I grew up where you locked your doors and didn’t talk to strangers.  Although we’d lived in Alaska for three years before moving to Chugiak, I still clung to many of my big city attitudes.

The problem with that (not talking to strangers in particular) is it’s tough to survive an inhospitable environment without a little help from time to time.

Actually, it took an interesting mix of reaching out and independence to live well in the north.  It may be different now, but typically folks did not take to those who weren’t self-reliant nor big on personal responsibility.  You had to “prove” yourself…then you’d have all the help you ever needed.  I was about to enter one of the biggest educational phases of my life.

Fast forwarding a bit from last post, I’m moving on to Fred.  There were a few months between…. Doug leaving for out-of-town work, wild dogs in the yard, sleeping in parkas, frozen plumbing and rabies treatments ….and the arrival of Fred.  I’ll double back on another post to give them their due.

I hope you’re ready for this…….this is the Chugiak house as we began the clean-up before moving in.  As I said already…no words to describe.  But hey, only $25 a month.

The boys and me...where do you start??

….so, Doug was home for the summer and we were plotting how to make our tar paper house a little more hospitable.  Doug had an old Dodge pick-up for sale and that’s how we met Fred.  Big into bartering and trading, Doug offered Fred the truck in exchange for some help.

This did not seem like a reasonable trade to me.  Fred was old.  He lived at the Pioneer Home and didn’t look like he should be driving any vehicle.  He told me repeatedly my sons were “sure purty little girls”…so naturally, I questioned his vision.  Not to mention I clearly called the boys “Ian” and “David” … figured Fred’s hearing was gone too.  Doug and I were young and strong and didn’t need any help.  Besides, what could Fred do for us?  And besides again…Fred didn’t smell so good.

Fred was a big guy.  Big, big, bigBig hands, big boots and big bib-overalls.  He always wore a hat…a big hat.  He was a little bossy too.  He always seemed to show up at dinner time.  My big city suspicions had a big grip on me.

It took a lot of “meetings” to determine what needed to be done and what Fred would do in exchange for the truck.  But eventually, over bowls of moose stew, the deal was struck.

Fred liked moose stew…and salmon…and halibut …all of which we had in abundance thanks to my hunter-fisher husband.  Fred was also pretty fond of biscuits and cookies and anything else that came out of my kitchen.

“So are we adopting him or what?” I whined to Doug one night.

“Nope, just hold on.  It’ll all work out”.  This is Doug’s signature phrase.

So the work began….digging out for a foundation, jacking up the sinking floor, cribbing.  We didn’t have proper tools.  Neither did Fred.  But he and Doug made do.  And after a whole lot of days and a whole lot of moose dinners, the floor was jacked into place, holes were patched and we had a room.

During this time I learned a lot about Fred.  I became almost, well, kind of fond of him.  I found myself baking pies in case he dropped by…which he most certainly did.  Fred knew everything about Alaska, having lived there most of his life.  He didn’t talk much about family, but I found out he had a daughter in Texas.  He had worked for years as an engineer and bridge builder.  He was a master gunsmith.  He could build just about anything out of almost nothing.  Doug and I had a lot of nothing…Fred built something good out of it.

Ian and David helping Doug...they were only 3 and 6!

Even when the work was finished he would stop by the house.  I think he loved the freedom the old truck gave him, although he didn’t travel far….. from his room, into town, out to our place and back to his room.

He was old, but he had much to offer.  He wanted to feel matter.  And he gave us far more than we gave him.

By the next winter we saw less and less of him…stopped seeing the old truck around town.  We heard his daughter came up from Texas to collect him.

I feel like baking a pie….just in case.

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