(This was published earlier, but wanted to get my writing on one site)
Last September I returned home, to Anchorage, for the sad occasion of my sister’s funeral. Over the week, as my family gathered we toured our remembered favorites. Lunch at the Roadrunner and ordered an Alaska Banquet of course – my grown up self resisting the urge for a butterscotch milkshake and onion rings. Communal meals with family and friends we had not sat with in 20 years.
We hiked the fall trails around Service, the scent of high-bush cranberry making my soul home sick for care-free childhood days. We hiked the new, paved and groomed trail along Campbell Creek, smiling and nodding to strangers, so many strangers. Anchorage had grown bigger, and grown up. When we all scattered from Anchorage, myself to Ketchikan, my brothers to Nikiski and Tacoma, there were no Microbreweries, chain restaurants or stores such as Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch or Best Buy. Yep, Anchorage was hard to recognize, but little glimmers of familiarity remained – Club Paris, Bells Nursery, the Quick Stop (or whatever it is called now) at the corner of Klatt and Old Seward, where we would walk in the summer for a soda and few games of Pac-Man or Space Invaders. The building that once housed Family Video, where we would rent videos. The concept. Renting videos, in beta-max even. Imagine that!!
My brother and I decided to drive by our old family home in Ocean View; the house we grew up in. My parents bought that house in the late sixties, back then it was the last house on the street, edging on the forest. Lucky for us, we lived in those woods. Now it is a maze of suburban streets and homes. We parked the car on Admiralty Street and wandered around the block. There was Tom’s house, unrecognizable. Eric’s house, and Patty’s house comfortingly familiar. Back around the block we stood looking at our childhood home. Even though it was painted a God-awful color, (my sister had sent me pictures, it was not a complete shock) it still looked the same. The shutters were still in the window. Memories of my dad building them. Memories of closing them against those white cold winter days, a fire in the fireplace, curled up with a good book, me reading, always reading.
The fern my mother had carefully carried back from our Indian River cabin stood tall and lush against the house creating memories of her working in the yard, tulips and rhubarb, strawberries and my very own radish patch. My mother, fiercely battling neighbors to keep every tree possible. My dad, so proud of his green, green lawn, which meant summer chores for us. Mowing, raking trimming the edges, but it was worth it, because, with a small tug at my heart, I could still see my sister and I with towels, “sun bathing” Alaska style on that lawn. Lemon juice in our hair and baby oil for tanning lotion, a tinny radio playing Casey Cassum in the background.
Those summers growing up in Ocean View, in the Land of the Midnight-Sun, meant hours of “kick the can” and hide and seek, late, late, late into the evening, until, one by one our parents called us in. A pack of kids, exploring “over the bluff” riding our bikes to Potter’s Marsh to see how close we could get to the swarms of Canada geese goslings. Walking the railroad tracks just to walk them, to see how far we could go. The sound of that train at the crossing. John’s Park. There are houses there now, but back then, we would roll up our pants and ride our bikes along the rough logging roads for miles. Stopping in the meadow to lay down, hidden in the grass, tall around us, the only sounds were the wind and bugs and birds. Plagued, always plagued by swarms of mosquitoes.
Winters were magical also. Snow forts, snow tunnels, snow castles. Whole snow cities. Patty and I stamping words in the snow. The names of the boys we liked and “I love the Beatles.” The same kids you played Kick-the-can with in the summer, you had vicious snowball wars with in the winter. Boys against girls of course. Our own version of Lawn Darts with ski poles, me with a “pirates patch” over one eye for six weeks. Standing under streetlights with your face tilted up, watching fat lazy snowflakes drift down. Mesmerizing, calming, almost therapeutic. Running around in crazy circles to see how many you could catch with your tongue.
Winter Saturdays meant skiing! Long before Hilltop was around, we skied at Arctic Valley and Alyeska, back when a lift ticket cost less than $20.00. Rounding up ski gear. Stiff leather gloves, layers and layers of clothes, ski boots, poles, and of course, someone always forgot something. Girdwood. So many memories.
Those woods that were so friendly in the summer were dark and mysterious in the winter, branches heavy with snow. Those super-cold winter days, the trees blanketed in hoar-frost, ice crystals shimmering in the air and the sky. That sky, that pale winter blue sky hazy with cold.
But here we were now standing in the street, flooded with memories. It was autumn, 2015 and we were sad. Ray and I stood, smiled weakly and took a picture in front of the house, got in our rental car and went to the airport to pick up our father.