I helped scale the bark from fresh cut pine trees in 1972. These blond shiny logs would form the structure that would become my house, the piles of bark, when dried, would burn in the stove of our ten man army issue tent when the mercury dropped below zero. Of course, in Fairbanks Alaska, that is often the case, and I have no memory of the times I must have been melted, chipped, or otherwise tugged from the green canvas walls of the thing, and the ice that crawled along it’s seems. I was a summer of love boy frozen in the Great Land.
To peel the logs we used a blade with handles on either end bought with pride from Samson’s hardware across from Fairbanks general hospital. This now defunct historical landmark on the Chena river has the ignoble pride of being the birthplace of Mike, racer of stock car 72, and second place winner of moms wedding finger. When he bought the blades, the wood, the portable toilette, and other sundry items, he was doing what so many of Alaska sons were doing. Making a life at the end of a muddy road, making the road a place to eat the hand picked blue berries and light the love filled kerosene lamps.
Mike would shoulder the timber alone, brute display of manhood with veins popping, and hike them down the well-worn path to the clearing where our cabin would soon stand. On 2.8 mile Gilmore trail in 1972 our family established ourselves with a mail box. We had the biggest one in the community, and beside it I would spend many summer days selling lemon aid to the three other neighbors on black sand road, proud to be the step son of so noble a guy who could have such a big post box. It was purple, with flowers, mom’s touch.
My step dad had a love affair with his 350. Every 6 weeks he would come home from the North Slope where he was employed to help build the Alaska pipeline and sequester himself promptly beneath the engine of his 71 Monte Carlo. I was always proud as a child, then numb as a teenager to the fact that “dad” kept our car well tuned.
Even when the Alaskan winter would throw a 30 bellow zero week at us, he would be under that car with his Carhartts on, turning nuts, adjusting cables, and replacing gaskets. There was never emotion in the event. He was simply home again, under the car in his usual place. It was like his easy chair.
One day the road was plowed and the hardened snow turned to angular plates of ice like shingles. Pete and I got our warmest clothes on and ran outside to build the biggest best igloo ever. There was dad under the car. He didn’t notice the cavernous cave Pete and I fashioned out of the frozen labyrinth of ice and snow.
On summer days when I was bored and kicking rocks for fun, dad was in his usual spot. When I had friends over to play or get into trouble, dad was there, laying down, twisting nuts. “Wow, your dad is cool Steve, he knows cars..” my friend Joe Zachary remarked. “Yep, he’s cool” I would reply. Inside myself, though I knew that while dad did know cars, he didn’t know me.