Hamms, who were secretly located just outside El Paso as part of the Pigness Protection Program?

We have stayed in touch over the years, although I had not seen them personally since they left their home in the cornfield so quickly and mysteriously.

Well, that changed recently when I had a letter from Miss Delly, delivered circuitously through the Sheriff's Department to protect their location. She caught me up on the latest news, including her husband Taylor Hamm's latest endeavor. He has made a ton of money with his line of saunas, and was flying his private plane to El Paso for a quick business meeting. "He is going to be visiting one of his saunas that is operated by another Pigness Protection family in your area. Would you like to join him for a quick flight down and back?"

Well, of course I would, and I drove to the airport and left my car in all-day parking, as directed. I knew which plane was Taylor's as soon as the shuttle dropped me off. There it was, small but sleek, with a winged pink pig and lettering on the side:

Never mind the details; suffice it to say as we flew I was never aware of exactly where we were and didn't even try to guess. I was just happy at the Hamm family's success and excited at the opportunity to fly in a luxury plane.

Now, as a person with a sun- and heat-sensitivity, the last place I would EVER want to go inside is a sauna, but Taylor assured me I could see about all I needed to through the doorway.

The first thing he did was introduce me to the local owners, a father with a sweat band and two sons in towels. And, of course, for security reasons I was only given their first names, Hamlet, Jimmy Dean and Kevin.

"Nice to meet you, Wanna," Hamlet, the father, said. "Taylor has told me that you are an old friend and a great supporer of the Pigness Protection Program over the years."

"Oh yes, I am," I assured him. "I would never do anything to jeopardize your security, and thanks for showing me around. I hope you don't mind, but I will have to stand in the doorway; medical reasons, you know."

"Of course, no problem."

The first thing Hamlet pointed out was the stove, which heats hot rocks. "It is very important that the heat in a sauna is a dry heat, as opposed to a steam bath, where temperatures are kept much lower."

"We have a combination thermometer/hygrometer which is always placed directly over the stove. Temperatures are best between 140 to 250 degrees." He must've seen my involuntary shudder. "Oh, I am sure you are wondering how someone could tolerate such temperatures without being burned or scalded. It's because the humidity is kept very, very low. The moisture level is measured by the hygrometer.

"People have been using saunas thousands of years, and, of course the Finns are especially known for theirs," Taylor commented. "Naturally, they have evolved from those log structures of the past."

"Ah yes," I said. "Native Americans have been using sweat lodges for the same purposes for probably as long."

He nodded. " And, of course, nowadays we have the benefits of modern technology, not so much for cleanliness, as in the past, but for health and relaxation, as well as traditional reasons."

It was hard for me to tell from the doorway, but I caught a glimpse of a bucket and ladle on the other side of the stove. "Oh, that," Hamlet said. "People use that ladle to dip a little water out and pour on the stones when they want a bit more moisture."

"Oh, the apples? Well, it is never wise to imbibe alcohol, drugs or any medication that can cause unconsciousness, so we always bring apples. You know the old saying, An apple a day .... And pigs do like apples."

(I hate to say it, but it sure looked like one of those apples had a bad spot!)

"We keep a warning posted at all times about such things," Taylor said, gesturing to the right wall."

I squinted a bit to try to read it.

"We're always cautious, Miss Wanna," Jimmy Dean said. "We've learned a lot about how to be careful - about all kinds of things."

"Ah yes," I said, craning my neck. "I see what you mean. I cannot imagine letting small children loose in here, for instance."

"You got that right!" Hamlet said firmly. "We also provide a poster with bathing instructions so that there is no confusion about what is or is not allowed."

"What's the significance of those things hanging on the wall?" I asked. It was SO hard to see them clearly but I didn't dare get any closer.

"Oh, those are wooden brushes of various sorts; varieties of back scratchers and scrubbers; quite traditional."

"Oh, I do love having my back scratched, or scrubbed," Kevin said.

And Jimmy Dean piped up at this point. "The whisks are part of tradition, too."

"Real leaves and twigs?" I asked.

"Yup," Jimmy Dean said. "Very stimulating and awakens the senses."

I caught a glimpse of a stack of towels and a basket of bottles at the end of the bench. "Lotions and creams?" I asked.

"Ah yes, nothing like a bit of marinade!" he said, sqealing with laughter."

At this point, Taylor looked at his watch. "Well, Wanna, I guess we need to get this show on the road."

"It has been so nice meeting all of you," I said, "And I do appreciate your taking me on a tour of your sauna."

"Our pleasure!" they cried in unison.

"And thanks again, Taylor," Hamlet said. "There's nothng more fun than pigs in a sauna!"

.............

Read about the origin of this setting, and how I put it together, by clicking Next below.

NOTES:

The first person I ever knew who actually had used a real sauna was an old man from Finland whom we knew only as Grampa Lavel, who had emigrated to Wyoming when he was a young boy.

When we were quite young, with two small children, we spent three summers in Laramie, Wyoming, while my husband was working on his Masters at the University of Wyoming. For two of those summers - the first and the last - we lived in a small basement apartment across the alley from a lovely family, the Kivistos, with whom we became acquainted when our daughters began playing together in the alley.

Married rather late in life, the Kivistos were almost old enough to be our parents. They took a lonely young (and quite impoverished) Texas family under their wings and entertained us many times with Oiva's grilled meats and Eleanor's fabulous cooking. He was Finnish; she was originally from Germany. It was with the Kivistos that I was first introduced to dried ludevisk. What an experience!

Oiva's father had come to this country from Finland when he was a very
young man, and although things were not too much better in his own day, Oiva
told some horrendous stories about the difficulties his father and other
immigrant workers had when they worked in the coal mines in Wyoming. I had read about the great labor/management troubles of the past in history books; he made it all real through those stories.

Living with them was a very old man whom they called Grampa Lavel,
although he was not related. He had worked in the mines with Oiva's father, and
when he grew old he had no family with whom to live and Oiva, whose own
father had passed away, took him into their family.

Grampa Lavel was quite shy about speaking in English, but one day he told me a little about his boyhood in Finland. He said that his family lived on the shores of a big lake, almost black-green from the reflections of the fir trees that grew right to the water's edge. He talked about taking a sauna and then running through the snow to jump into the frigid water; the first person I ever knew who had actually done this!

"When I was out on the lake in my father's boat," he said, "I looked down into the water and saw my future." I was never quite sure what he meant, because at that point in our conversation he closed his eyes and either went to sleep or retreated into his memories.

When we said goodbye at the end of that last summer in Laramie, we made plans to get together in the future. Grampa Lavel, who was not normally very demonstrative, gave me a strong hug and kissed me on the forehead. I am sure now that he knew he would not see us again.

Our daughters were penpals over the years and once in a while Oiva wrote us
a newsy letter. Grampa Lavel died the same year that my husband got his
Master's; and not too many years later, Eleanor passed away after a bout with
cancer. It was very difficult for Eleanora, his only child, to leave her father
alone when she went away to college and then married, but "Papa encouraged
me," she said. Oiva was very lonely, he confessed when he wrote us.

The year that Mt. St. Helen's erupted we came through Laramie from a trip
to Montana and called Oiva. We met him for coffee and we all cried when he
talked about Eleanor and Grampa Lavel. Oiva died not long after Eleanora had made him a grandfather.

Over the years when I was teaching, I had three Foreign Exchange students
from Finland, two boys and a girl, whose names unfortunately I can't remember
at this precise moment. They were wonderful kids and so polite and mature for their ages; a joy to have in my American literature classes. The girl also was in my
creative writing class, and I still have some of her poetry. One boy's father
was an English teacher and sent me The Red Badge of Courage in Finnish, and
the other gave me a cassette of folk songs. "They really aren't my kind of
music," he said, "but you would probably like them." And of course I did.

,,,

*Read about the origin of this setting, and how I put it together, by clicking Next.

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