Maxwell the Turkey

I just couldn’t post this before Thanksgiving.  I’m sure you’ll understand why.  And besides, Maxwell is a Christmas story.  And there’s still time to forget this by then.

Long ago and far away in Alaska, my husband decided we would raise our own turkey for the holidays.  It would be a good lesson, he said, to our young sons… cycle of life, raising your own food, yada, yada.

So he brought this little thing home and we put him in a pen along with our son’s duck, Donald, who turned out to be a girl… and a few assorted geese… which disappeared when they realized they could fly.

So every day I checked the feeder and water.  It didn’t bother me… at first.  The turkey seemed content.  But it felt wrong that he didn’t have a name.  I mean, Donald the duck had a name, even tho he was really a girl.

So I named our turkey Maxwell.

The days got shorter and colder.  We turned a tool shed into a turkey-duck-house, lining it with fresh straw.  We even brought an extension cord and light out for those really cold days.  Remember… it was Alaska.

And I became more conflicted as each day passed.

Every afternoon… I was the one to check on Donald and Maxwell.  And, you know, they liked me.  They really liked me. They looked forward to my visits.  Because I brought the food…

And as Maxwell got bigger and plumper I kept thinking, “you poor fool… you’ll be on our Christmas table in a few weeks… you should run away… why don’t you run away??  Please!  Run away!!!!”

But Maxwell just looked at me with his big turkey eyes full of love.

Finally his last day came… and I made sure to be gone.  When I got home, Maxwell was hanging upside down in our car port in the most undignified way.

I knew we would rue the day.  Yes, we surely would.

Now it was almost Christmas.  My very civilized parents arrived from California.  I was unsure what they would think about a dead turkey hanging upside down in the car port.

… so, with snow on the ground and Christmas excitement in the air, I pretended it was like the butcher shop scene in Dicken’s Christmas Carol.  Don’t think they picked up on that vibe.

By then it was too late anyway.  It all went down hill fast….

It was Maxwell.  And it was time to pay.

The day my parents arrived the temp dropped to 30 below zero, highly unusual for our area.

The heater blew out on my car.

The water pipes froze.

Mom and Dad got the flu… the stomach flu.  With no running water in the house.

I, being great with my third child and due the end of December, got sick too.  I don’t remember much about those few days.  I don’t remember Christmas dinner.  I only saw Maxwell’s turkey eyes.

And this child who was supposed to be born the end of December… didn’t show up until January 19th.  I know what it means to be a… stuffed turkey.

So I’ve got to tell you… naming an animal you intend to eat is stupid.

Turkey eyes…. yea, they will haunt you, people.

P.S. – this is absolutely a true story.

Using my Laser Vision

For a couple weeks now, a picture has been floating in my head… this little boy, red boots, red jacket, green hat… standing on the edge of a frozen highway… alone.

It’s one of those life snapshots I’ll never forget.  The picture, the sounds, the circumstances are as real to me this moment as they were back then… the day we crashed our big truck on the way to Alaska.  I wrote about that here .

So, I am stuck in the cab… Doug, hanging upside down, is trying to pull me up.  Ian’s screams from the highway are so loud it was as if he had a megaphone to his lips.  In spite of the distance our eyes were locked tight.

I couldn’t physically reach him.  But I felt if I didn’t take my eyes from his, I could will him not to slip backwards onto the road, will him not to slip down the ravine with the truck, will all danger away from him.

Reality of this world says I could do none of those things, but at that moment I had to believe I could.

I needed him to keep looking at me.

A few days ago I was reading the book… 14th chapter of Matthew, actually.

Jesus is walking on water.  Peter and the rest of the guys are in the boat, fearful of the storm.  (I’m loosely paraphrasing here as I’m sure the word “guys” cannot be found in any translation)  Peter said he would walk on water to Jesus if it really was “Him”.  Jesus said “come” and Peter walked.  He actually walked on the water.  But then he looked at the choppy sea, felt the wind, got scared and started to sink.  Jesus rescued him asking “why did you doubt?”

So now I’ve got this story in my head… and that little boy’s picture in my heart.  And I think I know what’s going on.

Frightened by the unknown, confused by what I hear, I’ve been yelling to Him thru the megaphone ~ ~

“Are You sure about this?”

“I don’t understand… aren’t I supposed to understand by now?”

“I don’t think I’m doing this right”

And every time I ask those questions, plus oh, so many more… I hear – –

“why do you doubt?”

“keep looking at me”

“keep looking at me”

“Keep.  Looking.  At.  Me.”

Why do I always forget that?  He leans towards me with grace and I look everywhere else but straight ahead.

Today I lock on the laser vision… and pray I remember to do it again tomorrow.


And what happened to a frightened boy stranded on the side of a desolate, Alaskan highway?

Well, after we were rescued, and as we pulled away from the sorry sight of our truck and earthly goods left behind, Ian started waving.

“are you waving at our truck?”

“no, waving at my angel.”

We all smiled, “so… the truck is your angel?”

“NO!” looking exasperated at how we could be so blind…”my angel sitting on truck!”

And there you have it… believe it or not.

I do.

Meeting Evil

You know that sense when you feel at risk in a place or situation?  Or you meet a person who makes you feel uncomfortable?  I know it well…I’m sure most do.  A friend sent me a news link this week that brought it home again.

It was early December, 1981.  A former co-worker of Doug’s had invited us to stop by his home in Anchorage.  Bob had always wanted to meet us, so he told Doug.  What better time than the holidays.

I was mystified that Doug even cared to visit.  Our good friend Tom, Bob and Doug had worked together for several months at a now defunct Anchorage bakery.  I’d heard many stories of Bob…none too complimentary.  Doug and Tom worked as a team and had a great friendship besides.  They never could get in step with Bob.

At any rate, heading into the “big city” was always a treat.  Plus we needed to shop before Christmas.  A brief visit would work in fine.

Bob must have been watching because he was out to meet us on the driveway.  He made a bee-line to me…to help the pregnant lady maneuver the snow and ice.  I didn’t need or want help and I felt he sensed that.  His grip on my arm was uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, we’d arrived with Ian-8, David-5, Andrew-11 months and Daniel-“in process” – due in four months.  I’ve never been embarrassed to take my kids anywhere.  They had manners.  Still, when we stepped into their living room I had a sudden vision of David throwing up on their spotless carpet…not that he normally threw up on carpets.  I heard Doug admonishing the boys to “take care”…”don’t track snow”.  Bob chuckled, offering “they would be fine”.

Introductions were made to Bob’s wife, a son and a daughter.  Mother and children were polite but expressionless.  Ian and David were ushered down the hall to play.  I told Doug later that at that moment, I felt we’d been part of a Stepford Wives movie scene.  There were a few scenes from the day that would play over in my mind for a long time.

I couldn’t tell you what color was on the walls or furnishings in the living room.  It was an immaculate room, sterile actually and as expressionless as the family we’d just met.  The one thing that did stand out was the christmas tree.

The Tree – It was small, symmetrical, perfectly shaped and sitting on a low table.  It was the type of tree my mother liked…the branches were far apart so ornaments could dangle freely and be easily seen.  The ornaments on this tree were few, but exquisite.  I asked about them and Bob insisted, again, on taking my arm to escort me to the tree.  As he blathered about his ornament collection, all I wanted was to pull free of his grip.

Motherhood – Doug and Bob chatted a bit about work, but time and time again Bob would turn the conversation to me.  He noted how clean my children were, how gently I tended Andrew, how fortunate it was I was a good mother… fortunate for me and for my family.  He pontificated on motherhood in general.  I didn’t understand his “fortunate” comment.  Bizarre doesn’t come close to describing his interest in the cleanliness of my kids.  In short…it was creepy.

Through all this I don’t recall his wife speaking much…perhaps a submissive yes or no.  She made coffee and just as we were about to sit down and have a cup, Bob ordered her to watch Andrew for a few minutes.  He wanted to show Doug and I something……..

The Basement – Bob was an avid hunter and an accomplished bush pilot.  His hunting trophies and weapons were displayed in the basement and he wanted Doug and I to see them.

The guys were downstairs in a flash.  I followed slowly, not wanting to go.  I felt as though I’d been commanded and had no choice.

Just as in the living room, no specific detail stood out for me other than the trophy heads lining the walls.  The room felt dark and cold.  I couldn’t bring myself to step further inside and felt an odd panic within.

“Leave, Run!” ran through my head.  Then Ian came down the stairs.

Up to that point Bob’s voice had been soft and patronizing.  Suddenly, with Ian next to me, he shouted “GET OUT!”.

This basement is not for children!” he boomed.  The voice was harsh…not the one we’d been listening to for the past hour.

Ian ran. I followed. Within a few moments Doug was upstairs too.  He thanked them for their hospitality, told them we had to go.  Bob’s demeanor had changed dramatically.  He seemed more than ready for us to leave.

In spite of the weather, I don’t recall taking time to properly boot, button, snap or zip our winter gear….we just got out of there.  Once in the car, Doug and I agreed that was one of our more weird experiences.

For a long time I couldn’t shake the creepy feelings of that day.  I thought often of his children…how sad they didn’t laugh and smile.  I’ve wondered about their lives since.

In the fall of 1983, I watched the evening news in disbelief, as Robert Hansen, Bob, was led away in handcuffs.  He was later convicted…a serial killer.  His focus was young prostitutes.

And the basement… he took many of them there, apparently when the family was out-of-town.  Hidden in the basement were “trophies” of some of his victims.

Books have been written about Bob.  And here is the link about an upcoming movie on his life.  I’m not sure I want to see it.

But I do know for sure, when that small voice speaks in your head and heart …. you should listen.

Summer Pea Pickin’

It made me happy to see a grandson in a garden.  It got me to thinking… I need a vegetable garden of my own. 

This young man was very proud of his leaf.  He ate fresh peas and called them pea-candy.  I hope he will always think of veggies that way.  Hmmm…we’ll see how long that lasts.

One thing that will last are the memories.

Their mother took them to pick vegetables in her grandfather’s garden.  I’m sure he enjoyed the visit.  They all enjoyed the bounty of the harvest.

Someday these boys will be men.  They will leave home.  My daughter-in-law will have these pictures…..and a heart full of memories of activities shared and relationships nurtured.

She’ll hope her boys remember too.  I suspect they will.

Doug and I knew nothing about gardens when we moved to Alaska.  But that’s what books and fathers-in-law are for………

Cliff, Doug and Ian begin the garden project - Eagle River, Alaska

Doug planted the big stuff out back………….

While Ian and I planted nice, neat rows of peas out front.

And in early fall, after the first traces of snow hit the ground, our local moose family stopped by to clean up the leftovers…….

We never went big for the gardening scene….too many other priorities during those years.  But there never was an August that son-picked fireweed didn’t grace our kitchen table.


The wild raspberries Ian and David found never made it to my kitchen, but absolutely found their way into small stomachs.

And late every August the boys and I headed into the woods to pick highbush cranberries.  Although I don’t recall them eating much of my cranberry jam, I hope they remember the picking.  I do.

Every garden of memory has some not-so-fun-stuff growing inside too.  I find time and faith weeds that out.  Only good stuff left.

There’s still time to plant more good stuff…to remember and to eat.  I need to get busy.

Robert, best bean picker

   Pea pickin’ grandchild photos courtesy of their Mom –  I am grateful……

How I Broke My Snow Hatin’ Daddy’s Nose

During my overly imaginative childhood, I had dreams.  I planned to sing and dance my way to stardom.  If that didn’t work I’d be a world-famous accordionist.  This was most likely influenced by watching too many Lawrence Welk shows …required viewing in my parents’ home.

My folks thought the accordion was the safest “dream of the week” so Dad rented one and made sure I got to my weekly lesson.  Mom made sure I practiced.  While my friends labored over their common place pianos, clarinets and guitars, I proudly marched forward with my accordion.

After the Silent Night church recital and Skaters Waltz performance for my grandparents, Dad bought me my very own.  It was red and shiny and I loved it.  As I launched myself from the middle of the kitchen floor to give him the biggest hug ever, my head made contact with his finely chiseled nose.  He whirled around, stepped (briskly) out to his garage …. where he stayed for quite awhile.

Dad’s nose recovered and I went on to learn a rousing version of the William Tell overture.  Eventually the lessons stopped and I never became world-famous…which you’ve probably figured out by now.  Like so many childish plans, the accordion dream went by the wayside.  It took Dad awhile to stop flinching when I moved in for a hug.

Fast forward 20+ years …. I begged my parents to come to Alaska for Christmas.  Mom was certain Dad would never agree….”he hates the snow, you know that”.

I admit I was selfish.  I wasn’t thinking about Dad’s snow issues.  I wanted them to come and continued to plead.  I assured Dad the weather in our area was relatively moderate.  Remember that word – – – “relatively”.  Coldest temps hovered in the teens and 20s.  And we’d had a couple Christmases of practically no snow at all.

Were I a bit more compassionate back then, I would have understood Dad’s problem with the fluffy white stuff.  A WWII vet, he served during the bitterly cold Battle of the Bulge.  For weeks, from December 1944 thru January 1945, they battled not only the enemy, but severe cold and frostbite.  Unlike some, he resisted the urge to take his boots off to alleviate the pain…a choice which ultimately saved his feet.  When I asked how he was rescued, he stared blankly.

“Well, I guess we rescued ourselves”.  He explained there were no convoys to drive them, there was no helicopter to fly them.  They walked.  And they carried their buddies who couldn’t.  That’s some tough soldiering.  For his part he was awarded a Purple Heart and months of treatment from a field hospital in France to New York City to Fort Carson, Colorado.  He made it home many months later with all his fingers and toes…one of the lucky ones.

It’s no wonder he hated snow…and likely the reason he and Mom settled in a quiet, coastal town in sunny California.

Mom and Dad did come to Alaska that Christmas.  And as the law of averages would have it we had the biggest snowfall EVER just days before they arrived.  The day I picked them up from the airport….the temp dropped to 30 below zero.  The heater in my car blew out and I had more ice on the inside of the windshield than the outside.  And like the good soldier he was and is, Dad spent his first day of vacation outside with Doug, still 30 below zero, installing a new heater core in my car.

Good thing this is was a little scary to see my father like this!

I’ve just returned from spending several days with he and Mom, a rare Father’s Day visit.  We looked at old photos …. laughed at the funny and not so funny times.  They are amazing givers and I am always overwhelmed at what they’ve done for me and my family.  In spite of the trials, tribulations and misadventures I inflicted upon them…. they kept coming back to visit no matter where we lived.

I understand it all now after raising my own family.  You do things for your kids to encourage, to teach, to share …. and to just be with them.  And in the end the failures and flubs don’t matter.  All that is left is the connection and relationship…..and in my case, a shiny, red accordion…. a little on the antiquey side now.

Mom and Dad, a few birthdays ago with two great-grandsons.

No Place for Quitters ….. 5th of series

Before our move to Alaska, my life was pretty safe.  I’d never really met an on purpose mean person.  I was about to.

The tow truck operator …. I do remember his name but will keep it to myself.  From now on I’ll refer to him as “the man” and his place of business as “the shop”.  I forgave him years ago.

He had a gas station/car repair/tow service…I think the only one in town.  There’s no doubt he did a tremendous service for us.  He had to use his biggest truck and cherry picker to pull our truck from its unhappy place.  It was an all day affair that involved several people and Doug.

We knew it would cost ….he made it clear upfront.  But when we arrived at his shop, he demanded more.

Tok is a small community … it was smaller then.  There really wasn’t anyone to complain to.  He held all our earthly goods on his property.  We paid him.  This left us dangerously short of cash for the rest of the trip.  Not to mention, we didn’t know if we had a running truck.

He also offered to fix the truck …. for more money of course.  No surprise…we declined.

Most of Doug’s tools were smooshed in the damaged back-end of the truck.  We couldn’t risk opening it until we reached our destination – or – till the truck was declared officially dead.  So Doug began his “assessment”.  As a non-mechanic with few tools available he was in a tough spot.  We unloaded the cab and tilted it forward so he could get at the engine.  We looked like the Northern Exposure version of the Grapes of Wrath…. bashed up truck, personal goods strewn about.

I had to find a way for Ian and I to make it thru the day while Doug worked.  With the cab tilted we couldn’t sit there.  And keeping in mind…this was Alaska…still in the grip of winter… around 10 degrees F. ….it wasn’t a very hospitable environment for a pregnant gal and a toddler.  There was no Denny’s on the corner.  There was no corner!

The shop was on the edge of town…very little else around.  Across the road and down was a small restaurant with a “No Loitering” sign out front.  So who was around to loiter??  Me?  I was beginning to take things very personally.

Inside the shop’s “waiting room”, a few feet from Doug and our truck, was the man who had just ripped us off, two large dogs, and an older couple I assumed were his parents.  I asked if we might pop in occasionally to thaw out.  He said no….that’s where his dogs stayed and they didn’t like strangers.

So Ian and I took a walk….came back frozen to the bone ….I asked if we could just step inside the workshop area…no one was in there.  He said no…the shop was full of dangerous equipment.  I asked if we could use the restroom.  He said no…he didn’t have a restroomHe had made himself perfectly clear.

Ian and I left for the restaurant.  They were friendlier…as long as I was buying something.  So that’s what we did …. we’d pop into the restaurant for hot chocolate and the bathroom… walk back to Doug,  sit on a box wrapped in blankets, read stories….walk back to the restaurant and order some small thing….and on and on that went.  Every now and then Doug had something I could help with.  We just kept as busy as we could to stay warm.  All the while … the man, his dogs, his parents sat inside watching.

And Ian… as he’d been throughout the entire trip, was a trooper.

Later in the day, while the man was gone on a call, the older gentleman appeared at our truck with a tool he thought Doug could use.  It made all the difference.  By late afternoon the truck was running.  It didn’t look like it should run, but it was!

It was an amazing moment of triumph to shove our belongings and ourselves into the cab and drive to the motel.  More amazing… Doug had not taken a single break all day, working on the engine with bare hands in freezing temps.

But before resting our weary bones, we stopped at the weigh station to learn what our chances were for clearance to hit the road.  The trooper was amused by the sight of us, but at least he was nice.  He gave us directions to the general store.  We were to get more heavy-duty rope to secure the back end…and we needed working tail lights.  He told us where we could get the best dinner in town, wished us a good night’s rest and told us to come back in the morning.

We did all that plus…. Doug fixed the gaping hole in my door with cardboard and duct tape.  He created a window for his door with cardboard, clear plastic and more duct tape.  We McGillivrays do love our duct tape!  And I loved his determination and creativity.

Ian the road warrior

And we did get to Anchorage, of course.  It’s just over 300 miles from Tok, but it took us two more days.  The poor old truck had issues, but it got us there.

 Anchorage is really the true beginning of our story…. but I’ve got to take a break and spend some time in the present day.  This journey has been long …..I’m worn out.

From Light To Dark ….. 4th of series

“HE is before all things, and in HIM all things hold together”… Colossians 1:17

Wish I’d known that verse before we left Destruction Bay.  But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.

What I did know that morning …. God’s handiwork dazzled our eyes around every turn.  It was too big to capture with a cheap camera. 

What I couldn’t know …by day’s end we would enter the darkest time I’d experienced to that point in life.

Because blog posts shouldn’t be entire books…and because I’m thinking some of this should be a book so I can expand…and because I’m not writing a travel log…I’m moving quickly thru this next bit.  Much of the next couple days were a blur anyway, with exceptions burned in memory.  I’ll focus on the exceptions.

As pleasant as the Mounty was at the BC border …his U.S. counterpart at the Alaska border was the opposite…rude, suspicious, unkind.  Doug unpacked a lot from the back of our truck for inspection.  As feared, we couldn’t get it all back in so stowed tire and tow chains under my seat…other odds and ends filled the cab.

With a sleeping child in my lap and Doug focused on a difficult stretch of highway, we rolled on.  As we crested a ridge and started downhill, we were surprised to see another vehicle approach.  We’d had the road to ourselves all day.

The tractor-trailer rig, pulling a huge load of pipe, was moving fast…right down the center.  I thought he would move over.  At any moment.  He did not.  Doug moved as far right as he could.

The trucker stayed on center.  The two lane highway had no shoulders and steep ravines on either side.  It felt like forever, but I’m sure it was only moments as Doug battled the inevitable.

Our right front wheel went off the road.  With one last effort to keep us from going in head first, Doug cranked the steering wheel hard…brought the front tire back up as the rear end of the truck swung out, over the road’s edge, then down.

Rear wheels downhill, front wheels uphill…we were positioned like astronauts for take-off.  The truck slid sideways thru the snow about 50 feet until something snagged the tires and flipped us on to the passenger side.  Then we stopped.  Then it was silent ….for a moment.

The mad scramble began… we had to get out.  Doug smelled gasoline.  I couldn’t move.  I handed Ian up to Doug.  He climbed out, dropped into the snow, climbed up to the highway to deposit Ian.  I discovered the tow chains stored beneath the seat had wrapped themselves around my legs.

As I worked at the chains I could see my tiny child standing on the edge of the highway…screaming hysterical, shaking, his arms reaching for me.  I stared out that windshield, eyes laser-locked to Ian’s, and I could not believe how this place had drawn us in.  This place so beautiful, had turned into a nightmare.  I was wrapped in the most helpless, hopelessness …tighter than the chains on my legs. 

As Doug got back to me, a car pulled up and a man swooped Ian into a blanket… we got the chains off and me out… and we stood in disbelief on the side of a highway in the middle of a frozen nowhere… our life lay in a heap at the bottom.

Of course, I know now that really wasn’t so.  Our life was us…. whole and together.  The only physical injury was a cut on my hand.  But at that moment, I felt as God-forsaken as the scene looked.

This man and family….returning to their home in Fairbanks, took us up the highway to 40 Mile Roadhouse.  They helped us settle in, get a room, eat a meal, then they were off.  Their kindness was soothing.

We had nothing but ourselves.  A state trooper took Doug back to the truck and they gathered whatever would be immediately useful…a few clothes, diapers, food, my bag which held all our important papers and money.  He helped Doug make arrangements with a tow service for the morning.  He gave us his number to call if we needed medical help… anything at all… he’d do what he could.

The trooper and the family from Fairbanks were the kind of people we’d read about in the north country…. not the border agentnot the trucker who didn’t stop to see if we were dead or alive.  Nothing made sense to me at that point.

Ian and I spent the next day in a cabin at 40 Mile.  Doug and the tow truck driver headed to the scene… our version of “Destruction Bay”.  We had no idea how anything would turn out.

But at the end of that long day, I was overwhelmed to see the tow truck, with ours on behind.  Doug was ecstatic.  The fear was they would manage to pull the truck up onto the road, but all the contents would spill out the back.

Nothing spilled.  Everything made it out of the ravine.  “In Him all things hold together”… our lives, our family…even the back door of a truck.

The driver would pick us up in the morning and bring us into Tok.  He was taking our truck to his shop there.  We had no idea if it would be road-worthy.  All we could do was celebrate one small victory and pray for the next step.

Into the Snow ….. 3rd of series

…if you’ve started reading our great adventure today, you can find parts one and two here and hereWe’ve a few more pages left to this story……

It was snowing lightly that first morning in Haines.  Reports said blizzard, so we hurried thru breakfast.  We should have savored it ….it was to be the last “normal” meal for a while.

We would be within Alaska’s borders for a short time before crossing into British Columbia.  The Haines Highway would take us into BC, up the Chilkat Pass and into Yukon Territory.  Our next fuel stop was planned for Haines Junction, YT.  Our next sleep would be Destruction Bay, YT.  Ominous name, eh?  Thought I’d throw in that “eh” in honor of Doug’s Canadian heritage.

Speaking of Doug, there was a visible change in his demeanor as we hit the road.  It seemed like he’d been driving truck thru snow all his life.  There was a new confidence I’d never seen.

And at only two and a half years old, Ian was amazing.  He sat in his special seat between Doug and I like a miniature scout.  His eyes scanned the road like his father, he noticed obscure sights along the way… the only things missing were the coonskin cap and buckskin jacket.  He had his moments, understandably, but I will always be grateful for his goodness.

Not far out of Haines was the most spectacular sight….trees, still winter bare were covered with black dots.  Closer we got, the dots were actually eagles.  Hundreds of them.  We’d entered the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.  Doug was convinced they were saying “Welcome…this is your new home”.

Snow was heavy by the time we reached the BC border.  The Mounty who checked our papers was friendly…quite chatty actually, like Doug.  I thought maybe it was a Canadian thing.  We opened up the back of the truck hoping he would not feel the need to investigate more thoroughly.  Luckily, he did not.  It wasn’t that we had anything to hide, we just had no clue how we’d get it back in again!

At the BC border, Pleasant Camp

He proclaimed us well prepared for the journey.  We had tools in case of breakdown, extra tires, extra fuel and survival supplies.  He gave us weather info, suggested we take it slow and drive in the center of the road when there was no oncoming traffic.  This seemed strange to me.  Then he said something a bit disturbing…

“As you head up the pass, don’t stop for anything…not for a hitchhiker…not for a breakdown.  Keep this truck rolling forward.”

The Mounties patrolled that stretch of highway regularly and they would give help where needed.  If we stopped we ran the risk of getting stuck ourselves.

It was hard to imagine driving past someone in need….we weren’t raised that way.  Intellectually we understood his advice.  I wondered if we could really do it.

It didn’t take long to be tested.  We recognized cars and trucks we’d disembarked with along the route.  There were folks hitchhiking thru the snow and cold temps…pure craziness!  Then on the steepest part of the climb we saw the first of several wrecks – a truck had slipped off the edge of the road… a little farther up, a car.  The people were out and about, unharmed, digging out…or attempting to.

It was hard to just keep going.  But we did.  Slowly, carefully our big old truck just kept rolling up the mountain.  Ian and I didn’t make a peep.  Doug was totally focused.  I was proud of him.

We made it to the top of the pass, beyond the tree line even.  For the first time in hours we stopped the truck, stretched our legs and yelled just to hear our echos.

Crossing into the Yukon

We rolled on, taking advantage of day light hours.  We fueled up in Haines Junction, snacked on food we had and continued toward Destruction Bay.  There was no oncoming traffic that day…we stuck to the center of the road like the Mounty said.

By the time we got there it was dark.  We were beat.  The kitchen was closed and the room was small and odd…unwelcoming.  It had been a surreal day of highs and lows…I was sinking toward the lows.

Doug and Ian crashed immediately.  I couldn’t turn my mind off.  What was I doing out here?  Instead of hearing the next door neighbor’s dog bark, I was listening to wolves howling.

Doug and Ian out for the night - Destruction Bay, YT

I was awake most of the night.  I read.  I prayed.  I wondered if we were doing right by Ian.  I double checked our money and maps ….something felt “off”, but I didn’t know what.

Our home away from home at Destruction Bay.

Morning came.  We checked out of the strange little room and pointed the truck toward Alaska.  We hoped to cross the border by noon and spend that night in Tok.  At least, that was the plan.

Courage to Stand ….. 2nd of series

I’ve known my husband over 43 years.  Doug is an original thinker.  He’s not afraid to try the untested.  He has faults, but being wimpy is not one of them.

It’s one thing to sit behind a computer screen and type what you believe….it’s something totally different to stand in front of people and say and/or do what you believe …and run the risk of criticism.

He’s taken that risk consistently.  I can’t say I’ve always been happy about it….but I’ve always appreciated his courage.

We’d been married 6 years by the time our journey to Alaska began.  During those years he’d been involved in multiple business attempts, 2 or 3 different jobs and a couple of starts and stops at college.  A lot of change to pack into 6 years.

I was confused by it all …. sometimes angry.  We had a child.  Not to mention, my own goals and dreams were paying a price.  There were times I felt like quitting, but couldn’t get passed that “for better or worse” thing.

I’ll give it to Doug that he was (is) a hard worker.  He put himself out there 110%.  He was struggling to find that elusive “something”.  It wasn’t an easy time.

Unfortunately, his choices labeled him.  A friend from church once told me we were viewed as the couple most likely to divorce.  Nice friend.  Every different job, business attempt, whatever…. was just another “Doug thing”.  And so the move to Alaska was viewed by some as another crazy “Doug thing” that wouldn’t fly.

But as said in the last post, this was different.  After the shock wore off, I felt right about what we were doing. 

Some will never agree, but I think it was perfect timing (except for being pregnant and toting a toddler with us, oh, and it was still winter!).  We both had excellent job skills.  No matter where we went we knew we could work.  We paid off all our debts after selling the house.  A big bank account would have been nice …but we didn’t have that.  We had enough money for our needs….and enough dreams and plans for 20 people.

Doug bought a used Dodge, medium duty, tilt-cab truck with a 16 foot box.  Inside that box we packed our earthly belongings.  The plan was to drive to Seattle, take the ferry to Haines, Alaska, then drive to Anchorage.

Doug and his dad, Cliff, built a special “perch” in the cab for Ian.  I suppose taking a two-year old on such a trip was not the most brilliant thing in the world, but it was what it was.  So Ian had his own special place….he could sit between Doug and I, or lay down and sleep, or play with his toys.  It was a soft, cushy, warm little spot.

When the reality of our move finally settled in, my mother flew into high gear with her sewing machine, Doug’s mother with her knitting needles.  My dad, Cliff and Doug were constantly tuning and tweaking the truck.  And they spent many exasperated hours packing and re-packing all of our “must haves”.

If we knew then what we know now, we’d have taken very little.  Our thought was to take all the basics to set up a household when we got there.  For all of our selling and giving away…we took far more than we needed.

So, we spent a last Christmas in the first house we ever bought……….

We moved in with Doug’s folks for a few weeks………..

Then we hit the road on March 7, 1976.  I didn’t know saying goodbye would be so hard.

Brooke and Ian, MV Columbia

We drove our big, old truck onto the ferry, MV Columbia on a Friday morning in Seattle……………

Doug and Ian on the top deck

Ian, the Alaskan adventurer

………early the next Monday morning we disembarked in Haines.  Our feet were on Alaskan soil, well, snow.  We ate a big breakfast, piled in the truck and headed for the Canadian border.

Crossing into Canada

  This was the day the real adventure began.


The End and the Beginning …..1st of series

My first meeting with Doug he talked about living in Alaska.  But he talked then (as he talks now) about a lot of things.  I didn’t give it much importance. 

Personally, life was good.  We bought our first home a couple of years earlier, had a beautiful 2 year old son, had just found out our second child was on the way….plus I’d gotten a huge promotion at work.  That meant we could pay our mortgage AND buy groceries.

Doug’s work wasn’t so good.  He was restless.  He was regularly going to the library to check the want ads in Anchorage.  We lived in San Jose, California.  Hmmmm?  (By the way, this was pre-internet day so you had to research the old-fashioned way.) 

Reading of a bakery for sale in Anchorage, we scraped the airfare together.  Two days later he returned euphoric.  Anchorage was everything he thought it would be.  The bakery was a good possibility, but no decisions were made.  End of story……until I returned home one day to find the FOR SALE sign in our front lawn. 

I criedI pleaded.  I bargained.  I told him I could never leave my family and friends.  I could never take our children away from their grandparents.  I didn’t look good in white (was stretching for that one).  I didn’t know how to drive in the snow, etc., etc.

I went to bed and cried some more.  I prayed.  I tried to think it thru logically.  I had to admit I’d never seen Doug with such resolve about anything.  I asked God to make this totally clear to me. 

VERY NEXT day….house sold.

Thus began an interesting time in our relationship….probably my most favorite.  Reason being, Doug and I put our heads together and made an actual plan….on paper even.  If our sons knew us then they would be so proud. 

But first we had to tell our parents.

Doug’s took it well.  They made a major move from Canada to California years earlier so had more understanding.

My dad is quiet, stoic, very supportive.  He thinks logically, before speaking, and even if he thought we were totally nuts he didn’t show it.

My mother’s reaction was very similar to mine.  She cried.  She came up with creative reasons why this would not be a good idea.  She made an appointment for me to talk to the church pastor.  She made an appointment for herself to talk to the church pastor.

But ultimately, this was a done deal.  And in my heart of hearts….even though I was scared, even though I didn’t want to leave the people I loved…. I was excited.  I always wanted to do something “different” and this was certainly that.

There really wasn’t a lot of time to dilly dally anyway…we’d sold our home.  The new owner wasn’t in a big rush, so we had a time reprieve.  I gave my notice at work.  Doug started selling stuff.  We gave things away.  We made list after list of what we truly needed to take with us.  We were, dare I say, becoming practical.   

And whenever Doug and I could get away we’d head to the library and pour over the Anchorage newspapers to get a feel for cost of living, places to rent, etc.  My in-laws gave us a brand new Milepost to plan our trip.  It was dog-eared and memorized before we even left California. 

Our status quo life had ended.  We were stepping into a life which would change us forever.

This is not a short story.  It’s been a long time since I’ve visited these memories and it will take time to unfold.  I think it will be interesting…. there will be pictures!  So until next time………..

Doug and Ian aboard the MV Columbia....Alaska bound