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The Best Christmas Present Was Made Of Memories

Dear Mother,

We have encouraged you for years to sit down at the computer and write a book about your and Daddy’s adventures in Alaska. The following pages include letters from 1961-1963. The letters are from you to Aunt Ticia and PaPa and Aunt Letaine. It is hard to believe that you and Daddy pulled a two bedroom house trailer behind a truck for 4040 miles with four children in tow – children ranging in years from two to six. The trip began on June 17, 1959 at 6:00 am with $1000 and a credit card. The Knowles family arrived in the state of Alaska on July 1, 1959 at 8:50 am. The journey begins…


Naomi, Debbie, Lindy, Chip, and Tish


In the year 2000 I decided to compile all the letters my mother had written to family while we were homesteading in Alaska. You have to understand my mother wrote with great detail and these letters were sometimes eight to ten pages long describing the scenery, her feelings, our feelings, and much more. I am so thankful that part of my life was documented as it was.

With the encouragement of my younger sister, Tish, we kept it a secret from all the family. Yes, they knew I was typing the letters up so everyone could have a copy, but they didn’t know that I intended to bind them in book form. I had to keep in constant touch with my mother so that she could decipher some of the handwriting for me. (She wrote like a doctor. I guess that was the nurse in her!) I would call her and read a snippet of the line that was giving me a problem and she would instantly remember what she had written. It all made sense then.

Tish and I decided Christmas 2000 would be a good time to present everyone with a copy. Pressed for time, every free minute I had was put into the transcribing. I solicited writings from my brother and sisters about what they remembered about the trip to add at the end of the letters. We were all very young at the time, but it made a big impact in our lives and you will be amazed at what we remembered! Tish was born in Alaska and didn’t remember a thing. These letters were special to her because it gave her some memories.

Just in the nick of time I finished and the bound copies were ready to mail. The plan was to mail  three copies to my mother in Louisiana for her, Naomi, and Chip with orders not to open until Christmas Eve. They all lived close and would be spending Christmas Eve together as  our family always did. Two copies were mailed to Arkansas where Debbie and Tish lived. They always spent Christmas Eve together opening gifts with their families. (This time together was their Louisiana Christmas!) Harry and Andrew and I had just moved to Florida and sadly, another trip was not in the cards for us.

Tish helped to coordinate the times so that everyone opened their letters at the same time. I wish I could have been there to see the look on my mothers face when she opened that book. I also wished that I had done it sooner so that Daddy could have been with her at the time. She grumbled a lot about that crazy trip and adventure, but we all know she loved it as much as he did.

I still have the letters and am glad I did it when Mother was around to help untangle them all. I also have a roll of cash register tape she wrote on as we traveled. This I am going to transcribe too. My next project after I finish with ‘What Line’ will be to write about ‘The Alaska Years’ and self-publish as a book. I want to talk to everyone that knew us at the time and hear what they have to say about our adventure so that I can add it to the book. It should be very interesting.

I also plan on posting some of the letters on this blog. What do you think? Did you have a special Christmas?




About Elle Knowles

Elle Knowles lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband and off-at-college-most-of-the-time son. She has four daughters, one son, and eleven beautiful grandchildren. 'Crossing the Line' is her first novel. The sequel 'What Line' is a work in progress. Recently published is Coffee-Drunk Or Blind - a nonfiction story of homesteading in the Alaska wilderness with her parents and four siblings, told through letters by her mother and remembered accounts from the family.

4 responses »

  1. This made me cry. Today would have been Mother’s 85th birthday. Happy birthday, Mother. Love, Tish


  2. I remember that Christmas very well! It was nice to have a written copy of letters Mother had written. Wish this self published thing had been around when she was alive. She would have been a great author. You will have to do it for her!
    Love, Debbie



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