When my mother was a child in Michigan it was a big deal to go even two miles to the nearest market, so when she and her cousin, Patty Jo, decided to bike to the nearest big city, six miles away, they thought they were on an epic adventure that even their grandchildren would talk about.
How could they have ever pictured one day living in a remote fishing village in Alaska with only about thirty residents and no roads, right on the edge of civilization? Talk about an epic adventure! Patty Jo was a single mother with two sons, Mark and Alex. My mom had five kids--I was only six, but my older, city cousins made a big impression on me and I never forgot them, Mark in particular who always looked out for little girls who could have gotten run over in the rough play my older brother and his pals indulged in.
To my delight, Mark recently left some wonderful comments on my blog and agreed to write a guest blog of his memories of my Grandpa Frank. And here it is. (My comments are in brackets.) Enjoy! Tara, A Daughter of the Walrus.
MARK'S GUEST BLOG:
I told Tara I'd write a little something about Uncle Frank. He was actually my mom's uncle and Tara's grandfather, but we always called him Uncle. I have no idea when Frank and his wife Pat moved to the Chuck [Meyers Chuck], but when my brother and I arrived on our first ever floatplane ride he was there to help us.
Now I'm telling bits of stories from nearly forty years ago so Tara can separate fact from fiction. Frank was a legit 7 foot 2 man [actually, either 6'4" or 6'6"] man with hands like bear paws. I think he was close to 70, and I was told that he was one of the old school Montana loggers back in the day with longsaws instead of chainsaws. If you ever saw his house in the Front Chuck--it was gorgeous and big with log beams that ran the full width of the house--you could never deny any of his logging abilities. He built the house!
"How'd you get the beams up there, Uncle Frank?" Soft chuckle...."I put 'em up there."
He really looked like Santa Claus and never once over several years did I hear him raise his voice. He was a gentle giant.
I caught my first king salmon with him which weighed out at 28 lbs. At nine years old I thought I was going to get pulled from the boat and begged him to help me. Each time he'd just chuckle, look me in the eye and say..."It isn't my fish." I love that now, knowing he made me fight for what was mine and I didn't need help. Holding up the salmon I could proudly say....I caught it.
Then there was his woodchopping ability. In the bush everybody helps each other out and wood is a giant commodity when there is no electricity. Alex and I chopped wood every day but it was hard for a young woman and two boys to keep up with. I can't remember who would bring us wood [Tara's dad], but when it comes it's still in the tree trunk, cylindrical shape [called rounds]. Maybe 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 feet? [Depends on the size of the tree, or log.] Slightly bigger than a 5 gallon bucket.
You roll them from the boat to the woodshed and when you begin to cut you use the back of the axe to hammer a wedge into the log, splitting it in two. Then you use the axe on the halves to split them into about three pieces a side producing six normal looking fireplace logs that I get around the corner here in Chicago.
Anyway, Frank comes over to help us catch up. From the start to finish with the wedge might take me 20 whacks at the wedge if hit clean, then another 20 minutes to bust out 6 logs. We had been told watching Frank chop wood was something else, so we were excited.
He taps the wedge into the log with the back of the axe head, so it's upright on its own, and with one hand smashes the wedge, spins the axe and two swings left and two swings right, chops the halves as they are falling!!
Never, never, never have I seen anything close to that since.
Me and Alex immediately wanted to become loggers so we could do it, too.
He does about 20 of those for us and takes off in the McKee Craft. I didn't even include how quick he'd turn a cut log into kindling. We were set for a month in a half hour, if that.
The last is just a story I was told with him in the room. When I looked at him he just chuckled and nodded. Good enough for me.
So the story went, and this was 30 years before eating hotdogs and garbage was all over TV, he and Pat went to a steakhouse where if you could finish the big 84 or 74 (I don't remember exactly, but a Fred Flinstone steak), your entire meal was on the house.
This is one of those stupid bets that takes 3 hours for some dumb, big guy to get the last 20 bites down while sweating over his plate and taking water breaks. Frank apparently calmly carved through it like a normal meal and asked for seconds!
I don't know how true it is but hearing he and Pat tell the story together and seeing the glimmer in his eyes as he nodded at me will be forever priceless. I hope Tara gets the picture of me and him up. Everyone should get a chance to see my Uncle Frank.
Those are my favorite memories. Just remember when you read these blogs of Tara's, they're being written by the granddaughter of Frank, one of the true original Alaska bushmen.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)