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My Strange Childhood in Alaska, Installment 4

Updated on June 18, 2015

Earthquakes, The Nenana Ice Classic, and Other Things

A lot of things happen in Alaska that rarely happen anywhere else, altho that has changed a bit these days with horrific earthquakes in Japan, and sunamis in many other countries, as well, as California earthquakes too, but in 1964, we felt quite isolated and alone when our earthquake hit.

I'd say, the day the earth quaked, a massive, and prolonged earthquake, I was close to dead anyway, so all these marvelous things happening were barely marked by my sickly eyes. Our Dr. Cates, the one that delivered me, saved my thumb, (and later rolled his erect penis on me),( he must have been proud that he was still able to be erect), didn't believe in antibiotics, even though I could not breathe, either thru my nose, or mouth, and was drowning in green pus. If I hadn't had been so sick, I would have been proud of the (OOOGGG factor). Mom said she'd given up on me. Yeah.... thanks. Ma.

Anyway, we were headed up to the second floor, which Mrs. Unsala was renting from us, a fellow Finn, (Mom was all Finnish), to tell Mrs. Unsala to come with us. On the way up, the many stairs rippled like an escalator, and few words were exchanges with Mrs. Unsala, and on the way down, Ma clutched me roughly, and Mrs. Unsala warbled like a frightened bird. It was hard going!

There was still snow on the ground; in fact, there was a big drift of the stuff between our yard and the Franklins, and Mom threw us kids on it while she was getting the old Mercedes from the other side of the house. I remember one thing so clearly: the birch trees in our yard were whipping back and forth so hard, they touched the ground on either side! We somehow got bundled into the car, and just as were headed down the filthy alley connecting us with The Shumakers, a huge chasm began to open up in front of us. Mom floored that old Mercedes for all it was worth, but we still almost didn't make it; our back end sunk down into it briefly- but Mom saved the day.

We went downtown; I guess Dad had a job there, so we went to check on him; he was o.k., but shaken. There was only one creature that remained calm, our cat Tuffy. We found him dining on that scruffy red linoleum, a massive pot of spagetti beside him, looking up at us, like, "Well say, you all abandoned the place, and I wasn't going to waste it, see?"

Spagetti seemed to presage a lot of trajedy in our family... I survived my cold somehow, and lived to see the day that my Father won, hands down, the Nenana Ice Classic. I also lived to see the day he lost. They were the same day.

The Nenana Ice Classic was a contest to see what day, hour, and minute the Nenana River's ice busts wide open, and a tripod of wood is swept away. It still exists today. Well, when I was six or seven, we got news over the radio, the Nenana River was flowing, and the tripod was gone. It was swept away the exact day, hour, and minute my Father predicted, and no one else was even close. He would have been awarded all the winnings. But.... he had decided he would never win, and tossed the ticket away. Dad, whose appetite was epic, ate not one bite of the great spagetti Mom had made. Dad quietly set his spagetti down for Tuffy, and left for the Peanut Farm, I imagine to get really drunk.

Christmas time was fraught with fear and disapointment, fear for me, and disapointment for Carl, the brother closest in age to me, I'd be cajoled to carol people, which never worked- I'd always end up in the fetal position in the back of the Chevy Carry-all, crying hysterically, 'Please, please don't make me!" I'd screech. All Carl ever got was sox. He played in Little League, wrestling, sang very well, just everything he did, he did so well. We were on the edge of being White Trash, but never Carl! He took a bath daily! He was witty! He dressed well! And he bloody expected to be renumerated for his efforts. I'd cringe, and cry for him, because he always got sox. I tried the princess act once with my Folks. I had dreamed a dream where I was a princess. Of course. I asked Mom to lay out my clothes, draw my bath, and bring me kippers, lightly buttered, toast, and weak tea. Mom's eyes began to float. She said, there's oatmeal, or cornmeal. Take your pick.

I have a really great memory of Carl and me, at our very best. Every year, humble as we were, we'd be invited to Ed and Dolores Borrecco's house for a dinner and party. We did not know where to begin! The Borreccos upstairs was home to a massive stone fireplace. Ed always used these long matches that flared like fireworks, just for us kids. There was a congenial meeting upstairs, with nuts, and chex mix, and even candies. We kids were on our best behavior- we adored the Borrecco's. Maybe it was the massive wagonwheel chandelier, or the white carpet, or the bathroom where everything was blue... the soap, the towels, the toilet and sink, the rugs, the toilet seat covers, (TOILET SEAT COVERS!), (miracles were bound to happen at the Borrecco's).

We ate dinner downstairs, with place mats, and tablecloths, and silver cutlery, arranged the right way. For us... the Staats's. It was always great food, and lots of it, and Ed and Dolores simply loved to entertain. They also had two massive punch bowls, crystal, of course, one for the children, and one with spiked hootch, for the grown-ups, with crystal goblets to drink it in. Carl and me, both retiring, stayed downstairs, where a pine bar with all the accoutrements were, along with two couches, and a lava lamp.

True to form, I realized something was wrong, but continued anyway. I began drinking the hootch. Ummm, Carl said. Yessir! This was the stuff! Pinkies up, we sampled the spiked punch, over and over. Soon, a great lassitude overcame me, and I curled up, warm and happy, gazing at the lava lamp. Carl did too. We were happy, warm, and safe, a thing so many kids can't say in this day and age. Mom laughed, and bundled her two pint-size drunkards into the Carry-all.

The great thing about being poor, is, everything is utilized, noticed, dreams are dreamt to color our existance... and if times were grindingly hard from time to time, we could always count on times of abundance too. Our lives were not easy, but we were never molested, and we never starved, though it felt as if we were. Well, I could never say it was a dull childhood!


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    • maggieb44 profile image


      2 years ago from Winlock, Wa.

      Lillian! Those "crystal" glasses were purchased at Piggly Wiggly with peanut butter in them. That is how fancy we Borrecco's could get! Many fun times with the Staats. Lots of Music playing along with food eating. I remember Mom one year blaming you kids for sampling the Xmas candy in the bowl and putting it back after not liking it.... then she caught Hobo. Licking the candy and dropping it back in the bowl. She felt so bad about thinking it was you and your brothers...but it stiil made us all laugh until she worried that maybe you kids were eating Hobo's rejects!!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago


      Reading this took me through the near entire spectrum of possible emotion. I'm with hyph, Doctor Quackula should be missing a body part due to slow disarticulation with a dull and rusty blade. No follow-up treatment of antibiotics should be given to him after the procedure either since he didn't believe in them.

      About the punch, lol! I think I was accidentally familiarized similarly at about the same age. Snug as a bug in a rug and carried to the car in a stupor because I couldn't remember how to make my legs work.

      This has been a superb story!

    • lilyfly profile imageAUTHOR

      Lillian K. Staats 

      6 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      Was I practicing up? hehe, yes, I did a lot of practicing, I've got family in Tennesse, My cousin Lori Langlois... I love natural disasters, but I know I wouldn't say that if I lived in the 48... peace... lily

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I lived in Southern Cal., we got the earthquakes, not like Alaska's, but good ones. During one of them, the china cabinet tipped over, dumped my dishes and broke my old rocker. I live in TN now, we get tornado's, they really suck. We also get floods that sit there for a few weeks. I hate natural disasters.

      I have eaten so much spaghetti, I bleed sauce. My kids think we are Italian, and the dog won't eat it.

      Your Christmas party drunk was hysterical, were you practicing up?

      I love your story. Very interesting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Spaghetti, eh? My wife, Pam, was eating a plate of spaghetti--years before we met--when a fellow shot her in both feet and ankles. Twice. With a revolver, and claimed it was an accident. Nice, rusty, home-reloaded .357 Mag hollowpoints.

      Not a big spaghetti fan to this day, she's not.

      You were lucky on the Princess act. Kippers suck. Either oatmeal or cornmeal is better. (Can you tell I'm not a big fish dude?)

      Your stories about your chldhood nearly always remind me of an incident when I was...six, I think. We had sardines for supper. I refused to eat them. Dad enforced his rule: I would not be allowed to get up from the bench at the table until I DID eat them.

      Supper was at 6:00 p.m. sharp, always. I lost the battle at around 8:20 p.m., caved in, and ate the #&%!! sardines.

      Not that I'd have cared all that much, but it never dawned on me until decades later: That was probably the only thing left in the house TO eat.

      Oh well!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks Nell, I think the good was really good, and the bad was really bad, but we were not molested, nor did we starve, and we saw a great number of wondrous things.

      Thank you Hy, it really was an odd mix, and I debated leaving the story of Carl until much later, because there were many more funny stories after that.

      Thanks AA, I'll bet even those kids surrounding me could have topped our horror stories, and altho I owe it to Carl to tell his story... maybe this wasn't the time... at least not yet... love to all of you, and thanks... lily

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Very difficult upbringing Lily. Traumatic, tragic, with some warm memories in between.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Lily, this is full of nuggets. Your mom was so brave to floor the gas pedal on that old car and save her kids. Wow. We had something similar but with a railroad track.

      That nasty doctor really had the gall to do that to you? I hope someone cut it off.

      And dear Carl. That kind of loss never leaves. I am always so sad when childish potential becomes adult pain.

      I love your Princess story. That would be me, me , me. laugh Hey, it was worth a try, huh.

      Earthquakes, gambling, bear, moose, a kitty cat with attitude, it sounds like a great life. I loved the story.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, you sound as though your childhood was a mixture or really bad with a bit of magical good, I am so sorry about your brother, sometimes parents are brought up in a way that they just can't get out of, take care nell


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