Grandmas Are By Far The Best

Article by Kolbeinn Tumi Daðason, orginally printed on June 26. 2020.

Translation by Bryndís Víglundsdóttir

Key terms: Grandma/Grandmas: amma / ömmur, Grandpa: afi

Three grandmother's posing in front of a white house, circa 1940, in either Minnesota or North Dakota. #northdakotaicelanders #minnesotaicelanders #icelandicgrandmothers #unknownphotosoficelanders #ammas
Unknown Ammas in North Dakota

My amma would have turned a hundred years old today. The best amma in the whole world. Bullshit, you may say. Is your amma the best of all ammas? You may be right. I might be right too. Ammas are simply by far the best.

I can still feel the shock when I was told my amma had died. June 1996. Dad had picked me up at the airport on my return home after a trip of adventure I took with my friend to the European Soccer Championship, all excited at the end of a marvellous trip.

A few days before the trip my amma had to go to the hospital. In my opinion she was totally well but something needed to be looked into. To my knowledge nothing was serious.

She was seventy three years old and of course she would reach at least hundred years and always be here for us. My dad and I were approaching Straumsvík when my mind wandered to my amma for the first time in a good week. How is amma? I asked rather nonchalantly. My father drove the car to the side of the road and shared with me the news that amma had died. A minor surgery had, unfortunately, not been minor.

My life was in one moment altogether altered.

My memories of visiting amma Vilborg and afi Halldór in Hamrahlíð are wonderful, and very frequent. I have only positive memories from these visits. Amma's fishcakes, (fiskibollur) amma's Christmas cookies, amma's hugging and amma's praise. I was always welcomed, be it to study, have a meal or stay over. I was always put in the front seat. Amma listened. She didn't criticize. That was for others to do. Amma was just kind. Very kind.



Mamma Becomes Amma

My mamma has become amma and has been amma for ten years. I don't doubt for a minute that the five grandchildren think of their amma the same way as I did of my amma. Just like their amma, my mamma - the amma of my children keeps the family together. She plays the lead role seriously. Every single day she thinks of what is best for her grandchildren. Remembers all birthdays. Invites to dinners. Invites the family for a get together. Saves Christmas. Takes care of the children. Makes life infinitely better.

Four generations of women, three holding babies or toddlers, the eldest woman on the right is not holding a child. Photo taken circa 1900 in North Dakota.
Unknown Women in North Dakota

I, like most people had two ammas. Two great ammas. One lived in fact in Scotland and my memories of being with her, here when she was visiting, and there when I was with her are sweet. Often around Christmas or in the summers. I remember very clearly a visit with her for a week in the spring of 2002 when I was preparing for the graduation exams at the Reykjavík College. I stayed alone with her, quite old as she was in her beautiful house in the Scottish village of Stow. She had passion for music and I happened to be in the process of finishing my 7. level of playing the piano and could play many pieces for her. A year later she left us.

When my ammas met they were great chums. They chatted, smiled and nodded. Ammas are, truth to tell, specialists in good relations. Even if they don't speak the same language, they seemed to understand each other perfectly. Ammas don't pass judgements. They give everyone a chance. Have patience. Accept people the way they are.

There is a reason why every single Icelander of my generation has tried Amma-Pizzas. What a marketing. They simply have to be delicious. You have to try them. Amma's buns also have to taste good. The "amma-throw" in basket ball in also a classic. Not the prettiest but that shot is very safe and the aim is good.


Not sure what the "amma-throw" looks like? Watch this NBA video:



Happy Amma-day!

The ammas I have known have never placed themselves in the front seat. They always put the family up front. I recall that amma would say „Excuse this“ each and every time she put a wonderful meal on the table for her guests. As if there was something there to excuse. We would have to ask her to relax and sit down, it was so important for her that everything was at its best for her guests. Her people.

Her sister was exactly the same. Aunt Tóta who I now- truth to tell- think of as my amma. In some aspects she is different from her sister but in many ways they are alike. Visiting her is great, she is a marvellous character and a wonderful lady. Has strong opinions and chatting with her is great fun. A great amma and recently also a great langamma (great grandma).

I don't think we in our society appreciate ammas well enough. We should have a festive Amma- day each year. Ammas deserve it. What date? I think June 26th is clearly the day but I am sure we can negotiate a date.