In 1943, when I was 4 and my brother, Bob, was 6, our parents moved us from the safe confines of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to Fairbanks, Alaska, where adventure was never very far away. Getting there was an experience all its own. I was seasick on the SS Aleutian and anxious about the wartime blackouts we had to endure.
Dad bought an old log cabin that had sunk into the tundra from many years of heating. Sitting at the kitchen table, we looked out windows that were even with the ground. The cabin was just a block from the Chena Slough and had to be completely sandbagged during floods.
We arrived in the summer, just in time to revel in the midnight sun. All that sunlight was fantastic for Mom’s vegetable garden. She was pretty casual about Bob’s and my bedtime, too, because working in the garden at midnight tended to throw her timing off.
Dad was a Railway Express agent and Mom was his clerk. That left Bob and me with the run of Fairbanks and the slough.
We usually managed to find some trouble to get into. Once we had a little fire going in the dirt basement of a hotel. We had tried to light a puddle of paint but couldn’t really get a good blaze going. The smoke got pretty bad, though, and when we made our exit a crowd and the police were there to greet us. The policemen took our matches and drove us home.
Mom and Dad were out in the garden, since it was only about 10 p.m. Dad told the police to keep us, and they did! We had a tour of the jail and saw its reprobates and other prisoners before Mom rescued us. I hadn’t turned 5 yet.
As I entered kindergarten, the serious cold began to set in. Would it surprise you to know that I soon left part of my tongue on a metal handrail at school?
I got to go to my first Fur Rendezvous, an annual event that included Eskimo blanket tosses and sled dog races. Our Cub Scout pack won first place for our homemade float: the bed of a flatbed truck carrying a tent, trees, snow and a campfire.
I think we knew Leonhard Seppala, the famous dogsledder, from church, because Bob and I were taken for a ride with his white Siberian husky dog team one Sunday. At the time I didn’t realize what a legend he was, but I do remember the ride well. We were wrapped in pelts and well sheltered from the freezing, blowing weather.
We moved back to Coeur d’Alene in 1950, but we got one more Alaskan adventure when Leonhard honored us eight years later by paying a visit to Idaho to attend a reunion of former residents of Alaska.