TheVigil: A personal connection

Published on Thu, Feb 23, 2006 by Jan Hrutfiord

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The Vigil: A personal connection

By Jan Hrutfiord

I really relate to the sculpture “The Vigil” for several reasons. This statue of three figures, a young boy, a mom, and a grandmother, which can represent the future, present and past of the fishing industry, can tell the story of my life.

When I was a young girl growing up with a father who was the captain/owner of a fishing boat, I was fascinated with the fishing life. I didn’t get a chance to go out on the boat except for occasional recreational trips with family and friends, but I loved climbing aboard the Dakota, dad’s boat, visiting with the crew members, watching the fish being unloaded – an all-day job with 60 to 80,000 pounds of bottom fish coming from a 10-day trip to southeast Alaska. His usual schedule was to be out fishing for 10 days, with the heavily iced fish being caught in southeast Alaska, (two days to get there, two days back, depending upon tides and weather) brought back to be unloaded. If I had been a boy, I would have been a fisherman and lived the exciting life at sea that I heard about while listening to my dad, uncles and friends talking about it. Since it was considered unlucky to take a female on the boat for any length of time, that wasn’t an option for me.

My mother was the one who stayed at home and took care of the family while dad was out to sea. Mom was the caregiver, the disciplinarian, the bill payer and caretaker of the home. She was not fun and glamorous, but was the necessary one who took care of everything to keep the home and family running smoothly. When we knew the Dakota was due back, mom would pack us up in our family car, and we would wait at the end of the dock in Blaine watching for the Dakota to return home.
Dad would be home for two or three days before going out to sea again. He was fun, full of laughter and stories, and taught the kids in the family to fish with rod and reel, play pinochle, to go visit friends and relatives, and generally have a good time. My girlfriends asked if they could trade daddies with me, but of course I wouldn’t hear of that!

After I was married to a non-fisherman college professor (another Icelander), I was the mom who watched my younger brother going out fishing with dad, and later my five sons all went fishing summers with grandpa, starting at about the age of 12. They came home with exciting stories of fishing in Alaska, fishing Puget Sound and off the Washington coast, and made enough money to buy their first cars (mostly older pickup trucks – the fisherman’s style of transportation) and to pay for college for varying lengths of time.

Now I’m the grandmother – my sons are grown, some have families, but none are fishermen. The last one to quit fishing was my oldest son, who recently sold his Bristol Bay permit and boat. He is still chafing at the bit, so to speak, wishing he could go “just one more time” to fish in Alaska. Maybe he will.

I was honored to be asked to pose for the heads of the two women in the Vigil sculpture. Bob McDermott, the well-known sculptor, lives here in Blaine and wanted to do this sculpture to honor the fishing community, and especially to recognize the women who stay behind while the men in their families go out to sea. Many of the early fishermen from this area were Icelandic in origin, a way of life learned in their native land. My father, Eythor Westman, was an Icelander, born in Point Roberts, graduated from Blaine high school, and actively fished for over 60 years. He would have liked The Vigil, and would have understood it, too. I’m sure my mother and the other fishermen’s wives, mothers and daughters also understand the meaning of this memorial sculpture.
The fishing way of life is fast disappearing, but it will not go away entirely. There will still be men who go to sea in ships, and women and children who stay home and watch for their return.