“Welcome to the Murkee style of life”. Jukka said, sticking his head inside our car window. He pointed to a parking spot along the side of a giant log house . We got out and exchanged hugs with our ever-enthusiastic friend. Jukka had been to California many times. He’s an engineer and singing is his professional hobby. His quartet tours the states every few years. His wife, Anne was a life long friend of Tuula. She and Donna became friends during her time here.
“What is Murkee?”
“Ah, yes.” Jukka dramatically rubbed his chin as if in deep contemplation. He raised his eyebrows up and down. “In America you call it – camping”.
“I’d hardly call this camping,” Donna said as we climbed onto the expansive deck. I watched the leaves of a hundred birch trees wave at me from beyond the lake – which we appeared to have to ourselves.
Holding my hand against the log railing, I balanced myself and removed my shoes. Inside, Jukka nodded up toward the loft where we’d sleep. He helped us pack our stuff up the steep, ladder-like stairs. They’d rented this mini-lodge for a entire month.
I followed Jukka outside to a small shed where we gathered wood then hauled it down to a little log structure down by the lake shore. At first I thought it was a two-car garage, until we climbed onto the deck out front. Jukka wedged open a heavy wooden door leading to a sauna. “Wood fired stove,” he said, drumming his fingers on its metal casing, “the best.” He explained how the stove worked by heating rocks placed on top. A metal tank sitting above the rocks would heat water. This water is then mixed with cold lake water. He used mime-like gestures to illustrate: “we wash in here as well.”
“What’s on the other side?” I asked, tapping the cedar wall of the sauna. We walked back out to the deck then he opened a second door leading into a small living area complete with a kitchenette, couches, and a table. Jukka explained how this was used for one-day summer holidays. “In Finland, people don’t have to drive very far to reach the woods. They can spend an entire day at a place like this, and then drive home.”
We heard car doors shutting – it was Anne and their two boys who were about the same age as Chris. It was good to see her – energetic and lovely. Several years ago, she and Jukka, along with another member of their singing group stayed at our house. On their last morning, the two sang to Anne for her birthday. I think she thought Jukka had forgotten. Her eyes welled as the most magnificent harmonies echoed through our kitchen.
Tuula, Risto and the boys arrived and now it was a party. Risto and I helped Jukka start a fire at a stone barbecue down by the lake. He pulled three beers from an ice chest. As the sun began to color the horizon, we discussed the virtues of outdoor cooking.
“So, Jeff.” He said, laying thinly cut steaks across the hot grid. “It’s a shame you didn’t bring your cameras. This would be good for your cooking show, don’t you think?”
I set my beer can on the nearest log. “Hold on,” I retrieved my pocket camera. “I just figured out how to shoot video on this thing.”
“One moment!” Jukka said, hopping up from his crouched position. He opened a case sitting next to the cooler and pulled out an accordion.
“Stand by.” I said, holding up my fingers, “five…four…three…two. . .”
Jukka began playing. “Hello,” he said, looking into my camera and widening his eyes. “Welcome to Iron Chef – Finland – the Murkee cooking experience.” I was trying desperately not to laugh lest I mess up the video. “Tonight I will grill river fish and other Finnish things. Tomorrow this American chef Jeff may try to cook something. Will he win this war? I don’t think so!”
I picked up my beer can and raised it to him. “I’m not really a chef, you know.” I said. “I just play one on TV – certainly you’d kick my ass.” And that he did, the meat and vegetables he grilled over those hot coals were out of this world.
Later, Anne’s mother arrived with Finnish Pulla bread she’d baked for Donna. Leena spooned cold fruit soup into bowls, and then topped each with a dollop of cream. More friends stopped by to see Donna. She was in her element, her face glowing as people walk through the door. Jukka kept opening bottles of wine. Being surrounded by all these people, and feeling the happiness in the air, created a feeling of well-being that I’d not felt in years.
NEXT: Tug Boat Party