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.”
“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!