The day I arrived in Iceland was very deceptive. The sun was high and bright. A few wispy clouds decorated that blue which fell right to the horizon for 360 degrees. There were no trees or hills to obstruct the view of that blue. One could see for miles. There were no hills but there were volcanic mountains in the distance. The Icelandic air was so clear that those mounds that seemed maybe a mile or two away could be twenty or thirty miles away. For visual clarity one could not beat the pure air of this island.
Was it always like this? One word: nope.
I wasn’t prepared for my first encounter with the weather change. It came a few days later when the clouds blocked the sun. The air chilled. Then the first rain drops smacked me in the face as I was walking to the O Club for breakfast several days after arriving. I was wearing my London Fog since it was my only coat and it served to keep me warm. I pulled my collar up to ward off the winds which were picking up whipping rain into my face. I was a block from the club when the phenomenon I had heard about smacked me square in the face.
The rains came. Not from the sky as you would think. No. It came straight at me, horizontally. The wind was so strong and steady that those rains were carried in a horizontal line and into anything that stood upright. I was almost bowled over. It caught me completely by surprise. My coat lay plastered against my body that was being pushed along by that wind. Leaning into that wall of water was the most difficult thing I had done all week.
I looked up. The O Club was missing. The air was gray with rain eliminating all landmarks over ten feet away. I had to guess that I was still facing the right direction as I tilted my body into the wind and rain. Each footstep was a victory as I pushed forward at a forty-five degree angle, my head gear opposing that wall of rain. It was almost like swimming against an ocean current. I held the brim of my cap and the lapel of my coat as the rain soaked through my rain repellant London Fog. So much for that selling point, I thought, as a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me to my right.
“Hey, buddy,” said a voice through the howl of the wind. “You were walking right past the building. You don’t want to be out in this if you can help it.”
I looked up. My glasses were smeared with rain water so that I took them off to see.
“Thanks,” I said. I took my cap off. It was drenched through.
“Yeah,” said the guy who had pulled me into the doorway of the O Club. “You’re going to need a rain cover for that.”
“Never expected such,” I returned. I hung my hat on a hook near the entry way. I slipped out of my water logged rain coat. They began a steady stream of dripping onto the linoleum floor.
“You can’t have been here long, then,” said my new found friend. That is typical of this volcanic rock. Horizontal rain, hurricane winds. You’ll have to develop a whole new set of muscles just to walk in this crazy place.”
He and I wandered into the cafeteria as he told me about what I should expect during my tour of duty here. His words were eye openers. I sat listening with my jaw on the floor for some time while we waited on Western Omelets which he had suggested I try.
Over the weeks I found that his words had all been true, especially the weather. I stayed in the BOQ until my bride back in the states went through hoops to accompany me on my tour here near the Arctic Circle. It was a month or so before she arrived.
Together we visited houses off base, which Marshall suggested, to find a place to live for my two year stint here.
In the middle of Keflavik we visited a two story concrete house. The bottom floor was for rent. The top floor was the landlord’s home. The outside was rough concrete that was not painted a bright color like some of the others along the street. All the construction was reinforced concrete. I figured the winds blowing through the streets on regular visits made it imperative the houses be strong and reinforced concrete was the material chosen for every house. I asked the landlord why it was not painted like the one across the street.
“When we build a house in Iceland we must pay taxes at the completion of construction. We have a ten year period in which to finish that construction. As long as the house is not painted, construction is still in progress. I will have to paint it in five years when my ten years are up. When I do that I begin paying taxes. Right now I don’t have that burden.” He explained it with a smile. Even here there were loopholes.
The wife and I were given a tour of the downstairs. The front room was fairly large. To the left as we entered we looked at a dining room and a door leading into the kitchen. Straight ahead was a hallway leading into a bedroom. The bath was to the left as we passed on our way to the sleeping quarters. The room was dark so we flicked the light switch. The windows were covered in aluminum foil.
The landlord saw the questioning look on my face and explained.
“The sun is in the sky for 20 hours a day in the summer. The last tenant felt it was necessary to block it out to sleep in this room. You can take it down if you like but it helps when you are used to a dark night. Of course in the winter the sun is up for only about two hours so you won’t need it then.” He smiled.
After looking at the place we returned to Marshall’s house. He had offered to let us to stay at his and Sella’s place until we found a house. My bride and I said we had found the just the one.
As we settled in we were getting used to each other as well as this foreign land. Living off base we were often unaware of what was happening on base, which was fine with me. Many chose to stay in the base housing. One of our friends, whose home was Louisiana, close to my bride’s home state, had decided to stay on base. His house was a center of popularity. He and his wife often had guests over for cookouts and parties. As I was leaving work one afternoon he stopped me to ask if we would like to join them and a few friends for drinks that evening. I accepted and drove home to tell the bride.
When I stopped at the checkpoint the wind rocked my little VW. I looked up at the sky to see clouds rolling in. Trash was whipping past my windshield as I got the OK from the guard to pass through.
I pulled up at the house and hurried inside. The wind was picking up. I caught my hat as it lifted off my head. I closed the door behind me and yelled into the house.
“In here!” came the reply.
Looking around the corner I saw my bride in a chair reading a magazine.
“Oh, good. You haven’t started cooking yet,” I said with a smile.
“Not yet. You have anything in mind?” she asked looking up from the magazine.
“To tell you the truth,” I started. “We have been invited to a get together over in base housing. He said there would be drinks and food, so no need to cook.”
She tossed the magazine on the side table and jumped up.
“What are we waiting for?” She said heading for the closet.
“Before you get all excited I want you to know the wind is picking up. There could be a storm coming.”
“Pfft! Haven’t you said if we wait for the weather to get better we would never go anywhere? I’d like to go. Just give me a minute to get ready.”
I changed while she was getting ready. As I was settling into the newest novel she showed up in the doorway.
“How do I look?” she asked with one hand on her hip and the other fluffing her hair.
Now she was a tiny woman, standing four foot eleven and weighing less than ninety-five pounds but those pounds were well proportioned. She stood before me her body silhouetting an S-curve that had captured my attention a year before.
“You look gorgeous,” I said, my eyes filled with admiration.
“Let’s go then!”
She was opening the door while I grabbed the keys.
There was no rain, yet, but that wind was stronger as we made our way to the VW. I opened her door and she slipped into her seat.
The car took a moment to crank. It was always a little slow in the cooler weather. It caught. I slapped it into first and made a U-turn to head toward the base.
The man in the booth at the gate waved us through. He stared at my bride with a puzzled look as we went past.
“Did you see how that guy looked at you?” I turned back to look at the road.
“Ha! Yeah. I can tell you why. “
“Do you know him?” I asked looking at her. She broke out into a laugh.
“No, silly. Marshall could tell it better, though. That guy has seen me with you. You and Marshall look so much alike that he doesn’t notice the difference in the two of you but when Marshall comes in with Stella, who is a brunette, he thinks you are having an affair. To him the same man is going in and out of the base with two different women. Marshall figured it out. It’s kind of funny, really.”
“Oh,” was my only comment. The wind jolted the car. I swerved to regain control.
“Wow that was strong.”
“That’s Iceland,” I said.
I pulled into the parking lot. The party was two stories up. My bride got out on her side and was coming around to me as I stepped out and closed the door.
At that moment the wind picked up. There was gravel on the pavement of the parking lot and my bride’s shoes began to slip on some of it. The wind grew. She began to slide along the paved surface on top of the gravel under her feet. As the wind picked up she slid faster.
“I can’t get my footing!” she yelled at me.
I stepped into the wind thinking to shelter her a bit. She was gaining speed like a sail on the ocean. She reached for me.
“Help!” she screamed.
With that the wind whipped around her. She floated like a piece of newsprint in a small eddy. Her feet were swept out from under her. She began to spin like a propeller. I saw it all as she was lifted higher and higher. Like a kite she became a speck in the sky. I could barely make out her voice when she was covered over by clouds. Gone, like Dorothy, into the Land of Oz.
“RICKEY!” I heard her scream.
I shook my head ridding it of that flight of fantasy. As the wind began to push me along I reached for her hand. She extended hers and I grasped it. Now the wind had us both in its clutches and my feet were sliding along top of the gravel rolling under my soles.
“Hold on!” she shouted.
“What do you mean hold on? I’m losing my grip and my balance.” I shouted back.
As we slid along the pavement, her body lifted at a ninety degree angle from me. I was holding her horizontally balanced by a steady force. I felt like a pole with a flag rippling hard in the wind. I was having a hard time keeping her hand in mine while trying to find solid footing. The wind carried us both along. We were nearing a lamp post. I grabbed onto the lamp post with my arm, wrapping it around the pole to stop moving. I put all my attention on our hands gripping for all we were worth. She stayed buoyed by the wind until it eased off.
When she was able to stand, we interlinked our arms and made our way to the apartment complex.
Closing the door behind us we hugged until the shaking was gone.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Yes,” came her answer.
We took the stairs two at the time. His door was the first on the landing. I knocked.
The door was opened wide and everyone was facing us clapping loudly, accompanied by cat whistles.
My bride and I looked at one another, then at the group inside.
“What a show you guys put on!”
“You were great!” came the refrain.
“What are you talking about?” I asked our host.
“That rescue downstairs in the parking lot. She was a goner. We thought we’d never see her again. Then you caught her and grabbed hold of that pole. We’ve never seen anyone lifted by the wind like that.”
So we were the highlight of the evening. There was talk of tying a string to my bride and letting the wind take her up into the clouds. She squelched that idea as we began to down a drink or two, although, after three, I could have been talked into it. I’m not so sure of my bride’s willingness. Maybe after five. Naah, better not.