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  • I learned to read when I was 3 years old. I had seven year old sister who went to school that autumn and she had lots of trouble learning to read. She practiced and practiced at our round kitchen table and I sat under the table and learned to read before her.

    That was rather traumatic for her but when you are three years old you don’t care about your elder sister’s reading traumas so much.

    Besides reading from left to right I was able to read text as fast from right to left and also upside down. I do that still and I have to doublecheck all the bank account numbers so I don’t write them backwards.

    Reading opened immense new worlds and universums to me and that early ability to do it kind of determined my future destiny. Althought first I wanted to become an explorer, and after that a soldier, and after that a singer, and after that an architect and between those objectives there were dozen more professions I wanted to become expert in. But eventually language imprisoned me inside its kingdom.

    In summertime we always spent a month at my Grandma’s house, on the other side of Finland. Wild West, we called it. I have told about my 106 year old Grandma in this story 106 YEARS.

    In her library Grandma got a treasure without equal: six books in gilded black leather. NYKYSUOMEN SANAKIRJA, Modern Finnish Dictionary. It wasn’t very modern, it was printed decades before my birth. What made it special for me was that in it’s preface it boasted to include all the Finnish words, hundreds of thousands of them.

    And I wanted to learn them all, so that I could speak the richest imaginable Finnish language. 200 000 different words during one day. (It took years before I had an idea that I could write seriously with that vocabulary, too.)

    After some years my Grandma said that I was only one who had ever been interested in those dusty books and she wanted to give them to me as a gift. That made me very proud, because I knew that only Finnish Nobel Prize laureate of Literature, Frans Emil Sillanpää, had visited my Grandma’s house, and I had always thought that those books belonged to Sillanpää. (My Grandpa’s mother had taught Sillanpää to read when he was a child.)

    And here they are now, right beside my writing desk, and I use them every day. They are full of words from first half of 20th century that are half forgotten in this day modern Finnish language.

    After today, these books are even more important to me, because I just heard that my Grandma, the matriarch of our family, has passed away. She was born in April 1905 and she died in April 2012.

    She lived two weeks short of 107 years, from spring to spring. Mrs Asta Kristina Järvelä.

    So today I keep attached to my dictionaries a daffodil, a symbol of resurrection and triumph over dead. Okay, it’s a little withered daffodil, but nobody expects you to beam and shine and bloom after nearly 107 years of rich and meaningful life.
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