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I was my parents’ first child, born in Kuressaare on 22 July 1920. My mother and father met as university students in St. Petersburg in 1918, where they were both studying law. Turbulent times and the Russian Revolution brought each of them by different routes back to Estonia, where they met again at the opening of the Constituent Assembly on 23 April 1919.1 My father, Timotheus Grünthal was an elected delegate from Saaremaa and my mother Veera Poska, the daughter of foreign minister Jaan Poska. Their lively correspondence culminated in the decision to get married. Their wedding took place in Haapsalu on 24 September 1919, and the young couple immediately went to Saaremaa , because my father had been elected chairman of the Saare county government. He was 26 years old, my mother 21. For my mother, who had grown up in Tallinn in a large family of eight children, it was probably difficult to get used to the quiet, mock “German”2 and provincial nature of Kuressaare. In the large old manor house that came with my father’s job, the dictator was Tiiu, the housekeeper of the former German owners. Mother found something to keep herself busy as a teacher in the Saaremaa Central High School, where she met young Estonian intellectuals, some of whom 1  Constituent Assembly: interim parliament elected in April 1919, with representatives from 10 political parties, active from 23 April 1919 until the formation of the Parliament of the Estonian Republic on 20 December 1920. 2  Kadakasakslus—mentality that people of good taste aspired to be like the Baltic Germans, imitating their culture in matters of fashion, interior design, and manners. Tanni Kents Born 1920 i3 Kirss.indb 247 7/17/09 5:47:42 AM 248 Estonian Life Stories were later among my parents’ friends. A great blow to my mother was the sudden death of her beloved father in March 1920. My father and mother were unable to attend the funeral in Tallinn, since the sea was full of drifting ice floes in early spring, and connections with the mainland were broken. This prompted the decision to leave Saaremaa for the mainland in order to complete their interrupted university studies. My birth did not change these plans; Father went on ahead to Tartu and re-enrolled in the university; my mother followed with me a few months later. It was hard to find a babysitter, we had no relatives in Tartu. My mother attended lectures in the main building of the university , and it is said that I frequently slept in my pram underneath the windows of the lecture hall. When I was two years old my little sister was born, who died a few years later of tubercular brain infection. At the time we were living in Tallinn. Immediately upon graduating from university Father got a job as candidate for an official’s position in the Tartu-Võru Court of Common Appeals. It took my mother over four more years to complete her university studies, and by then she already had four children. My memories of our time in Tartu are very limited; most of them come from stories my parents told. We lived in two furnished rooms in the five-room apartment of an impoverished German spinster. The rooms were filled with old moth-eaten furniture. Even now I find it hard to comprehend how my mother was able to continue her university studies in such conditions, and how my father wrote up his legal opinions for the court. According to Father’s stories, our meals usually consisted of rutabaga and carrots baked in the oven, along with smoked lamb, which was sent to us from my father’s parents’ farm in Muhu. Later we had a household helper, a cheerful, hardworking woman from Võrumaa, whom I called Vana Maake. I remember how, on the day a few years later when we moved to Tallinn, we said goodbye to Vana Maake in the Tartu train station. She cried and cried, and I tried to comfort her with our family photograph, telling her that if she looked at it, we would be closer to her. My father had been appointed judge of the Tallinn-Haapsalu Court of Common Appeals, and our life in Tallinn was quite different from our life in Tartu. We now lived in my late grandfather’s house on Poska Street in Kadrioru. I remember that there was a garden that resembled a park, and...


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