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

..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

 

Tremors and Dial-tones

Nostalgia rather than fear was the overriding emotion in our home during the March 1964 Earthquake. As we had been living in that howling wilderness otherwise known as Spenard for less than two years we styled ourselves as  temporarily  transplanted Californians rather than locals so the first few tremors brought on smiles and “Hey – just like back home” rather than any expressions of fear. It wasn’t until we lost our television signal (and the closing scenes of the “Invasion” episode of  ‘Fireball XL5)  that I began to feel  any emotional distress.

However things were a little different during today’s quake– I was chatting on the phone with my sister Heather when she stopped for a moment then said: “Oh boy…earthquake!See the hanging lamps? – they’re bouncing all over the place.”

Intestinal Stukas  started churning my insides as I nervously glanced around my own living room,  but I was puzzled to find all our lamps perfectly motionless.

Suddenly the proverbial  lightbulb flashed on  and I made a conclusion of my own:

  • Heather wasn’t asking me to look at the lamps, she was talking to my nephew Zack.
  • My hanging lamps weren’t bouncing around because Heather, Zack and the quake – were 4135 miles away in Sterling Alaska.

For my dad aviation was the best yardstick for measuring the march of progress – he was born into a world with biplanes and lived to see television broadcasts of regular shuttle service to  the International Space Station. For me it’s been phones: 55 years ago a call from Tennessee to Alaska would have been made only under the most dire circumstances, taken the help of at least three operators and would be made using a device that could not be owned by an individual – it  had to be  leased from the phone company.

I’m still getting used to it.

The Big One (Part 3)

April in Alaska was a slightly schizophrenic period of time: The snow was melting faster than the ground mass could absorb the water, creating so much mud that the season is referred to as “break-up”  instead of “spring”. April of 1964 seemed to fit that pattern when the first hints of green appeared and changes started to happen outside as the weather got warmer.

Oddly enough the first big changes were inside our house: When the dust settled from extensive furniture and bookshelf rearrangement I had my own room again…or to be more precise I had an alcove partially blocked off from the rest of the front room.  It was enough for me to have a trace element of privacy and a place to keep some of my things out on display without instant destruction at the hands of my little sisters.

One of the first items I wanted to put on display also happened to be the product of my first lesson in the principle of caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware”. Like all fifth graders I was powerless to resist the styrene siren call that came from the back of every comic book in the world: The 132 piece Roman Army set. One look at the lavish Russ Heath-rendered battle scene and I was hooked enough to turn a blind eye to the small print which would have alerted me to the fact that

  • The 132 figures included “16 pieces of harmless ammunition” for the 4 working catapults.
  • There were only a half-dozen poses.
  • The figures were one inch-tall flat figures cast in hard styrene plastic instead of the 2 inch full-round soldiers that made up the rest of my collection.

None of which had any bearing on the massive earthquake we’d experience a month earlier, which is in fact  my point. In my fifth-grader’s world we’d all moved on. Never mind we’d just gone through a record breaking quake – more important matters took center stage, like these army men, and comic books.

There were some odd events that I couldn’t help but notice:

Like most growing cities Anchorage had a number of half-rented little strip malls, but within a month of the quake many of those empty storefronts around town began to advertise clearance sales. None of them were established businesses with signage, business cards or normal retail ephemera, just big banners graphically screaming “SALE” or ‘CLEARANCE”. It didn’t bother me that the merchandize was half-heartedly displayed in piles because the prices were great: For example I bought a pair of zippered galoshes for a dollar; a bargain even if the solid color fabric lining the left boot was different from the plaid lining of the right one. It took me a couple of years wearing those mis-matched boots to piece together what was happening with all those  little fly-by-night retail place; they were selling merchandise salvaged from the major stores that had been destroyed during the quake.

There was also the slow decline of the little town of Portage, located at the southern end of Turnagain arm at the junction of Sterling Highway and the access road to Portage glacier. Ground level there had dropped several feet during the quake which meant high tide now flooded the area and all reliable local sources of fresh water were gone. The tides also played havoc with drivers just passing through -. failure to check the tide table could mean a four hour wait parked on replacement bridges that had been constructed above the high water mark.

The roads and bridges were repaired fairly quickly, but the little town never did recover. Being true Alaskans a couple of small businesses tried toughing it out by trucking in potable water, but eventually the residents moved to areas further up the highway to Anchorage. Recovery efforts were made in other areas as well, though as late as the summer of 1978 you could still see the remains of boats that had been tossed like toys when the tsunami hit the small harbor in Seward.

As time passed, the urgency to “quake-proof” buildings and infrastructure was pushed aside by issues like the massive oil reserves found on the North Slope, the Alaska Native Land Claims act, and (for me personally) girls. The Big One was never completely out of my mind though, especially when we’d get another earthquake, be it large or small. I’d always wonder if those efforts to come up with more quake-resistant designs ever came to pass.

I got my answer in 1982 at a Christmas party put on by another officer in my unit at FT Richardson. I found myself in a long conversation with a municipal planner and when I asked him about the status of quake-proofing efforts In Anchorage he looked like a deer in the headlights. I told him that I had gone through the Big One and made an observation about the tremendous growth that had come about in the interim, including growth close to some of the worst-hit areas in 1964.  He stuttered, he stammered then begged off to freshen his drink…and I figured I got my answer.

…and every time a story about seismic activity in Alaska pops up on the Internet, I wonder what the next Big One will do.

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