Several of our authors have written stories that don’t fit into the Anchorage 1940’s-80’s criteria and have asked for a place to post them. Until I find a better option, I can provide a page for these stories.
New stories will be posted at the top, with previous ones continuing below. Because they aren’t individual posts, they will not be added to the number of posts written by each author, or appear in the author’s queue, but you can do a search on the author’s name and it will take you to them.
Remember, if you can’t find your way back, click on the “Beyond Anchorage” menu item under the Growing Up Anchorage header to bring you to this page.
Unfortunately, any replies left to these stories will be displayed out of order at the very end of all that I post here.
Jana Ariane Nelson
The Bible, exceedingly large in my 11-year-old hands, was weathered and heavy, exuding that musty odor of an old, well-handled and loved book. As winter approached, I hauled the old book down the rickety attic ladder into the warmth of the living room, where it kept boredom away during the long dark days of that frosty season. I loved touching its old, tattered binding, studying in minute detail all the maps and illustrations while I leisurely leafed through the pages to find my favorite stories.
Decades later, advancing age forced my parents to move from Anchorage to Eugene, Oregon. In the process of downsizing their lives my Mother came across her old family Bible in the attic, still threadbare and in dire need of a makeover. She sent it off to a bindery in Washington State to be rebound before being shipped to me.
I was already in Oregon, and eagerly anticipated the Bible’s arrival, checking the mail daily. It felt like the old saying waiting for water to boil, and I began to wonder if it would ever arrive. But finally it came. The box was substantial in my hands as I carried it into the living room and gently placed it on the coffee table. Opening the hefty cardboard box felt like Christmas. As I poured over the aged pages, one thing became increasingly clear; I had no memories of the Bible, with its fresh leather cover and scent. Looking back through time to my childhood, I saw nothing familiar about this large, cumbersome book. The cover didn’t ring any memory bells, but that could be explained since it was new; beautifully tooled in dark leather and apparently belonging to a Marius S. Beal. Who was that?
Odd, too, that I didn’t recognize any of the pictures inside, of folks long since deceased, or of the genealogy – long, long lists people whose names were completely foreign to me. With one exception, that is: John Austin, my great-grandfather.
Apparently, the Bible had once belonged to a man named Marius Samuel Beal. Along with his name on the cover, there were detailed vital records of his family in the middle of the book. Entries noted that his wife, Maria Elizabeth, was 38 when she died in January 1891, leaving five children. The oldest two at 19 and 21 were adults, but Merritt was 13, Garnett only 9, and baby Marie 6 days old.
One particular entry fascinated me. On January 28, 1891, after the death of his beloved wife, Marius wrote:
“… my wife who I always called Lizzie when I did not use pet names, told me that her name was a family name in the Carr family and that it was of French nationality and was really Marie and that she did not correct any one in using it as Maria as she had fears she would be accused of desiring to appear (illegible) and I knowing her humble, sweet, Christian character and modest disposition readily understand her reasons.”
What a difference a century can make in propriety, I thought, reading the lengthy paragraph again and again, imagining his grief and the pain in which he made that entry.
Much later I learned that Marius didn’t stay around long after his wife’s death and the youngest three were sent to relatives. Abandoned by a dead mother and a disappearing father, Garnett must have grown up before her time and at the age of 19 on February 20, 1901 in Enterprise, Oregon, she married John Austin Denney, 47. What possessed her to marry a man 28 years her senior? Did he provide her safety and stability that she was unaccustomed to in light of her father’s absence? Was he an insulated harbor for her in a frightening world? Or perhaps he was simply an older bachelor friend of the relatives who had sheltered her for ten years, and their marriage would solve financial and social issues on both sides. Alas, we will never know.
Along with the photos were pages of vital records: Garnett and John Austin’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, unknown entities in a chain of genealogy that made no logical sense to me. The first entries were in quill pen, of course, but the last notes were written in ballpoint pen, with birthdates accounted for as late as 1989. Names of people that I didn’t know! Why didn’t I recognize any of them?
And here was the first mystery.
According to Mom’s family records, John Austin Denney, my great-grandfather, had married Eliza Jane Gentry and their son, John Wesley, was my mother’s father. So who was this woman, Garnett Beal Denney? I wondered and wondered and my imagination worked overtime. What a life John Austin must have had! Oh how I wished I could ask him. I pondered the thought day and night, but just couldn’t wrap my mind around any answer that made sense.
Mother and I played with ideas, but she was distracted by grief from my Dad’s passing and couldn’t add any enlightening information. Myself, I concocted lots of interesting possibilities. Perhaps John Austin had two separate, independent families. Or maybe the family secret was that he left Eliza for Garnett and that fact was obscured by long, dusty decades. Was this our family’s “dirty little secret?”
I didn’t know much about my Mother’s family history. She had some records and family trees, but as I looked through her information, I found no reference of Garnett Beal Denney. Finally, after years of pondering, one dead end after another, I realized my paltry research had come to a complete standstill. But the years continued to pass, and I began to talk about it to anyone who would listen – a good thing, it turned out. Finally, someone at work suggested doing genealogical research on the web, which I had never attempted, and so began my adventures in genealogy.
I believe our lives are often driven by events and energies beyond our small control. Such was the case the year my mother, Ruby (known to all by her maiden name as “Denney”), turned 91. She had been ill since just before Christmas, and pneumonia pushed her increasingly frail body into congestive heart failure later that spring. As her trips to the hospital increased, I found myself progressively more obsessed with the Bible.
A dozen years had passed since it had come to reside in my home; it’s secret weighed on me.
I rationalized that researching its mysteries was a great distraction for Mother, but in all probability I was grasping for as much connection to my ancestry as I could in the small amount of time I had remaining with her. And so, encouraged by friends, I, a mere novice researcher, began combing the web, looking for any information I could find on John Austin Denney. There was evidence, some of it conflicting. Everything I found I ran by Mom, sharing pieces of new information as we tried to connect stories and fill in the many blanks we had. But nothing much changed as far as our understanding was concerned; we were still unenlightened.
Months went by and I exhausted the few means I thought available to me. One day, quite by accident, I came across a posting from a woman in Eastern Oregon asking for information on her great-grandparents, Garnett Barbara Beal and John Austin Denney.
I could hardly contain my excitement and immediately e-mailed her back.
No answer. A month or two went by. No response. I nearly chewed my fingernails to the quick waiting. Finally it occurred to me that the e-mail address might have expired. I looked on-line for a phone number and it was there, in eastern Oregon. I called and Karen answered.
Karen soon became my new BFF. She had many, but not all answers and explained that we are third cousins, once removed. She e-mailed me PDF files full of Beal and Denney family history; she sent me packets of information and we chatted on the phone endlessly.
Darn, John Austin didn’t have a clandestine wife, as I had surmised, even though I secretly hoped we would turn up some fabulous skeleton in the family closet! Karen explained it was not uncommon that family names are shared, and there were two John Austin Denneys back in the mid 1800s. The first son of John and Martha Llewellyn Denney was James Preston Denney, born in 1832 in Illinois. Six years later, his younger brother, John Austin Denney, was born in Carroll County, Arkansas. This was my great-grandfather. The older brother, James, was about 21 when his first son was born, and James named his newborn John Austin after his younger brother. Thus, Karen descends from John Austin Denney, the nephew of my John Austin. And it was her John Austin Denney who married Garnett Barbara Beal.
I took photographs of the pages in the Bible that contained pictures of the family and the history and sent them to Karen. In her follow-up e-mail, she wrote that the eyes in all of the pictures looked so familiar to her, reminding her of her great-grandmother Garnett in her older years. She was also over 99% sure that it was Garnett’s handwriting that wrote the death note for Marius. Eventually Karen and her husband visited. She met Mom and we spent hours talking about our family histories. She took photos of the Bible and we continued to try to piece things together.
Meanwhile, I had several HUGE questions. The first was how on earth did the Beal Bible come to reside with my own family when it so obviously belonged to Karen’s? I had my suspicions. Both Karen’s family and mine had intersected in Eastern Oregon around the turn of the century. It was entirely possible that by some accident or event none of us were aware of, the Bible had passed from Garnett’s family to Mom’s.
The second question was even more compelling. How was it possible that someone had entered, in ballpoint pen, the births of children as late as 1989 while the Bible resided in my parent’s attic in Anchorage? I queried Mom relentlessly on the subject. The Bible had been at their home in Anchorage continuously from 1948 until they moved to Eugene in 1991. But wait, at some point she remembered sending it to Denney cousins who were members of the LDS Church and deeply interested in genealogy. But these cousins both passed away decades ago, she said, and at their passing she had asked for the Bible back. She was certain that it had been in her attic in Anchorage for years. Obviously this was another dead end.
A third question arose. Mother always referred to her Bible as the Brown Bible. It belonged to her Grandpa Brown, her mother’s father. She’d had it since his death. But if it indeed came from her Grandpa Brown, then it was from her Mother’s side of the family, NOT her Father’s, the Denney side. How confusing was this! Even in her declining years, my Mother was very astute; her memory remained sharp as a tack to the very end. I had to trust that she remembered correctly.
Then one day Karen contacted me. She had been in touch with another cousin who told her a very interesting story. The Beal Bible had been at the family ranch in Eastern Oregon for many years and in 1990, the cousin, who I will call “Val”, sent it to a bindery in Washington State to be rebound. The bindery, in turn, sent it back east somewhere. When it was finally returned to Val, a horrifying mistake was discovered. It was not the beloved family Beal Bible, but another Bible. A completely foreign, though freshly rebound Bible that contained no identifying family information whatsoever. Val contacted the bindery, which claimed no responsibility and presumably offered no solutions. She was devastated. Over a century of family genealogy and pictures were gone, lost forever. Val sued the bindery.
As Karen and I talked, it became clear that Val had been sent our family’s Brown Bible, while we were sent the Beal Bible, by mistake. Val’s descriptions of the detailed genealogical notes and family pictures matched the Bible I had in my possession. Finally everything became crystal clear, and at long last the great Bible mystery was solved! The Bibles had been switched either at the Washington bindery or on the East Coast. No one had ever contacted either Mom or myself, and since we both moved to Eugene the summer of 1991, our previous phone numbers had been disconnected.
A Bible switch could happen, but between relatives who did not know each other and lived in different states? I began to think we were experiencing an episode of the Twilight Zone! A most intriguing footnote in the pages of both our family’s’ history!
At last the day arrived; my stomach was in knots as I drove over to meet Val at Mom’s retirement apartment. The only sad thought I had was that Karen had not been able to come over from Eastern Oregon and participate in the joyous reunion she had contributed so much towards.
And finally, in the spring of 2004, both Bibles returned to their rightful owners. Mother, near the end of her life, again held her Grandpa Brown’s Bible close to her heart. And my newest Denney cousin, Val, overcome with emotion and nearly speechless, at long last took possession of her beloved Beal Bible. Garnett was finally home where she belonged.
CALLALOO BEACH RESORT
Nick Fuller drank a Heineken for breakfast—every day—at least when he was at his Callaloo Beach Resort on the Caribbean island of Antigua in the West Indies. It’s pronounced AN-TEE-GA, as if someone stole the “u” and tried to hide it by heavily accenting the sharp “I”. The resort post card he had sent to me in Anchorage from down there showed a beautiful beach with bungalows. On it he had written, “I’ve got a little resort smack on a white, sandy beach with gin-clear water. I’ll trade you straight across for free drinks at Chilkoot Charlie’s. Stay as long as you want.” Now that was an offer that got my immediate attention, though it took me a couple of years to act upon it.
The namesake of the resort—callaloo—is a popular dish that originated in West Africa and is served across the Caribbean in various ways using a variety of ingredients. In some countries callaloo is a type of soup. In others, it’s a sort of vegetable stew. Different countries, depending on their culture and available ingredients, favor their own national recipes. Some even make a callaloo juice. In any case, the main ingredient is a leaf vegetable, generally either amaranth or taro or xanthosoma, and variously referred to as callaloo, coco, tannia, dasheen bush or bhaaji. Callaloo is also the name used to describe spinach; sometimes called bhajgee (bah-gee).
Antigua is hot pretty much the year around. In effect, there is only one season: summer. So, when Nick took a vacation he liked to head north, especially in the winter, and it so happened he had a West Point pal, retired Brigadier General Bruce Ingle “Rock” Staser (1919-2010), who lived on Hillcrest Drive, just down the street from Chilkoot Charlie’s. “Rock” was born in Anchorage on Oct. 27 to Harry I. and Barbara (De Pencier) Staser and graduated from Anchorage High School in 1936. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and took his nickname while attending West Point when he won the East Coast Heavyweight Boxing title. “Rock” served in the US Army’s 13th and 82nd Airborne Divisions during World War II and is interred at the US Military Academy Cemetery at West Point. He served as chief of staff for the Alaskan Command and, under Governor Bill Egan, as commander of the Alaska National Guard in the early 70s. He also served as Anchorage’s civil defense director under George Sullivan.
During one of Nick’s visits to Alaska to see “Rock” the two walked south on Spenard Road to Chilkoot Charlie’s for a beer. It was love at first sight. Nick was so delighted with my slogan, “We cheat the Other guy and pass the savings on to You!” he had a photo of himself standing under the sign stuck on his office wall in Antigua.
Nicholas A. “Nick” Fuller (1919-1998), was born in Toledo, OH. He matriculated, but was not commissioned with his 1944 classmates because of poor eyesight. Instead, Nick sat for the Foreign Service exams and the State Department first placed him in charge of the American Consulate in Antigua. After an assignment in war-torn Columbia, Nick moved his family to New York and joined an advertising firm, but he wasn’t able to get the sand out of his shoes, didn’t adapt to the big city rat race and returned to Antigua, where he opened a small hotel, The Lord Nelson, the first commercial lodging on the island. Nick operated The Lord Nelson until 1980, when he moved across the island to build Callaloo Beach Resort, a low-profile operation next to Curtain Bluff, the most expensive resort on the island, and fondly referred to by him and his guests as “Cretan Bluff.” Nick’s wife, Adele, ran what Nick referred to as a “real business.” Nick’s was run for the comradery of his friends, who were legion, from all over the world and all walks of life. There was only one paying couple during our entire stay at Callaloo. It was a young couple. She was gorgeous and exotic looking, from Namibia. He was a talent manager. One of his clients was Chris de Burgh, the singer of “Lady in Red,” as well as other great songs. Non-paying friends of Nick did take on responsibilities and assist with chores, generally between a leisurely breakfast and the 1 pm onset of the extended cocktail hour.
Nick knew everybody who was anybody and anybody who was nobody in the Caribbean. He was a legendary character. He traveled light without suitcase or wallet; only an open canvas shopping bag containing underwear, Glenlivet Scotch and Cuban cigars. He didn’t own a credit card. His only card was an Antigua driver’s license with a photo of him holding a glass of Scotch. In his pocket he carried a wad of $100 bills.
When I finally found the time to take Nick up on his offer of a stay at Callaloo I arranged for my wife Shelli and me to stay for a week, returning right after Christmas. We were having so much fun we extended our stay until well after the New Year, lodged in a little tin-roofed bungalow a short walk from the main building, kitchen, office and pool. Across the dirt road behind us was a pasture with donkeys. We didn’t need an alarm because early each morning the donkeys would wander over behind our building and serenade us: Heehaw! Heehaw! Heehaw!
One of the more memorable guests of Nick at Callaloo during our stay was the Honourable Gerald David Lascelles (1924-1998) accompanied by his second wife, former actress Elizabeth Collingwood. He was the younger son of Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood and Mary, Princess Royal, the only daughter of King George V. Gerald had attended Eton College and served as a captain in the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own), a British Army infantry rifle regiment. Gerald was a jazz enthusiast and had collaborated in the ‘50s with jazz music critic Sinclair Traill on a compilation of jazz yearbooks. He was also a race car driver, served as president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and was a director of the Silverstone Circuit race car track in Northamptonshire, England.
The Honourable Gerald could be seen mid-morning in his XXXL swimsuit on hands and knees making his contribution of the day, which consisted of scrubbing tiles around the swimming pool area. Following that chore, he would assist me in the opening of the bar for the day. We became pals and enjoyed sparring with one another. One day I got him good. I made a comment about our schedule, pronouncing it the way we Americans do and Gerald corrected me by pronouncing it the way the Brits do, to which I replied, “Gerald, if you say ‘shedule’ instead of schedule, why don’t you say ‘shool’ instead of school?” He was stumped. It was the one and only time he failed to retort.
About half way through our stay some lady from Gourmet Magazine stopped by Callaloo, ostensibly to write a story about the food at the resort, which really did not inspire an article by anyone. She insisted that she be referred to as Lady Dabadoowhatever. I don’t remember what her name was but we all thought it was amusing, especially Gerald, who was actually, factually, royalty. Shelli and I were lounging by the pool visiting with Gerald and Elizabeth. The subject of Lady Dabadoowhatever came up and Gerald, stretched out like a beached beluga whale on his lounge chair, his usual Dewar’s Scotch and water in hand, dramatically announced, “I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not talking to anyone who hasn’t got a first name!” Heavy emphasis on the words anyone, first and name with no “r” in first, the word name followed by one of those loud British sniffs up both nostrils. Shelli and I practically fell off our lounges we were laughing so hard.
One day while walking along the beach, Shelli and I turned a corner and there was an expanse of white sand literally covered with conch shells that had apparently been harvested for serving in the restaurant. It was literally a conch graveyard, beautiful in a bizarre sort of way, and mildly upsetting. We nicknamed it Conchwich.
Shelli and I were having some personal issues that weren’t aided any by the fact that she was more strikingly beautiful than usual walking around the resort in the pink jumpsuit I had bought her in Honolulu, followed closely day and night like a puppy dog by another guest, Hugh Stancliff. Hugh was a solo guest of Nick’s who produced resort brochures for him. He was estranged from his wife and obsessed with mine. I did my best not to overreact.
As if the diversity of guests needed pollinating, there was “Fat Jack,” visiting with his wife, Hillary. “Fat Jack” was a West Point classmate of Nick’s whose claim to fame was that he had piloted one of the P-51 aircraft that escorted the Enola Gay on its mission to and from Hiroshima to drop the atom bomb.
There was a guy I’ll simply describe as “The Walker.” He was some sort of bigshot construction guy who was really into walking long distances. He and whoever he could recruit would walk 20 to 25 miles a day. I was running marathons at the time and would put in my 5 to 10 mile run each morning, which I deemed more time efficient, but then I didn’t see as much of the island as “The Walker” and his entourage did.
There were two other West Point pals of Nick’s at the resort while we were there. Ray Dunster, aka “Rotten Red” and his wife Isabel hailed from Ontario, Canada. Then there was Renee Lopez-Duprey and his wife, Ada, an aristocratic couple from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ada wore a lot of expensive jewelry and her hair coiffed up in a bee hive. They owned a rattan furniture factory in Puerto Rico with a branch in the Philippines. We visited with them on our way back to Alaska. They were a delightful couple.
One day Shelli and I drove into town to watch the horse races at the Cassada Gardens Race Track, a feature of the Antigua Turf Club. It was the second day of what was billed the Christmas Meeting. The date was January 3, 1988. It was a colorful affair that boasted enthusiastic spectators seated on rickety bleachers, one of which collapsed under the weight of the crowd, including a huge woman that looked like she might have been a tarot card reader. Fortunately, it wasn’t our bleacher and no one was injured, but the volcanic red ground was wet and muddy, so you can imagine the results.
The race track brochure advertised “BREED YOURSELF A TRACK RECORD BREAKER! IF YOU HAVE THE MARE WE HAVE THE STALLION, CALIBI. BREED FOR SPEED AND BREED FOR STANIMA TOO.”
It was while attending the races that I discovered they sold a marvelous bottle of Guinness beer with lemon juice in it. It was packaged as a throwback to the British navy days when they provided grog and lemon juice to prevent scurvy. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it served anywhere else. Chilkoot Charlie’s was the first bar in Anchorage to serve Guinness on tap but, though I did inquire, I could never locate the bottled stuff with lemon juice in it.
On the way to and from the races we spotted the town’s “RUD BOY STAND” and stopped to take a photo of four local boys clowning around on what is the local version of the dunce hat. It’s a simple concrete roadside platform used for publicly humiliating young miscreants, who are required to stand upon it for all to see, and for extended periods of time.
Shelli and I never returned to Antigua though I was able to arrange for a one-week honeymoon at Callaloo for my daughter, Michele and her husband, Jerry. The last time I saw Nick was when he was visiting “Rock” in Anchorage. I was counting the banks one afternoon in the office at Chilkoot Charlie’s when the bartender rang me and said, “Mike, there are two old geezers out here who say they drink at Koot’s for free.”
Knowing exactly of whom he spoke, I said, “Yep. Set ‘em up. I’ll be right out.”
CHILKOOT CHARLIE in FAIRBANKS
Alaska’s Interior city of Fairbanks has a century-long history of a boom-and-bust economy, starting with the discovery of gold in 1902 by Felice Pedroni, aka Felix Pedro (1858-1910). Next came the military build-up before and during WWII, then the DEW Line or Distant Early Warning Line construction during the Cold War that operated from 1957 to the late ‘80s, and finally the $8 billion, 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction begun in April, 1974 and completed in June 1977. I got in on the last one, though it was a pyrrhic experience.
Felix Pedro Hispanicized his name upon arrival in New York City in 1881, but he was actually Italian, born in the small village of Trignano in the Apennine Mountains in the Provence of Modena. He worked his way to Alaska taking jobs in different cities along the way and began searching for gold in the Fortymile. When he finally discovered it in the Tanana Hills northeast of Fairbanks in 1902, on a small unnamed stream now known as Pedro Creek, he created a full-on gold rush with his comment, “There’s gold in them there hills!”
When Pedro died in 1901, at the age of 52, supposedly of a heart attack, his business partner, Vincenzo Gambiani insisted, even on his death bed, that Pedro had no heart problems and had, in fact, been poisoned by his wife. His body was shipped off to San Francisco and buried in nearby Colma, but in 1972 he was exhumed and his body was returned to Italy, where an autopsy was performed. Hair samples supported Gambiani’s insistence that Pedro had been poisoned. He was reinterred in Fanano, Italy.
During the Egan administration, Alaska’s political boss behind the unlabeled door right next to the Governor’s door in the capitol building in Juneau was Alex M., aka “Big Juice.” My mentor, Skip F., agreed to accompany me to Juneau, introduce me to Alex, and solicit the resolution of an issue I had with the Department of Labor on condition that I become a Democrat. It was done more easily than I might have imagined and, suffice it to say, I became an Egan Democrat.
Paling around with Alex and other power broker friends of Skip’s for a few days and nights, playing all-night, table-stakes poker in a legislator’s room in the Baranof Hotel—and winning—I heard a lot of amusing stories. Alex told me about when he had been young and naïve and first delving in politics in Fairbanks. He did what he was told. An election was approaching and he was ordered to go out and procure names from tomb stones to register their ghosts as Democratic voters. He said he dutifully brought back a bunch of names, but when he got to Felix Pedro’s name his political overseer said, ”Oh, we can’t use that one!” It sounded true enough to me at the time and I laughed out loud, though obviously it was only an amusing story since Felix was buried in California. The remainder of the story probably did have more than a grain of truth in it.
My second Chilkoot Charlie’s location was on 1st Street in Fairbanks, right across from the Chamber of Commerce building sitting on the banks of the Chena River. I had in mind a chain of Chilkoot Charlie’s nightclubs and thought it would be best to establish a few locations in Alaska before venturing Outside. I opened the operation in Fairbanks more than a year before the pipeline construction began only to discover everyone in town was chasing the same dollar. It was an expensive foray. When the boom finally did hit town there was more money, but Fairbanks was even more out of control than Anchorage, which is saying something. Prices were sky high. I seem to remember a cup of coffee and a doughnut costing something like $2.50—in 1973.
I had purchased the Wonder Bar from Larry W., who also owned the Riverside Bar and two or three others. The Riverside faced onto “Two Street” and the two bars backed smack up against one another because there was no alley between 1st Street and 2nd Street. You literally walked through a doorway out the back of one and into the other. Both bars catered primarily to an Alaska native clientele. My manager, Dan W., aka God Dan W., and I decorated the place with spruce slabs, netting, all the other appropriate accoutrements, like Chilkoot Charlie and Six-Toed Mordecai paintings—copied from the originals painted by noted Alaskan artist Betty Park for the Anchorage operation—and encouraged our new customers to cover the floor with peanut shells, just like in Spenard.
I bought a little home in a neighborhood between downtown and the airport for Dan to live in and for me to stay in when I was in town, which I was on a regular basis. I was as familiar with the new Parks Highway drive then as I am with the drive to Homer today. I taught Danny how to do Daily Reports of income and expenses and to make the bank deposits each day of the net proceeds. Arriving in Fairbanks I’d find a drawer or two of a dresser in his bedroom with weeks of envelopes stacked neatly by date—no Daily Reports and no deposit slips—with the money having been pulled out and replaced by receipts as he needed it to pay bills. Who needs a bank? So, the first thing I’d have to do was fill out the Daily Reports, deposit what money was left, if there was any, and take the paperwork to our bookkeeper.
I discovered the Chilkoot Charlie’s theme was easily and effectively transportable and attracted the same sort of welcome clientele. I also discovered that entertainment that worked well in Anchorage didn’t necessarily work well in Fairbanks. Doug H., aka Mr. Whitekeys, was a big hit in Anchorage, got his start at Chilkoot Charlie’s in Spenard working for me for four and a half years and, of course, when I opened up in Fairbanks I convinced him to play at the new location. People in Fairbanks, however, didn’t think his zany irreverence was as funny as the people in Anchorage. In fact, one night, after saying something over the microphone about the American flag, he stepped off the stage and a patron knocked him out cold. I was never able to convince Doug to return to Fairbanks.
In addition to the usual rowdiness prevailing at the time, there was a rather large group of US Army draftees from the streets of Baltimore stationed at Fort Wainwright and they were not thrilled to be there. My guess is the Army didn’t know what to do with them, so they sent them to the most remote outpost they could think of. They hung out in the parking lot nearby and all along 1st Street between the parking lot and our front door. Dan had to wend his way through a virtual gauntlet of guys wearing unfriendly, aggressive dispositions, making threatening comments and openly displaying walking sticks, knives and other weapons, to get to and from the club each day. He soon made friends with bikers who escorted him and his girlfriend and wore a .45 automatic openly displayed on his hip. Fortunately he never had to use it. One day there was a full-fledged riot downtown, with dozens of hooligans rampaging and throwing bricks through bank windows. You’d have thought you were in Los Angeles or Chicago.
My competition in Fairbanks was most unwelcome. In fact, I came to the conclusion that locals would have preferred to have someone from Texas—or anywhere other than Anchorage—competing for business with them. A lot of people in Fairbanks simply had nothing but disdain for Anchorage or people from Anchorage. In their eyes, “Los Anchorage” was that big, callous, superficial, pushy upstart intent upon controlling the whole state financially and politically. I can’t recall the number of times I heard, “I’ve been here [Alaska] for forty (or fifty, or sixty) years and I’ve never been there [Anchorage],” said proudly, loudly and dismissively.
The undeniable proof of my unwelcome status was when I got burned down. It was an obvious case of arson, but there wasn’t even the pretense of an investigation. I think I know who did it, but I can’t prove it. Suffice it to say it was in all likelihood a nearby competitor. Now I’m stubborn, and here’s proof of that. Instead of leaving town, like I should have, I stood in knee-deep water in the basement of my burned-out bar and negotiated a deal with Larry W. for the purchase of the Howling Dog Saloon in Ester, a little old mining town a few miles outside of Fairbanks just off the Parks Highway, and also then home to the Malamute Saloon. It was a nice little town, but it had the hardest water I’ve ever encountered and there was arsenic in it to boot. Today it’s still a nice little town populated by artists, a lot of University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty, and it still sports two bars and hard water.
The Howling Dog Saloon guys moved to Fox, where the operation remains to this day. Dan W. left town in a nice new camper with his girlfriend and a bag of my money. The new location in Ester was easy enough to convert to a Chilkoot Charlie’s since it was already a rustic Alaskan saloon, and readily accomplished by Jim A., my new manager imported from Spenard. I bought a little house on the main street only a few doors down from the bar that had been the location of the post office. There was a very nice older couple that lived directly across the street and just beyond them, in a beautiful log cabin, lived none other than Magnus Colcord “Rusty” Heurlin (1895 to 1986).
Rusty Heurlin is universally recognized as an Alaskan master artist. His original paintings are highly sought after and very expensive. He is in the same realm as Sydney Laurence, Eustice Ziegler, Ted Lambert and Fred Machetanz. Rusty is not as well known outside of the interior as the others, but he is very well known in the interior, or to anyone knowledgeable about Alaskan art. Large paintings of his adorn the Fairbanks Airport walls. His paintings portray wondrous pastel hues of the Arctic and his depictions of the interior and far north—the coldness, the alpenglow, the winter skies and the lifestyles of the Indians and Eskimos—are unsurpassed. Rusty was also a world class character and an expert at the shell game. He prided himself on knowing the capital of every country in the world and loved winning bets at it. I turned up with my future wife, Shelli, one day to close on the sale of my little house, prepared for Rusty with the name of a recently renamed African country and capital due to a coup d’etat. He lost that game for a case of beer.
Rusty’s best pal was my friend, Ruben Gaines, the poet laureate, raconteur and cartoonist who had given me permission to use his character, Chilkoot Charlie, as the namesake for my nightclub. Ruben was in the habit of traveling to Ester for Thanksgiving with Rusty to “cook a buzzard,” as he explained. The first time Ruben made his annual sojourn after the local opening of Chilkoot Charlie’s he sauntered in with Rusty and announced to Jim A. that he had a deal with me that, among other things, allowed him to drink free at Chilkoot Charlie’s for the rest of his life, whereupon Jim, a character in his own right said, “Oh, he did, did he?” and proceeded to “six-pack” the two of them with screwdrivers. I showed up not long afterwards—the bar now literally covered with screwdrivers—and the bull was so deep within an hour that the handful of other patrons in the place had to dash to their cars for hip-waders.
By way of explanation, it used to be legal to buy someone as many drinks as you wished; never mind whether they wanted them. Better that they didn’t. “Six-packing,” in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was commonplace. The recipient was either supposed to drink the purchase on his behalf or wear it. David A. used to like to set new records with the number of drinks he bought me in Spenard. He kept upping the ante until he one day 164-packed me with scotch and sodas, pouring the contents of half a dozen large, 64-ounce pitchers over my head. I happily rang up the purchase, went home, changed my clothes and returned to my business. You might be guessing that money was easier to come by at the time. It was.
There was a little shed/showroom/theatre beside Rusty’s log cabin where he and Ruben had teamed up on a marvelous production called “The Great Land.” It was essentially the story of the Vitus Bering Alaska discovery years proceeding, as I recall, up to the pioneer gold mining years. There was a small seating area and an ingenious system of pulleys to showcase large, original paintings by Rusty depicting various stages of Alaska’s early history. As light flooded the paintings, Rusty, stationed off to the side, would pull the cords moving one painting out of the light and another into it in synchronization with a historical narration recorded by Ruben. It was a unique presentation by one of Alaska’s best artists and one of its best writers. Rusty had me sign his guest book, already signed by many, including such notables as author James A. Michener.
I was serving my second term on the Anchorage City Council and the Anchorage Borough Assembly. My marriage to my second wife wasn’t going well and neither was the business in Ester or at the third Chilkoot Charlie’s in Girdwood. If I could have run either operation myself I think I could have made a go of it, but having them located in distant communities, managed by others, was not working.
I was in Ester when I got the call from my mother, then living in Honolulu, telling me my dad was hospitalized on his deathbed with cancer. I remember discussing my predicament over the phone with my manager in Anchorage, Howard Pumpelly (1941-1991), saying, “Howard, I just can’t drop everything and go over there,” to which he responded, “I had to make the same decision once and I made the wrong one. Go!” So I did. “Thank you, Howard.”
Going to Hawaii for a week, where I sat for long hours with my dad in the hospital working crossword puzzles, was actually just the sort of break I needed. It gave me a chance to ponder my circumstances objectively. When I returned to Alaska I parted with politics by not running for the new assembly when Anchorage unified the city and borough, unloaded Ester Chilkoot’s by selling it back to Larry W. and soon ran off to Belize in a mid-life crisis that is a whole other story.
I mentioned that Mr. Whitekeys would never return to Fairbanks, but he did write a song about it in which he said, “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there!” He also described the puke on the street-side walls of the Polaris Hotel in the fall that you could bet your last dollar would still be there in the spring. The song was hilarious to Anchorage audiences, but I’m sure he’s got better sense than to sing it in Fairbanks, in the unlikely event he ever does return.
Our family’s introduction to Alaska was a shaky one to say the least. My father answered an ad for a guide to take people hunting from a man in Portland. Our family went to Portland and stayed with his family until it was time to leave for Alaska.
Ten of us piled in a 1958 Cadillac and headed for Prince Rupert Canada. This was in late August 1959. You can imagine how cramped it was in that car with ten people. We flew from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan where we were detained for several hours over the questioning of my mother’s citizenship. My father married her in France during WWII so she was indeed a citizen!
After that was settled we hopped on a Grumman Goose plane and headed for Camp Island. The guide had no idea what he was getting into as far as the wilderness goes (he was really a CPA); whereas, for my father it was the opposite. My dad was an avid outdoorsman who could survive in the outdoors with no problems. The guide and his family stayed in a nice house on the island where he dreamed of making all sorts of money with hunters and fisherman catering to his services. What a pipe dream! Meanwhile, our family stayed in a 10×10 cabin, all six of us.
A week or so after landing at Camp Island, the guide freaked out and had a plane come and get him and his family and left us stranded on the island in the month of September 1959. Almost three months went by. We lived on geese and ducks and my father shot a black bear on a full run as he leaned up against a huge chunk of ice as the tide was out at that moment. Finally one day we were all in the cabin when my dad told us to be quiet; we listened and he said there was a boat going by. He ran out with a shotgun and ran to the water’s edge and fired a couple of rounds. The people on the boat saw and heard him and jumped in their power skiff and rescued us. The man’s name was Ron, a local business man in Petersburg. My father gave him my brand new 22/410 over and under gun as a token of appreciation. The rescue took place in November. We went into Petersburg and settled into life in Alaska.
If you are wondering why my father never broke into the lodge where we definitely would have been more comfortable, it was because he was an honest man. You know I was never scared at all being stuck there for that amount of time because of my father. I knew he could handle anything when it came to survival. My parents are long gone and I live in the Anchorage area now. My friends are all urging me to tell this story to magazine reporters but you know it never seemed like a big deal to me. I look back now and realize that my mother and father were probably really worried at the time for us kids but we never saw it in their actions or faces. I asked my father years later if he was worried being on that island alone with us and he told me he and mom did worry about us kids getting hurt or real sick with nowhere to go for help.
We moved to the Anchorage area on January 3rd,1962. Dad bought a home in Peters Creek and us kids attended Chugiak High after spending our first two years at Clark Junior High and East High. How great it was to walk into our own school in Chugiak in September of 1964. The years have gone by now and though our first introduction to Alaska was a little concerning, it is my home and my attachment to this land is powerful and full of great memories.
Leo: The Near-Leopard Appaloosa
We joined forces in the ’90’s. At first sight, I was shocked by his calmness
and beauty; he thought me a fairly apt pupil. Leo fell in love with Foxy, my
wife Sue’s chestnut Arabian mare, and Foxy reciprocated.
Leo loved trains, and his first stable was a half-mile from an active rail line. I sometimes found him at the far end of the pasture, his neck stretched over a gate, watching a freight train. He often recruited one or two pasture buddies to watch with him, but Foxy was indifferent to railroads. Later Leo was disappointed that no trains were visible from his next stable home.
I thought it would be cute to teach Leo to shake. After a few repetitions, he learned to raise his right foreleg on command and wait for my hand under his knee in exchange for a bite-size alfalfa cube. We enjoyed this routine as a greeting ceremony every afternoon.
Soon Leo raised his foreleg as soon as he saw me, which meant I owed him
an alfalfa cube. Yes, he had me trained.
Seeing my success with Leo, Sue tried “Shake” with Foxy. She had been watching and knew immediately what to do to get her alfalfa cube.
Leo taught me how difficult it is for a horse to accomodate steel.
My routine at that time included an afternoon nap, followed by coffee and a trip to the stable. There, for a couple of hours, Leo would teach me what it meant to be partners with a horse.
One time my nap ended with a strange and vivid dream: Leo was walking around in his outdoor pen, very obviously raising his left hind leg to show me a silver-dollar-sized patch of skin hanging from a narrow flap on his cannon bone. When we arrived at the stable, Leo indeed had the wound I had seen in the dream, with the variation that the attaching flap was at the bottom of the wound. The wound was still fresh, so it must have occurred at about the time of my dream. Scrape marks on the floor of his pen showed that he had lain down for a nap, extending his rear leg under one of the corral panels; when he pulled his leg back, the bottom of a vertical steel tube on the corral panel acted like a cookie cutter.
So did Leo actively communicate his pain to me in the dream? Or did my sleeping mind make the 15-mile trip to check on him? Questions.
Leo sometimes had troubles with wire. Once he stuck a forefoot through a barbed-wire fence to tap his hoof against a steel water tank in the next pasture — the equine version of the knock-knock joke. The barbs gashed his fetlock in a couple of places, so he resolved to wait for my rescue. The blood was mostly dried by the time I found him, far out in the pasture instead at his usual place near the stable.
A year later, at a different stable, Leo got a harmless little piece of bailing wire
wrapped half-way around a rear hoof. He stood still to wait for his rescuer. When I released him, he went to the tank for a long drink; he had waited a long time for me.
Once Leo and I were cantering across that same pasture, along with Sue on Foxy. Unexpectedly, we came upon a white patch in the grass — someone had rinsed cement out of a wheelbarrow. It looked exactly like a crouching grey wolf. By tacit agreement, Leo and Foxy accelerated sharp left, launching Sue and me towards the white patch. Leo regretted his action immediately and apologized over and over as Sue and I limped back towards the barn.
The first time I put a brand-new saddle on Leo, I knew the rigging would stretch, so I intended to dismount and retighten the girth every ten minutes. Five minutes into our ride, Leo executed his quick turn to the left, causing the saddle to slip to the right. I wound up on the ground, of course. Even feeling the errant saddle under his belly, Leo did not buck or kick. He joined Sue and Foxy in looking at me, wondering why I was lying on the ground looking foolish.
Leo and Foxy were happy when we got our own place and finished the fencing in ’96. Their favorite part was building the barn, and they spent happy hours observing the process.
Over the years, other horses came and went, foals were born and trained. Leo and Foxy remain fixed in our memories. Soulmates.
TERROR AT SEA
While stationed aboard the guided missile cruiser, USS Providence (CLG-6) in 1963, I had many experiences that were “firsts.” Excepting the transit from Seattle to Seward in 1946, (I was just four years old) when my family moved to the Alaska territory and settled in Anchorage, I had never been on a large ship, had never spent any time at sea – was, in fact, by all accounts, a true land-lubber. Truth is, I didn’t even know how to swim.
So, being at sea was, in itself, the kind of experience that kept me on my toes, making me fully aware of how unaccustomed I was to these strange, new surroundings.
And then I experienced the most unbelievable event of all.
Departing Manila, Philippines, on the 24th of September, our ship turned north again and headed for our homeport of Yokosuka, Japan.
On the way home we ran into the most terrifying storm at sea that I was to ever experience.
As had become our habit, my friend Jack and I frequented the “gun director” radar tower catwalk that was situated just to the fore of the main funnel. This open-air walkway was on the “07” (oh-seven) deck, about seven stories above the main deck, (and therefore about nine stories above our berthing compartment) and gave us an excellent, if not secluded, vantage point from which to enjoy the views of the ship’s on-deck activities and the waters around us. At night we would go up there to smoke, talk, and gaze at the stars. We discussed philosophy, religion, our lives, his marriage, my girl troubles … everything that two good friends would share with each other.
On the second night out of Manila, crossing the infamous “Manila Swells” section of ocean where the Providence (as we were told earlier) had previously bent her keel, we encountered fierce winds and tremendous waves. This area was well known, we had learned, for cyclonic storms that created seeming maelstroms at sea. The Captain ordered all hatches on the main deck be secured and that no personnel should be on the main deck for fear of being washed overboard. Only “essential” personnel should be on any deck; all others were to remain inside for the duration.
For a pansy sailor like I was, this was terrifying news! Washed overboard? Not in the modern Navy did we have things like that, did we? Was that not something that happened to John Paul Jones and the wooden ships of old? Were we not beyond that now? But Jack, who had done a lot of reading about World War II, reminded me that the heavy cruiser Pittsburgh, CA-72, had lost 104 feet of her bow during a typhoon in the South Pacific on June 5, 1944. She limped to Guam and had repairs made, so at least she had not sunk.
But what about all the sailors in those 104 feet, I wondered? How many were on their bunks, being shaken like a rag doll in the hands of a spoiled child, when they suddenly detached from the ship and sank?
The Pittsburgh missing its bow:
Then he had to spice it up a little more and tell me that the Pittsburgh was not the only cruiser to lose her bow in these very waters! Exactly one year later, on June 5, 1945, the light cruiser Duluth, CL-87, lost her bow from the ravages of yet another typhoon and likewise hobbled back to Guam for temporary repairs.
Oh my god, I thought, am I going to have to “get religion” all over again just to survive?
We stayed confined to our quarters during the day, too terrified and too sick to eat, play cards, read a book or anything else. We musicians started to believe what the ship’s company had said all along about us, that we weren’t really sailors, that we didn’t know what it meant to be a swabbie, and so on. Now, we hung onto our bunks and watched in horror as the ship listed first to starboard, then to port. Although our compartment was near the water line, we were being tossed about our bunks pretty vigorously. Imagining huge waves threatening to swamp us, we nervously rode out the bobbing and weaving, the shuddering and shaking, as the ship plunged through the unseen tempest outside.
Finally at night, after what seemed like several lifetimes on this mad roller coaster, we could endure it no longer: Jack and I had to see for ourselves just how bad it really was outside. Cautiously, stealthily, we made our way up the swaying ladders to the main deck level. As we went higher the list angle grew ever steeper with every roll of the ship, and we felt that at any moment we were going to turn turtle. Up the ladders we climbed, skirting the off-limits Officers Country area of the ship and passing through departments not normally accessed by us flag staff personnel. Finally, dizzy and trembling with fear, we undogged the watertight hatch that opened onto the gun director level …
… and confronted our terror face to face.
The wind tore at our clothing; our faces were battered by the heavy salt spray; we clutched at the rail as the ship leaned side to side, nearly dipping us in the dark foaming brine. Ahead, the range light, mounted on a pole some thirty feet above the bow, was disappearing under the crashing waves!
Oh my God, I thought: We are plowing through waves more than fifty feet high! We’ll never survive!
The ship wallowed under this mountain of water, trying to shake itself dry as a dog would do after its bath, only to be mauled again by the next immense, black mass that bore down on us. Suddenly, this ten thousand ton man-of-war, this finely crafted object of man’s ingenuity, this floating island that had been our home for a year, seemed so small and inconsequential.
And so near its demise.
The wind was so strong we didn’t try to talk; we couldn’t even breathe. Now outside in the frenetic elements, our dizzying ride on this mechanical bronco was so horrifying we were nearly catatonic, hands clenched on the guardrail, feet spread apart and firmly planted on the heaving deck, knees pressed against the steel superstructure for some reassurance that the ship was real and that it was strong enough to survive.
We watched in terror as the top of the ship leaned so far over with each crash of a wave that it seemed we could reach out and touch the broiling brine. Shaking and trembling, nearly frozen with fear, we must have stayed on the gun director for an hour. Finally, no longer able to face the thought of being swept overboard by one of these frothing monstrosities, we forced the hatch open again and retreated inside. With our clothes and shoes wet and heavy with salt we slowly clambered back down the ladders. As we passed through other berthing compartments, pale faces turned to look at us: We were not the only ones sickened by this ordeal.
When at last we reached our compartment, it seemed nearly stable and unmoving, in contrast to where we had just been. Maybe it was better if we just rode out the rest of the storm in this comparative tranquility. If the ship were to founder, at least we would be amongst our friends and shipmates when we met our fate.
Well you guessed it: we did not sink and I am here to recount this ugly ordeal from start to finish, and beyond. But it was an experience I hope to never endure again, and confirms to me why the Navy Hymn includes the verse that goes like this:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Now, I finally understand what this means.
WHO’S GOT OUR RAIN?
Jan Petri Haines
Paris apparently has a lot of rain, even more than my hometown of Anchorage and possibly more than Juneau, which gets around 96” a year. I learned this in 1965 through repeated readings of Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. This book was my bible during one of my last summers in Anchorage – I call it the summer of getting over D. In early June, he had sent his friend to our house on Tudor Road to tell me he was getting married. This unexpected news possibly hit my mother harder than it did me. At any rate, things at home grew, shall we say, unhappy, so I buried my head in Elegance for the rest of the summer.
From Dariaux’s stylish guide, I learned, among other things, what color umbrella and raincoat to buy: for the umbrella, try beige because the light filtering through casts the best light on one’s face. Ditto beige for the raincoat, although black or white were also considered practical. In France, I suppose. I’d never seen a white raincoat in Alaska. It would have appeared invisible in the winter.
In addition to the umbrella, here is Dariaux’s basic minimum winter wardrobe:
One coat in a bright color, for example, red
One matching skirt
One sweater in a complementary color – for example beige or brown
One black skirt
One black sweater
One silk sweater, black or white with a pretty neckline
One pair of black high heels
One pair of flat brown shoes for the country
One black leather handbag
One pair of black gloves
One pair of brown gloves
One pearl necklace
Her list for spring and summer reads like this:
One lightweight wool suit, gray or navy
Two blouses: one dark paisley printed silk and one clear, bright solid color
Two skirts in the same material as the blouses; worn together, they become two-piece dresses
One pair of bright-colored slacks
One pair of navy blue shorts
Two cotton knit tops, one low-cut and both in becoming, fashionable shades
One natural-colored straw handbag
One pair of white gloves
One pair of linen sandals the same color as the slacks
One pair of strap sandals, beige, white or gold
Her budget for both summer and winter ensembles was an astonishingly low $252.00.
I could sew, however – from dresses to suits to slacks to coats to ski outfits – and I did.
Madame Dariaux went on to fill me in on a good deal more, much of which I’ve forgotten, but I did not forget that umbrella. In 1966, it was the one thing I could afford that boosted my private self-image. Elegance. Tactful to the end, my friends and my bosses at Anchorage’s Westward Hotel, where I worked that summer, never said a word. Although I have to admit I never saw anyone else carry an umbrella when it wasn’t raining. At least not the full-length kind that didn’t collapse down to 12” or less.
After my marriage went south (or wherever disappearing marriages go), I moved to Honolulu with my sewing machine. In the tropics, still following the guidelines of Elegance, I maintained a modicum of style and elegance. Not that anyone there recognized it.
Three years later, in 1974, my finances were bolstered when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act paid Alaska’s Natives a hefty chunk of change. I had just lost my job, so I moved to San Francisco where none of my Honolulu wardrobe was appropriate. In search of a job, I once again relied on Dariaux’s Elegance and my mother’s trusty old sewing machine. After my umpteenth perusal of San Francisco, and in fear of not knowing how to navigate department stores like I.Magnin, Macy’s or Saks, I ventured into the smaller, tres elegant Elizabeth Arden. There I found a black trench coat and a simple black dress with a small colorful print design. Even today either would be chic.
Shoes were another problem. I couldn’t afford mistakes and I have a dastardly history with shoes. Something must have worked out, however, because I went on job interviews ad nauseum and I doubt I wore the slip-ons I’d worn in Hawaii.
Even better, it rains in San Francisco! Oh joy! With my first paycheck – well, maybe my third – I raced over to Mark Cross on Post Street. The small, elegant shop had a lovely silky beige umbrella I had spotted a few weeks earlier for $45. This is maybe $215 in today’s money. It served me quite well and I had it for ten or twelve years before a bus ran over it.
After that, while working at I.Magnin one Christmas, I bought a beige shoulder- strap umbrella for, I think, about $70. It was unbelievably easy to carry, slipping over my shoulder, but it was a heavy canvas, and, well, it was heavy. So I gave it to my husband who unfortunately left it somewhere…. men.
One afternoon, I was wandering through Neiman Marcus and ambled over to peer at their umbrellas. They had an absolutely lovely red and black umbrella, a Fendi for $65. Wow. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. Laugh, whatever you like, the fact is, I still have it. And yes I know it isn’t beige, but I liked the red and I didn’t care. It would still be in perfect shape had it not been for my husband who broke the small connection that holds it together when closed. In fact it may be with me forever since, in recent years we’ve had so little rain there is zero likelihood I will leave it in a restaurant or on a bus.
Today, it’s a different world. This year, 2015, the snowpack in California was so small (for the fourth year in a row) that Governor Brown reinforced water restrictions statewide. My husband and I, along with our neighbors, recycle water, using gray water from the kitchen sink to flush toilets and water outdoor plants. When Genevieve Dariaux wrote Elegance in 1964, I think only deserts and Africa were having water problems.
To distract myself, I went to Google and looked up umbrellas. There I found an absolutely lovely Louis Vuitton. It cost $1249.00. I stared at it. After a moment, I sank back on my chair. Whew. Who would buy it? Plus – and perhaps more importantly – where is our rain??
MONTMARTRE AND PLACE DU TERTRE
Jan Petri Haines
“OK then, I’ll go by myself.” My mouth tightened. I felt like a martyr.
“You go ahead…. you’ll do fine,” Larry said, pouring himself some coffee. “You will be fine…” he said firmly, looking me in the eye.
We were standing in the kitchen and I was feeling wrenched and selfish. He should be going with me, flying business class to Paris, one of the world’s greatest cities! Good grief.
We had planned and saved airline miles for this trip, but the tickets were non-refundable and non-transferrable. They also had a time limit and were about to expire. Now, however, he had been promoted to Chief Architect. Consequently, he was nervous about leaving so soon –- and for three weeks.
I had traveled abroad before without Larry, but my spotty travelers French evaporated in the presence of a real Francophile. I was on nervous ground.
I was, however, not about to waste this ticket.
Too jittery to tell anyone, I chewed my nails in private and began packing.
On the United Airlines flight from San Francisco, a Dutch woman seated next to me said, “Are you by chance related to General Petri?” Her R’s curling around her tongue like Courvoisier. “A famous French general,” she added as she buttered a roll above the white napkin on her lap. “In World War One, was it? Or Two, I’m not sure.” I shook my head, no, flattered and took a sip of wine. That should have been my clue. Dad would be with me on this trip.
Earlier I had thought Mom’s spirit would be with me. Once on a visit to our tax accountant in California, her presence filled the room. Before dying, she had said, with a wink, “After I’m gone, I’ll be checking up to see what you do with the money.”
So in the Louvre, in the Denon wing, I was surprised when I felt my father, a sometime artist, next to me, as I gaped at sixteenth century paintings the size of house walls. Pastel to stormy shades. Thunderous angels, plump women en deshabiller, fair men facing the sky, arms spread.
At the Musee d’Orsay, standing before Degas’ L’Absinthe, I heard myself say “the real McCoy.” It wasn’t until I reached a Renoir of young girls resting on the grass that I remembered real McCoy was Dad’s expression.
At Versailles, a guide led my paltry group of three Japanese, three Americans, all of us in black wool, and two mink coated young Russians through Marie Antoinette’s hamlet. I felt Dad’s presence as we strolled with our reflections through the Hall of Mirrors.
In Paris at the Musee Rodin he and I marveled at the larger than life sculpture of Victor Hugo. We studied Camille Claudel’s sculpted works of mothers and children, curved, earthy and delicate, alongside Rodin’s gritty and ethereal pieces.
Days later, at Mont St. Michele off the coast of Normandy, my legs nearly met their Waterloo climbing those steps. Hey dad, I thought hobbling behind long lines of tourists. You around? I could use some help here. But no. His interest was apparently in the art, not the climbing.
January 19th, my last day in Paris, I headed toward Montmarte. It was a day of anniversaries. My wedding, years earlier in 1968, at Fort Richardson to a recently divorced second Lieutenant. Forty below in Anchorage and my orchids turned brown. The shutter on Dad’s camera had frozen and didn’t work. Neither did the marriage.
Then, on January 19, 1993, my mother died. She had held on for eighteen months after Dad left for the happy hunting ground. Two aunts and I scattered flowers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I remembered my bitterness when the earth didn’t stop, for even just a moment.
My knees were shooting hot blades of pain as I climbed the cobbled steps between lacy curtained houses with empty flower boxes. I made my way past the lovely, dirty and to-be-restored Trinite Church on Rue Blanche. Then I turned on Rue Pigalle. Beneath the gray sky the famous street was grim and seedy. Yet, at ten in the morning other pedestrians were out, grocery shopping or heading for work.
As I approached Place Pigalle, a pretty young woman with dark hair and heavy make-up turned toward me from a store window. She said something in French, her face pleading. Flustered, I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.” My English would tell her that, even if my words didn’t, I thought stupidly. The further I walked, the worse I felt.
At home, I have one of Dad’s art books on Utrillo, not necessarily my favorite artist, but all around me seemed familiar, which I realized was from Utrillo’s book. As I walked, the narrow streets and French architecture appeared unchanged since Utrillo’s day. Gray daylight and stingy snow melted before touching the ground, filtering the few colors into a haze. White, beige and light gray buildings. A daub of blue on a door. Black and red lettering on a sign. A yellow flower in a window.
Climbing and breathing hard, I reached the Musee ten minutes before it opened. Perplexed, I looked around. This was my last day in Paris. I wasn’t about to waste it. Spotting the domed top of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, I headed toward it. Some guidebooks call this cathedral, built in 1893, bulky and ungainly. “Romanesque and Byzantine elements beneath an oriental dome,” they say. As I studied it, situated on top of the Mont of Martyrs overlooking Paris, I thought it impressive, even stately.
Remembering the guidebooks’ warnings about Place du Tertre’s hustling artists, I tried to avoid it. But, turning a corner, I came face to face with a man holding a sketchpad anchored to a board. “Your portrait, Madame? Only a few francs,” he said in English. Nice face, nice smile.
“Non, Merci,” I said, practicing two of my six or so French words. I smiled at him, adjusting my opinion of Fodor’s dire warnings. Hmm, what a civilized guy. Glancing at my watch, I headed back toward the Musee.
According to the 1994 Fodor’s Guide to Paris, the Musee du Vieux Montmartre displayed works by the Impressionists, including Utrillo and his mother, Suzanne Valadon who had modeled for Renoir and Degas and was an artist in her own right. Stepping through the narrow door, I discovered the musee had been transformed into Musee du Çinema.
The small rooms that had once, according to my guidebook, “sheltered an illustrious group of painters, writers and assorted cabaret artists in its heyday toward the end of the 19th Century,” were now filled with black and white photographs and the shiny gold awards of a well-fed, shiny pated director. A French version of Alfred Hitchcock. The tweed cap he wore in several photographs was displayed, along with his pipe in a glass case.
In other photos, a dewy Simone Signoret and blond Michele Morgan appeared with Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum and a few French actors I didn’t recognize. Widmark and Mitchum were younger than spring and tres’ handsome in their forties suits and rakishly tipped hats.
Mindful of my 30 franc entrance fee — about $5.50 — I examined every picture on the four tiny floors, while keeping an eye out for the bathroom. I finally found la toilette at the bottom of a steep staircase in a narrow, unheated cellar. Claustrophobia in check, I ducked to enter the cubicle. Breathing slow and deep, I struggled to ignore the ceiling grazing my head and the walls brushing my elbows.
Back up on the street, I inhaled deeply, relishing the chilled air. Then I returned to an art gallery I’d seen earlier with a Utrillo painting of Montmartre in the window. A money-changing window with a posted rate of 5.73 francs to the dollar stood next to it and I stopped to change a few travelers’ checks. Later, I would see 5.93 francs to the dollar. Ah well.
The little gallery was wonderfully warm. An aging spaniel rose stiffly and sniffed my leg before returning to his bed by the reception desk. A young woman at the desk glanced at me then returned to her book. Her outfit, fine woolens in soft rose and gray-lavender and layered like petals was smooth, not lumpy the way that look translates on Americans. She was model stunning. Looking at her, I felt grungy with my tired hair, red, wet nose and shoes in which I had trudged for over eighty-five hours in the past twelve days.
Near a stack of Montmartre calendars, I spotted a few Utrillo paintings. They were nothing like I’d seen in Dad’s art books. As I looked at the muddy colors and coarse technique, I remembered Utrillo had been an alcoholic. These were definitely not up to his works at the Musee La Orangerie.
Disappointed, I left the gallery. Neither the dog nor the woman looked up.
As I stepped into the street, a dark haired man approached, his art pad anchored to a brown board. “Your portrait, Madame?” His eyes were smiling.
Oh, why not, I thought. No one was around to take my picture, and I had a feeling he’d make me look good. For one thing, he’d started to flirt. “How much?” I slowed my pace, but kept moving.
He lifted the top sheets off his drawing pad and showed me the price written on the cardboard. “Usually, 300 francs, but today,” he shivered, looking up at the sky, “today, for you 200 francs.” I shrugged and turned toward the Place du Tertre. “150 francs,” he said, keeping in step as we approached a corner café. I glanced at him. He reminded me of friends in college. Flirty guys who became buddies.
My portrait took twenty minutes. Standing under the café’s canopy, I was in full view of busloads of tourists of every nationality. Other artists sauntered by, glancing over my artist’s shoulder while he sketched. With dismissive expressions, they drifted away. When my attention wandered, he’d lift an index finger and move it toward his eyes. I don’t know how actors handle long intimate moments of eye contact. I finally focused on the bridge of his nose.
A few Japanese and Chinese tourists leaving Sacre-Coeur scattered toward the shops and Place du Tertre. “How much?” an Asian woman asked, her tone aggressive. Mon artiste paused, his eyes locked on my chin. It had been awhile since anyone had found my chin worthy of attention. Not only did I not speak French, I’d forgotten how to handle my end of flirting. I was on shaky ground.
“150 francs,” he said, not taking his eyes off me. I was loving this. The woman wandered off. In the distance, I saw a teenage boy, his head frozen at an angle as he stood in front of a man with his pad up, pencil flying. A dozen or so other artists stood shivering around the edge of the square, sketch boards in gloved hands, stamping their feet to keep warm, long scarves around their necks. A few wore battered hats. Most were men, but I saw one woman, shrunken in a shabby gray plaid coat, clutching her art pad, her aging face grim.
Circulation had stopped in my icy feet when, with a grimace, as if it weren’t his best work, mon artiste handed me the sketch.
“Oh!” I felt my eyebrows lift. For once my lack of French wasn’t a problem. I would have been speechless in any language. He had winged my eyelashes and slimmed my cheeks, ignored all lines and dropped fifteen years from my face. I kind of recognized my eyes and nose. His rendering of my glasses and hat — a flattened pouf pastry of red velvet from Galleries Lafayette — was straight out of a matchbook drawing.
I felt laughter rise like seltzer and I choked it back. “Uhhh, good,” I managed. Hiding my face and biting my lip, I dug in my bag for the strange money and handed it over. He ripped loose a sheet of waxed paper then rolled it and the sketch together like a giant crepe. A blue rubber band secured the whole thing.
“Now I want to take your picture,” I said, motioning with my camera. Everyone was watching. I didn’t care. I wanted a picture of this guy who had drawn me as if I were a character from Blondie and Dagwood. Standing in front of the café, he was suddenly self-conscious, straightening his back, raising his chin. The flirting smile evaporated, replaced by a soldierly expression, his art pad firmly at his side. I clicked my camera. “Viola, Merci!” He relaxed, his shoulders dropping, his smile returning.
“Do you have time for une café?’ he asked, his English hesitant.
Oh God. This was the most conversation I’d had in days. I was exhausted. Une café meant we would fast approach a level of conversation beyond his English. We were already beyond my French.
“I have to get back. Sorry,” I said apologetically. He nodded. Ah yes, the pressures of traveling.
“Merci, Merci beaucoup!” I said, with a relieved smile. With more nods and waving as if I were sailing away on a cruise ship, I left Place du Tertre, the drawing clutched in my gloved hand.
Reaching the steep steps, I paused to admire the soft Utrillo colors beneath a pearl gray sky.
Invigorated, I picked my way down the Mont of Martyrs.
Soapy Smith and Otto Bayless
It was July 8, 1898, and the boys were playing on the stack of crossties that were to be used for building the White Pass railway to Dawson. The cross ties had been unloaded from a ship and were stacked on the wharf. It was 9 o’clock in the evening and both boys knew that if they didn’t get home quick their mothers were going to come looking for them. Otto was just 10 years old and his father had moved the whole family to Skagway, from Denver, the year before in preparation for their move (Over the Chilkoot Trail) on to the goldfields in Dawson.
The evening was beautiful under the Alaskan midnight sun. Four days before had been the Fourth of July picnic and parade and there were still decorations dotting the town. But for now the boys were busying themselves with their play on the neatly stacked crossties.
The boys heard some shouting coming from the other side of the wharf. They saw two men who seemed to be arguing. One man had a Winchester rifle resting on his shoulder the other man was wearing a revolver. The man wearing the revolver was very agitated. He drew his gun, pointed at the man with the Winchester and pulled the trigger. The revolver misfired.
The man with the rifle shouted “My God… Don’t shoot!!”
These were to be the last words ever spoken by William Randolph Smith a.k.a. Soapy Smith. The man with the revolver pulled the trigger again and again the gun misfired. Soapy Smith quickly brought the rifle off his shoulder and a quick downward motion firing as he did so. The bullet struck his target in the groin area. As the injured man fell he pulled the trigger on his revolver again, this time firing a shot into the leg of Soapy Smith. The two men lay only feet from each other. Frank Reid mortally wounded and Soapy Smith wounded, but in the leg.
A tall man with a Stetson type hat stepped out of the crowd and picked up Soapy Smith’s Winchester, cocked it, then placed the barrel of the rifle against Soapy’s chest and pulled the trigger.
Otto and his friend ran to the direction that the shooting had come from. When they got there, the crowd had carried off the man who’d been shot in the groin to a doctor. Otto’s friend’s mother, who had come looking for them, stood over the dead man’s body. Soapy Smith lay on his back with his eyes glazed and open staring blankly into heaven with a bullet in his heart. Otto looked into the dead man’s face and recognized him as the man who just four days before had been the grand Marshall of the Fourth of July parade and who had earlier that same day given him and his friend some candy.
And thus ended the adventurous life of William Randolph Smith a.k.a. Soapy Smith and began the adventurous life of Otto Bayless, my great grandfather. Otto’s life was to take a different road than Soapy’s. Otto was to go on and marry a governor’s granddaughter and raise a family and help found the city of Fairbanks and carve a state out of a wilderness.
It’s been said that if you are from Alaska and you have family that went over the Chilkoot Trail it’s like being from Texas and having a family member die at the Alamo.