Every community has its own characters. Among those that were recognized as "different" are those that remain in a child's memory even though other people are probably more worthy and important. Mr. and Mrs. DeArmond (postmaster and mistress) were dear friends. As a young man, Mr. DeArmond went to Sitka in charge of the Experimental Agricultural Station. Mrs. DeArmond had gone there as a teacher. After their marriage they remained there until his death. She then became postmistress until her retirement when she went to live nearer her children who had each made a home in different parts of Alaska. Robert frequently writes articles about Alaska that are widely quoted.
Mac (Mr. McNulty) who ran the Standard Oil Dock was the first person we children recognized when old Cynthia would arrive for her quota of gas. He was also the father of the 17 living children we later came to call friends. His wife, May, became a particular friend of Mother's. May was a large woman, fat. Each day she went for a walk downtown. It might be unkind to remember, but if she missed her walk everyone would start speculating, "Was it a boy or a girl this time?" She was so large her pregnancy was well disguised.
Among others that stood out was Mr. Gilpatrick because he wore his hair quite theatrically long. He also was the owner of the Photo Shop where Daddy got his film, and he was the father of Mrs. Peterson who ran the curio shop. Her husband was the Territorial ranger and roved the SE Alaska area in a sleek white cruiser. They had at least two children, Charley and Lena, several years older than l was. Mr. Gilpatrick took wonderful pictures, climbing all the mountains in the vicinity. Sometimes he'd enlarge particular views and they'd be for sale in his shop where he did a good business on "steamer days.”
Another celebrity was.Robert Merrill who painted wonderful, authentic pictures that were wildly expensive for those days. (Editor’s note: Photographer E. W. Merrill had his photographs hand-tinted; this memory might have been combined with that of a visiting painter.) How I wanted one! I remember standing behind him on the green lawn fronting the Pioneer's Home when he was painting the old Tlingit war canoe on the rocky beach. I know my mouth must have hung open as I watched each stroke of the brush. No one else paid any attention, but to me it was magic. His particular companion was Henry Woodruff, a long gray bearded man I have vague recollections had been a miner or prospector. The two lived together in a one-bedroom shanty across the street from McNultys. (Editor’s note: Etolin Street.) In our second year of high school, Ruth and I lived in the shanty while it was in probate. We had an electric light, a "one-holer" out back, and a water tap with cold water.
W. P. Mills was the successful businessman.. He and his sister May Mills owned the Mercantile General Store, the more posh of the two shops in Sitka. He always wore a business suit, I remember. He and his wife lived in a house on a little Islet facing the business district and reached by a Iong board walk on stilts that connected the mainland right behind the store. (Editor’s note: the Mills House is behind the current Sitka Public Library.) He was always called W. P. just like my father was C. Jay.
May Mills lived in a large white house atop a little hill on the street behind the business district. (Editor’s Note: the May Mills House is on Seward Street.) She had two adopted children, a boy, Laddy Thompson, and a girl, Patricia, quite a lot younger than I was.
There were still, when I was a child some of the old Russian families. There were the Triershields - May McNulty's parents and their numerous offspring; the Marvels - Laurie was in school with us only older, then there was brother Rudy, sister Lulu (married Mr. Wortman, the pharmacist) and others whose names I forget; the Kostrometinofs represented the older more elite Russians who chose to stay when Alaska was purchased from Russia. The Russian Orthodox priest came from Russia and was rotated once-in-awhile.
Luba Malakoff shared a double desk when I was in third grade. I'm sure there were others. The Herman family was Russian Orthodox, but I don't know when they arrived. Probably they were of the older Russian group, but diluted by marriage along the way.
There were others, too. One was universally called "Dirty Dave". We first became aware of him after we moved to the Island. He was dirty--but there was a reason. He was a hand troller with nothing but his rowboat and fishing gear. He had the barest possible equipment, practically no clothing except what he wore. He spent long hours out there on the fishing grounds, rowing in all kinds of weather for several years before he had enough saved to buy a small very old troller. While it was tiny he did have a cabin to retreat into for shelter and to cook his meals, and a bunk to sleep in. He often came our way and I have thought it was as much for the friendly conversation as for the meals Mother always offered.
Mrs. Moleneaux was the caretaker of the Manse and St. Peters Episcopal Church. I really have no recollections of her until Ruth and I went to Sitka for our second year of high school. She was elderly then, and had arthritis badly, probably accounting for her unusual figure--sort of a Gibson Girl with thin waist. She could be very cross and disagreeable, but never with me. I stayed with her for my junior year in high school. I'm sure she was not too well paid, but she was generous in housing and feeding me. She also bought me a coat and some shoes. All I did was a little housework and taught a class in the Sunday School. I also helped with the confirmation class. When the Bishop arrived in the spring to conduct the confirmation there was a great consternation. Everything had gone well--the candidates were in the church waiting when I started across from the manse with the Bishop.
"And where were you confirmed?" he asked me.
"Oh, I've never been confirmed", I answered. "You see, my father is a Quaker and they don't believe in infant baptism or confirmation."
Well, he stopped right there outside the door, his face scarlet, and I thought he was going to refuse to confirm anyone. He stamped his feet, growled a little, and finally went in and conducted the service. A close call!
When we were quite young--first moved to Sitka--there was an old lady and her son who frightened us. Granny Fix was elderly, wore long black skirts that dragged in the dirty unpaved streets and frequently talked to herself as she walked along. Her son, poor boy, must have been a teenager then. He had a club foot that caused him to lurch along. He was simple minded too. We all ran when we saw him, but I'm sure he was perfectly harmless. Some of the bigger boys threw stones at him. They lived in a little house out in Jamestown Bay.
It was the third or fourth year on the island that Daddy realized an open rowboat and outboard was not going to be enough to transport us to school and fish (for fox food) and even go to Sitka when he was away fishing in the summer. He had built a warehouse out on the near side of the dock. There he laid the shallow keel for a 17-foot boat, quite wide, and with a covered cabin just large enough to accommodate a small gasoline engine. There were seats all around an open cockpit. When it was finished we each chipped in suggestions for a name--and almost by common consent she became the Midget.
At first Mother took us the 3 1/2 miles to school, stopping to pick up the Jackson children and Donald Hough, then all the way home, only to do the same route at the end of the day. 3 1/2 miles doesn't sound far to us here in California. On a stormy day on open ocean with waves so high we couldn't see out of the trough, the wind blowing drenching spray, the rain coming down in sheets, it was a long way, taking as much as 2 hours sometimes because that little engine was only a 5 horsepower. Still, it was much better than the rowboat and outboard. With that we had to constantly bail the water that slopped over the sides of the boat. Then there was the problem of a "sheer pin". If we were not careful and got too near a bed of kelp so it tangled in the propeller a pin would break. We'd have to lift the motor off the back of the boat to replace the pin while others manned the oars to keep us steady in the water and away from the rocks that dotted the route we used, taking whatever shelter from the wind we could find. Sometimes, too, we'd get water in the carburetor and have to dry it out Oh, the Midget was a great improvement. By my last year at home it had become Ruth's boat.
Swearing was simply not tolerated in our house. Mother actually scrubbed out the mouth of any offender with soap and water. Once was quite enough.
Of course we heard Chris Jackson and his brothers, Sig and Happy, who had quite fluent vocabularies which they never voiced in Dad’s or Mother's hearing.
When quite small Glen picked up "Oh Heck" for which he was suitably punished, but not too severely, so it persisted. Mother made him a "Cream of Wheat" man doll which was promptly dubbed "Oh Heck". Cream of Wheat featured, as an advertisement stunt, a 12 inch printed figure on cotton to be cut, sewn, and stuffed all for 25 cents.
Daddy's favorite expression was "Rasp it!" Once, I must have been about 12, he was seriously provoked about something, We were all getting ready to go out in the rain to work when he said "Darn!" Absolute silence! We were shocked. We didn't believe what we heard. In unison we turned and looked at him. In unison we burst into laughter. So far as I know, he never said it again.
Names sometimes escape me now. Somehow they are not always as important as incidents along the way. Perhaps you will forgive me.
Our first school at Goddard was in a one room cabin along the waterfront with the resort-hotel well above us on the hill. As I remember it, there were 3 or 4 of these cabins, each with its one-holer out back, that were built to rent to vacationers or people there for treatment in the hot springs. We had cabin #1 for our school. Each cabin had a little wood stove for heat. Desks had been lined up 2 abreast, the youngest at the front by the teacher's desk.
"Tex" (I have never known her given name) Goddard, daughter-in-law of the owners of the resort, was that first teacher. She was tall, fairly attractive, and I assume came from Texas. I must confess that I didn't like her, but wouldn't have admitted it even to myself, then. It was difficult to find teachers willing to work our strange term (Editor’s note: because of the problem of boating in the winter, the Goddard school term ran from April to October) and to work under such conditions. To me Tex seemed to resent being there. Of course it was daunting work with 10 children in grades 1 through 4. Now I think she was brave to tackle it.
The third year, when we had our own school building, we had Miss McCann. She, too, was brave to walk that mile from Goddard down that trail hacked out of the woods, most often drenched from the drips of overhanging trees and underbrush only to have to start a fire in the wood stove before she could even think about the day's work. In April, at the beginning of the term, it was just getting light and usually raining--in October at the end of the term it was dark and stormy so she needed a heavy flashlight to see the roots, holes, and rocks in the trail. Moreover, Miss McCann was decidedly lame. We adored her and had her come for the weekend several times. She, too stayed for 2 years. She could laugh with us, and made an effort to be interesting in the teaching of the Territory-imposed curriculum. Then, too, she wore attractive, cheerful clothes. You've no idea how much children starved for excitement and company can gain from that. It's like a gaily wrapped package.
Daddy had been the prime instigator of the schoolhouse. He'd read a great deal about the effect of color on the eyes and its effect on the attention span. As a consequence the room was painted pale green with windows all along the beach front side, just high enough so I had to stand up to see out. He wanted us to study, not sit and day dream watching the channel or the surf on the beach.
It is unfortunate that girls were still required to wear dresses in those days. Jumping out of a boat bobbing in the surf, with a basket containing all our lunches was no mean feat when hampered by skirts. The basket was heavy because it was before plastic. So the sauce dishes for the canned tomatoes in a glass Mason jar rattled and I had to keep the basket upright too. Sandwiches were usually wrapped in paper, often torn from magazines, and all was covered by a clean dish towel. At lunch time I parceled them out to everyone coming back to my desk for his portion. Almost always we had peanut butter on our whole wheat bread, sometimes with brown sugar or honey added. Usually we had cookies, but sometimes cake. Cheese was a rare luxury. We also sometimes had deviled venison--cooked ground meat mixed with cooked salad dressing until it was spreadable.
Those were the days when we were expected to have homework so each of us carried it home trying to keep the books and paper dry in the almost constant drizzle rain or storm. We didn't have fancy rainproof backpacks or plastic covers so it was a real organizing problem. In stormy weather it was even worse because of the wind-blown salt spray. Although we had our problems, I'm glad I lived that life and not one the children of today face with gangs, drugs, and crime. When Ruth and I graduated from 8th grade after taking those exams sent from Washington, D.C. because Alaska was a Territory, the Goddards gave us a special party. We didn't go home with the boys (I think Daddy came for them) but trekked up the trail with the teacher (then Miss Whitmore).
Mrs. Goddard (Gaddy) gave us a room in the hotel to stay in until she called us. We had glorious hot baths and started "primping."
Dorothy Goddard, at home for a visit, came bringing nail pencils and cream nail white so we could work on the ever-present dark stains under our nails (residue from our rustic life). Poor Dorothy! We used almost every bit (and still had stains). We had with us our best (homemade) dresses to change into and really struggled to look well.
When we were called at last, we were surprised to find Mother had arrived to join the party. Gaddy and Madge (Clemmons) had really extended themselves to have a special dinner. Moreover, they gave each of us a glamorous handmade "Teddy", our first really feminine lingerie--Ruth's pale green and mine pink, both with tiny rose buds embroidered at the lower front edges.
That next year we both stayed home to work, taking turns running the school boat. We were paid $17.00 per month which we shared and saved toward our high school the following year.
Interim Between 8th Grade and High School
In the interim period following graduation from Goddard School, Ruth and I had added chores. Graduating in Mid-October, it would be almost a full year before we could go to hig_h school. That winter we were completely responsible for catching the rock fish for the "mush," cooking the food, and delivering it to the feeding stations.
In addition, we took active parts when trapping time came. We learned to judge which foxes to kill, which to release for breeding. I wasn't much good at killing the beautiful, snarling, snapping beasts, but Ruth did more than her share. Glen, too was a big help. Each fox had to be branded at this time. To do this, one of us had to hold the squirming, fighting, terrified beast while Daddy punched our brand, KKI, into an ear. One-year-olds into the right ear, two-year aids into the left. This was a quick way to judge age when they were trapped and helped in the decision of which to release for breeding. Once, I remember, Ruth was severely bitten.
After we carried the dead animals home they had to be skinned, a tedious job. This was usually done right away because it was much easier before rigor mortis stiffened the body. It was also easier then to "Fletch" the skin because the fat was looser while warm and it all had to be removed. To nick the skin reduced the value of the fur.
Once all this was done, the pelts were stretched skin side out on boards shaped rather like miniature ironing boards, and propped up to dry all over the living room. It was an awkward time in our little house, leaving little space to move about.
All this occurred in January, usually, because that was the coldest dry weather time. It was almost frantic work because dry winter only lasted about two weeks. The longest guard hair and thickest pelts could be found then. Wild animals protect themselves that way as we do by adding more clothing.
Next morning, Daddy would fill gunny sacks with the dead carcasses, add heavy rocks and carry them out a mile or so into the Pacific before lowering them overboard.
When spring edged in, Ruth and I would get up around 3:30 pr 4:00 AM, just as the first fingers of light crept in, then off with the Midget to troll for salmon before we had to get back to transport the younger ones to school.
Usually (but not always) Ruth did that while I did washing or whatever the day's chore might be. Once home from the school run, it was fish for bass for that yawning kettle. Two barrels would be hoisted into the Midget's cockpit and off we'd go until time to go back for the kids at school.
Then one of us would go, and the other would cook the "mush" so it would be ready to distribute as soon as the Midget was home. Sometimes Glen would go along with Ruth to deliver the fox food. Then I could start dinner or finish the ironing. No polyester in those days!
There was another activity that summer--we were getting ready to go away to high school! It was an exciting time--prices were up for fish, and the fur pelts had brought the best prices ever. It was the summer of 1929!
Mother was ripping “missionary barrel” gifts (those garments cast off and sent from various relatives) dying them and making them into a wardrobe for each of us. Most of them were totally unsuitable, but we didn't realize it then. Our excitement was at a fever pitch and Ruth and I were getting along better than we ever had before. We cooperated without rancor.
Dad was away for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, fishing, but we kept the work going with little trouble and even went to Sitka in the Midget a couple of times for supplies. It was a good summer--a good happy time.
Several incidents remain quite vivid in my memory. The first and most important was almost a tragedy. The boys were at school, Mom and Dad were off somewhere, possibly in Sitka. Ruth took a magazine and went to cook the fox food taking Cora, then nearing three years old, with her. Cora was happy, pushing her favorite little toy along, a green tin wheelbarrow with a red wheel. It had been a gift from some well-meaning relative for Carl who was well past that age. I was ironing while bread baked. It was a beautiful day and life was very good.
Ironing was a tedious chore so I looked out the window often while the tub of wrinkled laundry never seemed to grow less. Napkins, tablecloths, shirts, jeans, pillowcases, dresses, no polyester. And then--as I looked up I screamed and ran to the door. Cora blithely pushing her barrow was running along the planks of the dock. No way could I get to her before she'd go off the end into deep water. I screamed again and Ruth realized what was happening. She tore off down the trail toward the dock. But before she could get anywhere hear the little red wheel caught in the cracks of the dock planking and threw Cora over onto the granite boulders just short of the water. It was a fall of about five, maybe six feet and the wheelbarrow went with her.
Ruth scooped her up and came running to the house with a trickle of blood to mark the way. Cora was limp in her arms and dazed--probably concussed. Carefully, Ruth laid her on the kitchen table while we examined her. The cut on her scalp--a good two inches long on that little head, but no other sign of injury. I sponged the cut and washed it with peroxide. Cora didn't even whimper.
That scared us. I couldn't get the bleeding stopped except with pressure and that worried us too. Finally I trimmed the hair away and while Ruth pinched the raw edges together, I used adhesive tape to hold the cut together. It worked. After sponging away the worst of the blood and dirt, we put a folded blanket on the window seat where I could watch her and let Cora take her nap there.
Remembering an article I had read read on concussion, I woke the poor little tot often to be sure she was all right.
Ruth went back to the badly burned fox food and I to my ironing. Never had we felt so great a relief as when Mom and Dad came home.
Cora seemed to have no problems by morning except the bald patch. The scar healed and her hair grew out again. She was just as lively as ever jn a couple of days and looking for that dratted green wheelbarrow.
Next: Final post: Going to High School