[Note: Using my trusty 11 year old laptop, I tried to ascertain the average daily temperature/snowfall for Anchorage around 1949, and after an hour of searching, I gave up. Bad internet!]
I guess the only thing good about going through Hell On Earth, would be to not remember doing that. And, thankfully, that’s my story. I don’t remember one stinkin’ thing I’m going to relate to you. But I grew up in a family of storytellers, and I heard this tale time and time again.
In 1949, my Daddy, a popular radio announcer/disc jockey in our beautiful, green, Pacific Northwest town of Seattle, Washington, received an offer to go on-air for another station, in a prime-time slot, at higher pay. And, that might have been a really good thing to do; however, the station was located in the frontier town of Anchorage, Alaska, where folks were either tough, or toast. And Daddy, Mama, my slightly older brother, Al III and I were not that tough, having lived in well-established, civilized, lower-48 cities our entire lives. — And, my entire life spanned a total of six months. A mere baby, I was nearly a year away from taking my first step. But Daddy, a grown-up who should have known better, decided to take a very big step — a huge leap. He told Mama we were moving to Alaska.
Mama, born and raised in the sunny, warm South, was not at all in favor of the big move. But Daddy was in charge of the family. Back in 1949, “Father knew best”. That was how it was. Daddy went downtown and quit his good job at Seattle’s KXA radio, where he spun jazz records, and where he had his own “Cowboy Pinkeye” show, where he featured records that parodied country music, as he came up with a whole bunch of silly, faux-cowpoke patter. — I’ll never understand why Daddy decided to give that great gig up, to move to one of the smallest radio markets in the world; but he did. And, the next thing that happened was, Daddy and Mama sold all of our furniture, put the family keepsakes in storage, and bought plane tickets. We soon made the long flight to Anchorage, in whatever gawd-awful kind of aircraft they used back then, where we landed on a desolate, snowy runway, smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t know if housing came with Daddy’s wonderful new job, or whether he and Mama had to scramble to find the shack we wound up living in. I only know that Mama saw a lot of folks living in these things called Quonset huts, and she said, “No way are we living in one of those”. (Quonset huts occasionally pop up on shows like American Pickers; where folks use them to stockpile rusty, derelict gas pumps and such. But they don’t live in them.) But, somehow, we wound up in a dilapidated, unpainted hovel, stuck in what served as a neighborhood in the town of Anchorage. The place came with a teensy bit of furniture; and that did not include any kind of a bed intended for a small child, of which there were two. So, my Al III had to sleep in some kind of wooden shipping container, and I slept in a basket! Dang, I wish I had a photo of that. I don’t. But I do have this one to share with you. That’s Daddy and me. (Later, he grew a beard, in a failed attempt to keep his face warm.)
Daddy soon went to work at the radio station, where, thank the Lord, he got a paycheck; because the good folks who Daddy foolishly, impulsively sold our furniture to, never paid for it. They’d promised to send a check to Daddy in Anchorage, just as soon as we were ensconced there. Figuring on never seeing us again, they thought, “What the heck! Why pay for the furniture?” — I think Mama was a little mad at Daddy for that, because she was still bringing it up in the 1970’s….
Having grown up, respectively, in the moderate climate of Seattle, Washington, and warm Chattanooga, Tennessee, Daddy and Mama were not at all prepared for the Frozen North. Especially with two babies in tow.
And…. right away, all the water pipes in our neighborhood froze solid. No one had any running water. I guess people were used to boiling snow in order to get their drinking water. But Mama knew she couldn’t raise two babies without running water. Being a very devout woman, she got down on her knees on the floor, in front of the kitchen sink, and prayed, “Dear Lord, I have two babies. Please, please give us water”. And (she told this story dozens of times, which is why I know it so well) you know what happened? A drip of water came out of the faucet. And then, another. And, another. Pretty soon, a tiny stream trickled out of the faucet. And then, a proper flow of water happened. Mama ran next door, to our new neighbors, to have them check their faucet. It was frozen solid. And for the rest of her life, she told me that ours was the only house on the block that had running water. — That’s what she told me….
Seriously, friends — from these photos, you’d think we were homesteading. Here is one of Daddy and Al III.
The next thing that happened, was I got bit by a huge spider, in the middle of the night. The monstrous thing crawled right onto my little face, and bit me under my lip. — I still have the scar to this day, which I cover with my grisly white beard — I can’t stand to see it. Instant anxiety…. Mama said I got very, very ill. — Good thing she was a nurse, because I doubt they had the money or wherewithal to get me to a doctor. In fact, I’ve always thought Daddy got his first car in the 50’s, so I don’t know how the H-E-double-toothpicks he got around in Anchorage, in the snow. Anyway, yeah, I got very sick. Less than a year before, I had been delivered via Cesarean section, where Mama and I had both almost died. I was not a healthy baby. Perhaps the spider sensed that, and decided to play the “survival of the fittest” game with poor little me…. I’m just grateful that Mom was able to literally nurse me back to health; but I will, also literally, carry the scar for life.
So many things went wrong, that Daddy started drinking with his fellow disc jockeys, at some crummy bar in “downtown” Anchorage. He’d come home, drunk, and start picking fights with Mama. If you’re starting to get the idea that she was a saint, you’d be right.
Well, things never did get better for the Bowles family, in Anchorage. Relocating the family to a frozen wasteland was completely pointless from the start, and it remained so. It turned out that “Father did not know best”. Mama did. She told Dad to make a decision — did he want to live alone in Anchorage, with no one to pray for running water, where spiders tried to eat children alive, where somewhere around seven people listened to him on the radio; or did he want to live with a great wife and two kids, back in warm, beautiful Seattle, Washington?
Daddy made the logical choice: we were soon on board another 40’s vintage passenger plane, bound for…. Seattle! Where we lived happily ever after.
OK, within two years, we moved to another small, isolated town, Yakima, Washington (where Daddy went back to being Cowboy Pinkeye on the radio). But at least there were no Quonset huts in Yakima. And there were cowboy bunk beds for Al III and me. But that’s another story. (And I wrote it — check my archives.)
[Notes: I’m so thankful that Mama took her little 1940’s vintage Kodak Brownie camera with her to Anchorage. Four of the photos herein were taken with it.
I was thinking: while I don’t remember experiencing anything that I’ve written about here, I doubt there is one person in Anchorage who remembers anything about it either! I’m probably the last person on Earth with an actual link to this story.]
Bonus! Here is the perfect song to tag on to my tale: