Lögberg-Heimskringla - 31.10.1986, Blaðsíða 6

Lögberg-Heimskringla - 31.10.1986, Blaðsíða 6
6-ALDARAFMÆLISAR, FOSTUDAGUR 31. OCKTOBER 1986 The Healing Hand by Caroline Gunnarsson Oddny Bjarnason smiled a warm welcome to the three who drove in- to the yard that mellow autumn evening shortly after the end of World War I. For Oddny and Eiríkur shared a joyful hospitality that was part of the pioneer way of life in the Thingvalla settlement, near Church- bridge, Sask., hospitality that couldn't wait for a knock on the door, but liked to meet the visitor half-way down the walk. She didn't recognize the elderly couple until they mentioned their family name. They were from the German settlement to the north, where Mrs. Bjarnason's name was as well-known and loved as in her own Icelandic community and miles beyond. Could she place the young man who was with them, the couple wondered/- Well, the boy had changed a lot, they conceded, but she had seen him before, for hers were the healing hands that softened the ordeal of his arrival into the world for him and his mother. They handed her a bill, for they had come to pay a debt that was twenty years old, and to express gratitude cherished through the years. The lad was only one of the un- counted children whom Mrs. Bjar- nason had seen off to a safe start in life since she and her husband settled on their homestead, in November, 1888 — just two years after the first Icelandic families established themselves north of the site that was later to become the village of Church- bridge, and gave the new settlement the proud name of Thingvalla. Oddny Magnúsdóttir started early to prepare herself for a lifetime of usefulness. She was born at Vilborgarstaðir, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, on August 21, 1855, the, daughter of Magnús Pálsson and. Oddny Þórðardóttir. Her father died when she was thirteen years old, but she remained at home with her mother and brother until she was nineteen. Then she obtained employ- ment with a Danish family and learned to speak, read and write the Danish language. She yearned for further education, and by the time she was twenty she was on her way to Copenhagen where there would be opportunities. But she was alone and penniless, and the year was 1875, an age of few opportunities for young women — except in domestic service. Fortune smiled on her courage, however and she found employment with a fine family.In later years she recalled that in their home she gained much valuable knowledge and experience. In Copenhagen she met Eiríkur Bjarnarson, a handsome, tough- fibred young Icelandic sailor. Of a jovial, impulsive temperament, he had courage and generosity tö match hers. The fates must have been pleased with themselves when they matched that couple for a chosen task Oddny Bjarnason and marched them to the alter of a famous church in the Danish capital, on April 22nd, 1877. Employed on merchant vessels, Eiríkur spent long periods at sea. The couple's first child died in infancy and th'e grieving young mother was alone with time on her hands. Those were the years when the home of the great Icelandic patriot, Jón Sigurð- sson, and his wife Ingibjórg Einarsdóttir, was ever open to lonesome young Icelanders in Copenhagen. The famous statesman urged Oddny to train as a nurse. She would never regret it, he assured her, and in future years many people would have cause to bless her for her chosen mission. Oddny graduated from the Royal Hospital in Copenhagen in 1881, and that year the couple returned to Iceland, settling at Seyðisfjörður. Oddny was appointed district nurse and midwife, and filled that position with distinction until they left for Canada on October 15, 1888, with four young children and Oddny's ag- ing mother. In Winnipeg, Mrs. Bjarnason spoke to a doctor and learned from him that they were going to a community where conditions were still primitive and no -medical help available at within a radius of many miles. There were practising physicians at Russel, Man., 25 miles to the east, and at Yorkton, Sask., forty-two miles to the west. Winters on the prairie were severe, and stormy, she was warned, and she might be asked to drive twenty or thirty miles in an open sleigh, drawn by slow, plodding ox- en. On long winter drives he advised her to wear undyed silk stockings under her heavy homemade wool- lens, to keep her feet warm and pre- vent frostbite. Undaunted the Bjarnasons pro- ceeded to their destination, and always the young woman found herself equal to the hardships which she soon learned had not been overestimated. At any time of the night or day folks would come to the homestead seeking her help. Cheer- fully she would leave an unfinished task, pick up her medicine kit and go. Always she went with an ungrudging "godspeed" from her husband, who added the burden of caring for the household and children to the trying tasks of pioneer farming. No thought was given to fees. If there was money, people happily paid her what they could. It was seldom much, often nothing. All through the early years she played the part of doctor and nurse in many an emergency. She was first to look upon most native-born sons and daughters of the Icelandic set- tlements, Thingvalla and Lögberg, and it has been said that she also ushered into the world just as many infants of other national origins. But the Bjarnasons prospered and were surrounded with affection and respect. Shortly after the turn of the century a large number of friends descended upon their home in a sur- prise visit'. Mrs. Bjarnason was presented with a gold watch and chain and a gold signet ring. "To Mrs. Oddny Bjarnason. A token of grati- tude and respect from thirty-six mothers", is inscribed on the watch. It is now the cherished possession of her grand-daughter, Oddny Eiríka, daughter of her son, Magnus, and his wife, the former Jonina Gunnarsson. Eiríka, who is the only descendant so far, to choose her grandmother's pro- fession, was given the watch by her parents when she graduated from the Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing in 1952. Oddny and Eirikur lived to mourn three beloved members of their fami- ly. Their son, Bjarni, was struck by lightning at the age of seventeen; an adopted daughter, Ingibjorg, died during the 'flu epidemic in 1919, and their daughter, Gudrun (Mrs. Robert Moore) died in Winnipeg in 1926. One son, Sigurdur, passed away after the death of his parents. Two of their daughters, Mrs. Sigfus Joel, and Mrs. Herman Sigurdson, reside in Vancouver and their son, Magnus is postmaster at Church- bridge, Sask. Small in stature, Oddny had a tran- quil dignity of bearing, and under an outward calm beat a heart tender to the pain and greif of others. A woman whom she had often nursed, once said of her that her very presence seemed to bring peace and comfort into a sick room. Oddny and Eiríkur Bjarnason spent their last years pn the old homestead with their son, Magnus and his wife. Their lively interest in church and community affairs endured until the end. They remained gay and warm in conversation and were stiff com- petition to any bridge players who would take them on. Oddney died on April 25th, 1932, a little more than three years after the death of her husband. That spring day she rose as usual. Then, complaining of weariness, she lay down to rest on her bed. Her strength ebbed gently like a candle that is spent, and her children were all around her when she fell asleep that afternoon. She is well remembered too, by the other children of Thingvalla and sur- rounding district, — the little ones who would not have fared so well had she not been on hand to receive them into the world. Editor's Note: This article was first published in 1953. The Birthday Party We are going to help celebrate the lOOth Anniver- sary of the Icelandic weekly newspaper by sponsoring ' a Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra concert on November 14 and 15, 1986 at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall. The concert sponsorship has been underwritten by a number of interested persons in the community and partly by the Lögberg-Heimskríngla. To make this event the success that we all desire, we want as many as possible to attend the concert on November 14, 1986 (the Friday night performance), and a special reception we are planning for November 15, 1986 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the piano no- ble of the Concert Hall. It is our hope that we will be honoured with the presence of the Mayor of Reykjavik, David Oddsson who has been invited by the Mayor Bill' Norrie to visit Winnipeg at that time. We will also have in attendance the members of the various Icelandic organizations in Manitoba to bring greetings to the paper. You may obtain tickets to the concert at any of the usual outlets and the reception is open to all who wish to attend. It is our hope that this will be a memorable event in the history of the Icelandic community and that it will lead to further participation with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. This will be indeed a great op- portunity for both the city of Winnipeg and whoever is invited to participate from Iceland. No party is any fun without people. Come, enjoy, enhance our image by celebrating our heritage with pride. N.B.



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