The Gimli Trip

Sometime that year, father managed to recover fully enough from his tuberculosis that he was able to land a job. He got hired by Dominion Motors, downtown, not far from Grandfather Charlie Wong’s restaurant on Fort Street. He was doing some kind of office work like bookkeeping or simple accounting. One weekend he managed to borrow a car from their lot. It was a shiny black 1957 Cadillac. It was definitely a rich person’s car and it had father feeling quite accomplished.

We used the occasion of the Cadillac to take a trip to Gimli to visit my Great Grandmother, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, at the Bethel old folks home, where she lived with other aged, mostly Icelandic old ladies. There must have been some old Icelandic men there too, because she married a couple of them. By then she had a last name of Valgardsson. Many decades later I recalled her last name as Vulgarsson and remembering being told that she had married four times, I was eventually able to use this skewed information to track down her family tree with the help of three Icelandic genealogists. I digress.

Before departing on the journey to Gimli, father did a little minor maintenance on the Cadillac. While he tinkered with something in the engine compartment, I decided to be a mechanic myself. I took a piece of bare wire I’d found and touched each end to one of the battery terminals. The resulting 12V current left a thin painful burn line across several fingers and both thumbs. A stinging lesson about electricity. I’m not certain if that was the first time I cursed out loud in front of a parent, but father, like a dick, laughed at my suffering.

The trip to see the venerated Steinunn Sigurðardóttir was a formal affair. We had to dress in our smartest clothes. You can see that the Evil Sister even has a purse, like a grown up might use. The Angel Monster wore his brand new ensemble, with short pants and vest. In addition, he insisted on wearing his winter parka, with the mittens on a string, even though it was not winter. Mother had advised against his choice but as soon as the tantrum started, she relented. Yes, it is true that he was an annoying child who would often impose himself where he didn’t belong, take toys that weren’t his and wail until he got his way like a spoiled infant. One time, in the back seat of the car, he smashed his nose right in to my elbow while he was trying to take a toy from me. The blood flowed. I declared it an accident and managed to escape punishment.

Driving the Cadillac was an especially proud thing for father, even though it was just temporarily borrowed from the car lot. He parked it officiously on the street in front of our house on McIntosh. It was an impressive thing, the Cadillac. Shiny chrome, beige leather seats, the front one moveable back and forth by pressing a button and engaging a little motor under the seat. It even had air conditioning.

Of course we took Amma and Uncle Ingi on the road trip to Gimli. That’s Ingi in the passenger seat next to the window with the frost shield. Too bad you can’t really see his face, but it is a good photo of his left hand. There were no seat belts in those days.

We arrived in Gimli, at the old folks home. Father held the car door instead of helping his old mother extricate herself from the back seat. Looks like she is about to fall flat on her face while he grins at the camera. I’m pretty sure the car door would have stayed open by itself so he could have given his mother a hand.

And then here we are, a smiling family, standing in front of the borrowed car, across from the Bethel Home in Gimli. As you can see, I have been given the task of securing the Angel Monster so that he doesn’t run off and annoy the old people. Ingi is probably still trapped in the front seat waiting for someone to put him in his wheelchair so he can join us. You would have thought he would have been invited into the picture (unless he is the one taking the picture).

Amma is probably inside preparing Steinunn for our arrival. Steinunn would have been 98 at the time of this visit, so Amma probably didn’t want her to have a heart attack when the Angel Monster flew in.

I suppose she was glad to see us but it’s hard to tell. She did give us some delicious Pönnukökur to eat (small crepe like things with cinnamon and sugar, rolled into a cigar shape). She gave us money. The Angel Monster and I got a dollar bill each. The Evil Sister got a five dollar bill because Steinunn had no more singles. Not fair of course, being that I was by far the best great grandchild. She told us that Aunty Siggy wanted to come and see us but she couldn’t leave her bed because of her broken hip. Aunty Siggy died shortly after our visit.

At the end of the visit Steinunn walked us to the car and had a good Icelandic chat with Amma. I don’t know what they talked about, because I don’t speak Icelandic; probably that it is such a shame that their sons are hopeless alcoholics.

I was hoping that Steinunn would make it to 100 and be able to celebrate a shared centenary with Canada in 1967. But sadly she passed away in November of 1966 at 99 years old. She is buried in Gimli as Steinunn Valgardsson, Friend.

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