Matthew said goodnight to his mom and dad and started up the stairs. But before he closed the door to his room, he heard his father say, “I’m sure tired. It’s been a long day.”
Why does Dad always think it’s been such a long day? wondered Matthew. There just weren’t enough daylight hours to do all that he wanted. Darkness, quickly followed by bedtime, always came too soon.
The next morning his father greeted him at the breakfast table. “Son, how would you like to go with me on a business trip? You could ask your friend Jimmy to take your paper route for a week.”
A week, Matthew thought. He’d occasionally gone with his father before, but usually only for a day or two at the most. A whole week!
His father continued, “I have a convention in Helsinki, Finland. You could stay with your Uncle Jussi and Aunt Helvi.”
“You mean I’d get to see Matti?” asked Matthew excitedly. He and his Finnish cousin were both named after their great-uncle Matias. Both boys were almost twelve now, and had been writing to each other for several years.
After hours of anticipation, the flight to Helsinki seemed short to Matthew. Then, picking up their suitcases, the two of them were whisked to their hotel in a taxi.
Later Matthew was looking out the hotel window and watching the trolley cars below when his dad said, “You’d better get to bed, son. You have to leave early in the morning.”
Tomorrow Matthew would go by plane to Oulu, flying northward half the length of Finland. He would stay with his cousin Matti, while his father remained in Helsinki for meetings.
The hotel room was flooded with light when Matthew awoke the next morning. He shook his father. “Hey, Dad. Wake up. It’s late!”
His father rolled over and looked at his watch. “It’s only three-thirty, Matt. The plane doesn’t leave until eight. Go back to sleep,” he suggested and shut his eyes again.
But Matthew was awake now and too excited to sleep. He quietly walked over to the window and looked down at the sleeping city. The sun was shining brightly on the street below.
It’s strange to have the sun shining when it’s only a few hours after midnight, he thought.
Later that morning the fifty-five-minute plane ride took Matthew over the industrial section north of Helsinki. Dairy farms and grainfields broke up the blue and green pattern of the lakes and forests below. He’d never seen so many small lakes. He remembered something he had read about this pleasantly strange land: “Silvery lakes—55,000 of them—embroidering a carpeted forest and strung together with short … rivers make Finland a labyrinthine land.”
Uncle Jussi and Aunt Helvi greeted him warmly. He and Matti shook hands shyly but were soon laughing and talking together excitedly.
“I think you speak English better than I do,” said Matthew.
“We start learning it when we are seven and first enter school,” replied Matti. “Our school radio broadcasts lessons into our classrooms,” he added.
Matti showed his American cousin around their home. They stepped into a storage shed next to the house where several pairs of ice skates hung from the wall and skis were stored above the rafters.
“The countryside looks flat. Where do you ski?” asked Matthew. “I haven’t seen any mountains.”
“We don’t need mountains or steep slopes. We ski cross-country,” replied Matti. “Nearly everyone has a pair of skis. Those small ones belong to my sisters Tuula and Liisa.”
Back in the kitchen, Matti said, “Aiti (Mother), I’m going to take Matthew down to the harbor to see the fishing boats.”
“You’d better eat something first,” she suggested. “I’m sure Matthew must be hungry.” She placed a plate of sliced rye bread on the table along with some cheese and milk.
Matthew had never seen such dark bread before. “This is really good,” he said as he finished one slice and then reached for another.
The boys left for the harbor, but Matthew returned for a sweater. He wasn’t used to such cool summer weather. “I keep forgetting we’re so far north,” he told his cousin as he pulled on the sweater. “Say, I haven’t seen any reindeer yet.”
Matti replied, “Oh, most of them are farther north in Lapland. Many people think Finland is nothing but Laplanders and reindeer. But I’ll show you lots of other things about our country. Come on. Let’s go.”
Matthew was tired by suppertime—too tired to eat all of the potatoes, meatballs, and raspberry pudding placed before him. He yawned. “Doesn’t it ever get dark here?” he asked. “The sun seems as bright as ever.”
“The days are the longest of the year now,” said Matti. “The sun shines for over twenty hours. It won’t get dark until about midnight.”
At nine-thirty, with several hours of daylight left, Matthew excused himself and headed for bed. “It’s been a long day,” he said, yawning, “and I’ve some catching up to do!”