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DORA SWEET DORA - Struna's Story

By Karen Gummo

Here is a story, the bones of which were given to me by my amma Struna, mother of ten children. All through her life, she was a collector of stories as she wrote historical and local event articles for the local paper, the Red Deer Advocate and for other Prairie community anthologies. I have followed in her footsteps to collect memories from cousins and other family members. Sometimes I find myself dreaming of details to fill open spaces. Many would say that the art of a storyteller is to expand precious moments of memory. I hope you enjoy my version of Struna’s story.

I like to precede this story by telling the Icelandic Folktale of How the Huldefolk Came to Be

Once there was a girl born in summer. All cries of joy rang out in a sod hut on the prairie. She was the fourth child born to Astridur Tomasdottir and Ofeigur Sigurdsson. They had come to this new territory with their fellow Icelanders seven years before in 1889. The closest settlement was called Tindastoll (and later Markerville) and the family homestead was north and west across the river from a bigger village called Innisfail.

Her parents Astridur and Ofeigur must have been happy to bring into the world their third daughter. Her name Astrun means Love Rune. The sky shone in full glory the night that she was born. Later they called her Struna – and that is the name that she liked best.

As Struna grew, she delighted in the wildflowers that abounded in springtime, she marvelled at and carried out vigorous work with her farming family, settlers in a new land. She found many natural treasures in the world all around, but one of her most important treasures was a doll that she kept near to her at all times.

The doll’s body was made of cloth. Struna and her mother worked to fashion clothing for this beloved thing. The doll’s head looked for all the world like porcelain with rose bud lips and sky blue eyes painted so carefully.

This doll she called Dora. She had a song that she sang to Dora in stolen moments.

Dora Sweet Dora, come let us play.

We’ll dance and we’ll daydream the whole day away.

Fly over hilltops and run with the breeze,

Hide like the little folk and do as we please.

Struna dreamed of the hidden people; the huldefolk, and wondered if any of them might have travelled to Canada from Iceland in the great trunks and sacks brought over by her family. It wouldn’t be long before she found evidence that these secret people might be living among them!

When Struna was seven years old, her father told her that they would soon begin to build a two-story wood frame house and that she and her sisters would have a bedroom on the second floor. Struna could hardly contain her excitement. She was destined to feel like a princess with a room on the second floor. Now as the neighbours worked with her father to put up the house, Struna was anxious to visit. Her father warned her that a house under construction was a dangerous place. She would be invited to visit when the time was right.

But Struna was impatient. One hot July day when the saskatoon berries were ripe, she and her sisters found a berry patch within sight of the new house. They worked hard to fill their pails with this sweet summer fruit. Struna gazed over to the construction site. How happy she was to discover that the men had stopped working there and drove away in their empty horse drawn wagons to get more building timbers.

Struna set down her full pail of berries and sidled silently toward the new house. She had Dora tucked under one arm. Her sisters and her mother did not notice her disappearance.

What good luck. She could show her doll where they would soon be living. She climbed onto the front porch and ventured through an open doorway into the great rooms of the house; a sitting room on one side, a bedroom on the other and a kitchen at the back. There was a wobbly ramp that led to the upper story. A great hole gaped open below it. That would be the way to the cellar where food could be kept cold.

Clutching Dora carefully, Struna scrambled up the ramp to the place on high where her bedroom would be. Oh, what a glorious view she had from up there. She turned Dora in all four directions to see the world all around. To the south, they could see their way toward the Red Deer River and sheep grazing in open fields that seemed to stretch to the Nose Creek Valley where her father had worked as a shepherd. To the east, they could see the hills that blocked their view of the town of Red Deer where they would go to trade their wool. To the north, they could see the paths that led them to the home of their neighbours the Grimsons and the Stephanssons. To the west they could look toward the Rocky Mountains and to the village of Tindastoll where they sold their milk and met with friends to speak in words poetic.

Struna was well pleased with the thought of making this wooden house her new home. She was ready to celebrate and so she began to sing and to swing Dora all around, singing the words of their song,

Dora Sweet Dora, come let us play.

We’ll dance and we’ll daydream the whole day away.

Fly over hilltops and run with the breeze.

Hide like the little folk and do as we please.

She began to twirl like a whirlwind, arms stretched open with Dora on the other end. Faster she went and faster until she hit her head on a wooden beam and fell back losing grasp of her doll.

That was a terrible blow. She sat up, touched her forehead and felt a great goose egg there.

Ouch! And where was Dora? She looked at the empty room and then made a hurried search all around. There were no windows yet and only rudimentary posts to mark the upper outside walls. Had she tossed the doll right out onto the prairie? No sign of Dora anywhere below. It was then that she noticed a space between the outside and inside walls. There was an opening so they might insulate the walls with newspaper or wool. When she skirted the perimeter of the upper room and came back to the place where that great wooden beam was protruding, she spied her Dora slipped down into the space between the outer and inner walls.

Just as she was looking about for something to help her rescue the doll, she heard the familiar rhythm of horse hooves and the squeak of wagon wheels. It was her father and the others returning. She slipped down the ramp and into the kitchen where she perched dreamily on a wooden box.

“Struna!” her father called. “What are you doing here? I thought you were picking berries with your mother and your sisters…”

“Oh yes!” came her weak reply.

And taking one last look at the place where she knew her doll was wedged, she slipped out of the house and away to join the women.

Struna missed her beloved doll, especially when she went to bed at night. Softly she sang their sweet song.

Struna wanted to look for Dora but dared not reveal her trip to the second story of the new house. Who could she tell? Certainly not her mother or her father – but her oldest sister Rooney was so wise, she would know what to do.

And Rooney had a plan. “As soon as the men stop their work to go for more supplies, we shall sneak up there! I have two long sticks ready with nails in them. We can catch Dora’s bloomers with these long handled hooks and then haul her up out of the wall.”

But the men did not stop work for 3 days or more and by the time the two girls managed to climb up the ramp in secret again, the walls were completed. Dora was sealed within the wall of the new house.

Struna was heart-broken. But there was much work to do. The work would distract her. They moved into the finished house and the girls moved happily into their bedroom on the second floor. Struna would sing to Dora in quiet moments and felt she heard a soft knock from inside the wall to say, “ I am here for you Struna. I will keep you safe.”

Indeed when there were prairie fires sweeping through the district and coming toward their farm with a great wall of flame and heat, Struna thought she heard a soft knocking to remind her that Dora would keep her safe. When soft rains turned to cold pelting sleet and hail that hammered upon the windows threatening to break them, Struna knew that Dora would protect her.

One day though, when she was helping her mother to make bread, she opened the flour bin to scoop out an extra helping. Suddenly a creature with small round ears and a long twitching tail leapt out onto the floor. Struna screeched and then jumped up on a stool. She watched in horror as the mouse skittered over to a tiny hole in the wall near to where Dora must be wedged.

She considered a moment. She had seen the holes those creatures chewed in flour and sugar sacks. Was there not a danger that the mice might chew on Dora? Oh what could she do?

And then she remembered the tale her mother had told her of the Huldufolk. Could they have travelled to this country? There was a grassy mound just outside the barn that had been left untouched. Struna decided to prepare a bowl of milk to leave there every day. Sure enough it was emptied just as often as she filled it. Surely the Hidden people had come to Canada and they had heard our song. They were clever and could slither up between narrow walls to rescue Dora.

Time went by and Struna grew up to become a teacher. She married a fine young man of Icelandic heritage called Svein Sveinsson. They married and had 10 children. When their eldest son Alfred grew up, what house do you suppose he moved into with his wife Alberta and their three small children?

You are right. They moved in to Struna’s childhood home to honour their beginnings in that land.

A sad thing happened though. When the youngest child of Alfred and Alberta was only a toddler, the parents lost their lives in a car accident. Now each of these children were raised by a different family member. Wesley the eldest, was raised by Struna and Svein as their 11th child.

Wes heard the story of Dora Sweet Dora when he sat on his amma Struna’s knee. So when he was old enough to move into a house with his wife and three small children, guess where they chose to live?

Oh yes you are right again. They cherished that little old house. But as time went by the house needed fixing. The wooden house that seemed so grand to Struna, was too small now for a modern family who hoped for modern conveniences and ample indoor space. And it was sitting in just the place for a house to be, perched on a high point next to the well.

So they decided to take down the original farmhouse and put up a new one in its place.

But Wes remembered the story of Dora. As every board from the old house was taken down, they kept their eyes wide open. A careful search was made for Dora. But you know, they did not find a single trace of that doll, not even of her delicate porcelain head with the sky blue eyes and the rosebud lips.

There is the proof. The Huldufolk have come to Canada! Even now they may be running across the open prairie, hand in hand with Dora, proudly singing that song.

So when I travel that way, I think of Struna, I think of Dora and I sing that song.

Dora Sweet Dora, come let us play.

We’ll dance and we’ll daydream the whole day away.

Fly over hilltops and run with the breeze.

Hide like the little folk and do as we please.

Struna and her siblings; Tomas and Cecelia in the back, Bjarnina (Ena) and Struna in the front

For more than thirty years, Karen has been performing as a storyteller, in schools, libraries, museums, churches, senior’s lodges and in the fields and forests. She has traveled across Canada and even as far as Iceland to share her favourite invented and real family sagas, along with myths, folklore and legends.

Her Scandinavian family background is her anchor. She continues to explore the depths of that rich heritage through research, through dreaming and through storytelling.


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