My Strange Childhood in Alaska, Installment 3
Edith Wharton Right Here, Baby
You know, one thing my parents allowed, night or day, was reading. Well, you know where I took that. I'd read throughout the midnight sun, and wrangle the last of those pages, light or not. I read Tolstoy, (who I thought was a bit of a self-serving rich prig), Dickens, in whom I could thoroughly relate... Even the fella who wrote the 40 or so potboilers about "Platinum Blonde Sun", and "Cinnamon Dying Sunset" , I want to say Joe Macdonald. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I loved him almost as much as Shakespeare and Pliny. Plutarch I considered a weepy wimp,(I still do.) One day I'm going to get that t-shirt made that says: Plutarch is a Sissy. Yes, my parents had many faults, but being ill-read was not one of them. We may have been dressed in rags and filthy, but we had read "The Odyssey ", and knew most of our Roman and Greek Gods.
You know, they simply let me go, like a savage. We may have had eighteen hours of sunlight a day, but that was not enough light for my reading addiction. I'd run the batteries out on the flashlights, and read under the covers. Whether it was because I seemed like such an unpromising lump, I really do not know, but I was allowed to run around in my skivies til noon, dart into the kitchen for what my Mother euphemistically called "a slab of cheese", and submerge my self in another book. That is, until Mom's poetry class showed up one day, unbenounced to me, and I ran thru the living room to the kitchen from the warren of rooms in the back. All these powdered ladies just gaped at me, (the little heathen), and I gaped right back. As I recall, I managed to struggle into a pair of pants after that, to go get my sustenance. I never got over being shy, in fact, the first time I was asked to go eat in public, I was 12. I hung onto the door jambs of my room, and wailed at my Mother, "Please, please don't make me go!" They pried me off the jambs, and I ate at Jamaico's Pizza, with Mom, Dad, and Richard Benner, who I can only speculate was trying to clear some debts he owed Mom and Dad.
One special treat we would get once or twice every summer, was a trip to Goose Lake. Even then, we knew too many kids had peed into it's rather questionable depths, but this was water! We could at least pretend to swim, and, if it was sunny, we might be able to gain a brown film over our lilywhite skin. But, that was not the best of it. All kids seem to be delighted in bugs, and we were no different. We had discovered a bug to end all bugs. The Hiberdacious Diving Beetle was a resident of Goose Lake. My memory tells me I was the first to discover them, because I remember going to my brother Carl, and saying, "Look!" "Look at this!", and running to the left of the little sanded area where people sunbathed. Carl didn't follow, because, of course, little sisters were not important, but , finally he got curious, and followed me. I pointed down to the water's edge, at the inch long,(and sometimes more), beetle that was diving in the water like a fish. Carl, always equipped with bug catching paraphenalia, ran and got a quart size jar. Since I had discovered them, I would name them. I named them "Snorks". Carl tried to shut me up, but the harder he tried, the louder I got. "Snorks, snorks!", I'd cry. He must have finally given in, because we called them Snorks from then on. No sooner had we discovered them, we began to exploit them. The Founding Fathers would have been proud. We gathered a number of them, and put them in an old stainless steel washing basin, and baptized them with names like Sarge, and Kenny.
Well, to our horror, the Franklin kids, Wendy and Doug decided to do the same, and since they were slightly better off than us, we considered this war, and battle commenced. We'd harrass Mother so badly that she'd cave in, and bring us to Goose Lake, where we would busy ourselves with gathering our weapons of war.
Our Snorks were disappearing. Someone, no doubt the Frankins were stealing our Snorks! Kenny was gone! Sarge was gone! Thieves! I remember one late summer evening I had guard duty over the stainless steel tub. No one was going to steal our Snorks with me there! I then discovered the awful truth about Snorks, They could fly, and they had never really appreciated being baptized and given silly names. I watched as Herkimer took wing. I still remember tears tracking down my grubby face as I gazed into the lowering sun, and Herkimers turncoat wings.
I guess alot of people would think my childhood dirty and dull. For the most part, it was, but my parents never stifled our imaginations. I suppose that is the greatest gift I could ask for.