MAY LONG


By Ken Kristjanson

The year was 1950.The month, May. The winter had been long and the spring wet. Manitoba and Winnipeg were experiencing the worst flood in history due to the lack of planning by all levels of Government. Consequently, Gimli and District were crammed to the rafters with people escaping their flooded homes.
For paper boys it was “Boom Times.” Summer residents had by necessity opened their cottages and they wanted to be kept abreast of the happenings. The Red River continued to spill its banks in all directions. It was nationwide news and it was beginning to look like the legendary Lake Agassiz would be born again.
Of course to a fourteen year old this was news that was happening far away. Our minds were on the upcoming  “May Long Weekend” when the rides and concessions at Winnipeg Beach would open for the season. In the days before television, the attractions at The Beach were greatly anticipated by people of all ages.  
My pal, Raymond Solmundson, and I had inherited our paper routes from our older brothers. Raymond delivered the Free Press and I the Tribune – still the best paper I ever read. My paper route covered roughly two miles in winter and it took me about an hour to finish my deliveries. Double that in the summer when I delivered to South Beach. The Free Press was the bigger paper but my brother Robert and I managed to convince 15 various relatives and friends to take the Trib. So six evenings a week I would trudge or ride my bike the four blocks to the CPR station located on Centre & Seventh to meet the train which arrived promptly at 7:10 p.m.
The paper cost 25 cents a week.  The Trib got 13 cents (remitted weekly) and I got 12 cents. My earnings were $1.80 a week. In addition, all Gimli paper boys had two bags – one for the papers and one to pick up pop and beer bottles. The pop bottles were turned in for a 2 cent refund. The beer bottles did better at 2.5 cents.
Any paper boy worth his salt had to have a bike. A new C.C.M. at Lakesides Trading cost a king’s ransom – the grand sum of $52.50. Out of the money I earned, I first put 50 cents away in a locked bank that my Mother guarded absolutely. “The Bike Fund”. I still had money left over…Harry Greenberg ran three movies a week and I went to three shows a week. The movie started at 8:30 p.m. at a cost of 18 cents and a big Wynola Cola cost 7 cents. I made sure that there was money set aside to use for the concessions and rides at the Beach. This type of money management stayed with me my whole life.
The Saturday of May Long 1950 dawned clear and beautiful. Raymond and I set off early on our bikes for the 10 mile pedal to The Beach. Bike and rider became one as we sped down the gravel road. Two fourteen year olds on a great adventure, prepared for anything. We had with us tools, tire repair kit and lunch. Thankfully nothing happened and we made the trip in good time, enjoying the spring air as we pedaled.
We parked our bikes at the C.P.R. Station, pre-paying the 25 cent return fare from our saved hoard for the trip back to Gimli. We planned to ride every ride and visit every concession until we dropped or spent all our money. We did both. We went on the bumper cars, the carousal, the airplanes and the roller coaster (our hands down favorite). What a marvelous, care-free time we had. I even won a box of Lowney’s chocolates to bring home to Mother!
At 4:10 we boarded the train with our bikes for the ten mile ride back to Gimli.  We were totally exhausted but armed with yards of stories to regale our friends back in school. We noted the train with its many stops made poorer time then we did. Next year we would bike both ways and save the 25 cent fare.
Our papers were waiting for us when we de-trained. It was raining again and the streets were muddy. I would get wet but the papers would be dry. As I biked to my first customer I was re-energized!  We had had a great time at The Beach. Looking ahead to the end of June, I knew I would be boarding the M.S.Goldfield for a trip to Georges Island. Perhaps more adventures would be encountered there.

Tom Oleson, writer, reporter, columnist

Tom Oleson has died. JO called today to tell me. I didn’t take it in right away. There are a number of Tom Olesons around. “The Tom Oleson,” she said.
“He was six years younger than  me,” I replied, not quite believing her. There is disorder in people who are younger, dying.
Our paths crossed from time to time. I’d have a new book out or be doing something odd or interesting and he’d give me a call and we’d do an interview. I guess he had the Icelandic beat at The Winnipeg Free Press. I always enjoyed the interviews.
Life hasn’t been good to Tom the last couple of years. His son, Kristofer, died two years ago in an accident. His wife, Laurie, had terminal cancer and died of a stroke. There’s always a sense of guilt when people you love die. It’s like you didn’t love them enough to keep them safe.
You can read his last columns on the Free Press website http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/33846209.htmlI hope they leave his columns up for a long time. They’re worth reading. If you haven’t been reading them, go take a look. He’d have been a regular at the Weevil Café. He writes about brussel sprouts and abortion, cell phones and pensions. He has an opinion on everything, which is the mark of a good journalist and columnist. No pussy footing.
The column that everyone should read is a recent one called “She was some woman”. It’s about the death of his wife, Laurie, and, more generally, about mourning.
Although Tom claimed, as many do, that Icelanders don’t have a sense of humour, he had a wicked one. He begins his column with a quote about death by the British writer, Harry Graham.

Poor Uncle Joe has gone, you know,
To rest beyond the stars.
I miss him, oh! I miss him so,–
He had such good cigars.

He then tells us that his wife’s funeral urn is sitting in the room with an assortment of objects around it, a shrine of sorts. Then he adds that his son’s ashes are there in an urn with his favorite baseball cap on it.

Like any good writer, Tom knew that in tragic situations, in situations filled with sorrow and great emotion, it is necessary to avoid exaggerated expressions of feeling because they shove pathos into bathos, opera into soap opera, genuine feeling into melodrama.

Tom was pro. His writing was smooth, easy to read, his articles entertaining and thought provoking.

I’m sorry that he won’t be there to do another interview. We had  sort of an erratic ritual.

The Icelandic Canadian community is poorer for his death. He wrote about a vast number of topics but, time and again, his comments had a line or two about us, about his Icelandic community.

In one of his last columns he says, “”Happy Icelanders” sounds a little bit — quite a lot, actually — like an oxymoron. The New York Times once referred to Icelanders as a notoriously lugubrious breed, and the immigrants who came to Canada in the 19th century brought that same sense of solemnity with them. If you have ever heard a joke about Icelanders or Icelandic-Canadians, please share it — as an Icelandic-Canadian, I would like the opportunity to stop taking myself so seriously.”

It is obvious that Tom took many things seriously but his writing proves that Icelanders do have a sense of humour and that thoughtfulness and caring go quite well with the ability to bring laughter into people’s lives.