I flew to Fairbanks, Alaska to spend a week with my son, Stewart, his wife Sarah and their three beautiful daughter's, Elizabeth, Katherine and Audrey. I had not seen Elizabeth since she was 1 year of age and she is a September birthday shy of 12 years of age. Katherine just turned 8 years of age when I first met her this past December with her Dad and ate donuts in Pineville. What
a beautiful child, as I sat a scant 20 or 30 minutes
exchanging pleasantries with her dad while taking in her every move as she devoured an éclair. Oh how my son's words began to ring true as he once reminded me what I have missed. Sometime after his family moved to Alaska, he extended an invitation for me to visit them at their home. Of course I played it off but after this brief meeting with this sweet child, I asked if the invitation was still on the table. I arrived in Fairbanks in the early morning hours of 9 June where Stewart picked me up. When we arrived at his early morning home in the daylight filled hour of 0230, I was shown to my room downstairs. It was actually Elizabeth's room which was right across the hall from Katherine's room of which they were to share during my visit. Do you really think they were asleep knowing Poppy Rodney was coming?? They sorta "vaporized" in the room and after a quick hug, Daddy threatened their life if they did not get back into their bedroom and go to sleep!!
I was awake by 0700, making my way upstairs where I joined Sarah already stirring in the early morning kitchen of their spacious
home. She had already been informed by Katherine that she needed to get a lot of coffee because Poppy Rodney drinks a lot of coffee, remembering that was what I drank at the donut shop in Pineville back last December when we met. While sitting at the table engaging her in conversation as she prepared breakfast, this lovely little creature appeared around the corner of the high rise counter and froze momentarily, just starring at me. She had a lamb looking hand puppet or something with the ear stuck in her mouth as she continued to stand there "taking me in," still clad in her tee shirt and panties. I broke the ice and said, "So you must be Audrey?" She then removed the lambs ear from her mouth and announced,
"she was this many" and held up four fingers. Sarah told her to tell Poppy Rodney how old she was and she announced in perfect grammer, "I am 4 years old." I fell in love.
Sarah sat what she called a happy face breakfast in front of me consisting of a sliced bagel coated in strawberry cream cheese and two over easy eggs stating, "Stewart gets mad when I give him a happy face plate!" I got tickled and laughed at her statement as I began to realize I was in a mine shaft filled with the purest gold that only a few men discover once in a lifetime. Over the next few minutes, Elizabeth and Katherine joined us and engaged me in conversation while Sarah continued to busy herself in the kitchen. My gosh, how
A week or so before I left for Alaska, Sarah surprised me with a phone call and I heard this little voice tell me, "I hope you like to hike, cause we going hiking!" I was enthralled of course but also tickled to death as I engaged this yet to be defined, estrogen ocean of Ferguson grand girls as each one chatted with me. They had some serious plans for Poppy Rodney and thinking back, I think Sarah wanted to give me a heads up for what was to come. Stewart had already warned me they would "be wild" when I first arrived but would eventually settle down. Yet unknown to all of them, I am thinking of how soon and how quickly I
could engage in some serious "rib biting" and "sugar snatching" without crossing any boundaries until they were comfortable with Stewart's grandpa. Oh yes, Stewart told me that one Sunday morning a couple of weeks before I was to arrive, Audrey came and crawled up into bed with him and Sarah where she generally submitted herself to daddy's kisses, back tickling and tummy routine. He told me this particular morning she was having nothing of the sorts. Stewart asked her, "Audrey, what is wrong, baby?" He said she just sighed and said, "I thought your grandpa would be here by now!"
The first day began with a trip to the North Pole. North Pole, Alaska of course
and a visit to the Santa Claus House. It had been 43 years since I had been there, and I posted a picture on facebook with me sitting on Santa's lap and said, "he actually remembered me." Can you imagine my surprise, when someone actually asked me if he did in fact remember me? I am sure he will remember me on my next visit in 43 years, because if you look close, I am sitting on his lap, and pushed firmly against his sizable stomach was the full imprint of my safely holstered Springfield 1911 TRP .45 cal pistol. Santa said not a word or acted offended in the least bit by this discovery that I am certain he was aware of. Being the gentleman Santa has always been, I will not be a bit surprised if I discover a box of Personal Defense .45 cal ammo under my Christmas tree, personally signed: From Santa, this coming Christmas.
As the trip to Santa's house and other convenient points of interest came to an end that first day, we settled back into the Ferguson home on Hillary Drive overlooking Fairbanks, I was given an explanation of the Lamb looking hand puppet I saw Audrey with that morning. Stewart told me she never took a pacifier but for some unknown reason, she took to this cotton hand puppet. They said it was a poodle! He said she simply cannot go to sleep or sleep without it. She comforts herself by entertaining one of the ears of this coveted poodle by placing it in her mouth! I just looked at him funny when he told me they had a hundred or so of those things, explaining when one ear gets soaking wet, she replaces the wet ear with the dry ear and never misses a beat. I couldn't help myself as I died laughing and asked Sarah about it for
clarification. I was told they only had twenty or so which made much more sense. She also ensured me they were washed often.
Audrey was told to get ready for bed, so as she was making her last rounds I had the chance to take a picture of her favored poodle. If you look closely, one of the ears is already wet! I laugh so hard everytime I see this picture. Yet despite the joy of seeing this, I was also able to experience the tenderness of a loving mom as sleep overtook this precious child. How beautiful that only the arms of a mother can comfort a child as the ending of day demands rest from even the most tender among us. So that you might know, this particular picture was taken around the 1030 pm hour and the sun is still not below the horizon. We were just a week or so from the Summer Solstice in Fairbanks, Alaska where the sun never sets at this time of the year.
Most followers of my blog and short stories, especially life long friends know I served with the U.S. Army in Anchorage, Alaska in '72 and '73. I remember on clear crisp days, "The High One" or in other native translations, "The Great One," know as Mt. Denali or to those of us in the Lower 48, Mt. McKinley, could be seen from Anchorage several hundred miles to the north. I dreamed of this beautiful mountain many times after leaving Alaska as my life resumed in my native Louisiana. One can not imagine how pleased I was when I was told we were going to visit Denali National Park! What a remarkable day. I was so hoping to see "my
|Audry's Attack Eagle|
|Sarah was the Photographer|
We encounter a rather large Bull Elk in the upside of the shallow river that we were walking beside and at elevation, with binoculars, Stewart and I could count as many as 14 Dall Sheep with young. They were far beyond the range of any predator. We eventually completed the hike with plenty of daylight left (get it?) and returned to a more civilized part of the national park. You know, where you pay fifty bucks for a one dollar souvenir? It was here we ordered a pizza made with Elk tails, Caribou doo, Grizzly gristle and other unidentified morsels that if you did not look at closely, was very tasteful! Stewart and I drank a glass of home brewed urine, I mean beer while the girls entertained themselves coloring on a piece of paper while our order was being made! We visited many shops in this particular village that included a cannabis shop. We discovered Wolf furs upwards of $5,000 and all sorts of homemade knives, carvings, wooden dishes and other some what "Alaskan" items that were available for purchase just to prove you had been there.
Our return from Denali Nation Park to Fairbanks was around 200 miles, and
was even more breath taking than the ride up. Only those who have ever visited this National Park can understand the beauty that exists. I was able to capture a snow covered peak in the Alaskan Range with my IPhone Camera. It was not Mt. Denali, but still beautiful. Despite the comfort of the front passenger seat, the disturbing unrest of Ferguson Children cooped up far too long in the back of a car began to make me smile as the "testing" of parental constraints were certainly probed to see just how far they could go with Poppy Rodney being present. Consistency, may I add was firmly displayed, as mom didn't budge an inch in properly addressing any thought of taking advantage of this particular visiting relative! I had to bite my tongue to keep from adding to the occasional problems I would hear from the back of Sarah's SUV. I sure didn't wanna be put out on the side of this expansive highway as I certainly had no where to go if that happened!
Did I mention the fact that these precious little girls were amazed with my bald head? Audry took to me like a duck takes to water. Not only did she like to get sugar, she actually invited me to bite her ribs. She also likes to lick where she kisses you. Sarah warned me, this child did not have a filter and kindly requested I not be offended by anything that might come out of her mouth. That request tickled me. It was positive, concrete proof Ferguson DNA was in this child's blood! Being the first to rub my head, she announced to her
older siblings, "ooooh, it feels slicky," so the intrigue was on. I even offered them the opportunity of drawing on my head with markers if they wanted to. This really got the attention of Elizabeth and Katherine, so their hands found the way to the top of my head to explore this newly offered canvas never before exploited. Well, somewhere between their discovery of my bald head and my invitation for them to draw on it, Sarah must have cornered each of them and warned of the hazards they might encounter if they even asked me if they could actually draw on my bald head with markers. I'm sure I will never know but a good wash cloth and a good bar of soap would delete most of the damage. What I could not get off, I could easily cover with my hat. Besides, I really didn't care what anyone might think as no one knew me in Fairbanks. Besides, if anyone wanted to take issue with my grandchildren's art, I was prepared to defend their honor. For whatever reason, a magic marker never made it to the top of my head, but the minds of these persistent children never rests while discovering other ways to take advantage of and abuse my submissive self for their pleasures. If you have grand kids and are reading this, you know what attention i'm talking about. That same attention a new puppy gets is very close to the way they behave with old people. Careful not to hurt us for fear of what mom or dad might do to them? I am not sure who toted the first wild daisy up on the deck to stick behind my ear, but it wasn't long before several adorned my seated surroundings. One ear then both ears, I refused to allow Audry to place a flower in my nose, so she settled for me holding a few in my mouth. I figured if she could gnaw down on a poodles ear, I could handle a few wild daisies. I am surprised super glue or something didn't appear in order for these yellow flowers to stick to my bald head.
My visit progressed too rapidly during my short stay and the planned activities for Poppy Rodney were always interesting. What was even more impressive to me, was the fact I was there almost two days before I dawned on me I was the only one wearing shoes in the house. I also realized that breakfast, lunch and supper were not just a formal throw together for visitors or guests. Sarah prepared every meal, placed it on the table, where everyone ate together. Dishes were not left on the table, but taken to the sink where they were appropriately rinsed out and placed in the dish washer. What I found amazing is I never saw a dish in the dish washer removed. Someone did it? I can't recall any "assigned" responsibilities for the older girls. I am sure there were, I just never noticed them do anything in the kitchen. The kitchen was Sarah's Woman Cave and it was permissible to pass through with an unspoken rule hanging in the air, don't tarry too long. I remember distinctly when they were first married, Sarah could not boil water. I am being a little facetious when I say that she needed a recipe book to put a bowl of cereal together! My word, the transition I observed in that 13 year span of time. My daughter-in-law has certainly come a long way baby in the culinary arts. Every thing she makes is from scratch and there is nothing she sets in front of you that is not absolutely wonderful. One of the first things I smelled when I walked into their home was the fresh smell of something being baked. I found out it was a Rhubarb Pie. Want some? Stewart got a big ole scoop of that stuff while it was still warm and I politely declined. Rhubarb? Wasn't quiet sure if I wanted to go there with that one or not, simply because I had never heard of that kind of pie down in my part of the South. I finally came to realize her expanded cooking talents after sampling a small piece of that Rhubarb pie stuff. Well, let me confess here. Only because I was trying to be socially correct, respectful of the fact I was a guest in their home and not wanting to trespass in Sarah's woman cave is the only reason I didn't eat the rest of that pie by myself!!!
Italian Wedding Soup which is spinach floating in a soup mixture with a thousand pasta balls the size of #2 buckshot was introduced for supper one night. Remember my socially correct manner I worked so hard on? I was very happy to see Stewart get up for a second helping. I smiled and said "why not, this is good."
What they didn't see, was that Katherine didn't eat all of her supper, but Sarah sure thought she did. She asked me what my favorite desert was and after eliminating everything made with sugar, I settled with Cheese Cake. I was then grilled with topping questions and settled on caramel topping. Before bed time, guess what Poppy Rodney feasted on? Made from scratch I might add. She also mentioned what had to be an "Alaskan desert" when she asked me if I had ever eaten any Moose Balls when I lived up there 43 years ago. I just looked at her hoping we were still talking about desserts and said, "Nope, I
don't reckon I have." Thinking back so many years, I finally told her that the only thing I remember was some reindeer sausage. She then shared with me the way Moose Balls were made and carefully prepared before they were filled with cream cheese. As I struggled to keep my focus on the dessert aspect of Moose Balls, I remember commenting that it would seem to be a deliberate and time consuming task to make them of which she agreed that it was. She told me she had a friend down the hill that made them at home and sold them for profit. Sarah did not make any herself, but her friend showed up a couple of days later with a bunch of them for us. Yes! They were delicious and you could not eat just one. With that being said, I'm sure it was a head thing with me, because I could not eat two, so my total consumption was three. Could have easily been five but I had to stand in line or bully three girls had I wanted more.
As I continued to ease into the Ferguson/Alaskan home, things that concerned me about being a stranger to these kids faded quickly. I felt like I had always lived and been a part of their world while still thousands of miles apart. I was able to be part of the life Stewart and Sarah made for themselves. I also noticed how consistent, patient and determined Sarah was in keeping her home, loving her girls and support she gave her husband. One evening Sarah was in her Woman Cave while Stewart and I were watching TV. He got up to do something and looked at me and made a general statement. "I'm hot." Without hesitation, Sarah
said, "Yes your are!" He said not a word. Just looked at me, shook his head and rolled his eyes. I just smiled. Those girls love their daddy, too. As the older girls are somewhat stand offish, little Audry doesn't hesitate to spread her affection. I was able to capture one picture that touched my heart and helped me realize my son was exactly the man I prayed he would be. Typical girls, they push each other's buttons and aggravate each other like all siblings do. Elizabeth is clearly the eldest of the three, Katherine has established her own identity in her world and Audry is either welcomed when those two are together or she is rejected and sent away in tears. Let me just add that she recovers quickly. Sarah is amazingly tuned into most conversations between the girls and quick to correct any stinging or hurtful words they might say to each other. In their own little part of Alaska, the three of them spend hours with each other in and out of the woods where they have forts, bear traps and swings spotted in separate parts of their three acres. Sarah told me that Elizabeth is very protective of Katherine at school and will be the same way with Audry.
As I have said before, Sarah runs a good house hold and Stewart exists in the background as the enforcer of Mom's world. No one wants that part of him, but those girls seem to worship the ground he walks on. I never heard one voice raised in anger among any of them. Those girls are always tattling on each other, now, and firm corrections are made often by Mom and sometimes Dad. Sarah had the occasion for some unknown reason to me, to spank Elizabeth and Katherine for something they had done. They came down the stairs and Elizabeth announced to me, "That didn't hurt at all," and Katherine agreed. Well, Sarah caught wind of that statement and was quick to revisit that meeting. There was not another word said after that second trip to mom's woodshed except from Katherine. "I don't like it when momma uses that wood spoon." I noticed Audry
was hanging pretty close to me after this reenforcement period and I didn't quite understand until Elizabeth regained her composure and came down stairs. I could tell something was wrong so I made a wild guess and told her that as much as I loved them, Poppy Rodney was always on mom and dad's side and I tattled, too. Elizabeth smiled and hugged my neck and went into the yard to play. I felt what seemed to be this heavy sigh of relief emanate from the little one sitting behind me. It dawned on me how Sarah "caught wind" of Elizabeth and Katherine's bold statement, it didn't hurt. The guilty little mouse realized she was just spared from a possible execution from her older sisters. I turned around looking over my shoulder and couldn't help from taking this picture as she sat there with that "you just saved me, Poppy smile on her face!"
Stewart had sent me pictures of a massive Grizzly bear and a Black bear that he had killed last summer at his bear stand. This place was up the Dalton Highway (The Ice Road) from Fairbanks and was assigned to him by the Alaska State Troopers Wildlife Enforcement Department. Although he had not hunted the spot in a couple of weeks, meaning he had not kept it baited for bear, he decided he would like to introduce his father to the excitement of the bear hunt! I was all in.
We set off for the hunting grounds somewhere in the Last Frontier around 7:30 pm as we intersected the Dalton Highway. We were headed north on this normally busy roadway when one of 10 vehicles we saw the entire trip passed us. As the driver started to turn back into the drivers lane, a mother moose decided to cross the road not seven car lengths in front of us. The passing vehicle braked hard and swerved to avoid a major collision with the moose as she slipped in the roadway just in time to keep the car from hitting her! Stewart was able to brake enough for her to regain her legs and continue to cross the road unharmed. We stopped at the spot the incident occurred and on my side of the vehicle, down in a wet land environment, was baby moose while momma waited patiently down in the wet land on Stewart's side of the vehicle. I took a few pics of momma and baby and we pulled up a hundred feet or so and stopped. within a minutes time, momma was back on the road encouraging baby moose to join her and off they went. I should mention that had that car struck momma, we would probably have become entangled in this massive engagement of vehicle and moose flesh. Vehicle and moose collisions are almost always fatal to the animal and often times fatal to the driver or occupants of the vehicle. After the excitement, we continued north into Russia's own to our destination. I was so fortunate to capture another momma moose and her twin calves on my cell phone just a few more miles north. I use that picture today as my profile picture on facebook.
We finally reached the location of his assigned bear hunting site around 0945 pm. He parked the truck on the Alaskan Pipeline at Block Point N at mile marker 365.2 from the North Slope, Stewart unloaded the four wheeler, loaded it up with supplies and encouraged me to climb on. A mile or so down the pipe line he stopped and we packed up and headed into the woods. we loaded ourselves with as many marshmellows, honey, syrup, sticky sweet stuff as you can imagine along with a 60 pound bag of dog food complet with chairs and a ground blind, Just before we enter the woods, Stewart stops at the trail entrance and pulls his 357 magnum from the holster pausing cautiously before he continued to his assigned spot. I had enough sense to know why he did that and breathed a sigh of relief as I consciously felt my own 45 cal 1911 with personal defense rounds snug in the holster on my side. It was here he shared with me that humans are number 5 on the food chain. The Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear and Wolf packs are the top 4. In other words, Dad, he continued, if they decide they want to eat you, wait until they are up close and shoot them through the eyes or mouth. I certainly found that bit of information extremely encouraging. About 50 yards
down the trail, he paused and pointed at bear scat on the well used path we were walking on. It was here I discovered the truth about the bear question. Yes. Bears do, do do in the woods! Steadily down hill another couple of hundred yards we came to a spot where a 55 gallon barrel with a window hole cut into the side was cabled to a tree. Stewart filled it up with the dog food, along with a lot of other "sweet stuff" bears rather enjoy! He then set up a small propane burner a few feet from the cabled barrel and filled it with marsh mellows, old honey and whatever else and set the concoction on the burning flame. While doing this we were both fighting for our lives from swarms of Alaskan mosquito's determined to void us of our live giving blood. They were simply trying to tote us off before the big mosquitos got there. So, during the hustle of checking the trail cam, setting up the candy store and smoke scent for bears, preparing the ground blind we were to sit in waiting for these unsuspecting bears, Stewart casually suggest I keep my eyes open. Something about a charging bear not taking kindly to us being there sorta put the mosquito's in a distant place in the back of my head despite their pesky persistence.
After about :45 minutes of packing stuff in, times two trips to the four wheeler a scant 300 yards uphill from where we were, we finally established a hunting posture comfortably inside the ground blind. Once you set up a mosquito thermo cell repellent inside of the blind, you can take off protective clothing as the mosquito's will certainly leave you alone. Comfortable and waiting for a social
visit from some unknown bear, Stewart continues my bear education. They know we are here, Dad. They smell that stuff a mile away and they smell us too. My concern is they have used the trail (remember the scat?) and could come in from behind us. That would not be good because the bear would have the advantage of surprise on us. He told me the black bear he killed last year was coming up a tree after him and he shot her between his feet looking down on her. That Grizzly we killed here a week or two later was 1200 hundred pounds. Three of us were sitting in tree stands when he came and and looked at us one time and went back to the barrel of goodies. Grizzly's cant climb, but they are powerful enough to just knock the tree we were in over. Took us 6 hours to get that giant bear from here up to the pipeline. All of this information was processing through my head when I asked him where his hunting rifle was. I knew it was in the truck and just figured he had packed it down from the four wheeler. He casually replied he left it in the truck. If a black bear came in we could take it with his pistol. Grizzly might be more of a challenge though. I remained calm and collected. There was absolutely no panic on my part but my 45 found its way out of my holster because it felt more comfortable on my lap. He had told me before I ever flew up that I need to be in shape because if a big Grizz did come into the perimeter we may have to vacate rapidly. Looking at him and that silly smile when he said that made him realize he had a better chance of getting fresh chicken crap from between his toes quicker than he could get rid of me.
Midnight came and turned into 2 am as it never got dark in the land of the midnight sun. We eventually decided to "break camp" and seek other adventures of the great north. We did not have to pack out the dog food and other bundles of goodies that found itself into the barrel as bait. With that in mind, I figured we could collect what was remaining and make one trip back to the four wheeler. That second trek up the scat laden trail took its toll on this 65 year old so I did not want to do it a fourth time. Stewart loaded me up and he bore the burden of what remained and up the trail we started. I will not mention that I could not breath. Nor will I tell anyone I could not feel my legs or body functioning. There was no pain as I simply could not breath. Had Mr. Grizzly, Black Bear, Wolf or Ground Squirrel wanted to take me, I would simply have disappeared from this world. No possible way am I ever going to admit that I was totally unable to even call Stewart's name to slow down and wait for me. I was beyond exhaustion as all I could do was suck in air to help me sustain what little life remained. I had every
intention of jokingly telling Stewart that I would never do to my daddy what he was doing to his but the words or any word would not come out of my mouth! I just thought I was in a little bit of shape, NOT, but what I did find out was I had a pretty dang good heart! So as we returned from the bear pit, stored equipment into his truck, loaded the four wheeler, we killed as many mosquito's as we could just for the hell of it before getting into the truck. As we sat there a few short moments in the early morning light, he looks at me with that smile that I remembered as a child and asked, "Dad, have you ever seen the Yukon River? Makes the Mississippi look like a mud puddle." I took this picture as we started the truck and turned north yet once again. I guess because the sun never went down, my bio-clock had not told me I was running on 24 hrs no sleep.
I guess some day I will finish this story... Procrastination or old age? Probably a whole bunch of both...