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.