“My, What a Change!”
By “Awake!” correspondent in Iceland
MANY are the changes taking place in the world. In Iceland, as elsewhere, folks have talked about these things. If older persons were to share their thoughts with the younger generation, the conversation might go like this:
“You young folks can hardly imagine how greatly things have changed since I was born. Not even novelist Jules Verne could have imagined so many changes, even though he lived close to our time. Do you see that Vesuvius-like volcano over there on the tip of the peninsula? That was the place where he had his ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ begin by letting his heroes descend through its crater on the trip that took them right through our globe and out to Stromboli in Italy. He penned that fantasy about a century ago. But much has changed since then.”
“Oh, please tell me more; it’s always so fascinating to listen to what you tell about the old days.”
“Some younger folks probably won’t believe that things have ever been much different from now, but these past five or six decades have brought unprecedented changes.
“Take housing, for instance. See those modern apartments over there? They’re made of reinforced concrete, and have steel and aluminum frames around the doors and windows. On the inside, there are deep-pile carpets, electric stoves, refrigerators and other modern gadgets. And look! No chimneys—they’re heated with water from the hot springs! Well, the house I was reared in was much different.”
“Didn’t you live in one of those old-fashioned farmsteads?”
“You’re right. And if you want to see one, you can go to the little outdoor museum over there on the other hill. My home was such a torfbær, a house built from sod or turf, both the walls and the roof. It was lined with planks on the inside. The gables were wooden structures with doors and had the only windows in the house. The floor was just the good old earth itself!
“Practically every farmstead was built that way, even houses in the towns. They didn’t have any electricity, running water or other facilities. We had a big open fireplace in the kitchen. Aside from that there was no heating device, but we got some heat from the cowhouse. This was built alongside the house and connected with it, so we didn’t have to go outside in the winter to feed and milk the cows. Really, it was quite cozy!”
“But why did they build the houses like that? Couldn’t they just use wood for the whole house?”
“Wood was simply too scarce. It had to be imported, every splinter of it. Those living near the sea often used driftwood. That was all they had, and it was necessary to save it for the most urgent needs.”
“My, what a home! Didn’t you ever long for something better?”
“No, we knew nothing better. And despairing or protesting wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere. People, the younger ones too, were a more humble lot then, more content with life. They didn’t make a big noise protesting this and that. Youths then had no time for such monkey business. Speaking of toil, do you see those people working over there in the hayfield?”
“Oh, yes; they really work at it, don’t they?”
“By modern standards, I’d say so. With that tractor and modern equipment, they should be through by evening. But in my day we mowed everything with scythes and turned and raked it all by hand. With our damp climate, it often took us weeks for jobs that now can be finished in one day with machinery. That’s a big change—mechanizing almost everything.”
“But isn’t that a good thing—to let the machines work for you?”
“Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. But work doesn’t harm you either. We learned to work quite early in life and at varied tasks. On my father’s farm we had to learn to do everything. And since the farm could not support all of us children, we also fished a lot. The farmers jointly owned a boat so we could row out and fish. We also used it for going to town and transporting things home.
“Only a few boats then were big enough to carry sails. It could be a dangerous fair when a storm blew up. Many a tragedy occurred when such an open boat capsized or was wrecked, with all hands lost. Small communities could lose practically all their able-bodied men in that way. I remember a fishing boat that was lost, I think in 1911, and twenty-seven men drowned. Their dependents, counting wives, children and old people, were about eighty-five. You can see what a catastrophe that was!”
“I surely can. I don’t believe I would like to go to sea myself, but if I did I’d prefer one of those modern diesel trawlers over there in the harbor. Aren’t they almost unsinkable, with all that radar and sonar equipment?”
“Unsinkable is quite a strong word to use even today. Remember the Andrea Doria? It was a huge, modern ocean liner, but it sank after a collision. But it is true that a steel-built thousand-tonner can weather almost any storm. Besides that, it is a much more efficient fishing machine, so to speak, than anything known in ray youth. But I too would rather stay on land, on a farm, for instance. It was a much cozier place, an almost self-sufficient unit, a small world all by itself. We weren’t off in a motorcar to the nearest supermarket when we thought of food. And as for other goods, we simply made most of them ourselves and had fun doing it.”
Food and Clothing
“But how was that possible? As far as I know, agriculture in Iceland hasn’t ever been very productive. Didn’t you grow mostly grass?”
“Yes, mostly, even though that was not all. But with that we could feed the domestic animals. So, we had most of our needs covered.”
“I don’t quite see that. From the animals you could get meat and some milk, but that would hardly be enough for your needs, would it?”
“Not exactly. But having a variety of meat, from the sheep, cows and even horses, and milk from the cows, we really had much in the way of basic needs. We could get cream, curds and cheese, and also sour whey for preserving meat when salt was scarce. We did grow some vegetables—potatoes, turnips, cabbage and the like—but no grain or other cereals. Such crops, of course, couldn’t be grown in our short summer. We bought it by the sackful in town, together with what is still known as ‘colonial goods,’ such as sugar and coffee, also nails, wood and many other things.
“We usually paid for them with our surplus wool, raw or spun, dried fish and fish oil and eiderdown. We would barter and try to get a good price. And having enough wool at home from the sheep, we would make most of our clothing, homespun and knitted. Socks, sweaters and even underwear of this kind are still the best for our climate.”
“So, you mean you just stayed out there on the farm, making all those things for yourselves?”
“That’s about right. We had our own foodstuffs, and at times we also had fresh fish and birds’ eggs, besides some lichen or Iceland moss and wild berries for various foods. And having food, clothing and a roof over our heads, what else did we need?”
Recreation and Transportation
“Well, what did you do for recreation?”
“Oh, we didn’t have much spare time. In the evenings we also worked. We usually worked with the wool, spinning, knitting and the like, both men and women. It was actually refreshing to sit down and enjoy the company of the whole family after a long day of outdoor activities. We would also take turns reading aloud to the others, from the old sagas or poetry or the Bible—all in the light of homemade candles or lamps lit by seal or whale oil. At times guests would entertain us, telling stories or reciting lyric poetry about events of long bygone days.”
“That may have been fun, but didn’t you ever go places?”
“We did, at times. It was customary to ride to church each Sunday, and often we visited with other farmers en route. Some even started out on Saturday so as to have more time for social activities.
“While you may not think much of life as it was then, don’t think it was dull and dreary. It was really a full life. And I would prefer it any time to the haste and waste-making of the world we have today. We had more time. We could reflect on the handiwork of our Creator. We were not scurrying about in cars and planes; we rode horseback and many walked, not being able to afford a horse. And often they walked for many miles on sheep- and horse-trodden paths among the lava blocks. You youngsters may not understand it, but we enjoyed it very much.”
“My, what a change! I suppose you almost have to live and see it with your own eyes to understand it—and the changes you have seen.”
The Biggest Change—People!
“But, you know, when I think of it, the greatest change is not what science and modern technique have accomplished. It is the change affecting the minds and hearts of people.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, people have changed very much; the barriers are down, so to speak. Nothing seems to stand in the way of most people today; nothing inhibits them. In general there is no respect for authority or the rights of others or their property. You can hardly trust anyone anymore. People do not feel safe. That wasn’t the way it used to be. In my youth a man was a man and a word a word, but that simply isn’t true anymore. Dishonesty, bribing and all kinds of stealing are rampant. But this new lawless trend comes as no surprise to Christians. The mental attitude of most people today was described long in advance, in Bible prophecy. Do you remember the verses at 2 Timothy 3:1-5?”
“Yes, I recall them. That’s where the apostle Paul says that the time will come when men will be ‘lovers of themselves, lovers of money . . . [and] lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.’”
“That’s the one all right. Paul also says that in the ‘last days’ there will be ‘critical times hard to deal with’; this because of the moral breakdown, among people in general. Well, we were by no stretch of imagination perfect people back then, before 1914. But still people had not sunk to the low level described by the apostle Paul. They were more simple, straightforward and unspoiled. Today not a few would have thought them a naïve lot. But life was more unhurried, happier than in this day and age of stressed minds and bodies. The change in people’s attitudes is no less a change than all the material ones together, and I think that even you can see the difference, can’t you?”
“Yes, and when I reflect on your words and what you have told me at other times, I look forward to getting more insight into what the Bible has to say about God’s new system of things.”
“That’s the right way to think for a young lad, and for older folks too, because knowledge of Jehovah and his purposes is most vital now. You can recall the gist of John 17:3, can’t you?”
“Why, yes, that is where Jesus says: ‘This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.’”
“Right. And the knowledge you now have about the changes in the world since 1914 helps you to see that these are, in fact, the foretold ‘last days.’”