On Sunday, September 8, we celebrated the Day of Grandparents in Estonia (this year also the International Literacy Day and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in Estonia as Ussimaarjapäev, the day when all autumn chores had to be finalized, the apples were ripe and snakes started their brumation period).

What Mare Müürsepp (June 16) and Ann Sofie Selin (July 20) wrote about their grandparents really made me think about my own.

My grandmother Eliisa was an Estonian from Russia, Simbirsk. Her parents had gone to Siberia at the end of the 19th Century when the Russian Empire attempted to populate its vast empty regions.

Nowadays we would call them economic migrants, in search of better land and easier life. They found no easy life, but thanks to being hardworking and skilled they managed, kept their language and culture alive, and as a community started the Estonian school and church, and kept them working.

In order to escape the mobilization of the First World War, my grandfather replied to the invitation of the Simbirski Estonians, who were looking for a school teacher, and in addition found love. In the meantime, Estonia had become an independent country and after his father’s death the farm was waiting for an heir. Young family moved back, bringing with them a son less than a year old, the brother of my father. Daughter-in-law from abroad was not kindly welcomed by the villagers, nor by her own widowed mother-in-law.

What and how knowingly did my grandmother do, so that she became one of the leaders of the local Naiskodukaitse (Women’s voluntary defence organization) and receiver of their decoration of honor, the heart and soul of event organization? What did she think of her previous homeland when one of  her sons had died fighting in World War II against it, and the other was mobilized into the Soviet Army, while her husband was deported to Siberia for ten years? Did she adopt a daughter whose parents had been killed by partisans out of the goodness of her heart or of wisdom so as not become repressed herself?

I have no answers to thousands of questions that I have, as those who would know are long gone and while they were still living, they did not speak of these things, as that could have been dangerous during the Soviet occupation both for the one who spoke, as well as for the one who listened. Even more so for children.

I am proud my ancestors maintained their language and culture abroad, yet I cannot help but think how much we wish the people who migrate here to be like us. I do not know how my grandmother felt when the village did not want to accept her, even though she spoke their language and had a local husband who supported her and who later became an honored and valued head of the local Municipality Government. What do these people feel among us, who do not share our language and culture, and who have no one close to them to support them?

Come and share, tell us your story at the conference – whether it be personal, about teaching, students or research, so that we could find through these stories answers to the questions that worry us, and that our children, grandchildren and students would not have to piece together a larger picture of lost fragments.

Abstract submission deadline is September 26th https://4bscl2020.ee/program/abstract-submission/

Meeli Pandis

Project Manager of the 4th Baltic Sea Conference on Literacy. Searching for a Common Language

Speech Therapist of Tallinn Art Gymnasium and Gaia School