Thursday, June 15, 2017

Our Surprise Honeymoon

Last week, Bob and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary, and I blogged about the events that threatened to derail our best-laid plans. After the ceremony and brief reception on that Saturday evening 50 years ago, we hopped back into our Chevy Impala and drove the 500 miles back to Fairbanks, so we could return to our jobs on Monday. No time for a honeymoon! 

Back in Fairbanks, our working schedules were crazy that summer. Bob worked for the Alaska Highway Department from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. I worked at the Alaska Purchase Centennial Exposition from 2 p.m. until midnight. Not a great schedule for anyone, let alone newlyweds!

The Chena River flows through Fairbanks, Alaska

On July 1st, at about nine o'clock in the morning, I was jolted awake by violent shaking and a big crash as something fell on the roof above my head.

Adrenalin pumping, I hopped up and staggered to the front doorway, the best place to stand during an earthquake, and hung on. The telephone poles were jumping, the lines snapping up and down like cowboys' whips.

When it subsided, I turned on our tiny radio and learned that the earthquake that had just occurred registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. I went outside to check out the roof and discovered the chimney on our tiny rental cottage had fallen down on it.

During the summer in Alaska’s interior, it was not unusual for temperatures to soar into the 90s in Fairbanks. That summer, though, was chillier and rainier than usual. With no chimney, we couldn't use the furnace. The first week of August, the landlord built a beautiful cement block chimney. At last, we had heat.

Then it began to rain again—almost nonstop for a week. The Chena River runs through Fairbanks, and one night in mid-August, reports came that it would crest well over flood stage. Everyone stayed tuned in to their radios. We weren't too worried since our place was sixteen blocks from the river, so we went to bed but kept the radio on.

About midnight, we heard that many basements had been collapsing due to the extreme pressure from the high ground water. Our basement had a dirt floor and board walls. The furnace was there, and we had stored boxes of school books, wedding gifts that didn't fit in the tiny living quarters, and winter clothes, shoes, etc. We decided it was time to empty the basement. 

Bob had no sooner carried up the last box when two cellar walls collapsed. With a tremendous whoosh, filthy brown water rushed in. Our cottage teetered over a giant water-filled mud hole.

Outside, muddy water swirled around our house. We piled everything we could on top of our bed, chairs, and couch, all except two huge boxes that wouldn't fit.  

But how could we get safely from our house to the hotel about a block away where the radio said buses were picking up survivors to take them to the shelter set up at high school?

In back of our house was a small boat dealership. Bob waded over and broke out a skiff.

But we had no oars.

“This will have to do.” Bob held up the leaf from our Formica kitchen table.

We packed our toothbrushes and a few toiletries, our Bibles, and our wedding book into Bob's backpack and climbed into the boat, along with a few neighbors, to "row" to the nearby hotel.

A gray dawn was breaking as we paddled away at four a.m. Tears filled my eyes. Bob said, "Don't cry! We still have each other and the Lord. That's all we really need, isn't it?"

From the hotel, a bus drove us through flooded streets to Lathrop High School, where Bob had attended ninth and tenth grades. We spent a week there sleeping on the hard tile floor with at least thirty people to a room, side by side, head to toe, without bedding of any kind.

The lady whose place was next to me on the floor worked in the kitchen preparing meals for the school filled with displaced people. Secretly, she kept her white Persian cat with her, refusing to place it with the other rescued pets. The first night, I walked through the line in the cafeteria and received a chicken back with maybe four tiny bites of meat. 

Back in our room that night, the lady offered her cat a beautiful chicken thigh. My mouth watered. That finicky cat sniffed it all over and walked away. To make matters worse, Bob and I never could get rid of all the white cat hairs stuck to our new matching burgundy wool car coats.

A long week later, the waters had finally receded sufficiently that we could trudge back to the house. The flood had opened up huge craters in our tiny street. If we had not used a skiff to evacuate, we could have been swallowed up in one and drowned.

Inside the house, mud caked everything up to nine inches above the floor. Everything in the two large boxes on the floor had to be thrown out--Bob's school books and my lifelong collection of shoes and purses. 

Cold and damp, with no water, sewer, or heat, the house teetered over a basement full of filthy water. We knew we couldn't live in it. But that new chimney still stood tall!

Parked on slightly higher ground next to the house, our 1960 Chevrolet Impala had stayed dry inside, although the engine had probably been at least partially flooded. Bob opened the hood to let it dry out then tried to start it. It roared to life!

Bob still had work with the highway department, but the Centennial Exposition on the river had been completely inundated so my job was gone. We decided to load everything into our car and drive to Valdez (it took two trips) to stay with my folks until Bob's orders to active duty in the Army came through (three weeks later).

At that time, the town was only partially moved. My folks lived in the old parsonage that was connected to the old church. There, we slept in the missionary apartment above the old building, ate meals with my parents, and had a wonderful three-week honeymoon.

From the beach in Valdez, which had once been the waterfront of the old town, we fished for silver salmon, stocking my folks' freezer for the winter. 

And we explored one of the most scenic places in the world—Keystone Canyon with its Bridal Veil Falls, Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier, and the Gulkana River Gorge along the Richardson Highway north of Valdez. 

We weathered the Fairbanks Flood of 1967, but even the worst storm clouds often have a silver lining. For us, it was a honeymoon to remember.

In Thompson Pass

No comments:

Post a Comment