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Remembering Moments of Our Pasts
The trickiest part to starting a fire, I think, is lighting the match. First of all you’re never really sure when it’s going to burst into flame, at least it always catches me off guard. Then once you have successfully aflamed the tiny little match, you must quickly and carefully light the newspaper inside of your stove as to get a nice warm fire going before that cute little flame on the end of the match nips your fingers like a kitten greedy for a snack. As I was lighting the newspaper and avoiding that cute little flame I heard the whine of the garage door as it slowly grumbled open, allowing our old Astro Van to rumbily creak inside at around 5:20 that afternoon. Even at that time of day the sky was still a bright blue, the only pretty thing to be seen at that time of year I thought as the garage door hummed and grumbled shut hmhmhmhmhmhmhmreeeeaaaaaaaakdoomp. Everything else was ugly and dirty, even what used to be the whitest snow. The only benefit of this grotesque time of year was that the geese were returning, living very close to Creamer’s Field I had heard them calling while I started the fire. A few moments after the engine was cut off I heard the car doors open and slam and footsteps scuffling from the garage into the entry way.
Mom, Aaron, and Alex were home from school and from visiting the cousins afterwards. Mom’s voice could be heard exclaiming from the top of the stairs that lead to the basement where I was currently sitting and observing my newborn fire, that she was amazed that I was able to get the computer started, as she and Aaron were having problems with it earlier that morning. Alex, with his little freckled face and his big deep dark brown eyes alight with an excited glow, also had news for me; he had learned how to write in bubble letters today but he was still unclear as to how to get a 9 to look good in that kind of fancy scrawl. Aaron was in their shared bedroom already, doing what, I was unsure of.
When I went upstairs Mom was already busy unpacking her bag and putting things away. I waited until she wasn’t too busy and explained the point of this narrative to her as she pulled out one of the largest, most brightly orange colored oranges I had ever seen. “And so my question is this”, I said as I watched her begin to pick at the orange, “What does it mean to be an Alaskan?” The expression on her face revealed that she found the question a little odd, maybe not odd, but not something she had been expecting either. “Well”, she said as she began to peel the orange, releasing the strong scent of citrus, “you have to have a sense of adventure and like the outdoors, and you can’t be a pansy. You have to be tough.” She had unpeeled the entire orange by now and my nose was overjoyed by the smell, she then began to divide it into equal pieces and handed one to Alex, who had been watching the scene hopefully as he did his math. She took a bite of orange, “You have to be able to embrace the elements and dress warm.” Her face appeared thoughtful as she thought of another answer and took another bite of orange, her skin still tan from her recent trip to Hawaii to take care of Grandma Lynn’s possessions with her father and siblings since their mother had passed away. “Mhm I don’t know. You have to be independent and have some sense of subsistence living. Keep your friends close and your family dear?” And with that I swooped down and scooped up Poncho, our slightly fat grey cat who had been meowing at me and standing at my feet for a few minutes now, when I did he began to look annoyed though he was still purring. “Mmm ok Mom that sounds good. I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to answer either.” So I walked over to the computer, turned on some Third Eye Blind on our iTunes program and got to work. I then texted Spencer asking how long Mrs. Ruth wanted the assignment to be, he wasn’t sure and responded that it was supposed to be about a page. While writing I wrote and listened to music and then watched the news which was as depressing as ever. I continued until Aaron announced that Dad was home after returning at around 7:00, after a long days work.
My Dad had moved to Anchorage in 1977 to escape the city life. He said that he wanted to escape his “s*** choices” of living either in South Florida or New York City. So for him at first Alaska was an escape. When he first came to Alaska he noticed that everyone was still living in the 60s almost and that he had already seen all of the TV programs because Alaska got them on tape a few weeks late. He liked living there, but then once his Dad and brothers moved back to New York, all he could think about was wanting to get back to his family. As he looked for work on the east coast however he realized that his “messed up family just wasn’t worth it”. The way he put it was that “Alaska had become a place to hide from what was going on down there in the lower 48s”, he said, “Those places are nice when you’re on vacation but when you have to live and work with those people, it’s pure. Hell.” So Alaska ended up being Dad’s refuge. “Many other Alaskans feel this way too” Dad said, “ In fact some people who have been born here or have lived here for a really long time refer to the lower 48s as America, as if Alaska isn’t even apart of it”.
My Mom had also come to Alaska around the same time, though her reasons were a little different.
It was sunny blue sky Sunday afternoon and we were on our way to Hometown Nursery. We were going there to meet my cousins, aunt, and uncle. We were going just like we went every spring with Grandma Lynn. Later that evening mom would be meeting my Grandpa Harley at the airport and then she would be taking him home in Delta Junction. Without Grandma. Grandma Lynn had passed away a few months before due to hypertension that caused her to go into cardiac arrest, because of this mom seemed distracted as she drove us to the nursery and told us of the story of how she came to live in Alaska.
My Mom moved here when she was thirteen years old in 1975 with her parents and siblings. Grandpa Harley had been hired by Frank Murkowski to work as the assistant manager at Bank of the North. They moved up here from Enumclaw. They spent three days and two nights on a ferry that they rode from Burlington, Washington to Prince Rupert Canada. They then drove on the Alaska Highway all the way to Fairbanks. Once they moved to Fairbanks they lived in the Northwood Building. There were no houses to buy back then. My Mom’s family was one of the first to buy one of the first houses on the market. It was the pipeline era. “The pipeline was built between 1974 and 1977 after the 1973 oil crisis caused a sharp rise in oil prices in the United States “(Trans – Alaska Pipeline System 1). Because of this downtown Fairbanks was the true heart of the town. Mom remembered that Grandma Lynn had a hard time driving downtown’s one way streets.
When they first moved there Mom noticed how grubby and nasty everything looked, it was break up at the time. She said that the people were very friendly and that downtown was really crowded. There was no fresh produce in the stores. All they had was canned fruits and vegetables. Fresh lettuce was really hard to come by and a lot of the times it was either in really bad condition or just plain nonexistent. It was because of this that Grandma started her first garden. Fairbanks was about a year and a half behind the times. Movies stayed in the theaters for months and they always got the news later than everyone else in the lower forty – eight. Everything was a new experience, the midnight sun and they were only just building the Bentley Mall. Mom has also lived in Tok and Delta junction. In Delta her class had 45 people but in Tok her class only had 15. She said that it was pretty rough living in those places because the population was so small.
When I think of living in Alaska, I imagine being isolated in the middle of nowhere with nothing around me but beautiful scenery and the painted sky above me. Donnelly Dome is such a place, located on pipeline mile 560. The last time I was there was this last summer. We drove two hours from Fairbanks to Delta, to Grandma Lynn’s house with Mom, brothers, younger kids, Grandma Nerida, Annie, and Rory. We got to Grandma Lynn’s house, took a quick bathroom break, and then set out for the dome. Forty – five minutes later as we were driving up Annie relayed to us that when she and her family would drive by the dome, her Dad would say, “Donnelly Doooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmme” as they were driving by. After we “unloaded the troops” we were then standing at the bottom and taking our “before” pictures. Another hour or so later we were triumphantly standing at the top and surveying the crisp clear landscape with the wind dancing and spiraling and twirling past us on all sides. According to the Delta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, “It’s a popular climbing adventure – the top is about 2,400 feet above ground level” (Dunklebarger 1). As you hiked higher and higher to the top of the dome the vegetation became less and less, so at the very top there was nothing but rocks that shone in the sunlight, they led a trail about halfway up along with lichen that covered the entire top half of the dome. All around the dome there were woods and lakes, each lake had its own shape, the clouds above left shadows on the far off earth below leaving everything shadowed and patterned as the glittering blue of the water stuck out against the dark green of the surrounding vegetation, the wind gliding around the dome and through the trees as we sat in a circle and ate our lunch. You could see a little piece of the pipeline and the roads that lead to Donnelly Dome, along with Delta Junction. We couldn’t stay forever though and soon left and climbed down which was a lot trickier than going up. Gravity and the steep trail dared us to make a mistake and reminded us that with just one little misstep we could go tumbling down the dome side. But we made it, even if Rory did throw his newly acquired spelling bee drawstring backpack all the way down the dome (it broke by the third or fourth toss). When we finally made it down, we took our “after” pictures, clambered back into the van, ate some snacks, and then lounged on Grandma Lynn’s perfect lawn and admired her garden until it was time to leave and drive the two hours back to Fairbanks.
Through all of these stories I can only think of one story that really identifies a true Alaskan. When I was about three or four years old I spent the weekend at my Grandma Lynn’s house in Delta Junction for the first time by myself. One morning while I was there, I was walking past the sliding glass door when I saw a moose feasting on Grandma’s garden. “A typical moose, weighing 360 kilograms [792 pounds], can eat up to 32 kilograms [70.4 pounds] of food per day” (Moose 4). Because of its ravenous appetite it had been pulled in to munch on Grandma’s succulent garden filled with all kinds of appealing delectable moose goodies like lettuce and cabbage and sweet peas and carrots and broccoli and potatoes and beets, etc. Needless to say I was rather frightened upon seeing this huge beast gorging itself on my Grandma’s garden. I mean really the thing was as big as the house in my little eyes. So I quickly sprinted to the bathroom where Grandma was taking a shower, stammering I shouted, “Grandma! Grandma! There’s an elk! No! A caribou! No it’s kind of like a deer! And it’s eating your garden!!!” Now remember I was only like four and when you’re that age all deer like animals with hooves and antlers are the same. This however, did not stop Grandma. She grabbed a towel, wrapped it around herself, and leaped from the shower. She then ran from the bathroom, to the deck, grabbed the BB gun by the door and began shooting the moose and yelling at it to get out of her garden. I was still frightened by the size of the “monster” so I ran to the living room to hide behind the couch and away from the windows because I didn’t want it to “see me”. I thought if it did it would crawl through the window and eat me or something. Luckily for me however the moose was more afraid of my Grandma armed with her BB gun of justice and it soon scampered off.
My Grandma was a true Alaskan though she was not born here. She was tough and was definitely not a pansy. She was in touch with nature; she could grow anything she had the greenest thumb around. She used this talent to feed herself and others from her garden from subsistence. She used to bring us bags and bags of food every summer. She dressed for the weather and took good care of both her friends and her family, a known contributor throughout the community. She was an outdoors person; she embraced the elements and did a variety of things outside. She worked hard and cared about everyone. She was a true Alaskan and she embraced it full heartedly. So when ever I am asked to think about what a true Alaskan is, I always imagine someone like my Grandma Lynn.