Thursday, July 25, 2013

Growing Up in Alaska

Mother always told us not to play with matches. One morning, several of us were playing on the tidal flats below the house near an old derelict ship wrecked there years earlier. That old ship, nearly tipped on its side, all black with decay, fascinated me. I wondered what stories it could tell. I never did learn how it got there. It's gone now, taken out along with our children's home, by the highway department when they put in the modern Eagan Drive.

Anyway, that morning, I found a pack of paper matches. We were away from the house, so I knew there was no danger of burning it down. I decided to try to light one of the matches. When I struck the match, it flared into flames and set the whole book on fire. Before I could drop it, the flames licked at my thumb and immediately raised a blister. My mother often quoted Scripture to drive home a point when disciplining us. That day, I learned the meaning of "Be sure your sin will find you out." To this day, I will not light a paper match.

Often on Sunday afternoons, we children were required to take naps so we could go the evening service at church. One of my fondest memories growing up was of waking up to my mother playing the piano and singing hymns in her beautiful soprano voice.

For a while, a lovely young Eskimo woman and her baby lived with us. My brother, sister, and I sang together on special occasions in church when we were young. The Eskimo lady taught us to sing "Into My Heart" in Eskimo. I can still sing it even now. Mother also wrote songs for us to sing. "I Wish I Could Have Been There" is one we sang for the church Christmas programs.

Every Christmas after the program, each of the children in the church was given a red net stocking filled with ribbon candy, chocolate drops, various nuts, plus an orange and an apple. The fruit was a special treat, because fresh fruit had to be flown to Alaska and was very expensive. My parents could rarely afford fresh fruit or dairy. We ate canned vegetables, fruit, and juice, and reconstituted tinned evaporated milk or powdered milk. Milk is another thing I don't particularly like to this day. In spite of all this, I never felt deprived. We didn't know anything else, until we made our trips back East to visit our grandparents. Actually, I felt it a privilege to grow up in Alaska.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Miraculous Event

One afternoon, Mother had taken us all to town for a doctor's appointment. We returned by taxi. When the cab pulled into our driveway and we all climbed out, Mother told me to hold onto my three-year-old sister's hand. But Kathy didn't want to take my hand and ran around behind the cab. In the confusion, Mother didn't notice until the car began to back up. She glanced around to make sure all the children were out of the way.

"Where's Kathy?" she asked, a note of panic in her voice.

She glanced under the cab as the rear tire headed right for my sister's head! "Oh Jesus!" she screamed.

She shouted for the driver to stop and watched in horror as the wheel reached Kathy's head.

At that moment, the tire jump up over Kathy's head as though lifted by an unseen hand.

Mother and the driver both ran back to find my sister on the ground, dirty and crying, but apparently not seriously hurt. "Oh thank You, Jesus!" Mother cried.

Mother picked her up and said to the taxi driver, "You'd better take us to the hospital to get her checked out." As she climbed back into the taxi, she said, "I hate to leave you children all alone, but this is an emergency. AnnaLee, you're in charge."

We were all so scared, not so much of being alone but about Kathy's condition, that we went right upstairs and stood in front of the window that overlooked the driveway, where we stayed, huddled together, whimpering and praying. It seemed like forever before Mother and Kathy returned. The doctor pronounced her unharmed. Mother told everyone that the hand of God lifted that wheel over her head so it wouldn't crush her.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Memories of the Bethel Beach Children's Home

In spite of the tragic backgrounds of many of the children, we enjoyed many happy times playing in the big house or in the spacious yard. We'd dress up in old clothes, bathrobes, high heels, whatever we could find and play "parade" up and down the long, winding driveway.

Summers in Juneau were usually cool and often rainy. One summer, though, we had a long stretch of hot, dry weather. The grass turned to straw. We children loved playing in the "hay." In our huge, square sandbox we became construction workers, building roads and hauling sand in all the toy trucks we owned.

Just off the driveway near the road was a small thatch of woods. The branches of one particular tree hung out over a slope. We loved to sit on the branch and swing our feet. We called it our sycamore tree, named after the tree in the gospel story of Zacchaeus, the short man who climbed a tree to see Jesus when He passed through Jericho.

A lot of skunk cabbage grew around our "sycamore" tree. It looked like cabbage but smelled like a skunk. One day, I decided to eat some. After all, it was cabbage, I reasoned. Oh, what a terrible stomach ache I had! I was never tempted to taste skunk cabbage again!

The big house was surrounded with many kinds of berry bushes: red raspberries, green gooseberries, red and black currants. Mother made pies, cobblers, and crisps.

Mother always had a way with animals, as well as children. She tamed the squirrels that inhabited the trees. Standing by the fence, she would hold out a crust of bread. The squirrels would come and eat out of her hand.

One summer, she decided to raise chickens. She loved scattering their feed and gathering the eggs they laid. They would flock around her feet as she called them each by name. Come fall, though, they had to be slaughtered. The winter would be too harsh. Better to freeze them for our winter meat supply than to allow them to freeze to death. I'll never forget the sounds of my mother's weeping. That was the first and last time she ever raised chickens.

We always had dogs, though. Our first was a beautiful German shepherd-husky-wolf mix we named Taku, after the Taku Glacier and the cold, hurricane-force winds that swept off that glacier to rattle Juneau often during the winter months. At night, the wolves in the mountains would howl, and Taku would howl back. Yet she was the gentlest of dogs. Even when we children put our fingers in her eyes, she wouldn't snap at us. Once, she stole a turkey carcass Mother had set on the kitchen counter planning to make turkey soup. Poor dog! After that she'd often yelp from the splinters of bones stuck in her digestive tract. When scolded, Taku would tuck her tail between her legs and run away in disgrace. One day, she disappeared for good. Some of our neighbors, who didn't know her, were afraid of her. We think they poisoned her.

Our second dog was a reddish-gold toy cocker spaniel, Mother's pick of the litter born to Skippy while we were dog-sitting for a friend. She lived with us for sixteen years until she dropped in her tracks as she was running up our sidewalk. She had tangled with a porcupine some months earlier. The vet pulled out as many quills as he could reach, but one was stuck way back in her throat. He warned Mother that it would eventually work its way into her brain. She died the day before my nineteenth birthday.

Every Sunday, we all went to Sunday school and church. We sat quietly in a row with my parents. If we whispered or squirmed, a glance from Mother was all it took for us to behave. On sunny Sundays during the summer, after services we loaded up the old black sedan with food and kids and headed for Tee Harbor. Friends of my grandparents owned a cabin on the stony beach and allowed us to use it whenever we liked. Driving along the winding two-lane road that followed along the beach, we drove past the Juneau Airport, Auke Bay, Mendenhall Glacier, and beyond to a harbor of blue waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains to a little log cabin nestled among tall evergreen trees.

There, we roasted hot dogs, ate potato salad, and topped it all off with marshmallows toasted over the embers of the fire built on the beach. We waded in the cold water, ran up the beach to climb on the big rocks, and laughed and played until sunset, which occurred well after our usual bedtime. Then we piled back into the car for the ride home and fell asleep before we arrived. Such were the memorable, carefree days of my childhood Alaskan summers!

It was at the children's home that I honed my teaching and story-telling skills. I loved to play school, and I was always the teacher. Mother was a Sunday school teacher at our church. She allowed me to use her flannelgraph pictures at home to retell the stories of the Bible over and over to the other children. My favorite was the story of how Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. I'd line up the children in front of me and tell the Bible stories over and over. We never tired of them. To this day, I love to tell the stories of Jesus and His love.

What special memories do you have of your childhood?

In my next post I'l relate a miraculous event that took place at the Bethel Beach Home.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bethel Beach Children's Home

We had such sweet but needy children in the children's home--several sets of siblings. Alcoholism was rampant in Juneau. One father who worked on one of the islands came home to discover his alcoholic wife had tied their two little girls in kitchen chairs and gone off drinking for several days. He found the house cold and his girls crying and hungry. Heartbroken, he brought them to the Bethel Beach Home and paid for their care until his job was completed.

Another set of siblings came to us mere hours after their mother had thrown the younger brother and sister off the dock and drowned them. She was diagnosed as a classic schizophrenic and sent to a prison for the criminally insane. The children stayed with us until they were adopted. We kept in touch with them, and I met up with them again when I attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Most of the children came to us through the Bureau of Indian Affairs or welfare. My parents received a small amount for their care. My dad worked at the Alaska Coastal Airlines full time to support us and the home. My mother usually ran the home single-handed. One time, she had thirteen children, nine of us under five, and two babies in cribs, with no help. My parents treated us all the same, whether we were their birth children or not.

We children slept in huge rooms set up dormitory-style, beds set up in rows--one for the girls and one for the boys. Every morning before a home-cooked breakfast, we made our beds and did chores. Each of us had a job to do--dust mop the floors, dust, clean the bathroom, et cetera, depending on our age and ability. Working together, we got them done in no time.

I will continue my memories of the Bethel Beach Children's Home in my next post.