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Friday, December 22, 2017

Family Secrets - Christmas Travel

In all the years I spent in Alaska I only decided to return to the lower 48 for Christmas once.  My kids were a little up set, more for me than for them I suspect.  They had visions of me sitting in my little basement dwelling, watching television all alone with a little TV dinner while I cried into my eggnog.  That was not the case due to nice people that always seemed to take pity on a single person around Christmas time.  I always had a Christmas dinner and a New Year happening to go to.  The reason I did not return more than once had a lot to do about not spending the $1000 the trip would have cost and the hassle it involved.

The coming and going from the village over Christmas vacation was always a real mental and physical hardship let alone a financial drain.  Leaving from bush Alaska is not an easy task under the best of circumstances let alone over a busy holiday period.

The year I did return, my first year there, it went something like this -
Around the 20th of December the teachers who were leaving congregated in the school office.  They waited for the fifteen minute warning call from a plane that would carry them off.  When the call was received all the bags were thrown into a sled attached to a snow-go and we piled on top of them and sped towards the landing strip.  We hoped our timing was right so as not to miss the plane or worse yet get to the strip to early and wait in the freezing cold longer than necessary.  The plane only held nine people plus baggage and it takes two and sometimes three trips in an out of the village to the regional airport, about an hour away, to get everyone on their way.

Once arriving at the regional airport, in this particular case Bethel, it was easy to transfer to a regular jet liner, seating about 50, for the trip to Anchorage.  We got into Anchorage around  and the flight to the lower 48 took off at .  Going to a motel seems ludicrous so it is customary to find a soft metal bench or an even a softer portion of some indoor outdoor carpet and try and sleep. 

The flight I was on was going to Seattle first where you may or not spend the night.  Sometimes the flight goes to Chicago or even Houston non stop but not this time.  From Seattle we went to Denver then to Chicago, my final destination that year. 

After visiting that year the return trip I thought would be more relaxing due mostly to the fact I didn’t care if I got back on time or not.  However it turned out to be far more taxing.

It was a direct shot to Anchorage from Chicago.  What could go wrong?  Well, as we were going down the runway and were just about ready to lift off for our seven hour flight the engines suddenly unwound, setting the nose back on the tarmac and the plane started heading back towards the terminal.  The captain came over the intercom and explained that there was nothing serious but a light had come on indicating a pressure door was malfunctioning.  It needed to be checked out.  It took two hours to check the situation out and naturally we were not allowed to deplane. 

We tried the takeoff again and this time met with success.  The seven hour flight went smooth enough but every time we hit an air pocket I had visions of one of the doors blowing off.

Our landing in Anchorage was as smooth a landing as I had ever experienced.  We parked by our gate but then it took another two hours to get the door opened.  I guess they did a good job of closing it in Chicago.

By this time it was  and our plane to Bethel was leaving at .  So I found another soft metal bench and some softer indoor outdoor carpeting close to the ticket gate and settled in.

I had planned on being first in line that morning but so did everyone else and I was number 29.  By the time I was number 10 an airline employee made an announcement indicating I was in the wrong line.  I informed whoever would listen that I was in the line I was told to be in.  I was then informed by a very polite soft spoken lady representing the airline that I was now being told to do something else and that I need not yell.

I am ashamed to say that I must have made quite a scene going to another line because two airline ticket agents came out from behind the counter and gave me special attention.  I was calming down and things were going well when it was discovered that the computer did not have me listed on the flight to Bethel and there were no seats left for over twenty-four hours.  Another scene arose.  As I was shouting out my confirmation number a phone call was made and security guards started congregating in the area.  The problem was soon rectified and I thanked the ticket agent the best I could through my hyperventilating and went off to my gate.

We took off without door problems or lights coming on and an hour later we landed in Bethel amidst a blizzard.  I took a $12, three block cab ride to the air carrier that would take me to Hooper Bay in about an hour.  I was informed that the flight had been delayed due to weather.  Ten hours later the flight was canceled.  I was put on a stand by list for the following morning.

In the mean time more teachers had arrived trying to catch a flight to the bush. They were more experienced than I about such things so I just sat back and listened to what they had to say.  The terminal was closing down and the authorities would not allow anyone to stay in the terminal over night.  To bad I thought because the metal benches seemed sort of comfortable.  The travel pros had made tentative reservations at one of the several motels and by the time I started calling around there were no rooms at the inn.  I pictured myself standing out in the cold all night when a teacher suggested I call the police to see if they had room.  I was a little perplexed until he informed me that sometimes the police let stranded passengers sleep in one of the cells if one was available.  I had no choice.

I made the call to the local constabulary and was told to come on over.  Twenty minutes and $15 later I was placed in a cell with two other transients for the night.  It was the first and only time up till now that I have ever been incarcerated as such.

The next morning I caught a taxi back to the airport, this time costing $20 and got ready for my supposedly  flight.  Nine AM came and went and around 10:00 AM I began to hear rumors that weather was still bad in Hooper Bay and that we would be in Bethel another night.  It was then that the luck of the Irish placed its charms around me.

 As I was leaning against the counter listening to the pros talk about what to do next, an employee came out of the back room from behind the counter and told the Eskimo ticket agent to get nine people on a manifest to Hooper Bay and he did not care which nine they were.  So much for a stand by list.  I immediately turned around and said, “Give me a ticket.”  The teachers began jostling and shoving their way to the counter and I got out of the way for fear of life and limb.  The plane took off about an hour later.

When we landed in Hooper Bay it was 10 below and the wind chill brought the temperature down to minus 42.  There was no time to delay.  We hurriedly threw our bags on the sled trip to school, jumped on top and off we went towards the school about a mile away.  We zoomed across the tundra at 35 mph which was fast but not fast enough into the wind and a teacher later told me that he calculated the temperature was -75 degrees with the wind chill.

The following years I made no special attempt to go home for Christmas.  It was too much of a hassle.  I told my family and friends not to worry about me but to instead concern themselves with those young men and women that are really spending Christmas far away from home and really have no choice.  They are not teachers, I think the term used is "being in the military."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Family Secrets - Music Festival

If you were there I don't have to describe it, if you were to young or not there you have perhaps heard the stories and I don't need to repeat them.  If you heard it was full of nudity, public sex, and drugs-you heard right.  But there is another story you might not have heard:

The local National Guard unit and those units in the surrounding area as far away as Kansas City were put on duty that weekend.  We went about our business as usual.  The Adjutant General of the state of Missouri visited our unit and went on a fact finding mission to the festival.  He wore civilian clothes and without a huge entourage. 

About 1 a.m. Sunday morning I received a phone call from my commanding officer who told me to report to the armory immediately and to ware civilian clothes.  The Chief of Staff of the Army National Guard got us all together, about 100 of us, and told us that there was one drug overdose case every five minutes being taken to the the Bothwell emergency room.  The concern was that there were many more that were not making it to Bothwell and needed assistance.  "You are on a life saving mission, you are not there to enforce laws.  You have about 10% hard core out there but the remaining 90% are just kids raising hell and having fun in their mind."

A dawn we all boarded army vehicles, given a Security T-shirt, and given sectors to patrol and a radio if help was needed to evacuate some one from the grounds.  A make shift hospital was set up near the site of the fair administration building manned by army doctors and nurses flown in from a Kansas City armory. 

About half way through the day I received a call that my wife had called the armory, that she needed me and I was to come home immediately.  I was whisked off by a highway patro car, found my wife in labor.  I took my wife to the hospital where she gave birth to our first daughter.  She asked me if I was going back to the fair grounds and I said no, they can manage without me. 

For the most part the Ozark Music Festival was handled just fine.  I don't know if any deaths occurred or not, it has been a long time ago and far, far, away it seems. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Family Secrets - Homecomig

Family Secrets - Homecoming.

I do not recall the day or any special events leading up to the time Dad got home from Korea.  I am sure there must have been some discussion about Dad’s homecoming but I do not recall any single event except Christmas morning of 1954. 

We had as usual put up a tree and had plenty of presents underneath.  I was as excited as a second grader would be for Christmas morning.  My grandfather and grandmother were not happy at all.  A sadness permeated their face.  I was eager to open my presents and was allowed to do so, but they told me that they wanted to wait and open theirs when Dad got home.  I remember thinking why would they want to wait with all those packages just begging to be opened.  I cannot recall any particular present I got that year.  It would be a nice touch to this narrative for me to say the best present I got that year was Dad coming home and it was but only in retrospect.

While I was playing with whatever I got Mama and Baba just sort of went about their business trying to pass the time away and even going to the front door now and then to see who had just pulled up in front of the house.  I remember Baba going out in the front yard just standing their smoking cigarettes looking up and down the street while Mama busied herself in the kitchen. 

I don’t know how long it was after Christmas when Dad did arrived, but it must not have been that long, like two or three days, because I was still on vacation from school and was allowed to stay up late at night.

My grandfather was working the night shift at Westinghouse and Mama was in the kitchen when I heard the porch door open and though the window pane of our house Dad looked though the glass smiling. 

I am sure that my grandmother must have cried while they hugged and the only thing I remember is Dad telling her it seemed like home had been a world away the last two years. 

My Grandfather got home around  and they sat down and opened all the remaining presents.  I even had a couple to open that Mama had hid.  I was glad to get them and while they stayed up and visited I sat next to Dad on the couch and drifted off to sleep.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Family Secrets - Christians, a real minority

Family Secrets - Christians a real minority

In Fairmount and especially Crisp Lake there was only one Negro named Mac who shined shoes in one of the barbershops.   There were no American Indians, Jews, or Mexicans any where to be found around the neighborhood.  Catholics were here and there but really could not be counted as a true minority because most of them lived north of 24 Highway.  We did have one family living on Ash who it was suspected were gypsies, but no one knew for sure.  No the only minority present in our little community was me.

Being raised a Christian Scientist had some advantages.  First of all you did not have to take the yearly polio shot or what ever types of shots they were giving out that year at school.  When it was my turn for some sort of vaccination a parent aid would whisper something to the nurse, a notation was made on a piece of paper and the next child in line stepped forward and I returned to my seat.  I really felt fortunate, shots scared me and I knew they must be painful.  Secondly there were not many rules involved being a Christian Scientist.  No one said if you did this or did that or you didn’t do this or that you were going to suffer eternal damnation or something.  Hell was not addressed as such and talk of heaven consisted of ‘passing on’ and living on in the minds of others.

If you were to ask people what they know about Christian Scientist a preponderance would say “aren’t they the ones who don’t believe in doctors?”  A few might know who Mary Baker Eddy was (she founded the religion in 1875) or that there was a news paper by that name or perhaps to the truly knowledgeable of trivia, that the headquarters of the church were in Boston (or was it Baltimore)  and that Alan Shepard our first man in space was a Christian Scientist.  Four of the five above are true, one is a little iffy. 

The idea that Christian Scientists don’t believe in doctors is not actually correct.  Their doctrine allows each member to make up their own mind on how to live their life given the teachings of Jesus and the Bible as explained in ‘Science and Health with Keys to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy,’ which includes health care.  Some use doctors some don’t, some take medication some don’t, it is really an individual choice.  They are  encouraged to obey all laws pertaining to health care and if shots are required they are to be taken.  There were not many laws back then that required one to have shots unless you joined the military, ergo no shots for this kid while growing up.

For the purist in the religion or the real conservative type, Christian Scientist do have what they call Practitioners that are consulted when health matters arise.  To make this concept simple let us just say that if you are ill, you talk to a Practitioner.  They don’t cast spells or perform rites or anything like that nor are they licensed by the church or state as far as I know, they just help you see the truth and as it is said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  (Another big saying that Christian Scientist have is “Devine love has always met and always will meet every human need.”)

We had Sunday School like most all churches and I got a good education about the make up of the Bible and knew and still do most of the stories from the old and new testament.  Of course the healing  ones depicted in the Bible were given a lot of attention.

Other churches may have and do look on Christian Science as a cult at least by definition just like they do the Mormons.  By definition they might be correct.  Christian Scientist do not believe in the trinity.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Ghost back then) are part of the belief system but they are all separate entities not just one - a much easier concept to grasp.  God is that indescribable  concept that resides in that just as indescribable place called heaven, Jesus is his son, divine but not God on earth in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit sort of mystically runs around between humans, God, and Jesus. (I always thought it interesting that of the two major religions started in the United States, Christian Science  and Mormons, neither believe in the trinity.  It is probably a coincidence unless one or both religions are really the chosen people and not that other group. That is a thought that you would never hear from a Christian Scientist but probably a core belief in Salt Lake City.)  There is no professional clergy, (they have a First Reader and Second Reader, one reads a Bible passage and the other reads from Science and Health explaining what was just read by the other,) no weddings, baptisms, christenings, official inductions nor funerals are performed in or by the church.  There are no revivals, fund raisers, pot lucks, deviations from the script prepared by the Mother Church read each Sunday morning and Wednesday night service, nor any real fun things to do at all.  It was sort of a boring church for a kid as far as I was concerned.  The service and theology are more of a cerebral nature and if the truth be known eludes most adherents.   

I never felt any prejudice directed towards me because of my religion but I was defiantly part of a system that others did not understand nor were interested in finding out more about and it seems like other parents always wanted me to go to church with their children when youth meetings were held  because they were concerned about my soul.  I usually went because they always seemed to have good treats afterwards and most were my friends from the neighborhood anyway.

Gradually I drifted away from the church and have joined different churches from time to time.  I have been a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, Quaker, and Disciple of Christ church member in the past.  All seemed about the same, some were a little more demanding on how you conducted your personal life but that really never bothered me because when it comes to religion we are all part of the same hypocrisy, picking and choosing what we believe in as we interpret the bible.

However one never escapes his early up bringing.  Ideas are planted early and lay dormant but now and then blossom and grow.  You try to kill them off now and then but they keep coming back.  I still consider myself to be a Christian Scientist though I don’t officially or actively practice it anymore except when I become a little ill or just before my annual physical.  I have to do it all by memory now because I don’t have any idea where my copy of Mrs. Eddy’s book is anymore.

The overriding beliefs taught to me in Sunday school that have stayed with me over the years and still imprinted on my mind come from my Christian Science up bringing and other than those I am not real sure about that mystery we call religion.  I am pretty sure that Man is not material he is Spiritual, God is Love and when we pass on we will all be surprised.

I do have a good set of friends now that are true believers and they are very much more concerned about my salvation than I am.  I appreciate that very much.

Family Secrets - Calvary Trooper

Family Secrets – Calvary Trooper

When my grandfather turned 17 he thought it was about time he left home to see the world.  So in 1922 he and a childhood friend of the same age took off from the only home they had ever known in Independence.  They had little money but thought they could work their way across the country by doing odd jobs along the way, besides they had been in Boy Scouts together and knew how to camp and live off the land so they figured.

In February they began to hitchhike after a flip of the coin determined they would head east towards New York.  I am not sure what they were thinking to leave then in the middle of the blistery cold Missouri winter especially hitchhiking in 1922.  There could have not been that many motorized vehicles traveling the roads back then.  However those cars or truck that were making such trips back then were probably more inclined to pick up riders than they would today.

The first day they had made it as far as WarrensburgMissouri and stayed in a place that shall we say had less than a reputable reputation.  They spent more money there than they had planned.

I don’t know how long it took them or how they managed, but a week later they found themselves wondering around the back streets of St. Louis, cold, broke, and hungry.  They saw a recruiting poster with Uncle Sam pointing a finger at them telling them that he wanted them.  The recruiting Sergeant befriended them, fed them, and let them sleep in his office that night.  The next morning several your men arrived with their suitcases in tow to be sworn in to the U.S. Army.  The recruiting Sergeant told them that if they swore they were 21 they could join too.  Later that afternoon Granddad was on a train west to CheyenneWyoming to be part of the 4th Calvary.  He had never ridden a horse in his life.

He never related much about how he learned to be a Calvary troop nor much of anything about basic training or the army in general.  The only story he did relate to me was that one day while standing in formation the First Sergeant asked if anyone knew how to drive a tuck.  My grandfather thought that would be a good job, at least he could get out of riding a horse and the other silly minutiae that was probably in store for him that day.  He volunteered.  The rest of the afternoon he pushed a wheelbarrow around the company area hauling gravel from one end of the compound to another.

He started keeping a journal while in Wyoming but only for a short time and even then it was no more than a one or two word entry.  “went to town,” “saw Missy last night,” “twenty mile troop ride today,” “Inspection this afternoon.”  There were only entries like that for about 20 days.  I wonder who Missy was, or what a 20 mile troop ride must have been like, what did he do when he went to town, who were his buddies he did things with, what happened to his buddy he had joined with, I guess I will never know. 

He apparently did not like the army much so after 18 months of doing whatever he was doing he sent his father a letter asking him to see if he could help Granddad buy his way out of his four year military obligation.  That was standard procedure back in those days.

Some how the family managed to raise $1,500 and Granddad was a free man and returned to Independence.  As far as I know he never rode a horse again.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Family Secrets - Teacher Jail

Family Secrets- Teacher Jail

In September of 2003 I wrote an article for the Independence Examiner that got be in all sorts of trouble.  It was a humorous article, or so I thought, of what lengths teacher's would go through or thought about going through to be able to drink alcohol in "dry" Eskimo Villages (see blog November 2010.)  My intent was to make fun of us, the teachers, and not them, the Eskimos.  However I hit a nerve when I mentioned that in Hooper Bay..."most native men and many women drank alcohol."  It was like I dared to mention the 600 pound walrus sitting in the living room that everyone was ignoring.

Eventually the Police Chief of Hooper Bay or one of his associates became aware of the article and some how it was circulated around the village.  The Police Chief was a nice person and not vindictive, so I suspect if he was the culprit he would have said something to me so the entire situation could have been straightened out right away.  However no one said anything for a very long time and no telling how long the pot boiled with displeasure.

One day in April the principal informed me that the village native chief wanted to talk to me.  I told him sure, send him on over to the the classroom.  The Chief never showed up.  A week later the District School Superintendent came to the village and told me to come see him after school.

When we met he immediately showed me a photocopy of the article I had written back in September and said he was concerned that I had written it.  I asked him if there was anything in the article that was not accurate.  He didn't comment directly, he just repeated that he was concerned.  We sat there in silence for awhile and then he told me that the village chief had informed him that the former mayor of the village was upset and had threatened to shoot me.  He went on to say that everyone knew the mayor had a tendency to get drunk now and then and that his threat should be taken seriously.  The superintendent told me to pack my bags and I was to fly to the district office with him.

I was a little dumbfounded and didn't know what the big deal was.  I mean how could a guy get into trouble just telling the truth.  Being a history major I should have known that the truth some times stings more than a lie.

The school district headquarters was located in Mountain Village a couple of hundred miles away.  They maintained a dormitory there for travelling employees.  The district fixed me up with a room, provided me with kitchen priviledges, and provided me with a charge account at the local store to buy food and necessities.  Other than showing me my room no administrator spoke to me for over a week.

Eventually I was given an assignment to work with a couple of local native ladies grading a district wide test.  I did this for the next six weeks.  The ladies and I became friends after awhile and one invited me over to her house for dinner.  She asked me why I was there and I told her.  She seemed sort of relieved and told me that the rumor was that I was a child molester and that I was taken out of the village while an investigation was taking place.  I asked her to please put that rumor to rest.

None of the administrative staff really talked to me about what to expect or when I could return or what my status was or would be.  I had learned many years ago that when you come to an impasse in any situation the one who seems most anxious to reach a conclusion is the one who talks first and the one who talks first usually looses.  I said nothing to anyone.  The administration and I were playing a waiting game.  I knew they could not fire me because I had done nothing to break the contract.  If I had lost my temper and just left then I would have forfeited my pay and be in breach of our contract and certainly would not have been employed by them again or any other district in Alaska.  I had signed a contract a couple of months earlier with the district but did not know if it had been certified by the board.  It was hard to make plans for the next year and I must admit I was stressed about the whole thing.

One day about a week before school was out, the Human Resource Director, whom I had known for a few years and were friends with somewhat, stopped me in the hall and asked me if anyone had shown me my contract for next year.  He then pulled out my file showed me the contract that had been approved two days before I was exiled to Mountain Village.  I did not mention the fact that I knew I had a job the next year to any of the administrators but did walk around with a smirk on my face for awhile.  I had won.

They flew me back to Hooper Bay and I mailed my stuff to the school I would be at the next year.  Most of the teachers had already left and all but three of the villagers ignored me.  Three men came by whom I had befriended and them me the last couple of years, part of the maintenance staff, and each shook my hand.  That meant a lot to me.

I was very bitter for awhile but as time passed I thought perhaps I should have been a little moor sensitive about making fun concerning the use of alcohol in the village.  Alcohol is a problem in every village I lived in and nothing I said in the article was not true.  However somethings should just be left unsaid I guess.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Family Secrets - The Wreck

Family Secrets - The Wreck

Mom and Dad had been dating for less than a year. It was drizzling rain when he picked her up from her home in Kansas City, Kansas and they went to a dance at William Chrisman High School. After the dance they decided to stop by a local drive-in and take the long way back to her house. While at the drive-in Dad and another guy got into an argument as to who had the fastest car. There was no drag strip in those days for the argument to be settled but there was always Kentucky Road just outside of Sugar Creek where such matters were easily delt with.

The two cars met at the appropriate place. A crowd had gathered and one of the two antagonist’s mutual friends gave the signal for the race to begin.

Dad did not win the race due to the fact that he hit a slick spot on the road, turned the car in a one eighty and went over an embankment. He was thrown against the steering wheel, bruised his chest and suffered some minor lacerations. Mom’s head went through the windshield.

By the time the on lookers got to the site, blood was every where, mostly Mom’s. One of the guys said they needed to take mom to the hospital immediately and there was a momentary hesitation as to whose car she should go in. “She’ll get blood all over my car,” one guy reportedly said. One of the larger of the group took charge and put mom in the closest car and sort of dared anyone to complain.

They arrived at the hospital where dad’s parents were called and he was immediately treated for his injuries. Mom’s mother was called but mom’s stepfather was hard of hearing and did not understand that they were supposed to come to the hospital and give permission for the doctors to treat mom since she was under age.

Dad’s mom and dad waited and waited, mom was kept from bleeding to death by basic first aid but no procedures were given to help her further. My grandmother decided she would sign the papers to commence doing whatever was needed to be done when finally Mom’s mom showed up, having realized what had happened via a second phone call that she answered.

Mom had a minor concussion and a slashed cheek. It took several hours to sew her up. She asked the doctor later how many stitches she received and the doctor told her, “Honey I stopped counting at 350.”

Mom had a terrible scar for the rest of her life. I never noticed anything out of the ordinary though because it was just part of the only her I had ever known. The scar was still visible if you knew where to look when I  kissed her on the cheek the night she died.  Wrinkles and sagging facial muscles had made it all but disappear to everyone else.