She bought him because, well, she just had to.
She bought him because someone had to do something.
She bought him because we needed all the help we could get.
My mother was charmed by Norway the moment we tumbled off the ship from the Atlantic crossing and into the Volvo delivered dockside from the factory in Sweden.
A sly foil for the hulking blue station wagon back in the States.
It made her smile.
It was red. As red as her lipstick, as red as her toenails, as red as the scarf tied around her neck.
Before we piled in and headed south ever south for another crossing, by land this time, for ever and a day, she insisted on stopping at the small Bergen shops, their gossipy cluster of bright colored façades elbowing one another up the steep street from the harbor.
And that’s where she found him.
The very first day on land.
Erik the Red.
But we were a family that disliked knickknacks.
We were a family that despised souvenirs.
This is not that, were her exact words as she fixed him to the dashboard with a bit of chewing gum.
He is one of us.
Hell knew we needed a good navigator.
Hell knew we could use a talisman or two.
I smiled secretly into my hand.
A small chubby wooden figure, with a ring of hair as red as the car, a helmet, a studded shield and a spear?
My father, the Irishman, the historian, was uneasy about a Viking in the car and said so.
One brother, 17, had recently had his past lives read by a hippie astrologist, and discovered that at one point he had been a Viking raider of just the sort who concerned my father. He wondered if this was some kind of joke and said so.
One brother, 15, knew all about Eric’s banishment from Iceland; he knew that it had been his son Leif, not Eric who was the great navigator, the great hero and said so.
I smiled secretly into my hand.
My mother shrugged and grabbed the map and whistled to herself. And off we went.
He stayed there unmoved and unmoving, steadier than the car which would break down and steadier by far than any of us who would also break down, one by one, through all those thousands of kilometers.
He stayed there, too, through the thousands of miles we’d drive in the States when we brought the Volvo home to drive through the end of the sixties and right across the seventies.
He stayed there as one brother, 17, drove the car as though it were Italian, not Swedish, whenever he got the chance.
He stayed there as one brother, 15, learned to drive with great galumphing stutterings of clutch and gear.
He stayed there as I learned to drive by mowing down our mailbox and assorted other objects.
And then he moved on
to other dashboards,
steady ever steady
first guiding another Swedish car, Volvo passing him to Saab, on through the years.
When I bought my first car in 1980, a tiny Honda Civic—red red red—my mother gave him to me, Your talisman, Your navigator, were her exact words. He'll see you through. He'll see you safe.
I hadn’t known she knew. I smiled, not so secretly.
And even now, as I drive a VW through this part of the twenty-first century—red red red—
there he is, red hair now tufty and faded into near white, spear gone missing years ago—but there he is, just there, on the dashboard, guiding me--me, fading to white, too; me, talking and singing to him as we go--
ever on, steady, just there.