Memories of a Country Childhood
Growing up in one of the oldest Settlement areas
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live in a remote valley, far from the city? Margrét Hólm Valsdóttir shares the experience that shaped her life.
It was May, 1976 and I was 8 years old. I was excited and a bit nervous. We were moving from the small town of Akureyri to the valley where my father oversaw the generators at the hydroelectric power station at the head of the Aðaldalur valley.
The summer was very hot, so we were outside every day. The sun never went down. There was no school, so we had lots of fun the whole time. I celebrated my 9th birthday there. There were lots of flies in June, but they never came inside. The fish and the birds live on them, so we had lots of fish and birds that year. I
t was beautiful.
The river came rushing into the valley from the mountains. After the power station it flows to the Arctic Sea. There were lots of trout in the river, so we fished and played by the water.Autumn
In early September, the farmers brought the sheep down from the mountains. They were all mixed together from different farms, so they are brought to the ‘réttir’, where they are all divided up. It’s a big celebration and lots of fun as we all helped to sort out whose sheep were whose. There was no school until after the réttir, so my new friends and I would play in the valley. We would eat dinner at whichever house we were closest to—and would often sleep there, too. It was over 15 km across the valley and yet, we were all like a big family. When school started, there were 15 in my class: 10 boys and 5 girls. Today, there are about 40 children in the whole school. The farming dictated our school life, however. For instance, in 1979, the summer was bad but the weather improved in October, so the farmers had to harvest then. The school was closed so everyone could help bring in the harvest before the storms began and the snow buried everything in a pristine white. Also, there were never any meetings between 5 and 7pm because that was milking time.
We children grew up learning to take responsibility for the animals and our siblings. We helped with the work, too. There was no crime—our education in life taught us to be well-rounded. We learnt respect for our surroundings, the people and our friends and family. When one of the animals was sick, we would fight for its life, so we learned to value life. Sometimes, teenagers with problems from Reykjavik and other big towns were sent to live in the valley with a family and it would have a healing effect on them, changing their lives. Life was so beautiful: the nature, the valley itself, the people; all together they created the best experience growing up. When you needed it, all the community was there to help.
Living at the head of the valley, we didn’t need pictures on our walls as the big picture windows gave us the best views we could want. In winter, the snows were offset by the Northern Lights. We were so used to seeing them, we didn’t think anything of it when they appeared. Snowstorms are common in the northern winters. Sometimes, the river providing the water to the power station would freeze, damaging the generators. The electricity from the power station was used all across the valley but it often broke down, leaving the houses without light and heat. Everyone had candles but it got cold if there was a long power cut. The farmers would hook up their tractors to run the pumps to milk the cows.Communal Life
My mother started working in the little store that served as a community meeting place, too. It was a general store that seemed to have almost everything but sometimes, we would have to get some things from the town of Húsavík or even Akureyri. What today is an hour trip could take over 2½ hours over heavily rutted gravel roads in snow and ice, so we didn’t make that trip more often than necessary! The mountain road would often be closed anyway. The old phones were communal. If you phoned someone, the others could listen, too. In the early 70’s, black and white televisions reached the valley. Programmes were shown only a few hours a day. On Sundays, at 4 o’clock, we all watched ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Colour TV’s didn’t arrive until 1980. When neighbours bought a VHS video machine in the same year,
everyone went to watch. It was not always easy, but I had a wonderful childhood—a childhood that shaped my life in a beautiful way. I’ll forever be thankful for that move to the valley. Today, Margrét is married, with two children, to a farmer by Lake Mývatn, where she is also a manager at the Reynihlíð Hótel.