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The Big Yellow House – Historic Icelandic Home

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

In a rural farming community in the northeast corner of the North Dakota prairie is a thriving Icelandic community. It is amazing what a small group of volunteers can accomplish. Most come from the surrounding areas and some come from further away back to their roots in Pembina County to pitch in. The 2015 Þorrablót was once again a huge success with over 200 people in attendance including friends from Iceland, Canada, and many locations in the USA.

One of the Þorrablót presentations was by local native Robert Olgeirson. His sister, Shirley, owns and takes care of a beautiful historic Icelandic home called The Big Yellow House - along with her brother, Robert. More on the Big Yellow House after the poems. :)

Robert’s Remarks:

The first generation of those who came spoke Icelandic, and learned English as a second language. They taught their children to speak the language of their fathers.

But the next generation didn’t learn the language as well, if at all. I was one of those.

Mixed language for Spanish speakers is called Spanglish.

Maybe what we grew up with could be called “Icelish?”

The Third Generation - (Speaking Icelish)

by Robert Olgeirson

We don’t know all the words our grandfathers knew, but they littered the English we learned as we grew.

At Christmas we greeted with Gleðileg Jól, Silent-Night-choirs all sang Heims Um Ból.

“Hvað segir þú gott”/ What say you good? “Ekki neitt”/not much, we all understood.

“Komdu hérna” we said and then the dog came. “Go home” he ignored ‘til we said “fara heim”.

On days when they had troll-hair like Grýla, the girls would put on a scarf called a skylu.

Rusl is what we put in the trash, a pot called dallur cooked potatoes to mash.

Gerðu svo vel, meant dinner was starting, Góða Nótt, not goodnight, was said when departing.

With too many layers the terta’s not real, but it still will get eaten as it has an appeal.

We ate lifra pylsa, hardfiskur,and kleinur; with aunties named Sigrun and uncles named Einar.

Cuss words like helvíti were easily learned but using them loudly could get your butt burned.

“Talar þú íslensku?” the older folks asked. I didn’t but said as a joke, “ég tala bara Norsk”, which - in Icelandic - meant it was Norwegian I spoke.

I didn’t speak Norsk but there was really no risk, I might eat the lefse but not lutefisk.

All things Icelandic are superior, of course. Certainly better than anything Norse.

We knew that as children, we know it today, we can’t speak the language – but we know it’s our way.

Bath in a boiler

Third Generation in the copper boiler are Louise and Louis Torfason

(children of my aunt Anna Olgeirson Torfason – settled in Canada)

Babies are Robert Olgeirson and Judy Sigurdson Geir, and her mother/Robert´s Aunt Sigrun on the porch of the Olgeirson big yellow house in 1947

Third Generation babies are Robert Olgeirson and Judy Sigurdson Geir, and her mother/Robert´s Aunt Sigrun on the porch of the Olgeirson big yellow house in 1947

The weekend of the Þorrablót, Shirley invited a few friends over for a fabulous dinner and fellowship.

Sunna Furstenau, Almar Grímsson, RoseMarie Myrdal, Shirley Olgeirson

Sunna Furstenau, Almar Grímsson, RoseMarie Myrdal, Shirley Olgeirson

We had so much fun learning more about The Big Yellow House. It was built in 1904 by their grandfather and 13 children were raised there. The family homesteaded the property in 1881 and first lived in a log home. It is beautiful inside and out. On the brochure are a few quotes:

A people that take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered by remote generations. - McCaulay.

When we build, let us think that we build forever. - Ruskin

Another poem about the Big Yellow House by Robert Olgeirson:


Robert Olgeirson

A bug, a bird a cat and me, we all went in the house to see.

The bug went in because he could, the bird went in ‘cause bugs taste good.

The cat went in to catch the bird - and I went in as that’s absurd.

I caught the cat to prevent disaster, the bug was fast, but the bird was faster.

The bug was lunch, the bird went free,

And that’s this morning’s tale you see - of a bug, a bird, a cat and me.

Icelanders in Pembina County 1905

Map of where the Icelanders were in Pembina county in 1905. Comes from “The Icelandic Settlement of Pembina County” by Sveinbjorn Johnson. Part of a ND Historical Society book.

Special thanks to the siblings, Robert and Shirley Olgeirson for sharing their special talents, their home, their history, and their enthusiasm for our shared Icelandic Heritage and History!

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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