Journey Into the Past
Discovering an old photograph triggers a flood of memories for one contributor.
Irecently came across my childhood jewellery box and among the treasures inside was a small photo of my parents taken on their wedding day, April 16, 1960. They are flanked by both sets of their parents (my grandparents) and, oh my, they all look grand! Those were the days when ladies wore hats and gloves to events, even an afternoon wedding. As I gazed at the six of them looking much younger than I had ever known them, I realized that they each held a special place in my heart. Only my mom is still with me but somehow they all are, because I remember how they loved me and how I still love them.
The next thing that struck me about the photo was their ages. My mom was 21 when she got married and her mother, my “amma” (Icelandic for grandma) must have been my age now. How could this be? How could I be as old as my amma was on my parents’ wedding day?
GRANNY & GRANDPA
As these questions ran through my mind, I began to be flooded with memories of my childhood. I remembered my granny ( my dad’s mom) putting me and my brother down for a nap and sing- ing Icelandic psalms over us, liberally interspersed with her favourite song ” Froggie Went A-courtin’.” I felt so safe that I never once questioned her choice of songs, I just fell asleep.
I also remembered my grandpa (my dad’s father) letting me sit on the back of his armchair and comb his hair, which he didn’t have much of, and put little barrettes, bows and braids in it. What patience he had. And how I enjoyed it. And him. Then we’d play checkers.
AMMA & AFI
I also have many memories of spending time at my amma and afi’s small house on the farm. That house was about 500 square feet with few modern conveniences, but it could hold so many people. Amma could feed 20 hungry family members a complete turkey dinner, or entertain neighbours for coffee at any time of the day, but especially 10 a. m. and 3 p. m.— coffee time. Amma always had something baked, usually squares or cookies, to serve these regular guests. Often they would gather around the kitchen table and speak Icelandic so we kids couldn’t understand what they were gossiping about. After years of practice, there were a few words we could pick out. For instance, we knew the swear words because they were spoken in either a vehement or very hushed way that no other words were. Those made us laugh. And we understood the word babysitter, because that meant they were going out to have fun without us and we would have none of it!
Recently, I remembered a few of the terms of endearment they used, especially on us children, and I tried a couple out on two of my Icelandic friends. They exclaimed and laughed, but I think I saw a tear in one’s eye. I get it. Couldn’t we all stand to have someone call us their elskan min (my sweetheart or darling) right about now?
That little house on the farm didn’t even have drinking water on the property. It was a treat to go on an outing with Afi to a neighbouring farm several miles away to get a big pail of drinking water with which to fill the little pail on the counter so we could use the dipper to have a drink. Sometimes we’d get invited in for coffee and a treat while we were there. It was also a treat to get invited out to the barn to see the sheep shorn or, even better, to bottle feed the baby lambs. That only happened once, but it was wonderful!
That barn seemed huge and empty when there were no more animals in it. I’d sneak over to the doorway and peer in to try and see some vestige of the lives that had once been there. I’d also creep in to the smaller outbuildings and just stand looking at the old unused tools and jars of parts, while the sunlight shone in through the cracked windows, making the dust in the air swirl and dance before my eyes. I wondered who had used those tools, what for and how long ago. What had life been like back then?
More memories began to flood through me, such as when Lawrence Welk was on TV and the living room furniture would be moved back against the walls so the adults could ballroom dance. It was magical! They were clearly enjoying themselves and we were thrilled to watch them. Sometimes they tried to teach us some steps. That was fun, too.
I also remember that whether at home or visiting relatives, we gardened. We pulled weeds, harvested carrots, shelled peas, husked corn and dug potatoes. I was surprised to learn that my cousin, who is only six years younger than I am, had never gardened in her life and her kids thought potatoes and carrots came from the store, not the ground. My mom promptly educated those kids by letting them pull carrots and potatoes from her garden and wash them in the work sink. They had a ball! And she got her vegetables in and clean. Smart lady.
Going to dances at the civic centre is another wonderful memory. It was about fun and the joy of learning to ballroom dance like the grown-ups. They were so smooth, it looked like they were floating on air. In those days, I’d dance with my brother and cousins— waiting for a boy to ask me to dance only came later, in junior high.
Those were simpler times in many ways. I’m sure there were problems that I was unaware of or don’t remember, but I enjoy the feeling of home I get when I allow myself to be swept away by the memories.
Last summer, I drove alone through that area of Saskatchewan, and realized that the scenery was very familiar even though it had been decades since I had last been there. I could almost hear the voices of family members and the names of their friends and neighbours from so long ago. And then I heard it. The train! I was surprised at my reaction to it. Suddenly, I was that little girl running out the back door of Amma and Afi’s house, across the yard and through the trees to stand in the garden and wave at the engineer and conductor as they went by. Oh the joy of having them wave back! Or better yet, blow the horn—oh the intensity of that memory.
I began to wonder what it must have been like for my great- grandparents as immigrants to this foreign and frigid land. How they managed to live and work and raise their families here. No wonder they tried to preserve their culture by speaking their native language. No wonder we celebrate Christmas even now with Vinarterta and Ponnukokur ( prune cake and crêpes). No wonder they huddled together in small towns across Saskatchewan. They needed one another and the familiarity of their customs.
Those communities have grown and changed but we descendants of those settlers still identify with them. We still introduce ourselves as Icelanders and get together in clubs across the continent to share our roots and our stories with pride. In fact, my own 25- year- old daughter will visit Iceland on an exchange program that promises to try to connect her with distant relatives and her ancestors’ pasts. What would those immigrants think of that? I think they’d be proud that we still remember and want to revisit the land of our forefathers. I think they’d smile at how a big- city kid longs to visit the land that they grew up in. I think they’d laugh at her leaving this land of plenty to go to the land they were forced to leave because of a lack of opportunity.
I think above all they’d be proud of the way we’ve carried on in their footsteps and pioneered our own lands and raised our own families, all while remembering them and their sacrifices. ■
Photo of Marcia’s parents on their wedding day, flanked by both sets of her grandparents.