1963: Slushers

To many people, eight is the age when a child assumes accountability for his actions, but experience has shown me that number is an average, as I have seen children of six with wisdom beyond their years, and adults in their mid-thirties that have all the maturity and good sense of a toddler. In my case it was when I reached my tenth birthday that I made a firm connection between my actions, intents, and consequences. It was also when I learned about fear. Mind you, life with a severely bi-polar parent made for scary experiences throughout my entire life to that point, but events during fourth grade taught me the meaning of capital-F Fear. If nothing else, the change from Little Shasta School to Woodland Park Elementary was unsettling whereas in the first six months I experienced:

  • My first after-school fight.
  • My first fracture (multiple bones broken in my right foot from a sledding accident).
  • My first experience with city traffic and near-accidents.

Education in fear continued even after school let out for the summer as we witnessed a total solar eclipse during a weekend getaway to Palmer, and my grandparents had a near miss with the Reaper when they drove up the ALCAN for an extended visit. However, none of these teeth-chattering experiences could compare to the terror with which I struggled during our week-long excursion to Valdez when I was convinced beyond all doubt that the mountains were going to fall on us.

The trip had started out uneventfully, but when we stopped enroute at the Matanuska Glacier I finally understood how totally isolated we were from the Lower 48. I had slept  through most of our migration north from California, and other than a few side trips, we never left Anchorage, so most of my knowledge of the Last Frontier came from glimpses of the Chugach Mountains to the east, and the Kenai Peninsula across Turnagain Arm to west. What little I knew about the rest of the state came from school assignments and events of our first Fur Rendezvous the preceding winter, but at that particular rest stop I was gob-smacked by the huge river of ice every bit as impressive as the mountains that bracketed either side.

The glacier was impressive, but it didn’t spook me as badly as it did my youngest sister, Merriweather, who took one look and ran back to the car screaming, “I DON’T WANNA LOOK AT ANY SLUSHER!”, a comment that mystified us all until we figured out that in her mangled four-year-old vocabulary, “slusher” equaled “glacier.” As far as I was concerned the only problem was the complete absence of any sign of a hobby shop to support my recently-acquired  plastic-model addiction that would put a junkie to shame.

After a very brief look at the glacier I hopped back into the car to drink the last of my orange soda. Unfortunately, I was unable to drink it all before we hit the road again, and when Dad asked for “just a sip” I knew it would be gone. When he handed back the bottle it took all of my nascent stoicism to hold back the tears. For once Mom responded to my distress and took my father to task with, “No wonder you have a pain in your gut1 – look at the way you put your groceries away.”

I cringed.

Dad wasn’t physically abusive with any of us and would usually go into passive/aggressive mode when arguing with Mom, but one thing you never did was mess with, or argue with him about food or drink. Expecting a full-on fist fight I grabbed a pillow for protection, but was surprised when instead of going ballistic he verbally lashed out:

“Not only do I have a pain in my gut – I have a pain in my butt from traveling with people like you!”

Knowing my mother’s mercurial temperament, I pulled the pillow tighter and mentally gave a salute to the suicidal bravery in that remark but was surprised when the Mom-bomb didn’t detonate. She sat stone-faced while several miles of pavement ran by, then unexpectedly broke out into a chuckle and commended Dad for his witty retort. Exhausted by our miraculous escape from disaster, I shoved my former armor-pillow against the side of the interior and closed my eyes in my now-routine effort to sleep away the miles.

Heavy fog interfered with my first glimpse of Valdez the next morning, and as I made my way to the small cluster of buildings that passed as downtown, the vista didn’t seem that much different from what I was used to back in Anchorage. After being chased out of a small shop for reading (but not buying) comics, I found that the fog had burned off, and that’s when Fear grabbed my ten-year old heart and gave it a squeeze.

It was the mountains – they were so damn high (did I mention that Woodland Park was also where I first learned to swear?) and much, much higher than the Chugach range overlooking Anchorage. I’d heard snarky stories about Native kids on their first trip to Anchorage who would cower in the street for fear that the tall buildings would fall on them, and while the mountains surrounding the fjord were also part of the Chugach range they loomed over the town so terrifyingly close that  I knew exactly how those kids from the Bush felt. I promptly fled to the motel  where the security of four walls and a ceiling more than made up for the lack of television.

The next day we did a little exploring with the emphasis on “little.” In 1963 the town of Valdez was made up of buildings clustered around the Richardson Highway where it entered the valley along the Lowe River between MT Francis and the run-off from Valdez Glacier. The town hadn’t always been there – when the area boomed with the Klondike gold rush and the development of the Kennecott copper mine most people settled along the north side of the fjord. The center of the population moved east with the construction of the Richardson Highway, and when we drove out to what was called the Old Town, there wasn’t much other than gravel roads, tumble-down buildings, and a bridge. Little did we know that in nine months’ time a tsunami generated by the Good Friday earthquake would level the new town that we were now visiting in 1963, and it would be rebuilt as the New/Old Town on the site of the original settlement. 

Upon returning to our lodging I made another trip to the shop I’d been chased out of the day before, where my presence was more graciously tolerated after I bought a small plastic model kit of a B-172. We left for home the next morning, which meant that for once I was awake for just about the entire trip, and by the time we passed Copper Center and entered the Copper River Basin, the scary mountains were well behind us. We continued north on the Richardson Highway until turning left onto the Glen Highway at Glenallen3, then continued on to Anchorage a little over three hours to the west.

That we had actually walked the ground in Valdez made its destruction that much more horrifying when the tsunami leveled it the following March. The town was often in the news during the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline – which also figured prominently in contingency planning when I was stationed at FT Richardson in the early 1980’s. The closest connection I had with Valdez after that was when I accompanied my older son Conrad to an environmental camp on the south side of Katchemak Bay in 1989 – as we were crossing back to Homer the first fingers of the oil sheen from the wreck of the SS EXXON VALDEZ were just entering the bay.

…and now there are only two situations when I am prompted to think of Valdez:

  • Any time I see a mountain range I instinctively compare them to those oh-so-tall mountains that I was sure would fall over on me.
  • Whenever I work on a model kit I think of that little B-17 model and those ridiculous rivets.

_________________________________________________________________________

Notes

  1. Though I never saw an official diagnosis, my dad suffered from what he assumed was an ulcer and was constantly self-medicating with buttermilk and TUMS. Like most ‘60s dads he worried about his work situation and bills, but he also struggled with the fact that his children had a better standard of living than he did during the Depression.
  2. It was a small-scale model – possibly 1/200, but even as a ten-year-old I was skeptical of the rivet-head detailing on the wing. They were prominent enough to make a “zip” sound when a fingernail was drawn across like a comb…which meant that they would have been an inch or two in height if enlarged to actual size.
  3. I’ve been through that area several times, but my only lengthy visit was in the summer of 1970 when I went to Boy’s State at the boarding school at Copper Center. I’m still convinced that if you stood in the middle of Glenallen and looked off in the distance, all you could see would be the back of your own head. As wretched as the move to the Kenai Peninsula was the next year, I really did dodge a bullet with the move as Dad had also considered bidding on a job in even-more-isolated Glenallen.

Midnight Son (the next phase!)

ttps://www.amazon.com/Life-Times-Midnight-Son-Growing-ebook/dp/B084H7FTSD/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Life+and+times+of+A+Midnight+Son&qid=1581091271&sr=8-2

 

Well, my book is up on Amazon! Right now we have just the e-book (still tweaking the print version). If you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for free as it has been designated as a Kindle Unlimited book for at least the next month, which is actually a good thing as it builds readership for  first time authors. It also allows those of you who bought books via the Kickstarter to review the book as a verified Amazon reader, which insures that you can indeed review the book.  Please share this information with family, friends, co-workers – anyone that would be interested and inclined to leave a positive review.

…and I have to confess that saying something like that is difficult for me to do, not that I don’t believe my book is good but I was raised with the idea that talking yourself up was in very bad taste, but modern commerce is all about the “likes”. There are some minor format issues brought about by the conversion to the Kindle format but the writing is the same solid stuff you’ve been reading here for the last seven years.

Midnight Son Update 24 OCT 2019

There’s a lot going on with:

  • preparing the manuscript for e-book formats
  • lining up publishers
  • evaluating freight options

…. so this will be a rather abbreviated update…

As it looks now the e-book will go out on Monday the 4th November 2019 with printed books following in the mail by mid-December. This of course assumes that there is no extinction-event level asteroid-impact on the Yucatan Peninsula nor any opening of a massive interdimensional rift sending us all back to the Middle Ages.

In the meantime we’re still hammering out logistics and composing surveys that will come out next week. As we compile this information please bear in mind that I am new to KickStarter –which means there is a chance for a wrong key stroke or click on the wrong space.

…so if there are any doubts about correct contact information please get ahold of us right away!

1964: One For The Road

We were living in Sterling for no more than a week when it became apparent that I wasn’t the only member of the family who missed Anchorage. From the middle of August to the end of September of 1964 we made the trip three times, for reasons ranging from coordinating Church programs to getting medical treatment at the Elmendorf AFB hospital to retrieving some odd item left during the move while crashing at night with mom’s best friend Jeanne Johnson, though Mom let me stay with my best friend Mark instead.

However, because of the recent Good Friday earthquake the trips could end up taking more than just the time required to transit the 276 mile round trip. A good portion of the highway curled around Turnagain Arm, the branch of Cook Inlet that extended to the south of the Anchorage basin. The trip around Turnagain is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world and takes in majestic spruce covered mountains with countless waterfalls as well as a few rivers and several major streams crossing under the highway to feed into the arm…and there’s where an element of chance entered in.

During the earthquake the ground level around the southern end of Turnagain arm dropped six feet and in the process guaranteed the eventual death of Portage, a small hamlet/railway station at the south end of the arm. The abrupt drop either destroyed or severely compromised all the bridges over the aforementioned waterways so as part of the recovery effort temporary bridges were erected to the side of the old ones and anchored on raised berms that put the driving surface an extra six feet above the original road bed to prevent damage from ocean waters that now flooded the highway during periods of high tide. it also meant that if you failed to consult the tide table when planning a drive around Turnagain arm you stood a good chance of being stranded on one of those elevated bridges until the tide receded.

…which was how we ended up stranded on a bridge late one August night. My mother, four sisters and I ended up spending four hours crammed into a our white Ford Falcon station wagon, though by that time the mud from transiting the regularly flooded highway had our car looking more than white. It could have been worse – August still gave us extended daylight hours and we were able to pass the time with a stack of comics and a box full of home-brewed root beer we’d been given as we left Mark’s house.

As Mom had forgotten her wristwatch on the trip we were clueless about when we could leave the safety of the bridge and it was a little scary when a set of disembodied headlights appeared off the end of the bridge, lights that slowing coalesced into the front end of a Alaska State trooper’s cruiser. The officer parked and walked up to talk to my mom sitting in the driver’s seat, slowly playing the beam of his flashlight though the interior of the Falcon while enquiring about situation.

Suddenly the flashlight stopped and the trooper asked “Mrs. Deitrick, is everything OK with you and your children?” to which my Mom breezily answered in the affirmative.

“‘Are you sure everything is OK?”

I started to duck for cover – Trooper or no trooper, one thing you never did twice was contradict my mom, but in some random act of sanity she resisted verbally blasting the officer, and glanced back to the spot where the officer’s flashlight was shining…on my five-year-old sister Heather guzzling from an Olympia beer bottle. There was a moment of awkward silence then we all started laughing and explained that Mark’s mom hadn’t removed the label when she refilled the bottle with home-made root beer. She had been a war-bride from Helsinki and had grown up with Finland’s much more relaxed attitude towards alcohol so the thought of removing the labels had never occurred to her.

The trooper got good laugh as well, and after clearing us to proceed he left with a copy of the root beer recipe that Mark’s mom had given us, a recipe that my family also tried shortly after getting back to Sterling.

We just made very, very sure to remove all the labels from the bottles before we used them ourselves.

Kickstarter Update 9: Setting the Record Straight.

One of the best classes in my graduate school experience was a design class taught in the theater department. In that class I learned:

  • The importance of color and lighting in creating a mood
  • How costuming can aid immensely in establishing a character
  • The importance of conducting good research prior the actual design process

When designing for a historical production our instructor would insist on primary sources in our research – for example when designing for Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano d’Bergerac we were to find photos of drawings or paintings from the Baroque period rather than copying imagery from motion pictures. I thought it was an unnecessary step – until I actually compared pictures from the 17th century with 20th century designs and discovered multiple anachronisms and wide use of ahistorical color in the later work.

I’m finding a similar situation in the way people look back at the 1960s and 70s. In 2019 there are a lot less of us who actually lived through those times which leaves production of material about the era to much younger people who don’t always consult “primary sources”. The other day I viewed a YouTube presentation about “ten things people don’t know about the 1960s” and of the ten only three of the items were valid observations. I got the impression that the other seven “things” came after the writer spent an afternoon binge-watching Mad Men and it had me wondering if did something similar when looking back to the 1920s as a high school student.

That’s another reason why I wrote Midnight Son and its upcoming sequel. I’m doing my best to capture the essence of those times and pass the information on to younger generations who would otherwise assume that all men of that day overwhelmingly preferred Twiggy to Raquel Welch…which was definitely not the case.

The campaign is definitely starting to wind down and I want to thank you all for the tremendous support you’ve shown this past month. It’s made a lot of difference to me – as all of this has been going on I have also been dealing with a tear in the meniscus of my right knee and the hustle & bustle of the campaign has been very therapeutic for me.

Thanks again!

David

One Week Down!

(…the latest update for my Kickstarter campaign)

It’s been a great first week in the campaign. We’re funded 201% which means the project is a go which means:

  1. a) I have to start planning for fulfillment
  2. b) I can start thinking about a second volume.

Once again I want to thank you for support – and also ask you continue to spread the word about Midnight Son both in person and on line. Advertising is effective to an extent but no communication is more effective or convincing than personal communication.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Thanks again.

 

david

Why I Write (Part One)

(Today’s update for the Midnight Son Kickstarter campaign)

As befitting a weekend progress over the last two days was modest but consistent, but along with pledges came an interesting question:

“Why did you start writing?”

(Or why did I jump into the literary world after a 30+ career as an illustrator/designer?)

The truth is I never stopped writing – a statement which may need a bit of explaining.  I started out creating with both words and pictures but when it came time to select a major in college I decided on art for one very important reason: When I am creating art I can listen to music, watch a video or carry on a conversation but when I am crunching words the area around me has to be a monastery with absolute quiet, a situation that would never have been possible with the three precocious children that grew up in our studio.

However, during all that time working in visual art I look every opportunity to write that came my way which maintained my proficiency. While my service as an officer in the military required me to write evaluations I also wrote recommendations for awards & decorations, I put together newsletters for every church congregation or civic organization I belonged to, and I didn’t flinch from writing letters to newspaper editors when needed.

In short I kept in shape, though the process involved writing instead of running, which made easing into the blogosphere a very comfortable transition – and moving from my blog to a book seemed a natural development.

Thanks again!

d-

An Incredible First Day!

(One of my responsibilities during the Midnight Son Kickstarter campaign will be regular updates which I will also publish here on my blog.  The campaign  is going pretty good.)

This Kickstarter campaign is a first for me – I’ve pledged a half-dozen times but never been a participant so I had no preconceived notions of how things would be. I certainly didn’t anticipate a first day as “fast” as this one and I’m curious to see how the rest of the campaign works out.

…and there has been a wonderful bonus to the day as well. One of first pledges came from Dan Smith, grandson of Alaskan broadcasting legend Reuben Gaines. My family listened to the radio a LOT when I was growing up in Alaska – true day-time TV didn’t happen until I was thirteen and one radio personality we particularly enjoyed listening to was Reuben Gaines.

Composed of equal parts poet, journalist, and humorist, Gaines’ wit and insight  combined with a distinctive vocal delivery into life on the Last Frontier helped our family of seven cheechakos (newcomers) adjust into life on the Last Frontier during the time covered by Midnight Son.

…counting down the days…

Midnight Son Draft Cover v4-2 Front 6x9 72dpi

…as my former brother-in-law Bobby used to say “It’s like being nibbled to death by a duck”

I am referring of course to the protracted production process involved in getting Midnight Son into print. Subtitled “Growing up in 1960’s Alaska” the book will include edited/expanded posts from this blog along with new material such as maps, illustrations and bonus text that will see print for the first time in this volume.

At this point I find it had to keep from hopping up and down on one foot or rubbing my hands together in glee – It’s taken more time and a LOT more work than I had anticipated (hence the opening quote) but the initial print run through Kickstarter will go live by September 1st so keep an eye out for the official announcements.

You also need to know if you want an autographed print copy of the book you’ll need to jump on the initial Kickstarter campaign. I hate those “limited time only // not sold in stores” advertising slams as much as you do but unfortunately I’m working against some very real physical limitations.

Midnnight Son Cover Art

Standing In The Creative Door.

There’s a point in airborne operations where the operation itself takes over reality and you become an element instead of an individual. It happens when:

  • The aircraft is orbiting the drop-zone
  • The jumpmaster has opened the door
  • Jumpers have hooked up
  • Equipment is checked and the sound-off made.

At that point you’ve become a round in belt of machine-gun ammunition and you are going out the door. Oh, you’ve been taught the procedure for refusing to jump but believe me – you’re going out that door…but it’s OK.

…that’s because it has transformed into a Zen feeling/experience – it’s out of your hands.

I’m hitting that point with Midnight Son. We’ve gone through the final edit and the cover art is done, needing just a bit of digital juju to get it ready for the press, so I figured I’d give you all a  sneak peak of that art:

Midnnight Son Cover Art