suddenly it is february and already the days are getting light earlier. yesterday morning at my camus corner in the rosetta café i noticeda pickup truck driving up fifth street with a “sisu” bumper sticker on it.
sisu is a finnish term used frequently across the michigan upper peninsula, and its basic translation is “having guts”, however, in the larger dimension, sisu relates to perseverance to overcome challenges against impossible odds.
noticing the morning bumper sticker reminded me of the short sotry “sisu calling” that i wrote many years ago. “sisu calling” may not necessarily be a good literary work, but, johanna is still one of my favorite characters.
this is a story from long ago, but only yesterday in my mind, crewcut, shiny clean-shaven face, harris tween jacket, dark slacks, new cordovan wingtips, compliments of my mother’s generous shopping spree to celebrate my college graduation in 1961, young organizational man ready to create cracker-jack advertising copy for the ford motor company, hotshot michigan state university graduate, bachelor-of-arts sheepskin, senior majors in literature and communications,
office in “company promotions,” fourth floor, posh new headquarters of henry ii’s “glass house” in dearborn, michigan, no more college debts, hoping to log a few corporate serious paychecks, ink a little resume, before moving on to what might happen next,
warm michigan autumn of golden colorful foliage, apple cider dreaminess of foggy cool weekend mornings, dating substantial midwestern corn-fed girls, heavy wool skirts, expensive soft cashmere sweaters, breck bottle blondes, back to east lansing for spartan saturday afternoon football games, other times into “big d,” seeing new movies at the old strand theater, young feminine teases with sights on orange blossom scores, future suburban tri-level, “fairlane” in the driveway, toys scattered about the yard,
remembering the mysterious “johanna” swajanen, the quiet, strange ice maiden of the dearborn “glass house,” slender, graceful young woman with tan burnished complexion, and the most incredible rich black hair, girl from some small michigan upper peninsula map dot, hired out of michigan technological university with a “graduate in honors” degree in mechanical engineering, a very special ford employee and available escort for hank “deuce’s” hart-schaffner and marx inner company mafia,
“glass house” gossip and rumor mill rife with johanna johanna stories, abandoned by her father in infancy, his mysterious disappearance from profitable log cabin bar and brothel operation, dead man, or vanished to minneapolis, maybe remote places farther wes, raised by her uncle gus “red” lintula, home an old cold springs farm out past jenk’s spur, “red” acquitted by a jury of his peers for killing a conservation officer, overzealous c.o. too concerned with saving the governor’s deer, sister hildy, bar girl at the silver dollar carousel, hurly, wisconsin, hustling drinks and her body to keep popping sweet jesus in her veins, little brother “toivo” drowning under the falls on the black river outside wakefield, johanna always talking about friday nights and “doin’ sauna,” and skiiing which she pronounced “skin,” like “eh, good cold weather and fresh snow makes for some mighty fine skin, hmmmm,” rumored to have collected a shelf full of trophys and medals for alpine and cross-country competitions while going to mtu,
unable to remember exactly how it came up, but early one winter morning chatting over coffee, johanna telling me about some “ice diving club” she belonged to, explaining next week they were traveling north to walloon lake to cut a hole in the ice and dive in and swim, wearing wet suits for protection, naturally, she asked me if i would like to come along and watch, saying there would be liquid refreshments and music, and i could help with the gear, her cold stoic demeanor did not reveal if she experienced any disappointment over my “thanks ever so much, but, sorry, it’s not for me,”
next saturday driving up to walloon lake, sequestering myself in a warm lakeside tavern with ice fishermen, young skaters, and their parents, shy reluctant voyeur watching the “ice diving party” through boozy, bleary eyes, several men wearing dark wet suits making the plunge beneath the icy lake opening, johanna wearing a tight purple swimming suit, arching up and bending into the black waters, after a little while suddenly conscious of the nervous commotion of others to something gone very wrong, quickly grasping my empty pocket flask, fleeing the rising terror, determined to sleep off the disaster at home, sunday morning the detroit free press article reporting swajanen body not found, lake several miles square with numerous deep trenches maybe finding her body in the spring after ice out,
the following spring giving my notice at the dearborn “glass house” before the rumored in-staff cutbacks and terminations became history, couple of fat ford checks saved, turning miles east toward new york, new job at a small public relations firm in the downtown metro, creative studio apartment, working on writing new stories, attending movies and off-broadway plays, trying to forget the “ice maiden.”