Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Real North

One day in May 1962 l found a note held down by a pebble on top of the mail rock by my cliff digs in the cemetery. Brother Davey was the only one who left notes there, or even knew about that particular hide-out at the time.
The note said I should come to dinner at home the next night and be sure to wear my legs.
Dinner this time was for Buzz Miller, a law school graduate Daddy Ernie had sent off to be an assistant attorney general in Alaska, and who was back for a class reunion and had been invited to a dinner cooked by Mama Dot. An invitation like that was greatly prized among the law students and graduates,
Since I had been specially invited to dinner, Mama Dot, knowing that instead of washing my clothing, I just wore it out and discarded it, had put a shirt, and some new underwear in the downstairs bathroom where I went to wash up. I changed into the new clothes and and disposed of the old. Then Davey took offense at my underwear stinking in the bathroom waste basket, tried to flush it down the toilet, and flooded the floor. But we got over that before the guest came, and all went smoothly from there on.
Daddy Ernie introduced me as an Outdoorsman, which was a polite way to charactrize me.
Dinner was Mama Dot's unbeatable Chicken Divan.
Buzz Miller had seconds because Daddy Ernie said we needed to put some fat on him for the winter hibernation up there, and when Buzz refused any thirds, Daddy Ernie said, what's the matter, don't you like our food?
And then he told the traditional Mooseflop joke, which was his only joke I remember, but he told it regularly after the don't you like our food embarassments.
It must have come from His Eligah Lake Lake Hunting Club experience, where cooking duty was not popular but complaining about the food was.
You probably know the deal; they made a rule that, If you complain about the food , you have to take over the cooking.
There was no other provision in the camp rules for rotating the Cooks job. And one very reluctant cook, who would have quit if it were allowed, produced some very bad meals, but couldn't seem to cook badly enough than any of the others would complain.
Finally, he has an inspiration in his sleep, gets up, goes out in the moon light with a canoe paddle and slides it under a big moose pie about the size of a tire,
He walks it back to camp with it, puts it in in a crust, bakes it all day, and serves it with a sprig of parsley on top for supper.

So the first guy to take a bite of this soufle sits back and says , says Daddy Ernie, Great Balls of Fire! That's Moose flop.....he says...........but Good!

That's it.
After the moose flop we went into the living room and discussed Anchorage, whose people, if they didn't have a float plane parked at the biggest float port in the world, needed only drive to a crossroads or a bridge at the outskirts of down to shoot an elk or snatch salmon which they bring back to huge rented cold storage units down town. Anchorage where under the midnight sun cabbages grow big as dog houses, where odd people went to start new lives, if not maybe to grow new legs, where, seeing as I was such an Outdoorsman, abd if I cared to experience the true Great Outdoors, he could put me up for as long as it took me to find some interesting work..

Less than a month later, about a year before the big earth quake shattered the Alaska permafrost and sprang hundreds of miles of rail road track. Daddy Ernie loaned me money for a plane ticket and handed me the belted suit case which he had carried to college. Mama Dot contributed a tooth brush, and paste, note paper, and ball point pens, a few pairs of new underwar and socks. I packed my harmonica, and a fly reel with a weight forward line, a jack knife, and a carton of Winstons. I hadn't smoked before, but I was starting another life.

Wearing my traveling legs, underwear and denims cut off right out of the package, I took the first plane ride of my life, most of it over endless Canadian lake-splattered lowlands, and most of the rest up the icey spine of the continent, all of which would have been dizzying even wtihout the narcosis of the nicotine.

I staggered off the plane in Anchorage, and was met at the gate by two native prostitutes who seemed to have known I was coming. I had no idea what they wanted as they approached with tubucular coughs, but I gave them each a cigarette .
They accepted, and hung on, but I was soon picked up by Buzz Miller.

He had looked into the employment situation and we discussed the job possibilities as we drove to his home.
The possibilites were limited. The idea of crewing on a fishing boat appealed to me, or I thought it did , but any captian wanted an investment from his crew members in the expedition, and though noting was said about the issue, I am sure none of them needed a youthful lurch-about on projetile prosthetics.
There was also work at remote oil drilling sites, which appealed only by virtue of the remoteness, but rough as my general nature is, I was no rough neck.
There were a few openings for men to camp alone with a rifle at the mouths of Salmon spawning streams in order to make sure that the commercial fishermen did not approach closer than the law allowed. This had some appeal for me of course, being a job with a gun, involving pirates, but it was a job that usually went to ex soldiers trained to kill.
The next day, we visited a National Fsheries department station, but they wanted to hire college boys in a fisheries major for seasonal work there. About all this left was working in a cannery with the native women, or working on the railroad.
Working on the Railroad sounded good, almost musical.
At the Railroad office, I learned that all I had to do was pass a physical exam and sign a statement that I would not try to overthrow the government or form a union of railroad workers.

Of course the physical exam was the problem, and I dreaded the outcome..
Dr. Starr was tan and rumpled as a veternarian. He noted that I had come from New York State, and he had too, but he didn't see how people could stand it there. When I had dropped my pants for the exam Dcotor Starr asked how in the hell I expected to be a Gandy Dancer, with those legs of mine, such as they are.
I didn't know what a Gandy Dancer was, but I shifted around unseasily and looked down at my naked prostethics as if I had only just discovered them there myself, flexing like I was trying them for the first time, then I pulled up my pants and bounced in place a little, then bounced around the room some, a good foot and a half each bounce.
Dr. Starr said that was some Damn Gandy Dancing with such feeling that I thought maybe that was what it was. He had meo walk around some more, and wanted to know who made the phosthetics and all about them, so I told him how Doc Howe had cobbled the legs out of fly rod parts .
Doctor Starr proceeded to examine my main body, and concluded that I had after all, a sound and sturdy pair of legs and feet of my own, that I was in excelent health over all, and that with the adidtional advantage of my amazing prosthesetic devices, I might do just fine on the job.

He signed off on the papers and said that if I could make my way back to Anchorage on a weekend, I could fly with him and a buddy a few miles inland across Cook Inlet to a small lake where he had a cabin. He had built it entirely out of materials flown, in strapped between the pontoons of a Cesna float plane.
He said he lake was full of trout you could catch them with a frying pan.
Trout so wild they are tame.
Moose and Bears the same.
As a matter of fact, a bear had invited itself to dinner that Spring, and he had killed it right in the doorway.

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