My shoulders sag as the heat seeps in and the tension flows out. Then, just as I sigh with relief my teeth clench and eyes squint against the pain as feeling comes back to my numb fingers. I hold them in the bucket of hot water until the pain subsides and they are warm again. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Half in pain, half in sympathy with my cousin who is doing the same in a bucket of her own. Giggles mix in with the “Ows,” and we remove our dripping fingers wiping them dry as we bounce around trying to feel our toes. I can only feel two of the ten I know should be down there. So I jump up and down on the cold cement floor and laugh and tease until the next half-frozen hunk of meat lands on my cutting board.
I dive back in, trimming and cutting, turning a leg of deer into a roast, stew meat, hamburger, with a bit of suet set aside for the birds. I listen to recipe ideas from my uncle, tease my mother, catch up with my aunt and dive for the bucket of hot water every few minutes when I can no longer feel my thumbs. In the rays of sun that feel like they almost warm the garage, we compare fingers to see whose are whit-er, blue-er, cold-er and I laugh and work alongside my cousins and husband. I run to the house for more hot water and bring back one of the kids to learn to cut strips of meat for the grinder, label a package of hamburger and the importance of bringing candy and hot drinks to the workers.
The hours pass and the cold seeps deep into us, just as pervasive as the ever-present smiles on our faces, until finally, the job is done for the year. Freezer ready packages are loaded into cars as hugs are given all around. Back in the warm house, Grandpa tells us we must have sisu to have been working in the cold so long.
I think about it on the long drive home with the kids sleeping in the back and the heater blaring in the front. I think about it now, hours later when my fingers are still burning from the freeze/thaw cycles they endured. But my cheeks still hurt from smiling too. It might be sisu that keeps us out there in the cold, but only because it runs in the family.
My Dad’s side of the family is Finnish and sisu is one of those non-translatable words. I went searching online and liked how Finlandia University defined it:
“Sisu (pronounced – see’-soo) is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.”