An obituary writer’s quest to tell it all

I finished writing the obituary on Lieutenant Colonel Trygve Ringereide yesterday. It’ll be in the Globe & Mail in a few days and then I’ll link it here. But now I want to describe  the experience of writing it, how it combines a revved up excitement about living among the details of a person’s life–I was swimming in a Norwegian fjord, soon after the ice cracked–and a mild panic that I’ll omit the best stories. I want to tell it all, and tell it well, but there are sometimes the best bits left on the cutting room floor.

Still, I dive in.

In this obituary, I’m tumbled into the past, the histories and cultural nuances familiar only to the Ringereide family who lived them. I’m there to carefully note the cadences in this deceased man’s middle-aged son as he recalls stories told, likely told several dozen times, during his father’s life.

Such as the time Trygve, age 17, decked a member of the Hitler Youth who was patrolling the halls of his high school, after the German army invaded this Aryan nation up at the northern tip of the continent.

Trygve Ringereide and Mabel Young

Or his subsequent flight from Norway, tucked into a skiff and dressed as a fisherman out on the North Sea. He was picked up by off by British naval patrol off the Shetland Islands. The young officer in charge was Philip Morris, heir to the cigarette empire.

Or his later touch-down in the Toronto harbour where he attended navigational training at the “Little Norway,” air base and prepared for bomber command back in Europe.

There’s always so much left off the history notes I tell in these half page obituaries. For instance, this detail slid off the radar: on June 20, 1941, while taking off, a Northrop N-3PB collided with the ferry “Sam McBride” in Port Race, Toronto Harbour, killing both the student pilot and instructor. The Toronto Star wrote that it was “a matter of time before one of the Norwegian aircraft crashes in the city itself.”

The base moved to a larger site an hour north of the city in Gravenhurst, Ontario. There’s a memorial plaque here written in old Norse: Merket det Stend Um Mannen Han Stupe. The mark remains even if the man falls. 

In the article I wrote for the Globe, this detail also regrettably slipped away due to time and space restraints: During the war, some young Canadian woman formed a group called the “Vikettes.” Their raison d’etre was to charm the lonely Norwegian air men far from their homes. Trygve’s love and future wife was a Vikette named Mabel Young. She wrote poetry, was a favourite student of E.J.Pratt, and had to turn down a University of Toronto English scholarship during the depression in order to support her family.

Although a shy woman, Mabel also  emceed shows at the Eaton auditorium in Toronto for the Norwegian Air Force and introduced Crown Prince Olav and the great opera singer Kirsten Flagstad to Canadian audiences.

In every person’s life there is room for a biography. I’m constrained by the fold of a newspaper and the cold, harsh reality of the blue recycling bin. Yesterday’s news indeed. But the stories live on, at least, in family lore.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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2 Responses to An obituary writer’s quest to tell it all

  1. bakedwaffle says:

    Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate the comment. Thank you for reading my post!

    This is a beautiful blog. I noticed that you are a writer who is currently living in Ontario, Canada. I’ve just spent a few weeks in various areas of British Columbia. I must say (after my fifth trip to the country) – it is no doubt my favorite place on Earth.


    • Nor says:

      You are my first comment! Seems that Word Press sent you a manufactured response; this one is authentically from me. Thanks again for reading my blog.

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