..yet another peek!

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my creative career was that the last few details take almost as much time as the main process – and it turns out be much the same case with publishing. However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and as far as I can tell it’s not the headlight to an oncoming locomotive.

The checklist for finishing “The Life and Times of A Midnight Son”  isn’t too overwhelming:

  • Three interior illustrations
  • Cover artwork
  • Final edit

We still have to hammer out marketing details but for now I will share the  the illustration that accompanies the final chapter.

Third Parent

 

Come Fly Away With Me

Come Fly Away

You could call this Re-run Saturday+1, but then this isn’t a repeat of something I’ve written or created. This poster graced the wall of the room I shared with Scott Dickinson in Lathrop Hall at the University of Alaska in 1972. It did play an important part in my professional development – I was so entranced by the image that I switched majors from pre-law to illustration.

The original poster was close to 24″x36″ but this copy measures 11″x17″. I held on to my first copy for almost ten years but lost it in one of the three  moves we made between 1987 and 1990. This smaller copy actually works well for me as the sloped ceiling in my studio puts hangable wall space at a premium.

1981: Anniversary

It was a beautiful golden day that only September in Alaska can give to you. As I whooshed through the wet underbrush I’d occasionally glance back at companions equally focused on harvesting cranberries: in one direction was my Beautiful Saxon Princess toting our newborn younger son in a kid-pack while vainly trying to simultaneously pick berries and keep up with our wandering two-year old; in the other directions our friends with their toddlers  a little farther off. I looked past them to Pioneer Peak, then in the opposite direction to the Sleeping Lady. Autumn in Wasilla – life couldn’t get any better.

Suddenly my digital wristwatch chirped, shaking me out of my reverie. I looked down to see the small screen flash [09/07/81] with a small star to the right of the numbers …but I was totally baffled at the information on the display

  • Why was the alarm going off at 2:00 in the afternoon?
  • Why was tomorrow’s date on the display?
  • What did the little star signify?

…then I remembered that I had set my watch for Zulu time during the alert earlier in the week and that 2:00/14:00 was midnight in Greenwich England. As for the little star – why was the 7th of September important?

May 1980

There is nothing sadder than a second lieutenant trying to be dignified so I was glad that I was off-post, in civilian clothes and effectively unidentifiable as I periodically shivered with the sheer joy of being stationed at FT Richardson Alaska.1 It was my first break in the whirlwind of in-processing and with my little family staying with my parents down in Sterling our quarters on post were a little too empty so I drove into Anchorage for the evening to visit my old stomping grounds.

First on the list was the McDonalds on Northern Lights Boulevard – a destination for my family during trips up from the Peninsula as well as the last stop on the way south for the team bus after playing Anchorage schools. As I stood in line I tried to picture my football cronies around me and noticed with a start a bespectacled redhead guy who looked very familiar.

As I gave my order I mentally thumbed through the travel squad:

  • Carter?
  • Carlson?
  • Cutsinger?

No – none of the names fit.

  • Wetzel?
  • Wiggins?
  • Wilbourne?

None of them either – and when I looked up the red-headed guy was walking around the corner into the dining area. Ever curious I decided to exit using the door on that side of the building and as I walked past I saw him sitting with his young family. As I walked past his wife looked up and our eyes locked.

It was my (former) Best Friend.2

September 1980

Life had been a blur: I had no sooner finished in-processing when I was sent to Snowhawk ( Arctic Warfare Orientation) followed immediately by NBC (Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Warfare) course…and after that I was so busy getting my platoon organized that the chance encounter at McDonalds had been forgotten.

I was so distracted that I barely heard the heads-up my Beautiful Saxon Princess gave me about a church auxiliary leadership meeting to be held in our home …which would include “one or two people you already know”. I idly thought about the kids I’d gone to church with at the old 11th and E street chapel almost twenty years earlier and wondered which of the pig-tailed little girls had grown up and would be in our home tonight.

I totally missed The Look.

The night arrived and it came to pass that as I was worshipping in front of the soldier’s altar of Corcoran jump-boots, KIWI shoe polish and old diaper I heard hesitant footsteps first climb the stairs to our bathroom then come to a stop outside the study door. I stopped polishing and strained to hear anything, then got up and walked to the door to come face to face with my (former) Best Friend for the first time in seven years. The intestinal Stukas went into action making me wonder if I could ever be heard over the gurgling of my stomach, and I reached back to scratch my neck – not because it itched but to buy time to think of something suave and sophisticated to say.

“URRKKK!”

She replied softly “Hello David” and we stood there for a few minutes exchanging pleasantries dancing around what we were really thinking while I feigned indifference and struggled to keep my inner dialog inner:

 “It was so long ago I can hardly remember the actual break-up”

 “Yeah”   (Well I do: the 11th of December 1973. 9:37 PM Mountain Standard time)

 “We were both so young and inexperienced with relationships.”

“Yeah”   ( I am so glad I kept my mouth shut about Debbie)

“Your wife is so sweet and so pretty”

 “Yeah”   ( Too bad you…Yeah)

 …and then another potty-seeking lady started up the stairs behind us bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt and sending us back to our respective lives and families.

September 1981

My company commander peered at me over the rims of his BCGs3

“You know LTD this is (bleeping) perverse. Once you break up with someone you don’t stay friends. What the h*ll am I do with an executive officer that has obviously lost his mind.”

Captain Kay’s carefully cultivated coarse exterior cracked for a moment and his eyes softened:

” Seriously Dave, what do you hope to accomplish by taking your family on an outing with your old fiancé and her family? You’re a soldier – what do they say about opening old wounds?”

To be completely honest I had no idea, just that it seemed the right thing to do when my Beautiful Saxon Princess presented the plan earlier in the week to go cranberry picking with my Former Best Friend and her family. In the past year we’d dipped out toes into the “just friends” pool and it seemed to work OK, in fact rather than opening old wounds it made me appreciate my Beautiful Saxon Princess even more. It all had all worked to make life even more “OK” as I stood out in the cranberry bushes looking at my beeping, flashing digital wristwatch.

[09/07/81]? I finally remembered. I’d first met my Former Best Friend on the 7th of September 1971. Why I’d had it programmed in my watch I will never know, but as I stood there in the golden autumn sunlight I thought to myself.

” It was such long time ago, but I remember that all we wanted was to be happily married someday and it looks like we got what we wanted. We’re both married – albeit to different people – and yes, I am very, very happy”

I looked down at my watch, pushed the program-button until the [09/07/81] disappeared, permanently erased then carried my bucket of cranberries over to the car.

___________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. FT Richardson had been my first introduction to the Army when I spent time there as a military rug-rat when we lived across town in Spenard and then later when we’d drive up from the Kenai Peninsula

2. See 1972: Subterranean Spring Break

3. BCG’s: birth control glasses. Army-issue black horn rim glasses that reportedly make          the wearer so unattractive that no one would ever reproduce with them.

1970: A Non-combatant in The Sexual Revolution

I handed the magazine back to Wayne, then sat for a minute trying to gather my composure. I’d heard about Penthouse but hadn’t actually seen a copy until that morning on the bus. Playboy was one thing, but this new book was overwhelming; not only were the photos a bit more “European”1, a letters section titled “The Forum” described activities that I’d never heard of and probably transgressed criminal law as well as the law of gravity on occasion. To be honest I was feeling more queasy than turned-on and at that point tried to cleanse my visual palette with another recent literary discovery, National Lampoon.

A freshman sitting on the seat ahead of me clicked on a smuggled transistor radio which hissed out at low volume the 1968 party anthem “Bottle of Wine” by The Fireballs. Nothing could illustrate the change society was lumbering through than that song and the group that sang it. Five years earlier they had taken Billboard’s #1 spot with a very innocuous bouncy tune titled “Sugar Shack” which told the traditional boy-meets-girl/falls-in-love/marries-her story. In the midst of the sexual revolution seven years later things had changed. Really changed. Playboy was telling us that rather than holding out for marriage the girl next door wanted to be naughty.  Penthouse was telling us the girl next door wanted to be nasty.

… which other than providing eye-candy did me no good. Granted, from birth I had been a fifty-year-old man in a kid’s body, but I was subject to the same leaping libido that every other teenager had to deal with, and it didn’t help that in the midst of all these changes I lacked any kind of guidance. My parents gave the traditional “birds and the bees” talk a clean miss and the church wasn’t much better. Those lessons always got shoved to the back of the schedule and eventually forgotten. Leaders in the congregation were just as vague, limiting inquires to “Well, Dave, how are your morals?” Again, literal thinker that I was, I figured they were asking about my morale, so I’d respond, “Well, I’m feeling pretty positive about life, so I guess I’m OK”.

It was against this setting that I was faced with one of high school’s milestones – The Prom. I’d endured two and half years of lurid tales about activities during and more importantly after the prom, but for the moment the issue  was not “what to do” but “who to take”. For guys with on-going relationships, getting a prom date was a slam-dunk, but for unattached guys it was arduous task. This was supposed to be one of the major events of high school experience, a rite of passage to be shared with someone special, but at the time there was no one special in my life. Generally speaking my prospects weren’t bad – I wasn’t a nerd-boy outcast but I also wasn’t a sit-at-the-cool-table Big Man On Campus. I had plenty of friends who were girls, but none likely to make the flip from friend-is-a-girl to girlfriend – but as  fate would have it an answer fell into my lap – or rather, it bumped into me when I ran into Bachelorette 12 (hereafter referred to as B1) in the hallway one day. Conversation was not her strong suit and we hadn’t talked much since the Earth Science class we shared during our freshman year but somehow a game of verbal badminton started up as we lobbed the obligatory small-talk questions back and forth:

  • I asked her how school was going.
  • She asked me if I liked being a teacher’s aide in PE.
  • She said she liked my sideburns.
  • I weakly joked that I liked hers3 .

…then I heard a voice asking her if she wanted to go to the prom. I looked around wildly for the guy trying to cut in, then realized it had been my voice doing the asking. I was equally bewildered when she quietly said “yes”, and we suddenly became a semi-couple planning our big night at the prom.

It was also when I started getting a lot of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more” comments from friends, acquaintances, my charges in physical education, and even guys I normally never talked to. Did I mention that B1 was drop-dead gorgeous? She was like a scaled-up Barbie Doll with elfin features, cascading waist-long brown hair and a Coke bottle figure…and usually clad in skirts short enough to have been made in a belt factory. One buddy observed that she was so perfect “she should have “Mattel” stamped on her a** ” then laughed that I’d know if that was the case soon enough.

Sex. The topic that would just not die. I’d spent a lot of time in the boy’s locker room where a lot of talking had gone on. According to the other guys, KCHS was a hotbed of illicit sex, with most of the female students following the lead of the ladies gracing the magazine I’d been reading when the story opened, but there seemed to be little in the way of consequences. Birth control pills had only been in common use for about five years, and in those pre-AIDS days only truck drivers and sailors would admit to carrying condoms. Math was not my strongest subject but even when you factored in that one week out of the month that the young ladies were hors-de-combat it still seemed like KCHS should be awash in out-of-wedlock infants – to the point of requiring a day-care wing off of the cafeteria4.

All that receded into the background as preparations for the big night were being made: coordinating clothes, ordering a corsage, making dinner reservations and double-checking transportation. Finally Prom-day arrived and as was the case with all big events there were both good and not-so-good developments:

The good:

  • Instead of the rattletrap station wagon I would be using the good car.
  • Dad was going to fill the gas-tank for me.
  • My tax refund had arrived so money wouldn’t be a problem.
  • No zits!

The not-so-good:

  • I had a 12:00 midnight curfew.
  • Mom and Dad wanted to meet B1 and take pictures.
  • I’d finally figured out how far away B1 lived and how long I’d be driving that night.

At one fell swoop prom was transformed from a bacchanalian love fest to a road rally of grueling proportions. By the time I drove to pick her up, drove back home for pictures, drove to the Royal Redoubt in Kenai for dinner, drove to the school for the dance, drove her home, and then got back to my home (by curfew) I’d be putting over 150 miles on the odometer that night. I would be spending so much time behind the wheel that there’d be little time for any hanky panky…which had me thinking that my folks were not as clueless about the birds and the bees as they had seemed earlier.

The first leg of my trip went well enough as I drove to pick up flowers and then on to B1’s home. I was pleasantly surprised to see her clad head to toe in pink satin with her wavy brown hair held back in ringlets by a tiara. With her clothes, my fairly new suit, and flowers for both of us, we got some nice pictures after which we sped to the Royal Redoubt for dinner, then on to the school for the dance. As we walked in I was astounded how much a little crepe paper and colored lights could transform a cafeteria into a tropical island paradise, but then some evil person cued up “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on the sound system and my suppressed vomit reflex brought me back to reality.

Without further ado we went out on the floor and started to dance…while I may not have been much of an athlete at the time, my inner Celt definitely knew how to cut a rug. The cut of B1’s formal limited us to mostly slow songs and while I am not a “bear-hug” slow dancer I do snuggle up a bit, which in this case nearly caused an injury when her petite size put the spines of her tiara right at eye-level for me.

…then it all seemed to be over much too quickly, and it was time to go home. I stayed calm until we got into the car, at which point I started into my repertoire of obscure historical puns which meant I was extremely nervous. It was bad enough that delivering B1 to her house then getting home by curfew would require time travel, but I also had to contend with B1 herself sitting next to me and basically being stunning. The smell of her perfume, the rustle of satin and whissst as she adjusted her wrap – hell, even that damn tiara all conspired with her innate foxiness to turn my knees into rubber and made me oh-so- thankful I wasn’t driving a standard transmission that night.

Then as we pulled out on the highway and headed south she snuggled up against me kind of under my right arm. As we quietly talked about the dance she leaned her head on my shoulder (requiring yet another tiara dodge) and I could feel her breath on my neck all of which had my inner monologue cycling through, “What do I want? What does she want? WHAT DO I DO” ,when she abruptly  nodded to a road5 leading off the highway to the left and said “Hmm? I wonder where that goes to?”

BINGO!

By this time it was dark, and as I turned to B1 and strained to make out her expression in the dim light of the instrument panel I saw what seemed to be a beckoning smile, so I leaned in to kiss her…right on the bridge of her nose. I sat back, looked at the make-up smudge on my lapel then up at the wistful look in her face. She leaned in against my shoulder, reached up for my wide-as-a-glider lapel and simply said, “Oh Dave” in a way that made me know that for me those letters to Penthouse would continue to be fiction…and I was relieved. We talked for a while until a reference to the magazine slipped out, a slip that I feared would destroy the mood until B1 wrinkled her nose and said, “Tell me about it – my sisters are always shoving Cosmo6 in my face!”

We shared a quip or two on the subject as I pulled out of the subdivision and took her home, and I thought about it as I covered that last stretch to the ranch. By its very nature the whole boy/girl sex issue was perplexing, especially with all the social changes that had come about in the past five or six years but relying on the magazine’s “philosophy” would just confuse the issue even more.

Through it all I learned that:

  1. The development of any relationship can’t be rushed.
  2. Most stories are just that…stories.
  3. My best reality check ever is the thought of missing B1’s lips and kissing her nose.

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. Un-airbrushed photos taken “south of the equator” which at first glimpse destroyed my friend Mark’s dream of someday becoming a “lady’s (bleep) barber”.
  2. Bachelorette 1 introduced in 1971…and then Dave discovered girls.
  3. Wispy little locks of hair from roughly her temples to just short of her earrings. I loved them then and I still do now – check my sketch book and you’ll find them on every girl in the book.
  4. It was like the stories guys told about fighting – every guy that admitted to fighting also swore “he’d never started a fight but he’d never lost one.” Again, simple math meant (given our fairly small student body) if all these guys were winning all the time there must be one or two bandaged, scarred and toothless wretched young men who habitually lost to everyone else in the school.
  5. See 1969: Sisyphus and Light Tactical Vehicles. It was the road into the same subdivision Jim, and I pushed his jeep all over in.
  6. Cosmopolitan – a magazine wherein Helen Gurley Brown advocated an outlook for women that was basically a mirror-image to Hugh Hefner’s philosophy for men.

…another peek.

The book-thing is still in the works, though it has been a more placid progress than I had imagined. I may have said this already but at the outset I hadn’t planned on illustrations but there were one or two chapters that really needed images to clarify the action. Before long it was a matter of  one thing leading to another – now the whole book is getting illustrated.

This will accompany 1966: Fighting Crime on Scout Lake Road – which you can still find on this blog if you search back a bit.

Fighting Crime on Scout Lake Road

Wheels!

Big day for my Star Pupil yesterday. Our next door neighbor Wes very graciously bought a bike for him at a local yard sale and the little guy has been in wheeled-transportation heaven since then.

It’s had me thinking back to my first bike and the incredible sense of freedom it gave me – my hunting grounds quadrupled in area by late afternoon of day one. It’s quite a different world now so I don’t think we’ll be quite was hands-off as my folks were, but it will still be interesting  to observe the impact two wheels and a chain bring about in Jaybug’s life.

Sketchbook Skater

Skater

f you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time it is painfully obvious that I am comics fan. I’m not a universal fan – I pick and choose my books carefully for content and (mostly) art. It should also be no surprise that super-heroes and (again mostly) super-heroines figure prominently in my sketch book.

What might be a surprise is that I love watch ice-skating as much as reading comics…but then again given my Alaskan boyhood it shouldn’t be THAT much of surprise. How much do I love skating? I would literally break into tears whenever Kristi Yamaguichi got up on the ice during her all-too-short career.

…so that’s why drawings like today’s image show up in my sketchbook.

Coming Attractions

(Be honest – after reading that title visions of  anthropomorphic movie snacks dancing across the screen while singing “Let’s all go to the lobby…” popped into your head.)

If it seems like new material has been a bit sparse lately you’re not mistaken – I’ve been caught up in some other endeavors that have taken me away from my keyboard.  Some of these activities involve visual art, but my biggest iron in the creative fire is a book project that should see print sometime between now and the Fourth of July. It involves reworking my stories from 1962 to 1967 into a volume dealing with growing  up in Alaska in the 1960s.

More than that I’d rather not say, other than it will be available in both e-book and dead-tree versions. I’m also doing the cover and interior spot illustrations.

I will keep you posted.

1971: Subterranean Plantation

There was no end to the surprises that came with a definitive diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. I was fully aware of the chronic pain part and the chronic, progressive, irreversible parts weren’t all that surprising, but I was taken aback with the genetic aspects of the disease – that  over 90% of the people with A/S have the HLAB27 chromosome with evidence that the  condition dates back several thousand years. It was first described in the 1600’s but we know that a good number of the folks pushing stone blocks for the Pyramids also had the inflamed joints and fused vertebrae of the disease known as Bekhterev Disease, Bechterew’s Disease, or Marie–Strümpell Disease before the medical world settled on ankylosing spondylitis.

In addition to the physical discomfort another source of stress connected with A/S has been the large number of people anxious to share a ‘silver bullet’ for my condition; said silver bullets being one of any number of naturopathic remedies that would completely cure me and eliminate all my symptoms just as soon as I signed up as a distributor and joined someone’s ‘downline’ in one of many multilevel marketing plans. Unfortunately what most of these folks can’t seem to grasp is that with just two exceptions I have little use for alternative medicine, and that antipathy dates back over 50 years when my parents would regularly bypass needed medical solutions for alternative (read cheaper) cures.

I don’t think  mom totally distrusted modern medicine – she had been a U.S. Army nursing corps cadet during World War ll and missed deployment to the Pacific Theater only after the war was cut short after Little Boy and Fat Boy permanently altered the Japanese landscape. She worked as a registered nurse in a public hospital for ten years after the war and continued to stay certified through continuing education clear up into the late 1970s, but when we moved to Alaska she somehow became convinced that between the lack of sunlight, and the amount of preservatives in our food, her children were nutritionally short changed.

She started out modestly with bean sprouts and sun-lamps but by the time I hit high school she was in full alternative mode with a daily regime of “additions” to our diet that seemed to exceed our intake of regular food…but of all the additions she tried three stood head and shoulders about the rest:

  • Nutritional supplements in pill and capsule form
  • Vitamin B-rich yeast mixed with orange juice referred to as “dirt”
  • Almonds

The pills and capsules started out with just a One-A-Day® multiple vitamin but as time went by Mom followed classic addict behavior and began to increase our dosages by the odd pill or capsule, until  my third year in high school saw me knocking back  a small shot glass full of assorted pills, capsules and gel caps containing every vitamin in the alphabet.

‘Dirt’ was our term for a tumbler full of orange juice mixed with a powdered Vitamin B/ yeast compound. I had very serious issues with ‘dirt’ from the very beginning :

  1. The powder wasn’t mixed with real orange juice – it was mixed with Tang, and no matter how you mixed it or how many astronaut jingles  played on TV, Tang was just water flavored with equal parts Orange Pixie Stix and Alka-Seltzer.
  2. If you entertained any hopes for a social life you really, really did not want that stuff in your system as the day progressed. As a bullet-proof seventeen-year-old I could care less about any heretofore undetected problems with my nutrition, but I was extremely concerned with the rotten-egg burp and room-clearing killer farts the yeast brought on in a healthy digestive tract.

Almonds entered the equation at roughly the same point the pill count got out of hand. I never really knew why we were taking the almonds – something about cancer, but as a dyed in the wool cashew man the almonds grew old on the second day Mom dropped them in the shot glass. My normal response would have been to chuck it all in the trash, but Mom was as vigilant about monitoring our intake as she was in providing the stuff. Inmates entering prison for the first time were under a fraction of the surveillance Mom exercised when she issued the pills and dirt. She stopped short of a full body cavity search but once that stuff was ingested there was no opportunity for ejection short of an alien abduction.

It was a no-win situation until my senior year of high school when my mom cajoled the school board into allowing my younger sister to attend eighth grade at school in town. My sister was not a morning person and the resultant turbulence while loading up the car meant I now had time for diversion. Disposing of the dirt was easy enough – I’d grab the tumbler and mumble something about drinking it on the way out to the car when in fact I’d dump it as soon as I got out of the door, a scheme that worked until snowfall when the brown splotches that started to appear between the front door of the house jump-started maternal suspicion1..

The shot glass full of pills, capsules and almonds remained a problem – mom still shook us down before we left in the morning, so I finally came up with an avoidance method that relied on the location of my bedroom. Access to my attic was by a ladder through a hatch in the closet at the end of the hall – which was kind of cool because of the secret aspect of it all. In addition to the water heater the area behind the ladder served as a closet of sorts for clothing and other items I was unable to stow in the scant storage spaces in the loft itself. The space was a mixed blessing because in addition to providing access to the attic, the hall closet provided our only route to the crawl space under the house, and while the ladder was securely fastened in place I was none too sure about the trap door over the hole leading to the depths below.

As we bounced around the house early each morning I made sure to make one additional pass by the door to my ladder  where I’d empty the shot glass between the boxes on the closet floor. Each evening I would take a broom and sweep away the pills I tossed there earlier, either hiding them in the bottom of the kitchen trash or sweeping them through the gaps around the hatch to the crawlspace.

…and then suddenly it was the end of the semester, academic year, and high school. Work schedules didn’t mesh quite as smoothly as school schedules did and Mom’s program of vitamins and supplements dropped by the wayside. As I came and went on my travels as a student, missionary and soldier I eventually forgot about pills, “dirt” and almonds until one summer day several years later when my folks discovered a  noticeable dip that had developed in the middle of the house. My parents asked me to check on the cement  footings under the middle of the main floor, which would take me down into the crawlspace. No one had been down that closet hatchway in years and even though various sisters, nieces and nephews had used my old loft at one time or other, no one had settled in for the long haul, so my collection of stuff was still there.2

There were no permanent lights rigged behind the closet ladder so I had to work by touch, and after cleaning my stuff up it still took some time to clear out the old sheets of cardboard and scraps of carpet that insulated the hatchway. The cloud of musty mildew odor the “poofed” into existence after thirty  minutes of mucking about let me know when I’d made it to the dimly-lit crawlspace, and I was surprised to find that it was dimly lit as fingers of daylight pushed through the random gaps between cement block, poured cement footings, and leafy stalks.

Leafy stalks?

Years earlier in an effort to provide better access as well as elbow room, the area just below the hatch had been excavated an additional three feet. Growing out of the dirt just to the side of this excavation were a half-dozen twisting stalks, each with just a leave or two and looking like something grown in a zero-gravity environment. The leaves were not the healthiest looking I’d ever seen, their color that of Thanksgiving  found in the back of the oven a week after the event but  they were vaguely lanceolate in shape like those of a willow tree. I would have never suspected anything would sprout in the crawlspace but given the plants’ location between the hot-water line to the bathtub and one of the only places that sunlight reached into the crawlspace I wasn’t totally surprised.

…no, the surprise didn’t happen until several years later and several thousand miles away as I was preparing an assignment for a graphic design class I was teaching. The project entailed designing snack-sized packaging for various types of nuts, and as I was assembling reference materials and imagery I was stopped cold by the photos of almonds and almond trees.

Slender branches with long oval leaves that looked like the head of a lance? I shook my head – the time frame between ditching the almonds and finding the plants was much too long for any germination to be possible…but at the same time I remembered that it had been raw unprocessed uncooked almonds Mom had us gagging down. I’d also just read about a research project in the United Kingdom sprouting grain seeds found in one of the pyramids.

The clatter of pots and pans startled me back into coherent thought as my Beautiful Saxon Princess began preparing dinner, and as I gathered up my papers and gradebook I thought of  mom’s nutritional efforts all those years ago, I had cheekily dismissed all her efforts to improve my health with her pills and supplements …and almonds. There never seemed to be any connection, any measurable benefit to the stuff she had us choking down but here I was staring at a plant that was healthy enough to thrive in such adverse conditions – a plant displaying the rigorous health mom had sought for her children.

Clattering pans brought my attention back to dinner and when I confessed ignorance of the aroma my Beautiful Saxon Princess said: “It’s a vegetarian garlic almond quiche”

She went on breezily. “As I recall it’s not exactly your favorite, but it was one of your mom’s favorite recipes.”

“Dish me up a double helping….”

———————————————————————————————————————–



  1. I eventually convinced her the “splotches” were the result of an intestinal disease affecting peninsula moose that I’d heard about on the radio
  2. The stuff ranged from corduroy bell bottom pants to the missing lid of my FIREBALL XL5 lunchbox among other things, and most of the detritus that had to be cleaned up before opening the hatch dated from my tenure,

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970: Boy’s State

As a service brat one of the first lessons I learned was the transitory nature of my ‘stuff’. As much as I’d like to always keep a favorite possession, there was always a certain amount of attrition among my toys and books. The trend continued into my adult life and other than a couple of paperback books and the suit I was married in there’s not a lot of stuff around here that dates its existence further back than 1983 – with the exception of one small object I have held on to with a death grip for almost fifty years. It’s small, maybe an inch wide at its broadest point and is made of enameled brass, and even though the enamel is chipped it holds more value to me than just about any other tangible possession. It’s the pin given to me at the conclusion of Alaska Boy’s State in June of 1970.

Boy’s (and Girl’s) State is a summer citizenship training seminar held for high school juniors and has been conducted in each state of the Union by the American Legion starting in 1935. My selection to the program was a fluke – up until the year of my eligibility, Boy’s State delegates from KCHS were selected by the principal and faculty from our school’s upper crust: athletic team captains, student body officers, and National Honor Society members. The new principal assigned to our school in the fall of 1969 changed the selection process to one based on a competition in public speaking, which was my only asset other than a slim portfolio for my time as a teacher’s aide in Physical Education,

As expected, our Boy’s State would be held on a campus, but unlike Alaska Girl’s State and most of the other programs in the nation we would meeting not at a college campus but at a boarding school in Copper Center, located near Glenallen (AK) and absolutely nothing else. Getting there was an adventure in its own right as we flew via puddle-jumper commuter airline to Anchorage where (in a nice foreshadowing of my military service) we would bunk in the National Guard Armory along with delegations that had flown up from the Panhandle. The next day we were bussed to Copper Center.

CopperVallySchoolWinter

(School during Construction)

The school’s floor plan was based on an octagon with several wings radiating from the domed center structure each with a specific use such as:

  • Dormitories
  • Cafeteria
  • Classrooms
  • Offices
  • Gymnasium

CopperValleySchoolInterior

(center hub interior)

CopperValleySchoolFrontDoor

(The view that met us as we left the bus)

Our arrival was marginally less stressful than arriving at bootcamp; as soon as we grounded our luggage in the parking lot we were immediately lined up for assignments to a dorm room with each floor designated as a political subdivision or city. We were allowed to name our cities, a decision the staff debated when one group adopted Yakadang which they swore was the term for ‘rotten fish’ in some obscure native dialect. We were also assigned a political party (the Pioneer Party in my case) and assigned to one of four schools of instruction:

  • Government Executives
  • Judicial Law
  • Law Enforcement
  • Legislative

Half of each day was taken up with instruction in those schools while the balance was used for general assemblies, (including astronaut John Swigert in one of his earliest post-Apollo 13 appearances) athletics, and in my case, work on the newspaper and election material. Boy’s State kept us busy…and when the incredibly good chow was factored into the equation it was easy to see why didn’t have much of chance to get homesick.

I was assigned to the House of Representative as part of the Legislative school and in yet another bit of foreshadowing I was designated as the house minutes clerk. During the day we’d conduct mock legislature, introducing and passing bills and making ersatz law in much the same manner as the ‘for real’ legislature did in Juneau. There was little spare time, but there were a few random holes open in the schedule when we could just hang out – and it was during those periods that I learned the most.

The first thing I learned was that there was a lot more divisiveness in the state than I had anticipated, beginning with the first session of the mock House of Representatives when a delegate from the Panhandle stood up and angrily urged all the delegates from outlying areas to band together against the Anchorage delegates as they “were all going to move the capital to Anchorage if it’s the last thing they do”. Guys from the larger metropolitan areas were much more politically minded in the Sixties sense of the word with much of their legislative efforts going towards condemning the war in Vietnam, condemning  anti-ballistic missile systems as destabilizing the Cold War standoff and instituting social measures like population control and decriminalization of ‘victimless’ vice offenses.

At the other end of the spectrum were the delegates from the outlying Bush areas who were primarily concerned with very basic issues like housing and infrastructure. Fishing regulation was their hot topic and one discussion over international relations dissolved into a near brawl over Russian proclivity towards cutting Native fishermen’s nets and floats. As a delegate from one of the ‘in-betweens’ like Kenai, Palmer and Haines, I was a little lost – not much in common with the smaller places but culturally lagging behind the urban group by about ten years and not really hip enough to mix with them.

There was also an interesting schism between the service brats and those from a purely civilian background. At the time there was a proportionally much larger military presence in the state with three major installations each for the Army, Navy and Air Force. My status as the dependent of a retired service member (and Pearl Harbor survivor) was the one arrow in my professional quiver and I made sure to network with every service brat I could identify.

There was the inevitable booze party planned, oddly enough by one of the local Glenallen delegates rather than one of the more sophisticated Anchorage guys. My one claim to Boy’s State fame came about because of that party: I’d been washing-up in the restroom during the party planning session but noticed a chaperone slip out after the discussion, having gone unnoticed while occupying one of the bathroom stalls. The heads-up I then gave the ringleaders earned me a bit of public ridicule, but each ringleader later thanked me for keeping them all out of trouble.

The week wound up with elections and selections: state officers from Governor on down were elected from the Boy’s State general population and the two delegates to Boy’s Nation in Washington DC were elected from a short list prepared by the program administrators. Out-processing and the backhaul home were a mirror image reversal of the trip to Glenallen eight days earlier and before I really knew it I was back sprawled on my bunk in my attic loft bedroom in Sterling listening to my stereo…but this time my biggest concern wasn’t whether the new Blood, Sweat and Tears album was as good as the previous one.

For the first time in my life I was seriously  concerned about my future.

My trip to Boy’s State had been based on wanting “something to do for summer vacation” and while I had a great time at Copper Center I was totally blown away by the manner in which my fellow delegates were preparing for their future, not just in terms of good grades but in real-life experience like internships and pursuit of appointments to West Point and Annapolis. They shared many of my values but were really doing something instead of just listening to music and drawing barbarians and superheroes.

That one real life-skill that got me into Boy’s State? I went into the experience thinking I was a pretty good speaker, but after listening to all the speeches given at Boy’s State I realized that I was in fact a shallow bulls**t artist that ran out of steam after three to five minutes – and while this might sound overly self-critical, thinking about it got me going in the right direction in life, though it was four more years before my change in course was complete.

Another benefit had to do with career choice: after wading through the complexities of the legislative process I became interested in the law and during my final year of high school and first year of college I was planning on a legal career. Obviously that wasn’t the path I took in life, but something must have taken root because both of my sons are practicing attorneys now.

Senior Picture 1970

(Senior portrait taken the following September)