If there was ever a woman with the patience of Job, my mother held the title. She shoveled snow. We helped some – usually tracking in more than she shoveled. She sewed and we sat under her feet with scraps of begged fabric of our own to play with. She cooked and we all had a hand in the pot, though my oldest sister turned out to be the better cook. She read – always with one of us on her lap helping to turn the pages – whether it was time to or not. She taught us to read early. This was more likely than not so we would leave her in peace to get her own books read.
She took us berry picking, making it a game and including a picnic for fun. There were moss berries and cranberries and I’m sure there were others, but these are the ones that stick in my mind. We picked some – ate more. She always had plenty to bake a pie or cobbler for our reward.
Our diets included fresh fish such as Halibut, moose, and rhubarb pie. Having moved to Alaska from Louisiana, this was not our usual fare.
Mother named the wildlife stopping in our clearing to munch on berries and twigs. We had a moose family by the name of Shadrack, Samson, and Delilah. She said she could tell they had been by for a visit because one had a broken hoof that left evidence on the ground. She would get out the binoculars and scan the tree line for bear. Knowing they couldn’t read, she hoped they knew they should be more afraid of us than we were of them, as it was written in books.
At one point during those homestead years she took leave of her senses and decided to homeschool us with Calvert Courses. I’m not sure if the reason for this was because of that long trek up and down that ‘damn road’ twice a day she hated, or for the convenience of not having to dress three little girls, ages six, seven, and eight to catch a school bus each morning along with a boy-child of four to keep her company on her daily excursions. Homeschooling at that time was not thought of as a better education.
I was first grade, Debbie was second grade, and Naomi was third grade for this homeschooling year. I don’t remember much about learning or even doing school work. I think Mother made it more of a game for us. Whatever she did worked – we excelled in our grades. In any case, this only lasted for one school year, and then she regained her senses and sent us on our way each morning. We had then lived there long enough to sense danger and were more responsible to travel that mile and a half road by ourselves to the bottom of the hill every morning, and up again in the afternoons.
At this point she had an almost-five-year-old and a five-month-old at home to care for while the older three were at school, but she found time to start writing a journal and write letters to our Louisiana relatives – equal to a chapter in a book – loaded with news of our homesteading adventures. She put on a good front no matter how hard it got at times. We were too young to realize this was a hard life for our parents. What they had given up in possessions, we gained in time spent with them, learning how to eke out a living from nothing.
In the mid-twentieth century, living in Alaska on a homestead out in the wilderness, was probably tough without a man around one hundred percent of the time. Having four young children running you ragged with their constant ‘helping’, and then adding a baby in the mix, didn’t help the situation at all.
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