Do you find this landscape beautiful?
Borghildur’s story is a story that must not be forgotten. I do not remember a time when people were subjected to district relocation, homes were dissolved and children handed over to the lowest bidder, but my grandmother, who was born in 1910 and who raised me, told me many such stories. Stories of families in Borgarfjörður and Dalir, where she grew up, and from Stokkseyri and nearby surroundings. My grandmother, whom I have always referred to as my mother, considered those authoritarian measures brutal. When I was growing up I knew old, worn-out individuals that the authorities needed to “place” somewhere, and which they did without ensuring that those people would be well cared for.
I, on the other hand, was fortunate. When I was young and my mother was unable to care for me, I was sent to my grandmother and her husband, who wrapped me in kindness and safety. Moreover I had the privilege of growing up in what I considered the best, most beautiful place in Iceland: Stokkseyri. A seaside village where farms and villages were not far from each other, and where the mountains were suitably distant. Each farm and each house in the village had its own special name and was not fixed in place by peremptory zoning or a master plan. We knew the people in those little villages, who lived on the nearby farms and in the municipalities close by. We grew up with agriculture and fishing, revelled in the landscape, the coastline and the nearness of the ocean, and had a deep affection for our surroundings. The Sunday drives around the Flói area, first in my father’s old Willys jeep and later in the Lada, are particularly memorable. We would go over the main landmarks in the area, and discuss the farms and inhabitants – who lived where and who was on the district council or the board of the youth association. I am familiar with all the farms mentioned in Borghildur’s story.
Those Sunday drives would inevitably take us past the Litla-Hraun prison, the “labour camp”, and more often than not my father would have to make a stop there. It is where he worked for decades. Of course we, the children who lived in the vicinity, knew that Litla-Hraun housed criminals and that their punishment was to stay there for a longer or a shorter time. In those days, the prisoners were sometimes allowed to work outside the prison. They took part in fish processing at Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri when the ships came in with a large haul and many hands were needed to secure the value of the fish. Whether it was the close proximity of the prison or the fact that so many fathers worked there, one thing was certain: we were not afraid of the Litla-Hraun inmates. We considered them unfortunate souls who had been sent far away from their families. Sometimes my mother sent them a pair of mittens or socks, for them or their children. I don’t recall them having tattoos, or at least they were not as visible as those on Sigríður’s models. And although certain things have changed – the nature of the violations, the intoxicants being different, and stronger, and perhaps more damaging, the ultimate result of the crimes is the same: incarceration. The society within the prison is similar, and the group division unchanged. Ill-fated men, often lonely souls with a hard exterior. The main thing is to appear tough. Not much is different. The prison and the community in the Flói area still coexist in harmony.
I have a vivid memory from many years ago, when I was a teenager. My family and I arrived at the crest of the Kambar cliffs, having bounced along the gravel road from Reykjavík on our way home. My great-grandmother was with us. She grew up in the Dalir area and lived in Borgarfjörður until her later years. When we arrived on the crest of the cliffs, the magic of the region lay spread out before us: the entire Flói area and the two villages down by the sea: Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki. Visibility was good and I could see the Knarrarósviti lighthouse east of Stokkseyri. “The Flói is so beautiful,” my father remarked out loud, to himself. The old woman, his mother-in-law, stared at him with astonishment and exclaimed: “Do you find this landscape beautiful?” “The most beautiful,” my father replied, “the most beautiful of them all.”

Margrét Frímannsdóttir