My own memories, though scant, date back to this period. By this time Daddy was very inactive as a missionary, the church being administered by the Presbyterians, with Dr. & Mrs. Beck in residence. We lived in a little one room shanty about halfway between the Indian village and the cannery fronting on a footpath that connected the two. The shanty had a small lean-to that was used as a kitchen. Behind was a chicken house where Mother raised Plymouth Rock hens for eggs and food.
There was a pebbly, shell strewn beach across the path. On a hill directly above lived the Stedmans and at the corner of the beach nearest town, the Millers. Mrs. Stedman was French and called me Marie Helene to Daddy's disgust. She even made me a hand crocheted collar with a rose in the design. Her own son was away at school (Kenneth, I think his name was). George, her husband was away daytimes and I don't remember him at all, but I think he had something to do with the cannery.
Millers had several children, all older than I was. They did permit me to play with them sometimes. Once, I did remember, we found a half barrel of tar that had drifted into the waist high beach grass on a winter storm. I vaguely recollect Henry (the older boy whom I now suspect was about eight) climbing up to a cupboard in their kitchen to get matches while his mother napped. Back at the tar barrel they started a fire to melt the tar and, in the process, ignited the summer dry grass. If Mother had not come looking for me, we'd all have been incinerated. I still remember her fright and my spanking. With the help of an Indian from the village who was passing, she put out the fire, beating it with an old gunny sack soaked in the tide water.
At this time, I think Daddy was hand trolling for a living. Sometimes he held Quaker church meetings in Stewart's hardware store in the village, as far as I know, his only missionary work. Even then we were not permitted to mingle with the Indians. Dad was a true racist.
The village itself had a board walk that joined the footpath curving to the point where Kerberger had his grocery and general store. This sunny point is where the church, the Presbyterian minister and family, and the school were situated. This, with Mr. Stewart of the hardware store who did not mingle with the whites because he had an Indian wife, the Stedmans, and Millers constituted the white population. Miss Taylor was the teacher I first remember. She and Mother were probably near in age. Once Miss Taylor was lucky enough to get some fresh tomatoes which Mr. Kerberger had imported.. Without refrigeration in those days this was a special treat and she brought them down to share with Mother. I remember the two standing outside the door eating them like apples with every sign of ecstasy. The taste I was offered only curled my tongue--ugh!
Another time, and most details are missing, but I suspect it was inspired by Mother, there was a beach party on the sand just around the point from Kerberger's store. All the white people were there. They dug clams and cooked fish over a huge bonfire. That part is hazy. I do remember they slept out on the beach, with a great to-do about keeping Miss Taylor a distance from Mr. Kerberger, the only two single people, and it puzzled me.
Ruth was born at Beck's. Mother had trudged up to Kerberger’s store with me trotting along. The long walk (about a mile) was too much and Kerberger helped Mother the tiny distance to the manse. I remember George, Beck's ten year-old son, was instructed to take me away and look after me, not bringing me back until his father came for him. The only memory I have of this day (June 16, 1915) is the sunshine and George's consternation when I wet my pants--I was 20 months old at the time.
That next year we were in Kake, Miss Taylor was replaced at the school by Charles Sydnor who was (I now think) on sabbatical. He quickly captured Daddy and Mother was friendly with his wife, Cora. They had a baby daughter, Virginia, just older than I, and an infant son, Thurston. I've never understood why, but Daddy was enamored from the first and in later years would drop whatever he was doing if Sydnor appeared. None of the rest of us felt this way.
Once, and it was a wet, cold winter day, Daddy took me to the cannery with him while he visited with the winter watchman. Probably this was when he arranged for the purchase of a discarded scow the cannery was glad to part with. Meant for use with seines, it was quite broad (7 feet, I think), a 20-foot open flat-bottomed boat with a narrow keel.
I don't know how long it took, but Dad decked it in, built a cabin over the bow half, and installed a second-hand gas engine that went 5 miles per hour. There was a water tank next to the gas tank in the bow and a tiny wood-burning stove, bunks--in fact a veritable palace, but of course no toilet. There are very vague recollections of this period with quarrels between Mother and Dad. It was a late November or early December when Dad again took me with him. Possibly I remember these two instances because they were so rare. He always preferred to take Ruth who was already larger than I and red-haired. We were in Stewarts' hardware store, already leaving when Mr. Stewart called me back and gave me a small doll about four inches high with a blue cambric romper. He seemed to feel sorry for me, but I didn't know why. Anyway, it was the only doll I ever had. It was only a few days before Glen bashed its head in.
Dad's itch to go "wild" seems to always have occurred in the early fall or winter. Almost immediately we were all bundled aboard the "Cynthia" as Daddy called his boat. Mother was not permitted to see anyone, Daddy telling us smallpox was rampant in the village. What wouldn't fit into the small space aboard was again left behind. There were Mom and Dad, Ruth and baby Glen besides me. I must have been almost four years old. While these memories are sketchy they are never-the-less vivid.
The next time I saw Kake, Mother was taking Ruth and me to Oregon for our first year of high school. Aboard the S.S. Queen when it docked at the cannery, I was surprised it was just as I remembered it.
Cynthia The Houseboat
The purchase that last day in Kake at Stewarts’ Hardware was a set of traps. We chugged along until Dad found a likely spot, then anchored and set his traps for mink Sometimes he caught a squirrel instead of mink, so Mother skinned and tanned the hide to make Ruth and me lovely mittens.
This was the period when we learned about skinning, fletching, and stretching the mink pelts for market. Skinning is self explanatory. Fletching is the scraping of the fat from the underside of the skin. It has to be done carefully because to leave too much fat means the skin will not cure or dry and there will be a rancid odor. To nick the skin reduces the value.
After the skin is prepared it is stretched over shaped board frames, fur side down and propped up to dry. In that confined space it was a definite problem. Dad had another problem. He discovered that I had a positive propensity for falling overboard. It ended in his installing a 1" X 12" railing all around the deck area. Two minutes in that icy cold water and I was blue. It took hours to restore me to a semblance of life and warmth. None of the others shared this problem, happily. I suspect it was about then they discovered my coordination was poor. I stumbled and skinned my knees more than Ruth or Glen ever did. It was rare my knees or arms weren't either bleeding or covered by scabs. Once I leaned over the side of the Cynthia to retrieve something and fell into the row boat along side, breaking my nose.
It was a long, cold winter with much snow. The deer would come down to the beach, kicking in the sand to find seaweed to eat. They made wonderful venison, but I cried when Daddy shot one. When he shot ducks or geese in didn't bother me half so much. We needed every bit of food he could get. For months we stayed out trapping and never once went to town for supplies.
On frosty winter nights Dad would call us on deck to watch, open mouthed the shivery flash of ''Northern Lights" (Aurora Borealis). The eerie display of uncontrolled blue and white electrical lights sent cold chills up and down my spine, frightened yet too fascinated to hide in the cabin.
This was the winter we came to know Bob St. Claire. He, too was trapping. At first when he came into the harbor, he anchored a little distance away. Later he moved over and tied up next to us so he and Daddy could step from deck to deck. More often than not, he shared our dinner, often contributing from his own stores. My memory tells me he was an older man--about 50?
Once he arranged with Daddy to tend his traps and went off to town for a week, coming back not feeling well (giant hangover), but loaded with little straw baskets of candy for each of us. Mine was stained green and equipped with tiny spools of thread so it would be a sewing basket. I might have been only a little girl, but he was wonderful. He also brought back groceries Mother had ordered. One time when Daddy was out tending his traps, Bob brought across to our boat a jelly glass of wine he'd made from raisins. (Only I suspect it was more like brandy.) The tiny sip I sneaked was powerful; I didn't like it at all. Mom tasted, thanked him, and used the rest to tenderize a very tough venison roast. That night, I remember Dad exclaiming on and on about the wonderful flavor, but Mom and Bob kept quiet. After all, even at that age I knew Quaker Missionaries would not tolerate alcoholic beverages in any way. Some things we learned at a very young age--by osmosis I now believe.
Perhaps I should say something about our general appearance so you can better visualize this whole story. Mother was a hazel eyed natural ash blond with hair that almost reached her waist. For convenience she twisted it into a knot at her nape, but for "dress" occasions used "rats" of her own hair to give it fullness and did it high on her head. (Now we "back brush" with the same result.) Mother was gentle and sensitive with seemingly infinite patience yet she could fire up when prodded sufficiently. She was slender and graceful in those days, loved "company", sang and laughed. Cooped up with only three infants most of the day, she did her best to keep us washed and entertained, especially during wet, cold weather when we couldn't poke our noses out on deck. Now I marvel at her persistent good humor when she must have been lonely.
I'll never know how she managed the laundry for a toddler (Ruth), an infant (Glen), and me plus her own and Dad's. There was scarcely foot space between the motor and the lockers built along the side. Two adults couldn't pass in the space. Our toilet was a coffee can; the tub an enamel wash basin.
Before my birth, Dad bet Mother a five pound box of chocolate covered cherries that I'd be a red haired boy. (His mother and both sisters were red heads.) Neither came true, but he never did pay up. By all accounts, he was infuriated to find me a scrawny girl who was almost immediately a blue-eyed tow head. Then Ruth came along and captivated him with her sturdy figure and red hair. Many a time I was ordered to "get out of the way" so I'd climb up on the locker and watch while Dad held Ruth and played with her while Glen slept and Mother fixed dinner or washed the dishes. I still remember the hurt.
Glen, too, was a towhead. My hair darkened so I was an ash .blond by the time I was six or seven, but Glen's hair was always very light--and let me say right now, all of us had blue eyes, but never as deep a color as Daddy's. Like me, Glen was inclined to be awkward in his movements and was more husky of frame. Even though he was Dad's cherished desire, a boy, for some unknown reason he was never a favorite. We felt it, even then. Some children are deliberately naughty for attention. I can't remember either of us trying to gain approval that way.
I cannot remember a time Daddy did not wear a black felt hat and a necktie along with his wool shirt and trousers held up by suspenders. He had oodles of beautiful wavy dark brown hair and vivid blue eyes. After we went aboard the Cynthia he let his beard grow. As spring peeped through and we were ready for our first adventure into town, he took the razor strop from its customary place hanging at the end of his bunk to sharpen his razor, a long wicked blade that folded into its own handle.
Wide-eyed we clustered around, no doubt with our mouths open, as he carefully shaved off almost six months of dark curly beard. Even though we saw it happen it was hard to recognize him when he finished. He did leave a mustache and always wore one afterwards, dark and bushy. All his life he remained very slender, skinny I say now.
As the snow began to melt, Dad grew restless. When the sun shown, we children were allowed on deck and reveled in the freedom. Dad no longer trapped, but often took long tramps on shore with his camera, coming back with pictures of wildlife. Finally he came with long sturdy saplings to install for trolling poles. At first they were laid lengthwise, almost as long as the Cynthia, while they seasoned. Some days he melted lead on the wood stove and made "sinkers" for fishing, molding them in empty tin cans. Ruth and I hovered, fascinated, when he started making and polishing the "spoons" and attaching the swivels and hooks. Bob St. Claire had departed as the trapping season ended so this new activity was welcome entertainment.
Poor Mother! She still had the cooking, washing, mending and babies to look after. For someone who had never cooked before, it was a real frontier challenge she met cheerfully. When late spring came and brought the fishing season, Dad decided a family was a real impeding nuisance. He had explored around for several days, the poor old Cynthia slowly chugging while he fished. Ruth was by then larger than I and Glen was crawling, even trying to walk while the boat rolled in the stormy spring weather. Mostly, as I remember it, I was seasick, but it didn't bother Ruth a bit.
Somewhere at the south end of Baranof Island (the island on which Sitka is situated) Dad found an old camp someone had deserted. It had a wooden platform for a tent and an abandoned little wood stove, ideal for us. In no time Daddy stretched a much patched tent on the platform and moved us ashore. Before going off to the bliss of solitude and fishing he cut a stack of firewood. There was still slushy snow on the ground under the trees. I remember Ruth and I wore our prize possessions, old fashioned black, clamp style galoshes much too large for us.
I was about four and a half at this time. Daddy decided it was time for me to learn to help. He gave me a hatchet, stood me in front of a chopping block with several smaller sticks to cut for kindling. Dad had his back to me, chopping wood. Now began an ordeal with that torment, my sister Ruth. Long since she'd learned she'd always get the best of me, but this time it was more serious. Each time I raised the hatchet, she stuck her foot on the chopping block right next the stick I was to cut, snatching it pack when I halted the swing. Dad, with his back to me and not hearing any sound of chopping, yelled at me to get started. Ruth, with that impish look, again stuck her foot on the block, but that time I didn't halt the swing. Down the hatchet came and cut through the overshoe. I was sick. Ruth screamed even though her shoe and foot weren't even touched only the galosh had a gaping hole. Once again I got a spanking. To this day I'm thankful for those oversize galoshes, but resent that spanking.
After the winter's confinement aboard the Cynthia, that camp was a delight. We played along the beach and under the trees. Mother was freer too. Laundry was hung on lines she tied to trees, bedding was aired, and finally we had neighbors when other fisherman deposited their families in the camp site. It lasted a very short time--maybe two or three weeks, until Dad came in from his first trip fishing. He took one look at our companions and herded us back onto the Cynthia. I don't know what he didn't like about the other families.
That summer of fishing and houseboat living was more interesting as far as we children were concerned. For one thing, we were older and noticed things about us more. Also we saw the other boats and speculated about them, oncein-a-while even seeing another wife or family. This was very rare and usually one of the Indians. Days started at 3:30 or 4:00 AM in the long daylight hours. Mother served lunch as Daddy headed toward harbor and afternoon siesta unless the salmon were really biting. In nice weather we'd sit on the hatch covers and watch the tips of the poles for the first sign of a bite. It was a glorious, free, exciting summer. At anchor Mother kept us quiet by letting us cut out the pictures on the tin can labels--the tomatoes, peaches, and whatever she had. We learned to weave strips of paper and make paper baskets and boats. Dad was fond of origami-type paper work and taught us a number of things I've now forgotten. Mostly, he'd nap in the mid-day, then go out for the late afternoon and evening fishing. Summer days were long, with no real dark. We children would be asleep long before the faithful Cynthia was anchored.
We traveled wherever the fish were reported, around Biorka, up in Icy Straits, out near Warm Springs, down around--well, all over Southeast Alaskan waters. I think it was probably a good year for fishing because I can remember the fish flopping on the deck faster than Daddy could clear the lines and lower them. Mom had to learn to help. Those were days before "gurdies" and the lines were all hauled and lowered by hand. Mother's hands were cut and bleeding from the lines. When the fish hold was full, Dad would stop at the "Buyer Boat", a large, ice-carrying boat with gigantic tanks who bought the fish and conveyed them to the Cold Storage plants or canneries. They didn't pay quite so well as taking them in ourselves, but often saved as much as two or three days away from the fishing grounds. There were no closed days then and fishing went on all day, every day.
At the end of the season when it was too stormy for further fishing and Mother was very pregnant, Dad took us to Petersburg. Here he found us a little shanty on the boardwalk at the edge of town. Compared to the Cynthia, it was a mansion with a living room, one bedroom and lean-to kitchen. We kids went literally wild, clambering over the rocky beach, climbing our little hill and romping up and down the board walk.
Now, for the first time in my memory, Dad had a "real" wages job. He worked the night shift at the sawmill. It was war time, 1918. For us children it was wonderful, but Dad hated every minute. He'd have been happy with Daniel Boone or Lewis and Clark. To be confined to a job in town with dictated hours was torture.
Sometime in mid-November Dad came home with the flu. He was very, very sick and Mother sent for the doctor when he stumbled home, then crawled into the house, no longer able to stand. He had gone back to work by December 15 when Mother sent me down the boardwalk one night to our nearest neighbor about a quarter mile away, to once again call the doctor. This time it was for the advent of our brother, Donald, who arrived that day in 1918. Mother had caught the flu from Daddy so she was very seriously ill. Mrs. Martin helped with the new baby for a couple of days before she, too, was forced to seek her bed. The doctor trekked all the way out to see Mother a couple more times, shaking his head and grumbling, she was so sick. For the first time she was bed-fast. The doctor dosed each of us in turn with a tiny, bitter green pill I suspect was mostly quinine. Even now I associate that shade of green with those pills.
When Daddy was home in the daytime he cooked breakfast and fed us and cared for the new infant. While he slept we played outside under orders to be quiet. Daddy left for work about 4:00PM. From her bed, Mother instructed me on peeling vegetables so we had vegetable soup for our dinner. It was the first of many lessons in cooking--but one well learned. I even learned to change diapers when Mother was unable to do it--and of course she worried for fear Donald would catch flu from her--or that we would. The green devil pills must have worked, because we children escaped that war time flu epidemic.
Gradually Mother recovered sufficiently to leave her bed and resume the household work, but Daddy was restless, he didn't like the night shift, he didn't like working for someone else, and he was still dragging from the flu. There was no penicillin or other antibiotic in those days so recovery was slow. We were lucky because we daily heard of someone dying from it.
I don't know what triggered Dad's fury, but he came home mid-shift one night Next day he had us all on the Cynthia and off for the remainder of the trapping season. It must have been the last of January or early February. We had a repeat of the previous year, fishing season following trapping, only now we had another tiny baby with us. Don was a fretful baby. He had had to be weaned and fed on diluted evaporated milk because Mother still suffered aftereffects of the flu. No special formulas then, not even powdered milk.
My recollection is that it was a critical time with no income, illness and anger. When fishing season started the fish could be sold for cash, but the mink skins in winter had to be shipped "outside" to market by auction and it sometimes was months before a check arrived.
It was that second winter trapping that Sam Butts entered our lives. Like Bob St. Claire the previous year, he anchored near us and sometimes came over for a meal or to chat. As long as I was at home, we could expect to see one or the other of the two men appear occasionally. Hadley, with his boat, Lituya, would stop by too.
By osmosis we learned to ask no questions about the personal lives of these men or other like them who appeared from time to time. Sometimes they were like Daddy, only happy in a frontier; sometimes they were hiding from a past they couldn't face. Some even had families "outside". Always they were friendly and kind to us children. I'm sure they would have been the first to help if there had been real need.