The rapidly fading letters, the notes, the bits and pieces of information written on cash register tape, pamphlets, and a few faded pictures and old slides depicting the years spent scraping out a life are stuffed into an old shoebox and crowding an even newer plastic container. These are the scraps left from the Alaska homesteading experience my father and mother provided as a piece of history for their young children. There is an old license plate from the car driven from Alaska to Louisiana on the long trip back to the states. It is dated long ago. My memory fails me of the exact year, but I know its old – older than my children.
This piece of family history is important. Maybe not to strangers but to the descendents of Vernon Enoch Knowles and Helen Deville Knowles it is important. Evidence of this adventure must be recorded so it’s not forgotten. I don’t want my children, grandchildren, or second, third, and forth cousins to shake their heads when questioned, not knowing the answers.
“Yes, I do believe PaPa Knowles homesteaded in Alaska at one time.”
“Uncle Vernon and Aunt Helen? Oh, I think they were the ones who decided to pick up and move off into the wilderness with four young children.”
“How many children were there? I believe the youngest (the fifth child) was born in Alaska.”
My shoebox and plastic bin is filled with the past. The letters I spoke of earlier were written by my mother as she unknowingly recorded history by pouring her heart out to my fathers sister back in Louisiana, keeping her informed of our day to day lives. They sometimes make me cry when I read them. “We were ever so poor,” as my youngest sister says. She was so young she doesn’t even remember this adventure. She needs to know.
There wasn’t much else to do enclosed in the Alaska wilderness with her young family gathered around her in the evenings. Her husband and father of her children and as yet unborn child, was off weeks at a time, working to support the family and to make enough to prove up on the homestead. So she wrote and she read to us. I’m so glad she did!
Our homestead was eleven long miles from the town of Homer and the primitive dirt road running from the highway to our home was a mile and a quarter “of treacherous mud or snow” (as Mother would sometimes describe it) depending on the season. The majority of the time our vehicles sat at the end of this usually useless road, abandoned until the need arose for a trip into town. These trips were few and far between. Gas was high, groceries were expensive, and money was tight. The Salvation Army was our one and only department and clothing store at times. Entertainment was found in our own back yard and with our siblings who were then our best and only friends. We couldn’t have been happier from a child’s point of view.
My mind is filled with memories of picking cranberries and moss berries, filling our buckets with the ripe fruit while eating two of every three picked. The deep woods surrounding our home was our playground. The wonders of the small animals scurrying around leaving footprints in the snow were a delight to our young eyes. The delicate footprints of rabbits on the snow covered ice of the spring we drew our drinking water from were pointed out by our father to our amazed minds. It was like a fairy land at times.
The spruce chickens perching in the top of the tall trees were a nice target for some gumbo for supper. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that is what my mother did with this game. She was a Louisiana girl after all! We spied moose from far away and kept cautious watch on bears roaming through the yard on their way over to the other side of Berry Hill.
This picture is of poor quality and we don’t have many. I’m really surprised it is even in color. The year it was taken was probably 1958 or 1959. I was four or five years old. I’m the cute one on the sofa on the far right! The only one with dark hair just like Daddy’s. I can remember this room of the trailer we pulled on that long trip to Alaska many years ago so well.
There are other pictures in my mind – one of Daddy digging the well, a picture of Mother holding Chip’s hand, the wind blowing through her hair as they stand on top of Berry Hill. They are safe, stored with the letters, the mementos, and the journal she once started writing.
I intend to record it all in book form so the family will always know the intense story of their past family members. At one time I did start the process of putting it in order. I lovingly typed the letters one by one deciphering each as I was on the phone with my mother firing question after question to her about dates and events and “What in the world is this word I can’t read?” She knew the answers – all of them – and I’m ever so thankful I got it down when I did because she is not around anymore to help me through this process. I so wish my father had been alive when I did this. That is my one regret.
Years ago I bound these letters into a book for my immediate family. But… there’s more – lots more – and I know I can do better. I must get this down soon, lest I forget. Images from childhood fade quickly as we age and our memories don’t always last a lifetime for others to inherit unless recorded in hard copy.
April 18, 2015 – The book has been started. I am having the most wonderful time as I am writing this book. There are so many forgotten memories as I once again read through the letters and notes. So the journey begins…
PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER, 2016
COFFEE -DRUNK OR BLIND has been published! You can find it on Amazon here in paperback or kindle, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Please leave a review on Amazon after reading. I’d love to hear your opinion about our Alaska homesteading adventure. You can read the reviews already left here.