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Essay by
  • Morgan Dodds
in response to
Essay by Peeter Vilms

Peeter Vilms describes childhood resiliency as he looks back on his years at Seabrook Farms. Despite "teary flights" home from nursery school, Vilms made new friends and learned a new language. Once his family had settled in, his parents "disappeared" and went to work, and he became emotionally separated from them. For a five-year-old, this was traumatic, and yet, Vilms looks back on Seabrook with fondness. He describes the "strong communal overtones" that arose from large groups of people living in such close proximity. Vilms writes, "What we knew was that all our parents now worked for C.F., and we kids spent a lot of time all mixed together, outside our clans."

The "refugee" experience, as Vilms calls it, was a great equalizer at Seabrook, bringing together different communities that would have had no common ties otherwise, while calling attention to the shared experience of dislocation. This was especially true for the children who looked to each other for comfort. They were all "in the same straits," and so friendship formed out of solidarity. Vilms recalls bonding with children even if they "spoke no Estonian whatsoever." Vilms' depiction of his childhood at Seabrook is spirited without romanticizing his family's experience in a company town that strategically chose to sponsor refugees whom it could then employ. His memories are more descriptive than they are emotional, and over time they were reduced to quick flashbacks rather than whole scenes. Vilms recalls eating a "bologna and radish sandwich on rye," while his friend Sam Mukoyama ate a "seaweed wrapped rice ball." They both had oranges and chocolate milk.