Here’s the link to my mother’s 1958 letters



Turning 7

It would be nice to start this book at a point in my childhood where I don’t think a single bad thing happened to me at the hands of my mother.  I think this month of August, 1958 was nearly perfect.  I don’t think I was singled out for anything.  I don’t think that anything I did or did not do attracted any attention.  I think I was able to be a free child, and today I wonder about the positive impact this single month might have had on my development, for I do not believe there were many others just like it.

We left the log house at the start of August, a year nearly to the day since We moved to Alaska.   The decision had been made to homestead, and all of my mother’s attention was focused on her dream.

I’ve always remembered turning 7 in this cabin.  A simple place with a tall spruce tree in front of the window to the right as you stepped through the door.  It was a large tree that sighed in a peaceful way when the breezes moved through it, ground littered with crispy pine golden pine needles and cones beneath it.  My mother thought it was special, and she circled it with stones to make it prettier.  Its needles were shiny and the birds liked it too.  They flew in and out, and stopped there to sing most of the day.

My siblings remember a pump in one of the three rooms that served as the kitchen, though I don’t remember it.  I do remember the spring that we walked to for our water.  It was my size, not wide or scary, and I could sit at its edge and watch it bubbling right out of the black ground.  Tall grasses grew all around it, and in it, and it smelled so good there.  The water was cold and so clear I could see to the bottom where the people before us had dug out a hole big enough to dip buckets in to fill them as you stood on a slippery wooden box that was nearly covered with water.  It was like a fairy pond, I thought, though too far from the house for me to go there in the darkness to see if the fairies came, but I wanted to.  I could drop little pieces of grass, sticks and leaves into the water and watch them saunter under a little bridge where the narrow dirt road went past the grasses, and turn around and see my tiny boats pop into sight again on the other side.  I loved going there for water with my mother.  She loved that spring, too.  I helped carry buckets that weren’t quite full so they wouldn’t spill and they wouldn’t be too heavy.  There were always lots of dishes to do, so she needed a lot of water, so we got to go down there many times; up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, down the hill.  Everything was so green there.  Sometimes I thought it would be nice if I stayed there in the grasses long enough that my skin could turn green to match.  Most of the grasses in the fields were much taller than I was, so I couldn’t just go any old place.  I would get lost, and then there would be a bear after me.  The moose were tall enough I could watch them move around munching early in the morning and later in the day, though it still was light way after we had to be in bed after dinner.

We always had to take naps in the other room during the day time, but mother did not get mad at us if we didn’t go to sleep, just so long as we were quite.  We had heavy green wool blankets that we could hide under, and make roads and fields in, and I snuck little sticks and rocks inside my pockets so they could be the people and the cars and the farm animals.

My mother was happy here.  She didn’t seem worried at all.  She thought homesteading was a good idea, and she said that we were practicing my living in this little house without a bathroom.  The hole in the outhouse was dark and deep and scary, but I knew I wasn’t going to fall in, but I worried about my little sister, Sharon because she might.  She was little.

When my 7th birthday came I was sick.  My stomach hurt really bad so that I had to curl up when I laid down and not move at all, and I had to run outside behind the bushes and throw up sometimes or I had to run down the soft path to the outhouse sometimes as fast as I could go.  I had to do that when everyone else had cake, and I opened my presents, and I got a pretty pink metal Cinderella lunch box with a thermos in it.  I loved it, but it made me think of food and that made me really feel sick.  I ran fast and I made it down the path in time.  But I never forgot that birthday.   I have always remembered exactly where we lived.  We moved so many times in my childhood, only that and my 17th birthday (when I opened a box with brown Hush Puppy shoes in it and was so glad I wouldn’t have to wear the horrible black and white saddle shoes to school that year, though the Hush Puppies were far from pretty.  My mother said I had to wear shoes like that because I had flat feet and I wore shoes out too fast otherwise.  At the price of shoes, and with their budget, I’m sure she was right.) were the only 2 I could remember where I lived.

But this meant that I wouldn’t have to carry a paper bag with a lunch at school.  I could sit on the bus with Cinderella on my lap right where everyone could see her.  (Looking back, that was the sad image of myself as a child, Cinderella without prince or rescue, no fairy god mother.)  I remember clearly the Cinderella coloring book I had on Gov’t hill in 2nd grade, and one with the three wishes granted – Sleeping Beauty.  I loved coloring.

As I was writing about my birthday, something reminded me of having to go out to the bushes there and having to cut myself stick to be whipped with, as my co-worker calls it – having been whipped quite a lot as a child across her legs – but never hit anyplace else on her body, and never her face.  It seems like I had to go around the house, around the spruce tree, on that side of the house to cut the switch.  That’s what it was, a switch.  But I’m not sure if that happened here.  I remember peace at this house, a reprieve.


“Children!  Children!  Come here!  All of you, come here!  Come see this!  There’s a cross in the sky, there’s a cross in the sky!”  We had already been put to bed for the night, and her shouting startled us through the quiet.  She couldn’t have been making any more noise if the house had been on fire.

Pushing off our covers we ran to her side as she stood waving her arms wildly over her head pointing at the full white moon high above the snow line of mountaintops across the valley.  She was right!  There is was, a big cross over the moon.  (Snow that never completely left the mountains and was heading back down.)

The sky was not completely dark, I could see it mist through the darker spruce bows beside the door.  “It’s a miracle,” she kept shouting.  “It’s a sign from God.  God wants us to homestead and he gave us a homesteading sign.  Our very own cross from Jesus right over the moon!  Jesus is going to help us to homestead.”

I was glad of that, but I could not understand why she wouldn’t let us open the door even a tiny bit to peek out.  There had to be a very important reason why she wouldn’t let us go outside to see it better.  “Oh, no,” she kept saying, “We can’t go outside.  Don’t open the door.  We must just stand here and look at it.”

There we all stood, enraptured, certain the guiding hand of the Lord above (though I never had thought of my mother as especially religious past Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) was demonstrating a guiding hand over our future.  Was she afraid if we opened the door the magical cross would vanish?  Finally she said, “Go back to bed now, all of you.  I hope your Daddy sees this where he’s camping on the homestead.  This is our own special sign.”

I believed in my mother’s magic sign for another nearly 30 years. It wasn’t until I was somewhere up north and happened to glance at the moon through an old metal screen door one moisture on the screen and a light mist in the air that I saw a circle around the moon that reminded me of her cross.  That’s all that was, but I know that she didn’t know that..  Had my father been home that night, I would not have this memory.  Maybe that’s the way a lot of miracles are.  We see what we need to when we need to the way we need to.  All of us there saw that miracle that night.

I’ve never seen THAT same thing again.  Things had to be lined up just right, I guess.

But what I think made the memory stick was not the moon cross, it was so strange to me that someone could not open a door.  I don’t know that she was afraid, necessarily.  But doors are made to be opened.  That is what they are made for.

So could I read that in her, that she seemed happy, excited, thrilled and at the same time scared?

Cindy says she’s seen the cross on a screen door many times, and that she thinks mother knew what it was.  I don’t think so.

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