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.

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