The Alaska years
From Wichita, Kansas, we moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where my father took a position working for Radio Alaska. Later we moved to Fairbanks, where he became the manager of KFRB radio in Fairbanks. My memories of Alaska are jumbled up, and I’m not sure where some of these things took place. The following events occurred over a three to four year period. The time-line is hazy for me… I will share some personal anecdotes because they help to flesh out my feelings and impressions of my parents, which will be important to what happens along the way.
There were the three of us kids when we moved to Anchorage. Daddy worked at the radio station, but he was often out in the field gathering news and reporting on local events. One time he took me along with him for a day of publicity work. First we went to the airport where he showed me the plane he was flying (he had a private pilot’s license) from Juneau to Whitehorse and other places. Then he took me out on a commercial king crab boat. Those crabs were huge – some of them had a diameter larger than my own height – and I was terrified. With Daddy’s help, I climbed up on his shoulders and refused to come down for fear of those monsters.
One day my mother had a lady visitor come for coffee. They were sitting at the kitchen table, which had a door leading into back yard, and she sent my sister and me out to play. It was odd for my mother to have a lady friend come over – she did not get along with other women. The house we were living in had a big stockade fence surrounding the back yard. I took my sister by the hand, and led her out of the gate and behind the fence into the area behind our yard. I saw a mountain lion sitting just watching us, and first I froze and told my sister to stop. Then we carefully and slowly went back to the gate and got inside to safety. We rushed in to tell my mom and her company that we saw a lion, but neither of them believed us, no matter how much I insisted.
My brother Clifton came along, making us the Four Little “C’s”. Mom was a dog breeder, raising Weimeraners and Basenjis. My Nana later told me that Daddy also gave my mother her own radio show “It’s a Woman’s World” so that she would be too busy with radio life to take her frustrations out on me. I remember hearing her intro to her show on the radio, and I was glad she was doing the show because that meant she wasn’t at home. I knew that my mother was the one in charge in our home a great deal of the time. We were somewhat wealthy during these years, and we had nannies and nurses to care for us when our mother was away.
I don’t know what to make of this next event… for years I have told this story, and this is how I remembered it: my sister and I were in a room and Daddy came in and gave me a peeled orange, and left. I shared the orange with my sister. A little while later, Daddy came in and handed another peeled orange to my sister. I told him I had given her half of mine, and I expected him to tell her to share hers with me. But instead he said; “I didn’t tell you to share”. I’ve always felt uneasy with this scene; I could never figure out Daddy’s reasoning, because it just didn’t fit with my image of him.
But just lately as I’ve been praying for the Lord to show me things, I’ve reluctantly allowed the blinders to come off so I could interpret what I already knew but wouldn’t address. The “room” we were in was a utility closet next to the kitchen; there was a water heater, a bag of dogfood, a mop and a broom. There were no windows. I have seen my father as a hero and the apple of my eye all these years, and I just couldn’t accept that my sister and I were being kept in a closet with his knowledge. I feel certain that it wasn’t Daddy who put us there in the first place, but that he knew we’d be hungry so he brought us an orange. I can’t understand why we were kept in the closet, and I don’t know anything about what was happening elsewhere in the house.
I have another memory of all four of us kids (little brother Clifton was crawling and getting into stuff) in that utility closet and we were hungry so we decided to try the dry dogfood. I remember we all ate it, and I vomited it up later. Again, I don’t know why we were there, but we were hungry. There were no chairs or furniture to sit on, it was just a utility closet and we were standing in a sort of triangle facing each other, with Clifton crawling around on the floor in a nightgown with a drawstring at the bottom so his feet weren’t sticking out; he was pretty grubby looking, but was the happiest of the four of us.
My dad loved to camp and often took us camping in the wild beside a river. He dug a latrine for us and taught us how to sit over the edge of a log, and how to use a shovel afterwards. He caught fish for us and cooked it over the campfire. He also loved to hunt. I was Daddy’s girl, and I loved camping! Whenever we were out in the wild, my dad was definitely in charge, and my mother was usually busy with the baby or off doing her own thing.
One day Daddy brought home two gigantic king salmon. One was my height, and the other came up to my chest. Daddy wrapped one of them in foil and baked it in the oven, and we feasted on it. I was so proud that my father could bring home meat that he caught or hunted himself.
I lost my first tooth on a piece of birdshot in a Ptarmigan that we were eating for dinner. My sister knocked my second tooth out of my mouth with her head while we were tussling on the floor. She got a neat little dent in her forehead, but it soon went away, while I had the look of a jack-o-lantern and hated to see myself in the mirror.
We had a nurse/nanny who made cookies for us one day. They were white with green icing, and since green meant poison, I was sure that she meant to poison us. I took my little sister by the hand and we left. We walked several blocks, past a construction site, and the whole time I tried to reason with myself about why the nurse would want to poison us. I finally decided that we were tired and needed to go back, and so we went home and accepted the cookies.
One day I was sitting in the back yard next to the incinerator. I saw a small spider and I was so petrified of spiders that normally I would have run away. But for some reason I told myself that I could overcome my fear of spiders if I let this one climb up my arm. So I gritted my teeth and let it crawl on my hand, then up my wrist, but by the time it got to the middle of my forearm I went into a panic and shook it off, screaming. I don’t know why I was so terrified of spiders, but this is unfortunately one fear I have still not conquered – every single night of my life I check under the covers and on the walls and floor and ceiling to make sure I can’t see any spiders before I go to sleep.
One time Daddy and a man we called “Uncle” Luke went to a swap meet where Alaska Native people had booths selling their furs and goods. I became separated from Daddy and Luke as I was weaving in and out in the crowd, looking past big-people legs as I tried to see what was going on. When I realized I was lost, I started to cry out for Daddy. It wasn’t too long before he found me and scooped me up, and put me on his shoulders so I could see and stay safe.
My mother was learning to fence. She and Uncle Luke were wearing strange white costumes with face guards. They fenced in the living room, but their foils were not sharp. My mother’s aggression came out when she did this, and she seemed energized by it. She laughed and flirted with Uncle Luke, and even though she didn’t really win, she claimed victory. It was fun but a little scary watching. She could be very dangerous when she was angry, (Nana told me that she once picked up a 60 pound Weimeraner and heaved it across the room in a fit of anger) and it was best to let her win.
One day my dad took me for a ride to town. He had a book in the car, and I could already read at four. I sounded out the title, and I asked him what the John Birch Society was. He said it was something that wasn’t very nice, and we shouldn’t say that name in front of other people. Daddy had some business to attend to and I couldn’t accompany him, so he dropped me off at a house where a very strange old lady was babysitting a bunch of kids. She made us all sleep in cribs, and she kept moving between our cribs checking on us. I don’t know why, but I was afraid of her, so I pretended to be asleep. I hated that place and told Daddy about it when he picked me up. I begged him not to take me back there, and he said he wouldn’t.
Daddy liked to play poker, and occasionally had men over to the house for card parties. We lived in a different house, and I had a bedroom next to the dining room where Daddy and his friends were playing poker. I had a crib for a bed. I couldn’t sleep with all the noise the men were making, so I climbed out of bed and went to Daddy. I asked him if I could play poker too, and he asked the other guys if they would let me sit in for a hand. They agreed, and he told me that Poker was a very hard game to learn, and I would probably lose. He said I needed to bet something, and told me I could play if I bet my bedroom and all my toys. I quickly agreed, certain I couldn’t lose, and they dealt me in. Of course I lost, but I kept a stiff upper lip as he explained that now my room and my toys belonged to these men. Then asked the guys if they would let me have my room and my toys back if I promised not to play poker anymore, and they all agreed, so I kissed my dad and said thank you and hurried back to bed, greatly relieved. (Ironically, a few years later Daddy taught me how to play Stud Poker, Black Jack and Solitaire.)
That “bedroom” was a large closet. It was just big enough for my crib and some shelves in the back with my clothes and toys. No windows. Without going into unnecessary details, I was four years old and already aware of my own sexuality. I also knew that there was something wrong with this, so I kept it a secret. I was learning to hide things from my mother especially, in order to avoid being hit or slapped.
The house in Fairbanks was a two-story house. I had my own “bedroom”: again it was a large walk-in closet with no windows. This one was large enough for my twin bed, a dresser and a few toys. There was a hanging lamp. I remember the day the big earthquake hit. I was up in my room being punished by Carol, the babysitter. The dresser drawers were coming open, the light was swinging, and my bed was shaking. At first I thought our dog, Bubu, was in the room shaking the bed, but I realized she couldn’t make the drawers move out or make the door and lamp swing, so I got up and dashed for the door, shouting for Carol. She told me to stand in the frame of the door and not to come downstairs until it stopped. I was very afraid, but after the quake and a few aftershocks, it stopped and things seemed to go back to normal.
There was no Kindergarten where we were living, so I started school in first grade. I was in school when the news came over the loudspeaker that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. My teacher started weeping, and so all of the students in my class became afraid and we, too, started crying.
Daddy became ill and lost his voice – later we found out that Daddy had cancer. The following we packed up and moved to the California desert to be close to Nana (Daddy’s mother). My mother went ahead to California with the two boys, and Daddy and Christi and I drove the ALCAN highway, camping all along the way. What a joy to have my daddy to myself, without my mother to interfere or punish me for every little thing. It was an experience I have always treasured in my heart.
To be continued…
 Sometimes when I have shared this story, people have challenged me, saying there are no mountain lions in Alaska. While it is true that they were rare, it was not unheard of for them to range so far north, and I stand by my account of this event.
 Fencing, also called Olympic fencing, is a sport in which two competitors fight using ‘Rapier-style’ swords, winning points by making contact with their opponent.
 Upon reflection I speculate that my father was doing research for his radio show.
 The Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami of March 27, 1964. On March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time (March 28 at 3:36 UTC) a great earthquake of magnitude 9.2 occurred in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska