Thursday, January 18, 2018

ARMISTEAD GARDENS - CHAPTER A

The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.
As the Second World War was drawing to a close, many Germans could see that defeat was inevitable. Those who held positions of authority in the government or the National Socialist Party knew that if/when the Axis powers were defeated, they and their families would both be vulnerable to arrest by the ruling power installed by the conquering armies and to revenge by disgruntled fellow Germans.
Some of them sent their families out of Germany to Switzerland or to Turkey or Morocco. From there they made their way to Uruguay and Argentina. Some of the fathers were subsequently killed in the waning months or weeks of the War. Others used that time to collect as much money, gold, jewels, or other portable booty and then fled themselves. Whether any high ranking Nazis evaded arrest and made their way to these two South American countries has been material for many articles, documentaries, and stories. The undisputable fact is that following the War there were large colonies of Germans and Ukrainians in Argentina and Uruguay.
In Baltimore there were many first, second, and third generation German-Americans. Before the War started, the German Bundt brought together thousands of Germans who supported Hitler. Their building in downtown Baltimore was a classical Greek structure whose auditorium held at least 2000. Many dropped their support when they found out what Hitler was doing to the Jews or when their own sons were being killed in the War. The Bundt was outlawed after our country entered the War. There were still a sizeable number who silently maintained their allegiance to Nazi Germany.
Several of these Nazi sympathizers secured jobs in the Rental Office and the Maintenance Office in Armistead Gardens. They worked hard and gradually worked themselves into supervisory positions. Mr. Wieneger became the Manager of the Rental Office. Mr. Schwartz became the Supervisor in the Maintenance Office.
During the War good workers were being bled away by the draft. Every time there was a job opening Mr. Wieneger and Mr. Schwartz hired only men or women who were supporters of their cause. By the time the War ended, all of the workers belonged to their Cause.
They recognized that the column of duplex houses which ran along Pulaski Highway might be useful to them some day because a road running parallel to Pulaski Highway was an innocent and unobtrusive passive barrier to the other residents of the project.
When the project was turned over to the Baltimore City Housing Authority there were some anxious weeks and months worrying about whether the Authority might send in some of their own people. As time went by their worries were laid to rest, because Armistead Gardens was run more efficiently than any of their other projects.
Mr. Schwartz had a short-wave radio in his office. There was a sophisticated antenna array on the roof of the garage where the trucks and equipment of the Maintenance Department were stored. In the evening after the offices were closed, Mr. Schwartz was occupied with his amateur radio. The radio hams he was contacting were in Argentina and Uruguay.
Now that wealthy ex-pat Germans had reached the relative safety of South America, their next goal was to reach the United States and settle there under a new identity. There were many less wealthy German immigrants who would have to adjust and content themselves living in a Latin society that was less developed, less modern, less cultured than Germany had been before the War.
The leaders of the Noble Cause had decided to establish Kamp Armistead in that row of duplexes along Pulaski Highway. The duplex facing Armistead Way was unsuitable for their use because of the heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic- too many people with too many eyes and too many brains and too many mouths.
As for the other duplexes, if a family moved out, the Cause sent one of their followers, who had an apartment or house elsewhere in Baltimore, to occupy that unit until it was needed by the Cause. Other families were gradually moved to units in the new section with the excuse that the State wanted to widen Pulaski Highway. In six months they had control of all the duplexes except the one facing Armistead Way. Kamp Armistead was ready to open. There were twenty three-bedroom units.
Mr. Schwartz kept in communication with the Noble Cause each evening. When encryption was necessary, they used some book with 365 pages or more. This year it was Moby Dick. The page for that day was ruled off in rows and columns. The first 26 lines stood for letters, the 27th line was space and the 28th line was “period.” In this manner Mr. Schwartz communicated to Argentinian and Uruguayan collaborators that Kamp Armistead was ready to receive twenty families.
These families could not fly to Baltimore or travel by commercial ships because they did not have valid passports and visas. Travel was on yachts. The amount of baggage they could take with them was limited. The captains of the yachts were cautious concerning the weather. It was a long trip to travel by yacht in the Atlantic Ocean. They had to stop often to refuel. Most of the passengers were seasick at least part of the time.
When the yacht reached the Chesapeake Bay, it steered for Back Creek. There was a yacht club there with some members who were loyal to the Cause. One of them would take one family and its baggage to Kamp Armistead at night. The next night he would take another family. In six months’ time, only ten families had been moved into Kamp Armistead. Then winter halted any further travel.
There were some families who tried other ways to get into the United States: through Mexico and into Texas or Arizona or through Cuba flying to Canada and from there into Detroit or New York. None of them made it without being arrested. The location of Kamp Armistead was kept secret, even the fact it was in Baltimore. It was thought that they might be followed and the existence and location of Kamp Armistead would be discovered.
When a family arrived, the person who had been house-sitting would stay with the family a week, helping them get settled. They all had learned basic English beforehand. He showed them the Acme Market and went with them on their first trip. They were encouraged to walk up the sidewalk along Pulaski Highway so as not to be noticed by the residents of Armistead Gardens.
Mr. Schwartz would buy a car for them (with their money). A Cause volunteer would coach them in learning the highway laws. Most could drive but they needed a few practice drives before taking their test. A driver’s license was an important identity document. A volunteer also took them on the city bus. They would go with them to the center of Baltimore and go through the department stores with them. They showed them the German neighborhoods.
The whole elaborate set-up was almost shattered. One of the German  undocumented immigrant families in Kamp Armistead, the Krachts, had a teen age son. He was in Fox’s 5&10 when Mr. & Mrs. Fox were heatedly arguing about something. Mr. Fox used some rough language in Yiddish. The boy may have thought Mrs. Fox was Aryan because of her blonde hair.
That night the boy returned with a can of black spray paint. He sprayed a giant swastika on one window and KIKE in giant letters. He probably would have put more, but a young man driving by saw him and yelled. He stopped his car and gave pursuit but the offender got away. Mr. Schwartz had a good idea who had done it. The family was put into a station wagon, driven up into the mountains and left to fend for themselves and die. Too much was at stake.
The enforcers for the Cause did not reckon on “mountain people.” A man in an old pickup truck came upon the family huddling in a shelter of snow and fir branches by the side of the road. He picked them up, took them home and his wife fixed them a hot meal of cornbread and beans. She gave them old ragged blankets with which to wrap themselves. The foreign people did not know where they had been living. Their teenage son was sick with a bad fever. The mountain folk had no extra beds and no telephone but they made the people as comfortable as they could.
The next day the mountain man drove into town and told the storekeeper who called the sheriff for him. The sheriff took the three foreigners to the hospital. Since they could give no address and had no identity papers the sheriff called the FBI.
The wheels of justice grind slow but exceedingly fine. The family was kept as long as questioning them was yielding useable information. Just the names “Fox’s 5&10”, “Kamp Armistead” and “Mr. Schwartz” helped to pin down the location of this camp for undocumented aliens. When the FBI was finished with them, the family was sent to their last legal residence, which was now in East Germany. The entire staff at Armistead Gardens was sent to various other projects and was replaced by other Housing Authority employees. Mr. Schwartz was fired and was indicted on several Federal charges. The remaining residents of Kamp Armistead were deported to Germany.
Mr. Schwartz was able to warn two important residents before the authorities arrived. Mr. Karl Bruning and Mr. Eisen Schultz had been in high administrative posts at the Dachau death camp. If they were arrested and deported they would face prosecution at the Nurenberg War Crimes trials. Both men took off on foot for Horners Lane. They entered the National Bohemian Cemetery. One of the graves had a concrete covering on the grave. The concrete had cracked. It was only an inch thick. Its purpose was to disguise a metal door the size of the “grave.” They lifted the door. Its hinges were rusted and protested with a loud squeak.
This bunker had been put in place about five years before America became involved in World War II. The Bundt had built it as a refuge for spies who might be sent from Germany. There were a number of attempts during the War to infiltrate spies into the U.S.A. but they were all unsuccessful and the bunker had been unused for its original purpose.
When it was built, the bunker contained a shortwave radio which had a telescoping antenna which used the metal cover to reflect its signal while transmitting. It had half a dozen beds with wool blankets. Storeable food and water in sealed cans, and a cache of American money were all part of the bunker’s contents. There was a latrine connected to a septic tank.
When Bruning and Schultz entered the underground retreat, they discovered that it had been plundered. The radio was gone. The mattresses and blankets were gone, all the food and all the money had been taken. Someone who had been involved in building and stocking the hideout, and knew how to get into it, had returned at a later time and liberated the contents.
They were in a real jam. They would have to remain in the bunker at least until tomorrow. Maybe the authorities would be gone by then. They could go back to their now vacated homes and scavenge whatever food or clothes remained in them. If their cars were still there, they could get away in them.
They spent the night lying on metal cots with no mattresses, shivering in the cold. The next morning, they broke open a couple cans of water. It tasted awful. They used the latrine and then lifted the hatch to exit. As they did, they found themselves facing two Federal marshalls.
“We knew about this hideout. When we saw the broken pieces of concrete scattered on the ground we knew for sure you were inside. We have been waiting here for you. There are some people in Nurenberg who want to hold you accountable for your roles in killing hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.”



Friday, January 12, 2018

ARMISTEAD GARDENS - CHAPTER ONE

The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alernating factual and fiction.
I was born in Elkins, West Virginia. Although we lived in several different houses when I was an infant and toddler, the two houses I remember were across the street from my paternal grandparents. The first one was a two-bedroom house my father built from plans he bought from House and Gardens magazine. My sister is one year younger than I am. When I was six years old, my brother was born. My parents bought a larger house next door, directly across the street from my grandparents. We were living there when I started school.
My father worked as a machinist on the Western Maryland Railway in Elkins. When World War 2 ended, he accepted a job on the Atlantic Coast Line Railway in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. My parents sold the car, a 1937 Oldsmobile, and all the furniture, pots and pans, dishes, and linens. My mother and baby brother went to Baltimore to live with her sister. My sister and I went across the street to live with our grandparents. I was beginning the second grade.
My father lived in a boarding house while he was working in North Carolina. However, he couldn’t find a house for us. Just before Christmas, he quit his job in North Carolina and went to Baltimore to look for a job. He worked as a machinist in several places including the Bethlehem Steel shipyard, Glenn L. Martin, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Eventually, he went to work at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Mt. Clare Shops.
Soon after Christmas 1945, my parents sent for my sister and me to join them in Baltimore. My sister had pneumonia and couldn’t travel. I went to Baltimore on the train by myself. I’m sure that now a seven-year old child could not travel without an adult accompanying him. But, I’m sure the conductor had strict orders to watch out for me. My Grandad Pritt was the track foreman who was in charge of all the tracks in the yard in Elkins, the terminus of the Western Maryland Railway.
I left in the morning while it was still dark. When the train went through Thomas, West Virginia, I could see the coke ovens on the hill above. I didn’t know about coke ovens. They looked like dragons with fiery eyes and flames shooting out their nostrils. I was really scared and tried not to cry.
The train arrived in Baltimore late that evening. I had eaten the sandwich Grandmom Pritt had packed for my lunch. It was a manly meal made with thick slices of homemade bread. But by the time I arrived in Baltimore I was really hungry. Dad met me at the railway station and took me to the apartment where my Aunt Ginny, Uncle Darld, their two daughters, Darlene and Margaret Lee and now Dad and Mom and my brother Marshall Lee were all living in a two bedroom apartment on the second and third floor in a housing project. In hindsight, I cannot imagine how we all found places to sleep.
Aunt Ginny had fixed a plate of food for me and poured a glass of milk. I had barely begun to eat when we heard the loud screech of brakes and people screaming. A crowd of people came pouring out of the apartments and ran to the street intersection. A newspaper boy had gone through a trackless trolley hawking the evening news. He exited the bus and ran around to cross the street at the intersection. The driver pulled away from the curb, did not see the lad running across the street in front of him, and hit the boy. An ambulance came, but it was too late for the newsboy; he was dead.
Two things I remember clearly from the time I was at Ginny and Darld’s home. There was a playground between the two long rows of apartment buildings. I went out and was swinging on one of the swings. A boy came up to me and told me to get off the swing because he wanted to swing. When I continued to swing, he pulled me off the swing and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of me. I never could or would fight. I went back to the apartment with a bloody nose and bruises. Darlene (who was my age) said, “Show me who it was.” Out of the second story window I pointed out my attacker. She marched down the steps, crossed the playground to the swings, and yanked the boy off the swing. She beat him up so bad that he ran back to the apartment where he lived.
The second thing I remember is that Aunt Ginny made butter. The War was over but a lot of commodities, including butter, were still not in the stores because price controls were still in effect. Ginny got milk from Golden Guernsey Dairy. Their bottles had a bulbous shape at the top. There was a plastic stopper you put in the neck of the bottle to pour out most of the cream. Ginny poured the cream off every bottle into a pint jar. When the jar was nearly full she put the lid on the jar and shook it vigorously. When she was tired, she enlisted the help of her daughters and even me. After much vigorous shaking there were some clumps of butter and buttermilk. 
During World War 2 the Federal government built and operated hundreds of housing projects in cities where there were defense plants. They had to house the workers who came from the small towns and rural areas to work in the plants that were producing military equipment and supplies needed for the war effort. So many people moved from West Virginia to Dayton, Ohio to work in the rubber plants that people jokingly said the largest city in West Virginia was Dayton, Ohio. Virginia Lee and Darld Isner lived in the Perkins Project which was near Baltimore’s harbor and the shipyard. Since the War was over, the Federal government was in the process of turning the projects over to municipal authorities to operate.
My parents were able to get a two bedroom row house in Armistead Gardens, another housing project. We moved there in the beginning of February 1946. I don’t know what furniture there was in the beginning. I know my brother, who was about 18 months old, slept in a wagon, his Christmas present. I don’t know if my sister joined us while we were at Darld and Ginny’s or after we moved to Armistead Gardens. My father’s sister Myrtle and her husband Gene, who lived outside Washington, DC, brought her from Elkins in their car.
Our house was at the end of a row of houses, 1127 Newcomb Way. There were two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The living room, kitchen/dining area, and fuel oil hot air furnace were on the first floor.
Armistead Gardens was just inside the northern city limits of Baltimore. Pulaski Highway was on its eastern side. The houses in Armistead Gardens were originally built to house workers at the Glenn L. Martin plant. It was built in two stages. We lived in the “old section.”  The houses were built as row houses – five or six houses joined together. These units were on both sides of a narrow alley with no sidewalks. There were several streets in that section suitable for vehicular traffic and these had sidewalks.
In the old section the houses were built of cinder block and had concrete floors and flat roofs. The cinder block of the outside wall was also the inside wall. The cinder blocks of the outside walls were 12 inches thick. The walls between each house were 8 inches thick. The cook stoves were gas. Gas, water, and electricity were included in the rent However, the heat was from fuel oil. Trucks came around to fill up 55 gallon oil drums which lay horizontally on concrete stands. There was a spigot to fill the can you carried into the house and poured into the hot air furnace. You had to pay the oil truck in cash for the oil.
The thin walls between the houses meant you could hear the neighbors arguing. We lived in a house at the end of a row, so we only heard one set of neighbors. Lying in bed some nights I would hear the man and woman next door fighting. Sometimes I could hear him hit her. More than once I heard her screaming, then tumbling down the steps. They had three daughters – twins my sister’s age and an older girl my age. I wonder what it must have been like for the girls living in the midst of it.
This same couple would sometimes have a dozen or more children from nearby houses come to their home and sit on the floor in the living room. They would turn out all the lights and tell ghost stories.
The kitchen/dining area, the furnace, and the bathroom all faced the alley which was Newcomb Way. The front door from the living room opened onto a long playground. Directly in front of our house was a “monkey bars.” It was a squarish gridwork of pipes that children could climb on, hang upside, and all kinds of activities. Further down were swings and see-saws. In the middle was a large grassy area where ball games were played. At the far end there was a large area of smooth concrete where children could roller skate, play hop-scotch, etc. In the center was what resembled a giant metal mushroom. On the rounded top was a large shower head. In the summer, when it was blistering hot, they turned on the sprinkler, the children put on bathing suits and ran through the water.
Between our house and the first house of the next row of houses was a large area of what should have been grass but was hard packed dirt. It was there that we boys played marbles. Each boy had a bag of marbles and as the play went on a bag became filled or emptied. Each boy had a large marble which he used as a ‘shooter.” That is also where we played “mumbley-peg” with our pen knives.


Monday, October 9, 2017

ICE DREAMS - CHAPTER H (the last chapter)

I have posted one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction. If you would like the complete book in .pdf format, send your request to mtnpride@gmail.com and I will send it to you as an email attachment.
         After Lorraine left, I had two big projects for the month of August. The salmon would be running that month. The men had been busy building a big fishing wheel, going by pictures and drawings in books which the Department of Interior sent to me. They had also built some salmon smokers. I warned them that both the fishing wheel, when it was spitting fish into a barrel, and the salmon smokers, when there were fish on them would attract bears. Therefore, we needed men on guard at the fishing wheel during the times when it was catching fish and at the smokers anytime there were fish on them.
Also during August, I needed to be planning school classes for the coming year. As Mrs. Wallace observed, I am just “winging” it, but I think that is harder than if I had a set curriculum to follow. I probably will have to introduce mathematics and science for the older children.
I was puzzled about Tatyana. Will she be willing to help again this school year? One day as I was walking out toward the woodline, she fell in step with me. In my mind, her thoughts came as clearly as if she were speaking to me in audible sounds.
“You may be wondering why I acted the way that I did while your wife was here. When we first met, the Starshij told you that I am a virgin – I do not have a husband. I brought you into the cave because I thought that you could be my husband. It was not until you were talking to Starshij that I found out that you are married.
“I was crushed, because I like you so much. It is only because our souls are so close, that our minds can converse like this. I tried to deceive myself into thinking that you really weren’t married, that you were shy or reticent about giving your heart. I thought that eventually you would allow yourself to feel about me the way that I feel about you. When I saw Lorraine, I perceived what a wonderful person she is. When I saw you with her, my self-deception collapsed. Yes, I’ll help you in school this year. But I had to tell you how I feel.”
We continued walking. I didn’t know what to say.
The day after Labor Day (I was the only one who knew or had ever heard of Labor Day), we started school. I divided the class into those who were almost 12 or older. I started them with arithmetic with the intention of going on to algebra after Christmas. While I was teaching them arithmetic, Tatyana worked with the younger children helping them review the alphabet, the colors, and numbers and then having them color. I asked Mrs. Wallace to buy some coloring books and crayons in Bethel and send them out to me.
I had also rearranged the classroom. The younger children were behind the older children and were facing the rear of the trailer. The older children were facing the front so that I could use the whiteboard. I also had a table on which I could put similar objects to illustrate simple addition and subtraction problems. I also had a map of the world, a map of the United States, and a map of Alaska.
Since coming to the Shemyite community, I had been more serious about doing the University of Kentucky correspondence course on classical Greek. I had finished the first course and received a grade of A- and three semester hours credit. I was now working on the second course. I have almost completed it and I will be sending for the final exam in a couple weeks.
The gardens produced an abundance of produce. The women were finding ways to preserve it. They were using the roofs of the trailers to sun dry many things. They dug root cellars in which to keep potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. I remembered reading about the Korean women making kimchi by cutting up cabbage, hot peppers, and fish and burying it in jars in the ground. All through the winter they dug up one jar at a time. Some of the women decided to try that.
The women already knew how to make bagels. Every trailer kitchen had two or three strings up near the ceiling with dozens of bagels hanging there.
For their part, the men were already going through the woods looking for dead trees which they would saw out in the woods, then drag the pieces back to their trailers. There they split the sections of logs into useable sized pieces. The women’s cook stoves were wood-burning. When it became really cold the pot belly stoves in the center of the trailers were lighted.
I couldn’t help thinking that if I had turned down this assignment and stayed at Fort Meade, I would be in college now. Had I made a mistake? Am I throwing away a year of my life? I cannot deny that the Shemyites need me. Before I came, they were dependent on whatever the Department of Interior would dole out to them. They knew that it wouldn’t go on for long. What I am doing is helping them to become self-sufficient. That will preserve their dignity and self-respect.
The children are being prepared to go to school or at least to earn a G.E.D. diploma. The adults can now defend their community from wild animals, buy food and other necessities with earned money, harvest enough fish and garden vegetables, and gather enough wood for fuel to last through the coming winter.
Also, the storekeeper had sold every one of their crafts and was begging for more. He made it clear that it is only during the summer that he can sell crafts to people who are just passing through. That is perfect because it is during the winter that the Shemyite people work on crafts.
I’m sure that I can get the Department of Interior to set some program in place wherein they will take the crafts to shops in Anchorage. Now that the people have been shown that they can sell their crafts here just as they did when they were living in the cave and now that they have received money for their crafts, I believe they will produce many more crafts this winter.
I am also going to suggest that a teacher be sent to take my place when I leave next fall and that Tatyana be sent to the University of Alaska to work with a linguist who can document the Shemyite patois. At the same time, she can learn English, (and maybe meet a young man whom she can marry.)

Life is about giving others what you have already been given. God leaves us on this earth after we become His children through the Gospel of Christ, in order that we can tell others about Him, and also in order that we may continue to serve others as Christ would have done.   

Monday, October 2, 2017

ICE DREAMS - CHAPTER G

I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.

On Tuesday, March 12, 1961 two soldiers drove into the community in a M561, a large six-wheeled vehicle called a “Gamma Goat.” I couldn’t believe that they could drive up into our community. There was not even a dirt road from Tuluksak. Despite its size the Gamma Goat can go over terrain that would not be passable for a Jeep. In the vehicle there were twelve rifles and that many cases of ammunition.
“Sergeant, you sign for these. From now on you’ll be responsible for them.”
“Thank you.”
“We’re cold and hungry. Can you give us some grub? You wouldn’t make us eat these cold C-Rations would you?”
“Tell you what. I’ll make you some hot chili with soda crackers, some hot chocolate and some applesauce in exchange for your C-Rations.”
“You’ve got a deal, good buddy.”
They carried a whole case of C-Rations into the trailer.
By then a half dozen men had gathered around to gawk at this large six-wheeled vehicle which had managed to drive up into the community. I showed them the rifles and ammunition. Boris looked at the soldiers and pointing to his stomach he rubbed it and then pointed to them questioningly. I didn’t have to explain the meaning of his gestures. They enthusiastically accepted his invitation. He gestured for all three of us to follow him.
In Boris’ trailer he barked a few commands to his wife. She scurried into the kitchen and began preparing a hot meal whose tantalizing odor was driving us crazy. While we were waiting, Boris served us hot sweetened chai in glasses.
Then his wife began putting the food on the table. When we were seated, Boris clasped his hands in prayer and motioned to me. I prayed for the Lord Jesus to bless the food and to bless the home of this generous couple. When I finished the two soldiers joined us in an enthusiastic Amen.
The next day, I had the children busy drawing pictures of brown bears and moose – copying from pictures I found in hunting magazines. When the men came, I took a rifle, some ammunition, the pictures and some thumb tacks. We walked to the back edge of the clearing. I motioned for them to stay there. I walked out about 100 paces and tacked a picture about chest high on a tree. I walked another 50 paces and put up another picture on a tree. Going another 50 paces I did the same.
Going back to the men, I demonstrated loading the rifle, cocking it, taking the safety off, and firing it. I managed to hit some place on each of the targets, but I didn’t hit any of the animals pictured on them. I then had each man do the same. It was very difficult teaching them, especially gun safety, without words or language. The men, however, were very enthusiastic. Not all of them hit a target, but this was just their first time. I decided to have the men devote their class time to target practice every day.
By the end of March, the men were hitting the animals pictured on the targets. They had also learned to clean the weapons. I issued a rifle to each one who had been in the class.
Spring was coming. I drew up a schedule of these men, two per night, to stand guard over our community. One man would be on duty 4pm to midnight; the other man midnight to 8 am. They were to watch for bears and moose and to shoot the animal before it could get into the clearing.
A month went by. The men were grumbling about the watch duty. Then on the first night in May Boris spotted a brown bear about 75 yards from the trailers. He aimed for the chest, but shot the bear in the head. It roared and fell over dead.
That morning I rode down to the general store and asked if someone would show us how to skin the bear. A Native American man, grizzled in appearance, rode back to the community with me. He skinned and gutted the bear, then told me a few things about butchering it. He asked if he could have the heart and paws from the bear. The men were glad to give him those. He also told me that we must bury the guts in a deep hole and drain the bear’s blood into the hole, then cover the hole in dirt. That might keep wolves from catching the scent of the bear and coming to look for it.
The women butchered the bear and every family was given a share of it. Bear meat was strange to them and each of the women cooked it in different ways. Some roasted it, some fried it, others made stew of it.
The men were more alert now that they knew the possibility of a large and dangerous intruder was real. The possibility of another bonanza of fresh meat was also an incentive. In the next month the men killed a caribou, another bear, and then a moose.
We had no plows and the clearing behind the trailers had many stumps. All the men used spades to dig up garden patches for their own family. At the general store they were able to buy seed potatoes and packets of seeds. They planted the seeds and every day members of the families would carry water in buckets for the garden. They had already been carrying water for use in the home.
The children were making very good progress in basic English. I could sometimes tell one of the children something that I wanted to say to one of the adults and they could interpret it for me. The school district sent a woman to our school to see how much progress they had made, what teaching materials I was using, what my qualifications were as a teacher.
Mrs. Wallace came on a “dirt bike” motorcycle. She had the twelve children come to her one at a time. She asked them the numbers, the alphabet, the colors. Then she asked them questions using simple English. I was afraid at first and then embarrassed at how well they did.
“Sergeant, your methods are unorthodox, probably making it up as you go along. You have no ESL training, probably haven’t even read a book on the subject. Yet somehow, you are doing a great job. If there were a school within reasonable distance, these children could all start in school next fall. Keep it up. You are doing a great job. I’ll see if I can gather up some books for the children and some teaching aids for you and ship them out to you.”
I thanked her and one of the mothers tugged at her arm, took her to her trailer, and fixed Mrs. Wallace a wonderful lunch with hot sweetened chai. When she was leaving, the mother hugged her.
All winter the men and women had been working in the crafts they had used in the cave. They had quite a collection of dolls, throw rugs, wood carvings (including Orthodox crosses), scarves, gloves, and other items. Some of the men put them all in bundles, and carried them on their backs. I went with them to talk to the storekeeper. I had made two copies of an inventory of all the goods. Beside each item was the name of the person who had made the craft.
When we reached the store, I explained to Mr. Harriman that they had some crafts that they would like to leave with him on consignment. Whatever he did not sell in three months we would take back and send it elsewhere to be sold. I asked him to check the inventory against the crafts they had brought with them and to sign one copy of it if it was correct. I would leave the other copy with him. He could sell the crafts for what he judged to be a fair price and then write the price beside the item on the inventory. In three months he would return the unsold crafts, total the amount of sales, keep 20% for himself and pay us 80%. He agreed those terms were fair.
The gardens were coming up. As with all first gardens they were flourishing and there was a minimum of weeds. However, some animals were discovering the gardens and foraging there. We had to drop everything and build fences to keep the wild animals out.
I sent for some books about the way native Alaskans fish for salmon. They would be running in August and September. We only had a couple months to learn to build the wheels and nets they use to catch the salmon. We also had to learn to smoke and preserve the salmon.
It was summer now. The days were long. The sun was warm. The dirt path out to Tuluksak was firm enough for a four-wheel drive vehicle to traverse. I asked Lorraine if she would like to come here for a visit. I would like to see Paul, who was now one year old, but bringing him might be too much for her to manage in these primitive conditions. She agreed with enthusiasm.
Next, I had to make arrangement through the Department of Interior office in Anchorage. They would have to arrange to fly her from Anchorage to Bethel and then for a Ranger to drive her from Bethel to the Shemyite community. I knew that I was asking a lot, but I figured that they owed me a lot.
I sent a letter to them with a copy to the Ranger at Bethel. The Ranger called Anchorage, read the letter to them. They agreed without hesitation. The Ranger answered me back by mail three days after I sent the letters. I promptly sent Lorraine a letter telling her that she had permission to come and I gave her the phone numbers of the office in Anchorage and the Ranger in Bethel.
Lorraine arrived the evening of the Fourth of July. Even though it was evening, it was still light as if it were afternoon. The people of the community all gathered around her and took turns hugging her. Tatyana was on the edge of the group and did not come up to greet her. She had a strange look in her eyes. While everyone was still greeting Lorraine, Tatyana walked away and went to her parents’ trailer.
Lorraine was very tired from her trip. I’m sure that she would have liked to take a shower. All I could offer was a washbasin into which I poured hot water from the tea kettle on the stove. I told her to save the water with which she washed so we could use it to flush the toilet.
We both had to sleep in my single bed. We didn’t sleep a whole lot. The next morning, I got up first and made coffee. I fixed her a fried egg and warmed the bread on top of the egg after I had turned it over. We went out and I showed her around the compound. There were already women and children working out in the gardens. Before long Lorraine was working alongside them.
She saw that some of the beans were pole beans but they were running along the ground. She went looking for some discarded tree branches and pushed them into the ground. “Go get me a hammer and some rags.” She hammered the poles in the ground and then picked the bean runners off the ground and tied them to the poles with strips from the rags. The women watched her and began doing the same.
The families in the community paired up in hosting us each evening for supper. It was heartwarming to me to see the genuine affection the women displayed to her. She oohed and aahed over the food, played with the children, admired the carvings or tapestries on the walls. They may have expected her to treat them with the lack of respect and dignity that other city people had displayed toward them. She admired their crafts, their homes, their children, and their food. They could not have loved her any more.
When we went to the home of Tatyana’s uncle, Tatyana’s parents and the other children were there. They said Tatyana was not feeling well. There was a stiffness in Tatyana’s mother’s manner to us. The uncle’s wife noticed it and frowned. When the meal was over, she excused herself and left the trailer. Tatyana’s father looked puzzled but he stayed. Lorraine helped the uncle’s wife clean up after supper. When the wife started washing the dishes, Lorraine picked up a tea towel and started drying. The wife talked softly to Lorraine. She couldn’t understand the words, but the meaning was one of friendship. When we left, the wife hugged Lorraine a long time with tears in her eyes.
Lorraine was supposed to leave the next day. She was ready in the morning. I walked down to the general store with her, carrying her suitcase. She hadn’t been able to pack all of her own things because many of the women had gifts for her. There was a doll for Andrew, an elaborately carved Orthodox cross, a necklace, wooden toys for Paul, a scarf and other mementos of her visit.
We waited until 3 pm. Then I called the Ranger station. The Ranger who had been coming for Lorraine had run off the road and was taken to the hospital. They were sending her home tomorrow, but she wouldn’t be able to work for a while. That left only one Ranger at the station so he couldn’t leave the station to go out to Tuluksak and back. He would have to make some other arrangement. He said to call him back in a couple days and he’d let us know what he had arranged.
When I called Ranger Thompson a couple days later, he said, “I made arrangements with a man here in town. He is on his way out there now. I hurried back to the trailer and got Lorraine and her suitcase. We hurried back to the general store. When we got back to the store, the storekeeper said, “This man said the Ranger sent him out here to take your wife back to Bethel…But I don’t know…”
The man was drunk, very drunk. I said, “I’m sorry but she has changed her mind.”
“Wha’s wrong. Ain’t I good enough to drive the prin..cess?”
“No, you are not. Thank you.”
“Whad’da ‘bout the money Ranger Thompson promised me?”
“You see Ranger Thompson about that.”
After he left, I called Ranger Thompson and told him,
“The man you sent to drive Lorraine to Bethel arrived here very drunk. She still needs a ride to Bethel.”
“I’m sorry. He was sober when he left here. Look I’ve got more important things than to find taxis for you.”
With that he hung up.
Lorraine started to cry. I remembered that Mrs. Wallace had given me her card when she left. I looked in my wallet for it. It had her home telephone number on it. I called her,
“Mrs. Wallace? This is Sergeant Pritt out at the Shemyite community near Tuluksak. My wife came from Baltimore to visit me. The Ranger brought her here from Bethel. When she was ready to return, the Ranger had a vehicle accident on her way out here. Ranger Thompson made arrangements with some man to pick up Lorraine today. When the man arrived, he was very drunk, so we sent him back. Then I called Ranger Thompson several minutes ago and he was angry and said that he had better things to do than be my taxi service.
“Lorraine is stranded here. If you can find someone who will pick her up and take here to Bethel, I can pay them $30.”
“Tell your wife that someone will be there in three hours. I will call Ranger Thompson and straighten him out.”
Three hours later Mrs. Wallace herself arrived driving a four-wheel drive Dodge truck. I found out later that she took Lorraine to her own house, called Ranger Thompson and told him that she had Lorraine at her home and she would expect a call from him the next day telling her what time to expect the plane to fly Lorraine to Anchorage. She fixed a delicious supper for Lorraine and her own family – a husband and two teenage children.

The next day a plane arrived to fly Lorraine to Anchorage. She was met by a very apologetic secretary from the Department of Interior office. She made all the arrangements for changing Lorraine’s reservations to Baltimore. Lorraine discovered her seats had been changed to First Class!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, September 25, 2017

ICE DREAMS - CHAPTER F

I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.

I arrived at Elmendorf AFB on January 19, 1961. My new stripes got me much nicer quarters (at least while I was at Elmendorf). The next day I rode the bus into town and found the Department of Interior offices.
“Sergeant, we have been expecting you. I suppose you are wondering why you have been given detached duty with the Department of Interior and what your duties will be.
“We are putting another trailer in the Shemyite community. It has been modified to provide a large classroom area. It is equipped with a whiteboard, a movie projector, a slide projector, a typewriter, a mimeo graph machine, and a reel-to-reel recorder.
“You gave a very insightful report. Now we are acting on it. We will leave it to you how you will proceed with basic English education for the children and the adults. We want a weekly report from you. You will give us a report of your day-by-day activities, by the hour. You will give us a weekly report of how well the children and adults are learning basic English. You will be honest about any problems you are having. You will tell us what you need and what the community needs. We are placing our confidence in you. Don’t let us down.”
On January 23, 1961 I signed out of the Casual unit and went to the airfield. As before I was flown in a small plane to Bethel, Alaska. There Ranger Thompson met me with his four-wheel drive truck. In the back was a shiny yellow SnowCat snowmobile.
“I see that you won’t have to borrow a snowmobile in Tuluksak.”
“Oh, I’ll have to borrow one. That one is for you. Do you know how to ride one?”
“No.”
“At least you are honest. I’ll show you. You’ll find that they are a lot easier for going through the snow than snowshoes or dog sleds.”
We drove to Tuluksak and arrived earlier than we had the last time.  As promised Thompson showed me how to start the snowmobile, how to make it go forward, how to steer it, and how to stop it. He gave some precautions, but said the best teacher was to ride.
When we arrived, I again went to the first trailer. I said, “Starshij,” “Tatyana?” I was eagerly greeted and pulled into the trailer. The wife again gave me sweet hot chai and black bread with yogurt. Igor was sent to bring the Starshij and Tatyana to meet me.
When they arrived, I told the Starshij through Tatyana that the government had sent me to their community to teach the children and adults basic English. The new trailer had a classroom in the front and a bedroom for me in the back.
I asked the Starshij for permission to hold basic English classes in their community. I suggested that the children come to school 8 am to noon. The adults could come in two groups – women from 1 pm to 3 pm, then the men 3:15 pm to 5:15 pm. I would ring a bell at the beginning of each class. I also requested that the mothers take turns, two at a time, sitting with the children and helping if a child is sick or has to go to the toilet or is crying.
The Starshij frowned.
“It is all right to have the classes for the children in the mornings. About the mothers and the adult classes. I think the adults of the community must meet and discuss how they want to do this.”
I had brought bread and peanut butter with me. I would have to find out about obtaining water, food, and wood from Tatyana. They had stacked a large pile of wood by the stove. I found bottles of water and much food in the cabinets. I didn’t know how to turn on the kitchen range.
The next morning at 8 am I rang a schoolmarm bell vigorously. The children poured out of the trailers. A couple mothers and Tatyana accompanied them.
I had mimeographed a sheet with the letters of the alphabet. We began with the first five letters. I wrote them on the whiteboard. Then I wrote some simple words like apple, boy, cat, dog, and egg. I illustrated each word with a picture. (I had grabbed up all the old magazines I could find and brought them with me.)
Then we sang some simple children’s songs in English.
After that I let them stand, stretch, run in place, and other exercises. When it was snack time, I had some crackers with jelly. That was messy but one of the mothers went from child to child with a wet rag.
After the snack, we repeated the five letters five times. Then I had them sit down and I showed them a series of slides I found among the educational supplies. It had words and pictures illustrating the words. These seemed too hard for the children so I stopped it after fifteen minutes and showed a couple of cartoon films. They laughed even though they couldn’t understand any of the dialogue.
When the women came, I repeated the alphabet lesson. I had cut out pictures of rooms in a house and also pictures of food. I began vocabulary lessons with words like chair, sofa, bed, blanket, skirt, shirt, trousers. When the men came, after the alphabet lesson, the vocabulary lesson and pictures were tools like hammer, axe, saw, wrench, then animals like bear, moose, and caribou.
That night I spent several hours working on the lessons for the next day and writing my day’s report. Afterward, I wrote to Lorraine:
“Dear Lorraine,
“This is my first letter to you from the Shemyite community. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that it will not be possible for you and Paul to come here and be with me in the near future if ever.
“The situation here is dreadful. I cannot speak the people’s language and they cannot speak with me. Today was the first day of basic English classes. I had twelve children of all ages for four hours. Then I had five women for two hours and seven men for two hours. How long will it take until I can say even simple things to them?
“There is constant danger that a bear or moose could come wandering into the community and do a lot of damage before it left. In Spring that danger will be greatly increased. There is not so much as one rifle in the community and none of the men would know how to use one. But how can we bring someone in to teach them to hunt or how to defend the community against wild animals when they can’t speak English?
“When Spring comes, they should plant gardens. Who can teach them what plants will grow well here? Who and how can someone teach the men what time the salmon will be thick in the river and how to catch them and how to smoke them? It is a frightening thing for them to have been uprooted from a home and environment where they knew how to maintain their way of life. Now they are in an entirely new home and environment that they know nothing about and without the ability to ask people who do know how to survive in this harsh environment.
“I have only a small bedroom and a compact kitchen. The rest of the trailer is devoted to classroom space. If you and Paul came up to Alaska, the nearest place you could find an apartment would be in Bethel. Bethel is a two or three hour drive on dirt and gravel road to Tuluksak. Then you have to travel by snowmobile or dog sled from there to the Shemyite community. The government gave me a snowmobile to use. I don’t know how I will get to Tuluksak when the snow is gone. That is where there is a small store, the post office, and the telephone.
“I have resigned myself to the probability that I will have to stay here until my enlistment expires in September 1962. I will try to get a thirty day leave in September 1961. I would have to pay the air fare from Anchorage to Baltimore, so I will be saving my money.
“Please let me know your feelings about all this.
“I love you and miss you and Paul.
                                                  “ Love,
                                                    Troy”
The next day was Friday. I showed the children a calendar and drew a circle around 27 and another circle around 30. I mentally asked Tatyana to explain that we would have classes on five days then be off two days and start classes again for another five days. I’m not even sure Tatyana understood me. The mental strain of being the only one who cannot converse with the others in the community and yet being their instructor is tremendous. It is exhausting.
The next day I slept late. Then I rode the snowmobile into Tuluksak and mailed my letter to Lorraine and my first two daily reports to the Department of the Interior office in Anchorage.
When I returned to the community, I started making a snowman. Soon some of the children saw me and started helping me. Then I showed them how to make snow angels. They understood the word “angel” because it is very similar in Russian.
For my piece de resistance I told them all to go to their house and get a cup and a spoon. While they were doing that, I put some syrup in a pan, added some raspberry preserves, and brought it to a boil. I turned off the burner, went back out to the children and showed them to fill their cup with clean snow and then line up by the door to my trailer. One by one I poured a little of the hot syrup onto their cup of snow. It became “Eskimo ice cream.” They enjoyed this treat that I enjoyed as a child in West Virginia.
Afterward, I went back into the trailer, took an afternoon nap, washed dishes and fixed supper of fried spam and baked beans with a side dish of sauerkraut. I fixed a cup of chai to drink with my meal. The little store had begun to stock it for the Shemyite community.
On Sunday, Tatyana’s family and her uncle’s family gathered at the home of Tatyana’s parents for Sunday dinner. They invited me to join them. I decided to try an experiment. I took my Russian Bible with me and when the time seemed appropriate, I read a simple passage from one of the Gospels and then began reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Russian. They joined me. In many cases the words they used were different. Nevertheless, they understood enough of the Russian to keep in pace with me throughout the prayer.
We all understood that there had been a breakthrough. The language barrier was beginning to crumble. I had discovered a new tool for my classes with the adults. From now on when I taught them the English word for a picture, I would try to have the Russian word for it. The men came and hugged me.
It became a custom in the community for a couple of families to get together for Sunday dinner. They would invite me and at some time they would indicate that it was time for me to read the Bible and pray. I would read a familiar Psalm or Gospel portion, say a prayer with simple Russian words, and then begin the Lord’s Prayer. They would all join in with me.
One day, one of the men whose name I had not learned, came to the trailer while the children were in class. I heard some hammering outside. When I looked to see what he had done, I saw fastened to the trailer a beautifully hand carved Russian Orthodox cross. Without ordination or installation or any church’s blessing I had become the community’s pastor!
On Monday, February 20, 1961 one of the boys, Stefan, became ill about an hour after school began. He vomited. When one of the mothers took him to the toilet to clean him up, she noticed that he was very hot. She said something to Tatyana who communicated to me, “He is very hot and flushed. She is taking him home.”
The next morning, instead of children, Starshij and Tatyana came to my trailer. Tatyana communicated, “Ten of the children are all sick. Like Stefan, they are vomiting and are very hot. We do not know what to do. Can you go for help?”
I dressed as warmly as possible and started the snowmobile. I rode into Tuluksak. In the general store I asked where there was a doctor and how to contact him.
“In Bethel there is a doctor.”
I asked to use the phone. I called the Ranger in Bethel.
“This is Sergeant Pritt from the Shemyite community near Tuluksak. We have an urgent need for medical assistance. Most of the children in the community are very ill. They are running high temperatures, vomiting. I don’t know any of the other symptoms because of the language barrier. Please call the Department of Interior office in Anchorage and let them know we need help. Then see if you can get a doctor or even a nurse to come out here. Will you bring them?”
“I’ll call Anchorage for you. As for the local medical people here, they are pretty busy already. This time of year always brings a lot of illness.”
“Please do what you can. This community could lose all of its children.”
I drove back to the community with a heavy heart. I went from trailer to trailer visiting the families with sick children. In each one, I would put a rag in cold water, wring it out, and lay it on the child’s forehead (if the mother was not already doing this). Then I would say a simple prayer for the child’s recovery. I would pronounce the name “Jesus” clearly. I would motion for the mother to continue using the cold water rags.
The next day, I returned to the general store and called the Ranger. He told me that he couldn’t find any doctor or nurse who was willing to go out to the community. They had all the sick people that they could care for now. As for the Department of the Interior office in Anchorage, they said to tell me to keep up the good work. I was both angry and discouraged. While I was in the general store I bought some boullion cubes.
Back in the community, I again went to the trailers with sick children. The fevers were gone but the children were weak and listless. I would go to the stove, boil some water, and put a boullion cube in the cup. After it dissolved I would motion for the mother to feed it to the child. I would leave another cube with the mother. Before I left, I would pray for the child and for its mother.
By prayer and bouillion cubes, the children slowly recovered. By Friday, they were out of bed and moving around in the trailers. By Monday, February 27, 1961 the classroom was filled with children who had recovered and were able to learn and participate in class.
I wrote to Lorraine and told her what had happened. I washed my hands in alcohol and put the letter in the oven before sending it. I didn’t want to send the germs of this illness back to them. My precautions were probably foolish considering how many unclean hands would handle the letter before it was delivered.
In my daily report, I told that all the children seemed to be well. I urged that at least a dozen rifles, powerful enough to bring down a bear or moose, and a supply of ammunition be sent as soon as possible. The men of the community should be learning to use the weapons and practicing target shooting now. They need to be ready by this Spring when hungry bears, moose, and other large animals may roam into the community looking for food. If any such animals did come into the community, they would do a lot of damage and maybe even attack some residents.

In my basic English class with the women, I began to include words for parts of the body and symptoms of illnesses – fever, rash, vomit, pain. With the men, I began to include words for the large animals and also for the parts of a rifle.

Monday, September 18, 2017

CHAPTER TEN and CHAPTER E - ICE DREAMS

I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.
CHAPTER TEN
The Casual Barracks had open bays on each floor. The bays were divided into cubicles, each of which contained two bunk beds. I was in a top bunk which came almost to the top of the cubicle partition. It had been a long time since I had been in an open bay. I felt uneasy, maybe it was part of the fear that I was feeling. It was three or four hours each night before I could fall asleep.
The Casual Barracks was the “labor pool” for any details on base. There were all kinds of reasons that a person might be on casual status. When a sergeant came looking for a group of men for a detail, they tried to avoid choosing the men who had just come in from a remote site. However, they could not do so overtly without getting in trouble themselves. Therefore, we had to “cooperate” by making ourselves scarce.
That was more difficult for me than for most of the men. I received a letter from Lorraine with $3 and it was gone almost immediately. My shower clogs had broken, I needed socks, I bought some cough drops, a pack of cigarettes, and a cup of coffee. It was gone. Some of the guys make themselves scarce by going into town. The bus used to be free. Now it is 50 cents each way.
The Sunday after we arrived, I went to the evening service of a church just off base. The pastor was Reverend Ivy. It was in a Quonset hut and was  named “Lighthouse Mission.” I wrote:
“The service was quite Pentecostal though more subdued than I expected. They prayed twice and they pray like the people in the Free Methodist Church – all at once, out loud. The preacher and another man played the guitar and a girl played a kind of rinky-tink piano. I’m referring to the way she played – the piano was a nice one. The minister didn’t feel he had a message, so he didn’t preach.”
Fifty years later, in September 2010, Lorraine and I went to a church at that same location. It is now a large church with three campuses. It is still Pentecostal, but now its name is Muldoon Community Assembly of God.
The next day, Monday, December 19, 1960, I requested and received a partial pay. It was an advance on my pay for the first half of January 1961, $15. Because of my allotments, my net pay was only $29/month. Since I was being transferred to Ft. Meade, Maryland, I anticipated that my travel pay would be several hundred dollars at least. I was hoping they would advance part of that to me so that I could buy a plane ticket home. I wouldn’t find out until we processed out. Processing would start Tuesday, December 27. Monday, December 26 was a holiday since Christmas was on Sunday. 
Processing went by in a whirl. We were scheduled to fly from Anchorage to Seattle on the evening of December 30, 1960. I thought that if everything went right I might just be home the evening of our second wedding anniversary. Things didn’t go all right. The weather grounded flights for the next several days. It was January 2, 1961 before we flew out of Anchorage, Alaska.
When we landed, the bus from McCord Air Force Base to Seattle-Tacoma Airport had just left. There wouldn’t be another bus for several hours. Along with a lot of others on the plane, I decided to take a “gypsy” cab to the airport. When the driver led four of us out to his car, my chin dropped. It was a Ford Falcon! He put one airman in the front seat and put a duffel bag at his feet and a suitcase on his lap. He tied two or three duffel bags on the roof, filled the trunk, put three of us in the back seat and put some bags in with us. He drove like a maniac! He charged us each $5.
At Seattle-Tacoma Airport I was able to get a ticket to Washington, D.C. I called my parents and told them when I would be arriving that evening. When I arrived at Lorraine’s parents’ house, I ran upstairs to embrace Lorraine and then I ran up another flight of stairs to see Paul. CHAPTER E
When I returned to Anchorage on my way home, there were fifteen days that I had to wait before I departed for home. I inquired at a number of offices about the people who had been relocated from Shemya. No one knew anything, and most didn’t know who the people were. Finally, I found someone who knew what I was talking about. I was directed to one of the security offices. One of the men recognized me and knew that I had been helpful in ferreting out the various Russian attempts to spy on Shemya.
“I’m glad to see you Airman. I think you can be of help to us. We need a report on how the Shemyites are doing. With most people I could send, there will be a communication problem and a trust issue with the people. I am going to arrange to have you assigned to us for five days, if you are willing that is. We will take you out to where they are to have a short visit with them. When you return, I want a complete report.”
“I’ll be glad to go. However, I am broke. I couldn’t afford a bus or train ticket.”
“We will take care of the expenses. You couldn’t get there by bus or train. Go back to your barracks and pack enough clothes for several days. We will pick you up at noon, so eat an early lunch.”
At noon, they picked me up and took me to the airfield. There a small plane was waiting and it took me to Bethel. From Bethel, a Federal Wildlife officer took me by four-wheel drive pick-up truck to the village of Tuluksak. There was a sort of trading post or general store constructed of logs with no name on the outside of it. We ate our supper there. The ranger borrowed a snowmobile to take me the rest of the way. He told the owner that he would be coming back and would like a bed for the night.
That meant the Shemyites did not live far from there and that I would be staying several nights with them.
“I’m going to drop you off. Then you will be on your own. I’ll give you all day tomorrow. Then I’ll pick you up the following morning. Weather is unpredictable in Alaska. If there is a snowstorm, just wait it out. I’ll return for you as soon as I can.”
We went through the woods on the snowmobile. It was freezing cold riding out in the open. The cold wind felt like knives cutting into my face. Suddenly, we were in an opening and I could see several dozen trailers, placed helter-skelter in the clearing. I got off the snowmobile, shouldered my duffel bag and headed for the nearest trailer. I heard the sound of the snowmobile trailing off in the distance. “Then you will be on your own,” he had said.
At the first trailer, I knocked. I thought my fingers would fall off - I was so cold. A man came to the door. He looked suspiciously at me. He asked a one word question in their language. I said, “Starshij or Tatyana?” Pointing his finger at me, he said, with a questioning inflection, “Airman?” I said, “Yes. Da” He pulled me up into the trailer. Seating me beside a pot-belly wood stove, he said a lot that I couldn’t understand. Then he called for his wife and gave her some commands. Soon I had a hot cup of chai in one hand and a thick piece of Russian dark bread smeared with yogurt in the other hand.
Next, he called the name “Igor” and a boy of about twelve appeared. I heard “Starshij” and “Tatyana.” The boy pulled on a parka and gloves and went out the door.
After a while, an older man and Tatyana returned with Igor. I tried intently to calm my mind so that Tatyana could communicate with me.
“The Starshij you knew in the cave did not survive the attack on him by Ilya. He died in the hospital after they flew him from Shemya to Anchorage.” Pointing to the older man, she said, “This is Mixajl. He is now our Starshij. Why have you come?”
“I am on my way home after serving my year out on Shemya. I cannot leave until December 30. The Air Force asked me to visit with you all and report to them how you are doing and what you need for your transition to living here. They know that I can communicate in a limited way with you and that your people know they can trust me.”
Tatyana interpreted my answer to Mixajl. He grunted.
“There are Russians in this area whose ancestors came here over one hundred and fifty years ago. There is an old Russian mission not far from here. We have an affinity with them but few of them now speak Russian and we barely understand it anyhow. We need to learn English and our children need to learn English.
“Our men have to learn new skills in order to sustain our life here. The government has given us food and money, but surely that will not continue for long. Also, our men cannot have dignity if they are not supporting themselves and their families. We need some native peoples to teach us how to hunt and fish. We need for someone to show us how to farm and what crops and plants will grow well in this area.”
“Those are all reasonable requests and I will communicate them to the government offices. With your Starshij’s permission, I would like for you to take me to as many families as possible tomorrow and let them tell me what they need and how they are adjusting to this move.
“If you have not heard, Ilya and Gretchen blew up the cave. There is now a huge crater on the tundra above where the great room of the cave was located. Then the bodies of Ilya and Gretchen were found on the beach near the cave. They both had been shot in the forehead. Later it was discovered that a civilian contractor living on Shemya was a Russian spy. He had been their boss.”
Tatyana relayed this information to the Starshij. They talked at length. Finally, Tatyana said that I had his permission to visit other families. He said that Tatyana must have her father’s permission to accompany me. Of course, if she did not accompany me, I could not learn anything from the people I visited. The Starshij also said that I could stay in his trailer for the two nights that I would be there.
The Starshij did not seem to be a pleasant person. When we reached their trailer, he said some rough things to his wife. She looked older than him. She screwed up her mouth and gave him a curt reply. She showed me into a small bedroom which had no furniture. On the floor was a long burlap bag filled with straw or pine needles. When she closed the door, it was pitch black inside the room. I kept my clothes on and covered myself with my parka. I was not welcome in this home!
The next morning, I was awakened with some rough, derisive words. When I came out of the room, the woman led me to the trailer’s bathroom. There was a basin of cold water sitting on the sink. I relieved myself, washed my hands and face in the cold water and then poured the wash water into the toilet bowl.
Breakfast was a bowl of kasha and a cup of unsweetened chai.
Soon after breakfast, Tatyana came to my rescue. We went to a half dozen trailers. Then Tatyana took me to her family’s trailer for lunch. Her father and mother were pleasant people and treated me as an honored guest. After lunch, we visited another half dozen trailers. The last trailer we visited was that of Tatyana’s uncle, aunt, and three young cousins. It was a happy family. They were expecting us and the aunt had prepared a special dinner for us.
After dinner, Tatyana’s parents and younger brother came over to visit. We all sat around on the floor on cushions except the aunt, uncle, and Tatyana’s parents who sat on the sofa and only chair in the living room. The aunt kept everyone’s glass filled with hot sweetened chai. I was glad that I didn’t have to go back to Mixajl and his wife until it was time to go to bed.  When I returned to my room in their trailer I could tell my duffel bag had been thoroughly searched. I was also glad that the next morning, soon after a breakfast of kasha and unsweetened chai, the ranger came for me.
I took careful notes at every trailer we visited so that I could write a good report when I returned.
“REPORT ON A VISIT TO THE SHEMYITES -
On December 20 – 22, 1960 I visited the community of relocated Shemyites near Tuluksak, Alaska. These people, who formerly lived in a large cave on the Island of Shemya, Alaska were relocated to this place some months ago. They were given FEMA trailers as dwellings and they have received enough food and money from the government to sustain life.
I spoke with their “Starshij” (elder, elected leader) on several occasions through an interpreter, Tatyana. These people are descendants of Cossack soldiers who fought with the White Army during the Russian Revolution. The Bolshevik victory prevented their return to their native lands. They bought a fishing vessel and set sail for Alaska as immigrants, as did many other Russians at that time. Their ship was caught in a storm and wrecked on Shemya Island. Many of them perished. The survivors discovered a large cave which was heated by a large thermal pool. There they lived.
Their language is a patois of Kazakh and Russian words. They were an insular community and never learned English or any other modern language. They understand each other, but not anyone else. When I first met them, they had an interpreter, Gretchen, who knew English. She had not been born in the community and, as it turned out, was a Russian spy.
They developed into skilled craftsmen who made souvenir objects which they sold to native Alaskans and Siberian natives who then resold them as “native crafts.” They had an impressive workshop and design studio in the cave. They caught fish and other seafood from the ocean and learned to garden in the tundra during the brief Alaskan summer. They also bartered for food when they sold their crafts.
Now they are in a totally foreign environment. Here is what they need in order to successfully relocate to this new location.
1. There is an urgent need by both the children and the adults to learn English. The children cannot go to school without a basic knowledge of English. The adults cannot learn to garden, to fish, to hunt, to begin to produce crafts once more until they can communicate with persons outside their own community.
2. The men need powerful rifles and training in how to use them. They never had firearms on Shemya. Now they live in a wilderness where a brown bear or a moose could devastate their community. A trailer is no protection against either one of those animals. Also, they need to be taught how to hunt and trap animals for food.
3. Native Alaskans could teach them many things once they can communicate with each other. The men are skilled craftsmen. The women are excellent seamstresses. For almost a year they have not been able to use their skills.
I recommend that the winter months be used to give both the adults and children intensive instruction in basic English. This should be supplemented with films, records of simple songs in which the words are distinctly pronounced and accompanied with pictures.
Several soldiers could give some of the men lessons in marksmanship, firearms safety and maintenance. These soldiers should have experience working with people whose language they can’t understand.
The weather in the Tuluksak area is different than on Shemya. The people need to be taught how to dress in order to survive in snow and ice and sub-zero weather for months at a time.
These are not difficult measures and these are good people who deserve our help after being torn from a familiar home and being relocated in a strange environment.”
                                                       
I was thanked for my help and returned to my unit at Elmendorf. Christmas was several days away. After Christmas, we began processing out on December 27, 1960. We were supposed to fly from Anchorage to McCord AFB near Seattle, Washington on the evening of December 30, 1960. Bad weather cancelled all flights out of Anchorage. It was January 2, 1961 before we were flown south to McCord AFB, arriving in the very early hours of January 3. From there we took a “gypsy” taxi cab to Seattle-Tacoma Airport. I was able to get a seat on a plane to Washington (DC) National Airport and my parents met me there and drove me to Baltimore.
I had to report in to my new unit assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland before January 12, 1961. That gave Lorraine and I about a week to find an apartment. We searched the classified ads, drove to one apartment after another. Either the apartment was too dirty to clean, or it was in a bad neighborhood, or the rent was more than we could afford. We resigned ourselves to living in the home of Lorraine’s parents, and continuing our search on the weekends. It is a good thing we didn’t find an apartment.
I reported in to my new unit on January 11, 1961. The First Sergeant met me as I entered the Orderly Room.
“Well, Airman, I see that you liked Alaska, and Alaska liked you.”
I furrowed my brow.
“You don’t know what I mean? You really haven’t a clue?”
“No, First Sergeant.”
“Sit down in that chair and read these orders.”
The first set of orders promoted me to Staff Sergeant. That was two grades above Airman Second Class. It also awarded me an Air Force Skill Category that I had never heard of. This Category had a pay supplement for living in a high cost duty zone.
The second set of orders transferred me to detached duty under supervision of the Department of the Interior in the Tuluksak, Alaska area. I was to report to the Department of the Interior offices in Anchorage, Alaska no later than January 20, 1961. Transportation of dependents and household goods was authorized at government expense.
The First Sergeant said, “I have never seen the equal of either one of those orders. You must have friends in high places.”
“Not any that I know of, First Sergeant. I do have a good idea what they want me to do. It is a wild story involving Cossack soldiers, modern-day cave-dwellers, and Russian spies.”
“Sounds like they are going to have you writing scripts for movies. Good luck to you. It sounds like you have more good luck than most of us.”
“Thank you, First Sergeant.”
I was sure going to need good luck when I break the news to Lorraine and to her parents!
There were tears, then anger, then a day of sullen silence. In the end, Lorraine realized that I had to obey military orders. A week from now I would be going back to Alaska. Once I was there we would have to decide whether she would remain in Baltimore and wait for me or whether she would join me in Alaska.
If I had remained at Fort Meade, as I expected, I could have been separated from the Air Force in September 1961 to go to seminary. Now that I was being returned to overseas duty, arguably another remote site, I probably would have to remain at least a year and maybe until my enlistment ends in September 1962.