1995: Hobbits and Half-backs


The first time I heard the term “bucket list” I thought it was some sort of new hobby. People collect coins, stamps, matchbook covers, bottle caps so I figured that buckets were the new hot collectible, as in: “See here –  that’s a 1937 Sears Allstate Portable Pond 150. The one with double-riveted flanges for the handle attachments and the sealed seam. With a minimum of scratches, it could go a hundred bucks easy on eBay!

 I eventually discovered The Bucket List was a movie starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman as two older men with a list of experiences they wanted to go through before they “kicked the bucket” (died). It’s not a new concept – while I haven’t used that specific term I had been keeping a similar list the summer of 1967 when I vowed to one day French-kiss Diana Rigg…and I have learned in my life that any goal-setting exercise can alternately be a good or bad thing – achieving a goal on your personal bucket list isn’t always as fulfilling an experience as it appeared to be when you first thought of the goal.

Some things change.

In the fall of 1972 the second and third leading items on my bucket list were the Lord of the Rings saga and the Washington Redskins (spot #1 being firmly locked up by my Best Friend). Every spare moment would find me with one of Tolkien’s works in hand and totally engrossed in the saga of the Fellowship of the Ring – and while my classmates were drawing still life compositions and Western landscapes my sketchbooks were filled with orcs, elves and halflings…

…and despite being very well-read I couldn’t tell you much about current events or even campus activities, but I could rattle off statistics for the “Red-Rams” at the slightest provocation; “Red-Rams” being a short-lived nickname the Washington team acquired when head coach George Allen did some fast talking/trading to acquire a large number of veteran players from the Los Angeles Rams, the team he coached before moving to the Redskins.

Then Life happened and my fascination with both the Redskins and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were sidelined by the challenges and rewards of:

  1. continued academic studies
  2. missionary service
  3. marriage
  4. fatherhood
  5. work in an oil field
  6. service as an army officer
  7. teaching college
  8. freelance illustration and design

 Working in # 8 is what indirectly led to this post: in the summer of 1995 my good friend Robbie Reeves was able to obtain a pair of tickets to a Washington Redskins exhibition game in Knoxville, Tennessee, but oddly enough from the very minute he told me about the tickets I struggled with mixed emotions. To be honest my ardor as an NFL fan had cooled quite a bit after watching a particular New York Giants / Washington Redskins game in 1985 – when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor fell on Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman’s leg and created a second knee joint.

However, there was still enough residual ‘skins mania left in me when Game Day (or rather night) arrived to compel me into crowding through the stadium with a ba-jillion other fans to take our seats before the game started. Unfortunately, there were no real seats but rather little numbered spots on raised cement rows the size of a sheet of typing paper  – and with no back support whatsoever.  The weather was also very hot and muggy and people around us were already getting drunk through their efforts to “keep hydrated” but as parched as I felt there was no way I was going to drink anything; liquids work their way through me very quickly and with everyone crammed on those little squatty seats getting to a bathroom was a wish more than a reality.

We left at half-time.

The next day I was back at my desk, working on a project that also took me back to 1972, namely a  collectible card game based on Lord of the Rings.  I was a late but fervent convert to the works of JRR Tolkien, when I was stuck with a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit as my sole diversion on the Anchorage-to-Seattle segment of my journey to enroll at Ricks College.

I had been spending the previous couple of years hiking through works of a more gritty nature; books by Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft so Tolkien’s work seemed at first to be on a level like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels …. but as I read further I began to appreciate them as the literature that they are. My Best Friend and I spent the balance of the semester racing each other through the trilogy, and when I finished my drawing class homework I’d turn to decorating insets in her basement apartment’s suspended ceiling with scenes from the books.

It may have been that my fascination with Tolkien was fueled to a large measure by my Best Friend’s interest in Tolkien, but even if my hobbit mania cooled a bit after our break-up I was still interested enough to enjoy the subsequent publication of the Silmarillion and the animated adaptations in the late seventies. There was enough lingering interest for me to consider submitting a portfolio for work when Iron Crown Enterprises announced plans for their Middle-Earth role-playing game in the mid-1980’s, but with a powerhouse like Angus McBride churning out cover work I conceded defeat.

So, it was a stroke of luck when Lori and I were asked to work on their collectible card game project and we soon became the “go-to” people for saving cards that had less than desirable paintings submitted. However, when ICE started soliciting bids for work on the follow-up booster set we held off; the polite term is “a lack of confidence in their business model” which basically meant I wasn’t sure we’d get paid.

When I voiced my concern to Lori I surprised us both because it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d taken work on under hinky conditions…but while there is something to be said about working on something you love, by 1995 Middle-Earth was no longer something I loved enough to risk a loss.

So what happened?

Had the Washington Redskins and the Lord of the Rings been replaced by other avocations and interests? Not really; I’m not one to jump from hobby to hobby; when I develop an interest, I tend to hang on for a long time. My cold reaction to added Tolkien-related work was due to something else in the equation, something that wouldn’t have been any kind of influence or factor at all 10 or 20 years earlier.

I’ve been told that your forties are the old age of youth and your fifties are the youth of old age. I was 42 when these two “bucket” topics re-entered my life, a life that was less wrapped up with entertainment and hobbies as had the case been in earlier years. By the time I was 42 I was much more concerned with making a living for my family, making sure that their needs were taken care of and making sure they all knew they were loved. Do I miss those days when nothing could get me more hyped than a new Moody Blues album or a blockbuster movie like Star Wars? Kind of…. but movies come and go, and the Moody Blues haven’t had a decent album since Seventh Sojourn….

….my wife, kids, and now grandkids?

They’re for keeps.


1971: “…then Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls.”

It was Brother Lombard’s favorite quip:

 “Yeah – it was all Batman and Star Trek until Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls

It may have been funny to some members of our congregation upon first telling, but after being retold several hundred times over the next two years it lost whatever wit it once had. I do have to admit that he did get one thing right with the pop culture reference – life as a teenager in   Alaska wasn’t just The Wonder Years with snow and moose; battling isolation and a hostile environment six months out of each year left a kid with a lot of time to kill and it was easy to murder the hours and minutes sitting in front of the tube.

Truth be told, I was very aware of girls all along and at an age younger than most of my peers. It was proficiency in “hustling” that I lacked:  introducing myself to young ladies, chatting them up, securing phone numbers and making dates –  basically becoming Tarzan in a letterman’s jacket. My approach was much more low-key in that I was polite to parents, well-mannered out in public and witty enough to keep a smile on the face of any young lady I kept company with. Maybe it was because I was one of those kids born “middle-aged” and for the previous 17 ½ years I had been the only adult in a bi-polar family of seven, acting as the peacemaker and keeping long-term consequences in sight when everyone else was angry.

You’d think that sense of propriety would go a long way towards building a measure of trust with my parents but unfortunately that didn’t happen. From the very beginning Mom had Puritanical-verging-on-medieval standards when it came to dating and when my older sister left home under clouded circumstances the rules tightened up even more.   While Mom wasn’t as strict with me as she was with my younger sisters it had less to do with any increased trust than the fact that I couldn’t get pregnant – if there’d been a chastity jock strap she would have had me fitted for one on my sixteenth birthday.

 Getting out of the house on a date was like living out an episode of Hogan’s Heroes with me as a prisoner of war and my mom playing the part of Colonel Klink. While there weren’t any tunnels running underneath the homestead I did make a secret passage from my closet to the garage rafters but rarely had to resort to its use –  my escapes hinged on more on quick-thinking than escape & evasion.

The camp house rules for dating or activities with the opposite sex were as follows:

  • Mom had to personally approve each activity in detail at least a week in advance.
  • We were not to date any one person more than two times in a row.
  • A single date had to be followed by two double dates before another single.
  • We weren’t allowed any sort of personal diary.

No debate was allowed on the subject and the penalties for noncompliance were dire, so like any kids I found ways to work around those draconian regulations – I never lied to my parents but I did become quite adept at “editing” what I told them. For example, I’d tell them I was going to a wrestling match while conveniently omitting the fact that A) I was taking my girlfriend and B) the wresting match was in Ninilchik.

Colonel Hogan couldn’t have done it better.

I had a social life – but I paid for it. Subterfuge did not come to me naturally and my technical honesty compounded the “normal” stress any eighteen-year-old encountered while jumping through the hoops that were supposed to be preparing me for a future that could entail either college classes or rice paddies. Instead of becoming part of the path to normal socialization process, dating became a pitfall and an additional source of stress which meant that I didn’t always make good choices. Instead of The Dating Game I was stranded in The Gong Show and the contestants weren’t always a good match.

  • Bachelorette #1 should have had a staple in her navel. She could put any Playboy Playmate to shame: Beautiful, petite and as curvy as a Coke bottle and blessed with long luxurious brown hair cascading down to the small of her back – the kind of girl that you expect to have “Mattel” embossed on her tush.  Sadly, there was no real connection in terms of personality and after three dates of one-way conversations we went our separate ways.
  • Bachelorette #2 was also a knock-out with the added advantage of having been a good friend before we became romantically involved. Unfortunately, she lived fifty miles away and taking her out entailed cover stories that were harder to support when things went wrong. In the end logistics won out over love and we reluctantly reverted to “good friends” status.
  • Bachelorette #3 was a recent move-in and younger-than-usual, both of which aggravated her innate teen-age angst for which she would compensate in unexpected ways. For example, for one big date she wore an oversized wig then spent the evening constantly adjusting it to the exclusion of everything else.  Unwilling to find out what other unconventional grooming changes were in the works I hastily withdrew from the relationship

At that point I was close to giving up.

Not that I had much faith in long-term relationships to begin with as it seemed like people all around me were getting divorced. The idea of a permanent commitment to another person seemed bankrupt and became little more than a point of contention with my locker-neighbor Carey, who was counting down the days to her own nuptials soon after our graduation in May.

It was during one such bicker-fest that I met her locker-mate Debbie, a junior and recent transfer from Oregon. Dark haired and leggy with a Jane Leeves vibe (before there was a Jane Leeves) Debbie had already turned the smart-kid’s mafia a** over teakettle with a razor-sharp intellect and a GPA to match. My interest was piqued but she showed no interest at all – for that matter she wouldn’t even talk to me and Carey refused any aid in the matter at all: “She’s a nice girl Dave and she wants to have a family someday. You don’t ever want to get married so all you’d do is break her heart.”

BAM! Usually it was at least ten minutes before the inevitable shut-down but this time I was shot out of the saddle right away. I slunk off to class, but when I went to my locker the next morning Carey and Debbie were already there taking much longer than usual to stow their lunches and retrieve books. I nodded hello as I started rooting around in my own space, but something clicked when Carey managed to loudly mention the up-coming Valentine’s dance three times during their morning conversation – so I wasn’t totally surprised the next morning when Debbie was at the locker by herself. I immediately looked around for the neon sign flashing “SET-UP/SET-UP/SET-UP”, but no man ever went to his doom happier than I was. After some small talk I politely asked if she would go to the dance with me to which she smiled for the first time and simply said “Yes”.

I couldn’t tell you whether the Valentine’s dance was a success that year – all I know is that we walked in, I turned to ask her to dance and the whole universe changed.  By the end of the evening we were an item, but within days it was apparent that we were the only people pleased by the arrangement.  Her mom didn’t want Debbie in an exclusive relationship with me, the smart kid mafia was incensed that I had poached one of their own and one of my own close friends took a totally random dislike to her – none of which changed the fact that I was totally smitten with this wonderful young lady who inexplicably liked me.

On my part the attraction could have been due to any number of things – she was drop-dead gorgeous, she was extremely (but not insufferably) intelligent, her singing would bring tears to my eyes – and she “got” me.

  • She understood why I drew.
  • She understood why I wrote.
  • She understood why I preferred the Moody Blues over Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • She understood why I thought Robert Klein was much funnier than Flip Wilson.
  • …and she got all my terrible puns.

It was the first time I could completely drop my guard, be myself and be happy in what should have been a lengthy rewarding relationship. Unfortunately, when you grow up in a bipolar household “happy” doesn’t feel normal. Even though by this point in time my mom’s dating rules minefield had been defused it had been replaced with the objections of family and friends and it seemed like the relationship was doomed. There was no big blow-up but by the time I graduated we were no longer an item and at some warped level I thought that I was happy for getting out cleanly…

It was only later that I discovered how wrong I had been. All my spare time had been taken up with navigating through high school graduation and starting my summer construction job, so it was early June before I got a chance to sit down and look through my yearbook. It was then that I found out that my exit had been far from clean –  between the stereotypical “remember cutting up in (fill in the blank) class” and “don’t ever change” dedications I found a short note written in a perfect cursive:


To a real nice guy. I’ll never forget you, ‘cuz ya see, I’m in love with you.

Good luck attorney

Love, Debbie

I can still feel everything about the exact moment I read that inscription:

  • The ache in my back where I was leaning against the side of my bunk
  • The sharp acrid smell that came with wooden walls warmed up by a summer sun
  • David Crosby’s rich tenor woven that of Nash and Young in “Music is Love”
  • The total shock that came with her declaration

It was the first I’d heard the word “love” directed at me since we’d moved to Sterling seven years earlier.

I wish I could say that I immediately ran out, found her and reconciled on the spot but that didn’t happen. It was more like a Harry Chapin song; we did briefly date again later that summer, but I was off to college before any rekindling was possible.  Any subsequent chance of a do-over was obliterated a year later by a prank on the part of a buddy that went bad with craptacular results and finally in the spring of 1974 I learned that she was married.

Why is this an issue with me over forty years later? Part of the interest is fueled by nostalgia. Part of it is just one of the on-going hazards of being blessed/cursed with this laser-sharp, steel trap memory…but part of it is gratitude. Lori laughs when I tell her that she wouldn’t have liked me much had we met when I was eighteen instead of five years later but it’s true. Like my parents I wasn’t so much raised as dragged up and I am not joking when I say that I had a thin exterior layer of “thug” when I was eighteen.

But at the same time….

Call it good luck, a blessing from God or the planets being properly aligned – starting with Debbie and every intervening girlfriend between her and Lori I was completely outclassed by each young lady in question – and I knew it. No matter how cool a pose I may have been putting on inside there was always a nerd-boy spazzing out as in “Hummana-hummana – I CAN’T FREAKING BELIEVE SHE LIKES ME!” so and I would try as best as I could to refine my manners, curtail the fart jokes and generally try to be someone worthy of the girl I was matched up with.

What this means is Debbie was the homeroom teacher in husband school …and for that I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her. I have no idea where she is now though I occasionally check face book and do a Google search. I did get a scare about ten years ago when I found an obituary notice with a similar name but the dates didn’t match up.

I just hope she’s happy and doing well.


1971: “…until I met my two good amigos…”

Note: As I’ve said many times – I wasn’t a bad kid, but I wasn’t a particularly good kid either. This post is about one of those times that I definitely wasn’t being a good kid.

Saying that my family grew up with music is a major understatement.  If the radio wasn’t playing Mom would be working out her stress by pounding playing the piano, and we all sang or played instruments to varying degrees of success. We also had a good selection of records to listen to, a wide but eclectic library of music ranging from the Sons of the Pioneers to Grieg’s Peer Gynt, My favorite record was a greatest hits album by Jimmy Dean and my favorite song on the LP was titled “Nick O. Teen and Al K. Hall”:

Oh, I never gargled, I never gambled, I never smoked at all

Until I met my two good amigos Nick O. Teen and Al. K. Hall

 Not only did our faith restrict their use, alcohol and tobacco were forbidden topics of   conversation in our home. Even as a small boy I thought that to be odd and even a bit hypocritical as my father’s smoking was an open secret and several members of mom’s extended family fought – and usually lost – a lifetime battle with demon rum. Whenever the subject of alcohol did come up my mother was quick to warn me that if I took even a single sip I would instantly turn into a hopeless alcoholic because of my genetic heritage.

…which of course made it extremely interesting!

I was thirteen when I first tried smoking during a week spent in Anchorage visiting  my best friend from fifth grade Mark. Mom was apprehensive about letting me stay so long, fearing that I would learn bad habits from my buddy… and she was absolutely right. By Tuesday night I was going through Marlboros, Winston’s,  and Camels with the best of them, completely clueless about possible connections between the smoke and lung cancer because I wasn’t really smoking-smoking, I was just puffing – sucking the smoke just inside my cheeks then blowing it back out. When Mark caught on to what I was doing he badgered me into inhaling a full drag, where upon I immediately choked, coughed and barfed. Nothing can cool my interest quicker than vomit so my smoking days ceased right then and there.

Alcohol came along a little later when I was a sophomore; my friend Wayne and I each knocked back a couple of beers one night when I stayed over while his folks were in Anchorage on business.  We acted like we were drunk, but we really weren’t – the alcohol really didn’t do much for me, so I never acquired a taste or motivation to seriously imbibe later on.  About every six months I would have a beer and still get that same lack of effect, but as the end of my senior year approached  I decided to make a serious attempt at getting blitzed, just to see if it was possible.

Graduation was a night of surprises, the first being the lack of hassle from my folks when I told them I was taking off with Bill Powell for the night, ostensibly to be all that better prepared for a  canoe trip down the Kenai River  the next morning. I had a little bit of money gleaned from graduation gifts and as the drinking age in 1971 was eighteen, I had no problem converting a good part of that money into beverages.

Suitably equipped we went out looking for girls, but unfortunately for me  Bill got lucky rather quickly requiring me to ride shotgun with John Gordon for the rest of the night. I would periodically sample my store of beverages as we cruised around until we ended up at a party in someone’s basement several miles south of Soldotna. I was totally stoked – this would be the first major party I’d ever been to, my first out-of-control soiree.

I was underwhelmed. It was crowded, smoky, and the noise was far too loud for my liking.  Between the cranked-up stereo and people yelling I had a hard time chatting up any of the young ladies in attendance and it all got very boring, but then in quick succession someone yelled “FIGHT!” ,  another person yelled “THE COPS ARE COMING” and the basement instantly emptied. I started running to John’s car but had a hard time negotiating the several driveways situated between the party site and the car. Back then the Sterling Highway was raised on a compacted gravel base several feet high to cushion the effect from frost heaves, so driveways would make an angle up to connect with the highway. During my escape that night I had to run up the side of one driveway then down the other, repeating the process as I searched for the car, bewildered because I had no idea there were so many connections along this stretch of the highway.

Earlier in the evening we’d heard a rumor that another party was in full swing in Kenai but it now was close to 2:00 AM and John wanted to go home. As he dropped me off at Bill’s house I saw that Bill’s  car was nowhere in sight, and as I had no idea what he’d told his parents about the evening’s planned activities I quietly crept into an unfinished addition to the house,  curled up under my blazer and slept the best I could.

As soon as Bill showed up the next morning we started preparing the canoe for our river trip, but after an hour of indifferent preparatory work we realized we were both too tired from the night before, blew off the outing and I hitched-hiked home. Mom was slightly suspicious when I slept another 6 hours that afternoon but blessedly said nothing, so I was able to quietly continue recovery from my adventures .

I stayed sprawled on my bunk after I woke up later that afternoon, and thought about how much I had spent, how much I had consumed and what benefits I had derived and made sort of a primitive cost analysis:

The night before I had knocked back:

  • A six-pack of Olympia beer
  • A bottle of apple wine
  • An undetermined amount of Mad-Dog 20/20

…and what did I get out of the experience?

  • I had a hard time walking straight
  • I had to pee really bad

I never got that pleasant buzz that everyone talked about, in fact there wasn’t much of anything that had been pleasant that evening. Maybe my stocky build required more alcohol for effect, but as far as I was concerned drinking just wasn’t worth the money and never had a drop after that. It was not the first time that I encountered something that was neither as good nor as bad as I anticipated beforehand.

Postscript:  About six weeks later my family went to dinner at the J-Bar-B restaurant which was located close to the party site, so I had a chance to check out my escape route during the light of day. There wasn’t a single driveway between the party site and John’s car so something else had been making me bob and weave….


1971: Alaskan Graffiti

My sister Heather always insisted that I was “naturally straight” but truth be told I had just as much difficulty as any other eighteen year old with controlling the influence popular culture had on my outlook and behavior. Granted, the messages I dealt with were minor in comparison to our current digital erotic  tsunami, but the effect was still there.  It wasn’t too terribly obvious – I loved “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and after watching the film I went out and bought A) a paperback novelization of the movie and B) a pair of harness boots. Kelly’s Heroes had me emulating Donald Sutherland’s Oddball by parting my longish hair in the middle and a wearing an OD wife-beater with fatigue pants bloused into boots while working construction.


American Graffiti? That was an unusual case – kind of a time-warpy sort of situation because the connection happened three years before I saw the movie. As I sat in the theater in January of 1974 taking in the antics of Terry the Toad and Harrison Ford in his “farm car” I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to an event in my life that happened not quite 3 years earlier.

In the early summer of 1971 I was no more unsettled than any high school graduate but that average befuddlement was enough make me worry about my future.  After attending Boy’s State the previous summer I had developed a passing interest in law school and continuing the family tradition of military service was a given, but in the meantime a year of school at the University of Alaska seemed a good way to start my life. As all this was happening well before Pell Grants and I’d made the mistake of lacking independently wealthy parents, I’d be working that summer earning money for school.

This was long before the TransAlaska pipeline and work was hard find but fortunately I found a construction job west of Soldotna. The job entailed building a house from the ground up:  clearing the land, digging the footings, pouring the slab, laying cinder block, trimming /setting logs and building roof trusses. I didn’t make bundles of money but I learned a lot about building and got into great physical shape. The only hang-up was transportation: In the morning I would ride with my mom as far as her job at the post office but I had to hitch rides out to the site then back to the post office at the end of the day

Mom’s schedule would occasionally change so there were times when I’d have to wait an hour or more until her shift was over. Waiting in the car quickly got old and the Soldotna of 1971 had little of interest for a teenage boy, so out of desperation one afternoon I walked to a nearby clothing store to kill time until Mom was ready to drive home…

The ubiquitous bell tinkled as I entered and I walked over to the tie rack, looking for something suitably garish with which to annoy fellow congregation members at church.

“Give me a break! What are you trying to do – look like Donald Sutherland?”

Endorphins kicked in as I turned to the source of that comment  (someone had recognized my Kelly’s Heroes get-up!) but when I saw who had been speaking my heart skipped a second beat as well. It was my friend Marie who was also working during the summer, clerking in the clothing store. The odds for a much more pleasant summer just went up three points.

Marie had shown up on fox-radar during my sophomore year, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1970 and the beginning of my second year as a teacher’s aide in physical education that we really became acquainted.  I went into gym class assuming we’d be participating in physically demanding exercises, drills and games as in years past, but to my surprise those more arduous  sessions were interspersed with combined activities with the girls class – one day we’d run laps all period long and the next day we’d play coed badminton. The shift was just one of many that would herald the dynamic social changes of the upcoming decade, but for me it meant interaction with the teacher’s aide in the girl’s class, who just happened to be Marie.

Formal introductions weren’t necessary – I had known her previous boyfriend fairly well, our respective older sisters had considered sharing an apartment in Anchorage, and we’d actually gone on double dates with other people from school1. As we started working together setting schedules, laundering towels, supervising games and occasionally breaking up fights and/or budding romances between the freshmen our relationship evolved into  what is now called a “work marriage” – a unique but platonic relationship that includes some of the trust and support normally found in a romance but without the physically intimate aspects. Marie would make sure the part in my hair was straight – I’d check the hem of the back of her skirt. She’d ask me for insights about two guys vying for her affection while she coached me through a messy post-Christmas break-up with another girl. When she came limping into class after a bizarre accident with a toothpick stuck in her carpet she had me check the wound in the sole of her foot and apply a band-aid, after which she teased me with “you are such a Boy Scout!”

…but through it all as we worked and interacted every day I was always “Deitrick” .

That chance meeting at the clothing store turned into a regular event that summer and at the end of each day I found myself hoping that Mom’s schedule would run late again. Even if I missed a visit to the store we’d still see each other at dances and the movies on the weekends while on dates with other people, but as the summer wound down and my departure date approached there was an almost imperceptible change in the way we talked. At some point I became “Dave” instead of “Deitrick” and the light-hearted banter drifted into deeper discussions about the decisions and changes in life that were coming soon.

There were also brief moments of silence that I didn’t understand until the day I left for college. I’d made a quick trip to town to get my last paycheck and throwing my itinerary aside I stopped for a moment at the clothing store to see Marie.  My heart sank when I found she had the day off but as I turned to leave her manager gave me a sly smile and said Marie was at home and definitely wanted to see me.  I coolly started to stroll out of the store and across the street but the second I was no longer visible from the store I broke into a dead sprint to Marie’s home where her mother promptly waved me through the house to the pool on the back deck.

As I stepped from the deck to the poolside I stopped  stunned and tongue-tied for at least three minutes. Marie was in her swimsuit sitting on a poolside lounge, her beaming expression only partially obscured by a pair of oversized sunglasses. She waved me over to sit beside her and we talked…for a lot longer that I really had time for. She gently teased me about becoming one of the “enemy” I had complained about before – older guys that poached high school girls away from the high school boys. As we spoke I nodded dumbly while my inner voice chanted “David you’re an idiot/David you’re an idiot/why are you leaving now? /David you’re an idiot/David you’re an idiot” and when I finally found my voice there was scant time for anything  but exchanging addresses and promises to write – and before I was ready for it I was driving 138 hopeful miles to the airport in Anchorage, unaware that this would be my last conversation with Marie ever.

1974: As Susanne Somers blew a kiss and drove her convertible off into the sunrise the house lights came up and the credits rolled. I sat in the theater while the other viewers filed out. I was in no hurry – no one to see and nowhere to go. January 1974 was not a good time for me. A month earlier my Best Friend had broken off with me and got engaged to a guy in the Air Force. Two weeks earlier the red-headed rebound that had vowed to “help get you through this” had spent the weekend in bed with her previous boyfriend.

It wasn’t that I had low self-esteem – I had no self-esteem whatsoever, but as I thought about the parallel between what had just happened on-screen and what had transpired in August of 1971 the cold place in my heart warmed just a little bit. Maybe I’d been discarded. Maybe I’d been cheated on, but there was a time when I could put a twinkle in the eye of the most ravishingly beautiful brunette I had ever met and for now that would get me by.



  1. See 1970: Natural Gas

1971: First Snow Fall

I couldn’t help it. The weather report last night was “guardedly” forecasting snow showers but I was rubbing my hands together with secret glee, hoping for a blizzard. I love the first snowfall of the year, even if it happens just in my mind.

The “first snowfall” syndrome didn’t manifest itself until the second year we lived in Alaska. I went into our first Alaskan winter clueless. Before we moved to the Great White North we lived in Little Shasta Valley in Northern California, “northern” as in abutting the Oregon border. We would occasionally get snow but not enough to make an impression so I never tumbled on to the fact that the snow wasn’t going away the afternoon of the day it fell. It turned white and stayed that way until March.

Ah, but fifth grade – 1963-64. I remember milling about the playground at Woodland Park Elementary in glorious downtown Spenard one afternoon in October. My friend David Sisney looked over and said “Hey – doesn’t it feel like it’s going to snow? It’s like it was last year – kind of feels wet in the air”…and sure enough he was right. Our first snowfall happened later than night.

Since then I have always used the ‘David Sisney” test for predicting snow. Most snowfalls are preceded by a damp, chilly feel to the air that I imagine reflects the proper temperature and humidity needed for snowflakes to form. There’s a smell too – kind of like damp cotton – that the air gets as well. It all makes for pretty heady stuff.  I don’t know if it is just those environmental cues, or the memories of happy snowfalls in times past that lift my spirits in such a manner.

Sometimes it has been a blessing. My first year at college did not start out well at all – to be precise it started with a fist-fight.  From October on it was OK but that first month – whew. Any new experience takes me about a month to adjust but living away from home for the first time and all was pretty bleak for me. Then one Saturday friends invited me to go help work on the church our local congregation was building; since I’d spent the summer working construction I went, thinking that if nothing else the familiar activities would be a welcome distraction for the morning. My spirits were also “helped” by the fact that the gentlemen inviting me to go work had a daughter I was becoming quite smitten with.

It was cloudy when we arrived, and while there had been no effort spared in getting the building roofed over before snow settled in we still had a way to go. It was just about lunch time when one of the foremen gathered a group of us together and explained how we were going to catch up. Most of the classrooms were covered but the multipurpose room (the “gym”) needed some preparatory work done fast before it could be covered enough to allow work inside – specifically wooden spacers had to be cut from 2”X12” planks and then nailed in place in between each one of the roof trusses in order to guarantee maximum strength and stability.

He asked if anyone had worked construction before and I raised my hand. He then asked me if I knew how to throw tools and I replied that I did ( there is actually an art to correctly throwing a tool on a job so that it reaches the other guy oriented so that he can grab it). He then told me that it wasn’t tools I would be throwing – I was to take the 2”X12” spacers as they were being cut and throw them up to the men working on top of the roof – they hadn’t the time to have someone carry them up via ladder.

Do the math: each truss spaced 16 inches from its neighbors would need at least 6 spacers. Multiply that by the dimensions of your average LDS multipurpose room and you will see that there was a lot of lumber to be thrown around by one eighteen year old young man. I got a little sick to my stomach thinking I was in over my head – and then the Sisney test kicked in. The air got that chilly humid feel and one by one flakes started to fall …and my heart just leapt.

I began throwing those blocks up to the workers above with pinpoint accuracy and as we worked along the length of the gym I didn’t feel a bit of fatigue until we were done. I don’t know if it was guilty pride for being part of an important project or the endorphins generated by the exercise – I felt great   it was a great day and the only things missing were the sour smell of cranberries “going south” on the bush and the metallic smell of wet wool mittens.

Nowadays it’s kind of tough to get much exercise what with the ravages of multiple autoimmune diseases immobilizing me – so that endorphin rush is a rare thing for me. In the time it took me to write this post the sky has cleared up and I doubt that we’ll get any snow today – but that’s OK. Even though it seems like the arthritis is advancing even faster now I’m trying to take a new door in life every day by trying to focus on the better things in life rather than feel sorry for myself.

Would I rather be out on my bike or building something? Yes, but realistically those activities are unlikely; However, I’ll take “happy” wherever I can find it, even if it means borrowing a cup from a snowy Saturday in 1971.

1971: The Cradle of my Career


The Cradle of my Career

You can just barely see it – it’s the second window from the left of the basement level. It was the window into my dormitory room at Lathrop Hall at the University of Alaska. At least that’s what we called it in 1971.

( It may be UAF now but then it was THE University of Alaska. The ONLY one.)

It was while I was drawing at my desk in that room in February of 1972 that I decided I was going to try and take a shot at being a “commercial artist”.