Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, circa 1969

On this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for my abundant blessings, and I am thankful for you, my blog friends.

I awoke at 3:30 a.m. this morning with Thanksgiving, 1969 on my mind. I was three months pregnant, a soldier's wife, living in a trailer the size of an old city bus, in Delta Junction, Alaska. It was a wilderness town, population 500, situated at the end of the Alcan Highway. We received Down the Road Pay, an extra monthly stipend of about forty dollars because we lived off post in a hostile environment. No, we didn't have to dodge bullets like the soldiers in Viet Nam, but danger lurked and our enemy was the extreme climate, fifty below zero degrees with unbelievably strong winds. Caribou, moose, a herd of buffalo and an occasional bear roamed freely.

Winter sunrise occurred about 8:00 a.m. and illuminated the town with a forty watt glow. Pitch dark enveloped the town by 2:30 p.m. There were no porch lights and no street lamps, like back home. Walking outside on a clear moonlit night was literally breathtaking; our exhaled breath crystallized. The stars looked so close it seemed I could reach up and pluck one. The aurora borealis spilled pastel streaks across the sky. But on cloudy nights, (3:00 p.m.) when I walked outside, my visibility was zero. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face. I could hear and feel the thundering from the herd of wild buffalo tramping down our gravel road.

I stayed inside and watched either PBS, Public Broadcast Station or AFS, the Armed Forces Station. I viewed a lot of Sesame Street, a brand new childrens' educational program, and when I tired of that, I watched army reels. At 6:00 p.m. we were able to watch the NEWS, live from a local TV station in Fairbanks, 100 miles away. The male reporters were often caught licking their hands and smoothing their hair -talk about Candid Camera! Then Walter Cronkite would report the nightly world news. The only problem was, it was the news from the night before. There was a twenty-four hour delay because the newsreels had to be flown in from Seattle each day.

Thanksgiving, 1969 was one for the books. Every military family living off post had difficulty stretching their paychecks 30 days. We all ran out of something by the last week of the month. Often we didn't have six cents for a postage stamp to write home.

The day before, I'd purchased a roasting hen and stuffing at Diehl's, a general store, bookended by a tiny post office and bank. At 10:00 a.m. I put the chicken in the tiny oven and sat down to write a letter.

Dear Mom,
Happy Thanksgiving. As I look out the window I see an older Eskimo couple in their mid-forties walking down the road wearing parkas. They are arguing loudly in their native language. Most of the people around here are transient young military couples, and most of the wives are in various stages of pregnancy. This native couple must live nearby. I see them frequently, and he is always verbally abusive to her. I should invite them in for Thanksgiving dinner, but I know you'd lecture me about strangers. I've invited Bob and Karen from down at the end of the road. I like her, but her husband is more hot-tempered than mine. Have to go baste the bird ...

That's when my Thanksgiving took a turn for the worse. I opened the oven, anticipating the blast of warm air, but the oven was cold and the bird uncooked. My former husband and I pooled our pocket change, and came up with ninety-four cents. We scrounged around the couch, searched high and low and found three more pennies. He unscrewed the small propane tank (which fueled the cook stove) attached to the front of the trailer, and we headed up the road to the gas station. It cost $3.00 to refuel the tank, but my Ex explained the situation to the attendant, asked if he could purchase a dollar's worth of propane, and promised to pay him the three pennies later. The man filled the tank, and said, "Happy Thanksgiving, kids. Come see me on payday."

As we sat down with friends to a delicious chicken dinner, I said a long-winded prayer.

Forty-two years later, my kids and grandkids are scattered in all directions, visiting relatives. I will join Bill's children and grandchildren this afternoon and send up a prayer of Thanksgiving for good health, a good husband, good kids, good grandkids,and good gravy, because Robin makes the best!

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