I recently found a new bloggy friend, Theresa from My Fairbanks Life. I found her through Michelle at Scribbit. They’re both Alaskan bloggers. Michelle lives in Anchorage, and Theresa lives in Fairbanks, which is where I spent 5 years as a child. Hearing about the cold snap they’re having right now (I just checked yahoo weather, and they’re saying it’s -43 F right now) put me in mind of some of my own memories of Fairbanks, and the time that I spent there.
I had intended to do this as a Thursday 13, but didn’t get to it until late. So it’s a Friday 13 I guess. Anyway, without further ado, here are 13 things about my time in Fairbanks, Alaska.
- When we first moved to Alaska, it was either 1969 or 1970…I think 1970. We had family who were homesteading outside of Fairbanks, and had a family emergency that called them back to California. The rules of homesteading say that someone has to live there a certain percentage of the year, so they were looking for someone to stay there, and my mom was looking for a place for us to live, so she decided to try homesteading. So there we went, my mom, all of 27 or 28 at the time, and her 6 and 4 year old children, out in the wilds with no running water, no phone, a sled team of lovely Samoyeds, and a Jeep Bronco that had survived the flood in Fairbanks a few years earlier, and gave my mom nothing but grief, usually breaking down on payday. I don’t remember a lot about the homestead itself, except that it was small, and had electricity…I remember watching Wonderful World of Disney on the little black and white TV.
- I remember that we never in our time in Fairbanks had a key to lock our door. My mom said that while we were out on the homestead, if we had locked the door, we might come home to find someone who had run out of gas or somehow wandered by, frozen on our doorstep. (You can see how this could happen when you think of it being -47 right now…) So there were times when we would come home, and someone had indeed come into our house, started the pot-bellied stove (which meant the house was warm! Yay!), and maybe eaten some food. They would leave a note, and perhaps some money, or perhaps the next time they were out our way, we would come home to find the house warm again, and some groceries.
- Without running water, we used to shower at the University, which wasn’t too far away. I think it was between our house and town, actually. We used to ride into town in the mornings, and eat breakfast in the car. Breakfast was often oatmeal in one clear plastic cup, and hot Tang in the other plastic cup. Mmmm. Oatmeal and Tang have such cozy memories for me. Not that I’ve had Tang in the last 30 years or so, but if I did, I’ll bet I would feel cozy.
- My mom had a gun, as any person living out in the woods with bears and moose ought to have. She used it to shoot holes in the ice in the creek that ran by our house, for water to wash the dishes.
- We had a cow moose and her calves visit us one summer. We had a bear visit us another time, and it ate the food meant for the dogs. I’m not positive, but I think we had to have the bear shot, because it wasn’t likely to forget where to find all of that yummy food.
- Eventually I suppose my mom tired of living the rough life (or maybe the family came home from California, I’m not sure), so we moved into town. Our first place was a basement apartment. If you’ve never lived in a basement, with only tiny windows way up high to let in any light, in an environment where the sun pretty much hides for a few months of the year, I’ll save you some trouble. Don’t. This was the place where I boldly told the teacher at my hippy private school (Willow Ptarmigan) that we didn’t have enough money for a Christmas tree, so they sent me home with the top of one on the school bus. It was still 4 or 5 feet tall, and it had frozen solid, so as it thawed, the needles fell off. You could hear them falling off. By the time Christmas rolled around, the tree was completely bald. The bus driver was funny…he wore one of those really puffy red ski coats, and used to make chicken noises to make us laugh. “Who let that chicken on the bus?” He’d say, “brack brack brack brack BRAAACK!”
- After we left the basement apartment, we moved to a place that I don’t think is there anymore. It was on the corner of 2nd and Cowles, and here’s a picture:
My mom named it Antler Manor, and if you look closely, you can see the moose antlers above the door. We loved that house, and would probably be living there still, but one of the hazards of renting is that if your landlord likes to gamble, and perhaps puts his property up in a game, and loses, well, time to move. There was a church next door to us, which eventually bought the house and land, and tore it down to expand their parking lot. 🙁
- The church was where I learned to ride my first bike. My brother’s old hand-me-down, which when he got it, it had training wheels, but those had been left behind in some previous move, so I got to learn without. Which was mostly fine, I was a tough kid and didn’t so much mind falling down. I was very determined to learn, and since we had only 3 channels on TV anyway, there wasn’t much else to do. One horrid time, though, I fell and smashed my hand between the handle bars and a railing at the church. OUCH! My finger turned all kinds of disgusting colors, and swelled up to where it looked like it was going to pop like a sausage, but nothing was broken. Just a very bad bruise.
- We used to go to Alaskaland in the summer. Alaskaland was a park celebrating the history and culture of the area. There were musk oxen, and we would collect tufts of their hair from the fence, where it would come off when they were shedding (molting?) in the spring. It was soft, and we had ideas of knitting something out of it, I suppose, but since that would mean making it into yarn first, and I didn’t know how to knit, I don’t think we ever did anything with it. Alaskaland had a big paddle wheel boat that had that song, “The Entertainer” on a continuous loop. Right outside of the area with the boat was a little ice cream shop, where they would give you broken cones to feed the ducks if you asked nicely. If you sat very still, and were very patient, the ducklings would come to get the ice cream cone, and you could hold them in your lap. I loved that. Not so smart to try with geese, however.
- One year, my grandparents came to visit us, and we took a ride on an actual moving paddle wheel boat. I was, at that time (oh, who am I trying to kid, some things do not change) a champion napper. So I got bored with the scenery or something, and decided it was about time for a little snooze. At that time, I used to love to find hidey hole type places for my naps, my favorites being under tables. Under the dining room table, napping, while family was sitting around talking and laughing, was a very cozy napping place for me. So, off I went on the boat, looking for a cozy spot to nap. And I found an empty room, with a piano in it, and decided that right under the piano looked like a great place for a nap. So snooze away I did. In the meantime, people started coming in and sitting in chairs in front of the piano, and then a pianist came in and started playing music, none of which woke me up. I finally awoke to my frantic mother, who had been looking for me for awhile, and was ready to have the river drug (dragged?) for my poor lifeless body. She hadn’t seen me under the piano when she came in earlier, because of the people sitting there, blocking the view. I think the people in the audience assumed that my parents would know where I was, or were others in the crowd themselves, and so didn’t think to mention to anyone in charge that there was a little girl snoozing away while tunes were played right over her head.
- My doggie, Samantha. I’ve written about her before. When we moved to Antler Manor, one of our roommates had two puppies, and gave us one. That was Samantha. She was a gift to Richard and me, but I soon got tired of having to share her, and bought Richard’s half stake with my Christmas money. Best purchase ever, and I think he was happy, too, because now all of the dog crap was my responsibility. Samantha was the kind of dog I think you only come across once in a lifetime. She was so patient and kind, she let me climb into her crate to watch her give birth to her puppies. She let me put her in my Easter dress. She let me do whatever the heck I wanted to/with her, and loved me unconditionally. I had a dream about her the other night, not really about her, but whatever the dream was about, she was with me, and I woke up feeling like maybe Samantha was my daemon, my animal soul friend like in The Golden Compass. She had two litters of puppies while we were in Fairbanks, one of 14, and one of 13. A few were stillborn, and one got run over, but still, there were a lot of puppies. So I’m guessing there are some decedents of Samantha running around Fairbanks to this day, liking people and being good girls and boys.
- The year after we attended Willow Ptarmigan, and didn’t really learn too much, my mom decided to home school us. This didn’t work out very well, as the books she was required to order through the state didn’t come until after Thanksgiving, and my mom was working 2 jobs at the time. I do remember doing a report on Peru, though, and that for PE, we were going to stomp down the snow as flat as we could in the back yard, then pour water on it, making an ice skating rink. We had a friend who did this, and it turned out great. Well, stomping down snow is exhausting, and we were only 8 and 10 at the time, so we only got a little bit done each day. The night before we were to stomp down our last segment, it snowed. Snowed enough that it looked like we hadn’t ever started the project. That was the end of that. Between the year at WP, and the year at home, it was decided we had missed a bit, and so we were held back a year when we moved to California. Which is why I decided to graduate from High School early, because otherwise, I would have been 19 1/2 when I graduated. No thanks.
- Am I really at 13 already? Is anyone still reading this novel? Crazy. After we left Antler Manor, we moved in with my mom’s friend Linda, and her husband, Bobby. They had a little 3 bedroom house, and there were at that point 7 of us living there. That was in 1975, and the pipeline business was booming. The housing shortage in Fairbanks was epic, and I remember stories of 20 people or more living in a tiny apartment, sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor, in shifts. So clearly my mom was unable to find a place to rent when we had to move, and things were a bit more crowded than we liked with Linda and Bobby (though they were gracious enough to let us stay.) My mom had a friend with a restaurant in town, which had a wine cellar. The friend said she was willing to convert the wine cellar into a little apartment for us, but my mom decided that living in a basement under a restaurant in an overcrowded town where you suddenly did have to worry about locking your doors, as the crime rate was booming along with the population, wasn’t something she was interested in any longer. So within days, she had us on a plane for California, and that was the end of my very own Fairbanks life.
I’ve been to Juneau once since then, which is where my mom and brother and SIL moved from California in the mid-90s, but never back to Fairbanks. I keep thinking it would be cool to take a vacation up there, and show Ted and Maya where I lived, and maybe try to find if there’s still a building out where the homestead was.
Thanks for coming along on this convoluted and very twisty post down memory lane. 13 things, and I still didn’t get to Eskimo Yo-Yos, blanket tossing, the igloo we built at WP, or the birthday cakes Amy Durocher and I used to make out of dog food in her easy bake, for Samantha and her dog, Blossom. Maybe next time.