A Letter from Alaska-1951

by Betty

Alaska, here we come. Columbus could not have been more excited when he landed on the shores of America.

We arrived in Anchorage with several bits and pieces hanging together after 12 days and 3600 miles and $140 cash. The last days were long and hectic as the trailer frame sprung and it sagged more each mile as we traveled on. No longer did it look good inside. Most of the cabinet doors were shaken from the hinges. The walls and cupboards had parted forever. The mud covering much of the outside was permanent.

The roads were not quite roads but perhaps one day they will be. We had followed a caterpillar rig over heavy mud. We stayed right close behind. The trailer still road high and we made it. We almost made it on our own except for one 5 mile stretch that was being repaired. We hit the mud mid center and sunk down to the frame – car and trailer. Sat for several hours until a road grader came by and hauled us through. Started seeing several road repair signs. Didn’t realize we were on a road.

Anchorage was a military boom town. Too full of people, some good, some not so good, soldiers, airplanes, mud and dust. Never before had we waded ankle deep in mud and choked on dust at the same time. Down town was two blocks of paved road, a few bars, a post office, street lights, and one store that was the hardware store, the pharmacy, the clothing store, the grocery store. Groceries came by boat up the inlet or by plane. We learned to stock up. I learned to make do with powdered milk and powdered eggs. I learned to bake bread. Never before (or since) have we seen families surviving in cardboard box shelters.

At the top of a hill and at the bottom of a mountain, we turned left, parked the trailer, and called it home for two years. The area had a large club house. Men’s bathroom on one end and ladies on the opposite end. In the center was a washing machine and indoor clotheslines. We had electricity. We carried water from the clubhouse.

Lucky we chose the left side of the road. The opposite side disappeared in the 1960’s earth quake – gone were the house trailers, the people, the land – all gone in the blink of an eye.

One day our black cocker wandered off – not to be found or seen. Ten days later a man appeared at our door saying he might have found our dog. He’d taken her to the vet. There she was – a ragged, listless, shivering dog. Two weeks later we took her home.

I took family leave – no pay – for two weeks. I sat by my listless dog, administering antibiotics and pain pills every eight hours. One day, cooking wieners, I heard a move. Her eyes were open, her ears alert, and she ate bits of a wiener. First real food in a month. It was our introduction to a leash; never been without one since that near fatal bear attack. Thanks to the hunter who responded to the weak whimper and yelp – a call for help.

Anchorage had an elementary school and a high school. Eskimo children trudged one or two miles to and from school, in the dark, always present, always on time, always alert, listening and curious.

The military children were noisy, talkative and understood “Attention!” The high school was poorly supplied. Children came to school when it best suited them. Children grew up too fast – hunting, fishing, pack packing came first before school.

Alaska scenery is spectacular – white snow forever covering the mountains, crystal clear lakes. The northern lights are colorful, vivid, fast moving. Can be chilly come winter – 10⁰ to 20⁰ below zero. We and Mr. Dithers (our dog now on her leash) wandered the mountains and river valleys – aimlessly like the black bear, the deer, the elk – respectful of them and their territory. The city snuggled between mountains and dense green forests. The low ground was covered with gold and pink shooting star wild flowers. Those are the state flowers, the Forget-Me-Not. Well chosen. No one who has ever lived in Alaska will ever forget Alaska.

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