Growing Up Anchorage

Solstice, from Darkness into the Light

Jan & John’s wedding, 1961. In background, Pat and Carol Z. © Jana Ariane Nelson

My honeymoon with John carried an ominous foreboding as to the life of our marriage, although the first indication came earlier, when I was unable to find a wedding dress I adored.

Eventually I settled on a demure white satin, calf-length dress with a full skirt. It was certainly not the floor length, lacy sculptured Dior with a flowing train that I fancied. Shoeboxes filled with pictures of designer gowns were stuffed under my dresser and in the corners of my closet, making it impossible for my shoes to pair up. ピアノ買取 That was one more clue I missed.

Mom, with her Depression era frugality, did not offer to up the ante for the dress of my dreams and my salary was a pittance. At $1.25 an hour, it was barely above babysitting wages and would have taken me ten years of scrimping and saving to afford the garment I desired. longer, if Starbucks had been invented. The designer gown was not to be, and I settled on the calf-length satin.

During the early 60’s in Anchorage, marriage adhered to strict rules and usually came before either party figured out the subtle details. Raging hormones pretty much took priority over common sense. Living together before vows was unheard of. Instead, couples resorted to short engagements, pretending to be chaste, while messing around, a little or a lot in parked cars.

With the cavalier sense of nineteen year olds, John and I were married on December 21, 1961 during a lingering deep freeze, on one of the coldest, darkest, and longest. nights of the year. We were in love and lust, and the insistence of our loins prevented us from delaying our nuptials until spring. Besides, my brother was home from college, and it seemed the logical time for a wedding, regardless that Christmas was only a few short days away.

According to custom, we did not tell anyone where we were planning to spend our honeymoon, which was to begin the day after our evening wedding. If the truth were known, we had no clue where we were going.

“We’ll just find a lodge somewhere down on the Kenai,” John had suggested a few weeks earlier, looking through his pockets for any extra cash. His salary at Business Service Bureau, which provided the first commercial computer service in Anchorage, was moderate, indeed. We managed to afford the dumpy second floor apartment in an old, decrepit building near downtown, and purchase essentials, with little left over for extravagances, such as a honeymoon.

Neither of us had any experience booking hotels or planning a trip. In fact, during this dim period in history, there were no websites, Google, GPS, cell phones or SIRI to let us know where we were. Ask any of our elders for advice? Unheard of! Not even our parents would know where we were going, and a long distance call to them once we arrived at our destination was an unnecessary expense, IF the lodge even had phone service.

The next day, our car shuffled down the Seward highway. It was a complete rattletrap purchased hastily in a second hand automobile lot from a dubious character, but it was ours and it was paid for. Late morning snuggling had prevented our early departure, and we eventually found ourselves facing diminishing light on the mostly deserted highway south of Anchorage. The outside temperature plunged to thirty below zero and was steadily dropping.

“Will we find a lodge soon?” I asked, unsuccessful in my attempts to ignore the sputtering sounds coming from beneath the hood, or my rapidly freezing feet. The pittance of heat coming from the vents barely warmed my stiff fingers. My imagination kept busy inserting visions in my head of our dead bodies: stiff, frozen sculptures on the side of the road, our newlywed lives ruined before they even began.

We continued to drive for miles through the forest without evidence of any life other than our own. Even the moose were hunkered down, hibernating until daylight.

Finally, through the blackness we saw a flickering light ahead to the right and our headlights spotted a sign pointing up a dark, winding, narrow road to shadowy structures lurking against a hillside somewhere on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The lodge, whose name I cannot remember, was home to a rustic group of buildings situated in a dense thicket of spruce. Lights shining from several windows in a two-story log structure gave us hope that people were inside.

We were so excited to find a place to stay, it escaped our notice there was only one vehicle parked close to the lodge. Bounding out of the car, we took the icy stairs of the porch two at a time to the front door. It was locked. An eerie silence seemed to settle in around us and I shivered. Maybe this is a big mistake. I thought!

John rapped loudly on the door several times and after what seemed like forever it opened just enough for us to see a man dressed in jeans, a knitted turtleneck sweater and a heavy, wool Pendleton shirt, open at the collar. Brown hair was mussed and his demeanor implied he had not anticipated any visitors.

“We’re closed,” he said, his eyebrows scrunching towards his nose.

“But we are on our honeymoon and need a place to stay.” I blurted out before John could speak.

“I’m sorry, but the staff has all gone for the holidays. I’m the caretaker, the only one here,” the man replied, opening the door a bit further, while still blocking it with his heavy boot. I could tell he was scrutinizing us. Were we as young and innocent and wet behind the ears as we appeared? A slight smile formed at the corners of his mouth. After looking us up and down several times, he seemed satisfied there were just the two of us.

I was shivering noticeably by then and feeling quite desperate. Is this a safe place to stay,  I wondered? The man’s smile unnerved me but no telling how far it was to Kenai itself, or Soldotna, and we were well beyond the Seward cutoff and Moose Pass. Certainly, our car wouldn’t make it much further through the frigid cold and darkness of the night. All I could see in my mind were our frozen bodies, our sightless eyes staring off into the darkness.

I believed our situation to be dire and the man must have read that on my face. “Tell you what,” he said, after surveying us for another minute or so, “I’ll let you stay here at no charge. As long as you cook,” he smiled, his penetrating blue eyes directed at mine.

“And there won’t be any maid service,” he added.

I prayed his name was not Norman.

“Well, there you are,” John exclaimed, nonplussed. “Great idea; thank you!”

“I’m Chuck,” the man said, much to my relief, and extended his hand to John, who introduced us. The deal was sealed; we had a roof over our heads, albeit a dubious one. I had a better look at Chuck as he opened the door and let us in. In his thirties or early forties, his looks and height were passably nondescript, average. You most likely would not notice him in a crowd. Everything about him seemed copacetic and his demeanor suggested the best of intentions. Still, I found myself wary; was that not what “they” said about psychopaths? I shrugged off the thought, thinking that I was tired and cold and had seen too many scary movies.

Decorating the tree. © Jana Ariane Nelson

Inside, the lodge was agreeably warm and welcoming. A huge fireplace stood at the end of the great room, and I warmed my hands as John and Chuck agreed to the arrangements. Their conversation gave me a moment to look around. The great room’s windows faced the parking lot on one side and rose to the second floor on an adjacent wall, where guest rooms lined an open railed hallway. The space was not especially large, but cozy in a homey sort of way. An old upright piano with chipped white paint stood against the second story wall and piles of sheet music on top indicated that someone played it often.

We signed the guest book, and Chuck showed us to our room along the upper hall. It was not spacious, but ample enough with a small bath, double bed, dresser, small table and a couple of chairs. This was definitely not the Ritz Carlton, but it was adequate and warm. Chuck appeared to be a nice enough fellow, although I was still rather unnerved that there were just the three of us isolated in this remote lodge.

Downstairs we were given a tour of the kitchen, which was unpretentious, but had commercial equipment. Fortunately for Chuck, I did know how to cook simple meals. He had already eaten, and there were enough leftovers to tide us over until morning. He rapidly disappeared, saying he needed to check on the generator and plug in his truck.

After we had eaten, John and I retired to our room to unpack our few belongings. I insisted on locking the door. “What good does that do?” John asked. “Chuck has a key to all the rooms!” Seeing it was useless, I quit protesting. John was right, but I locked it anyway.

Chuck seemed to be the perfect host. The next morning he brought in a Christmas tree for us to decorate. He was wholeheartedly okay with my decision to cook spaghetti for Christmas dinner, even though there was a turkey in the freezer. I didn’t tell him I had never cooked a turkey before.

Chuck regularly checked on the generator and his truck, made sure there were no frozen pipes, and kept the fire burning in the hearth. He gave us space and was only available for meals or when we needed him to be a third player for cribbage. Whenever we tired of the fun and games in our room, we reappeared and the three of us spent hours playing card games before the roaring fire. The thermometer remained below minus 30 and lingering outside for any length of time was not pleasant.

OOPS! © Jana Ariane Nelson

Sometimes I worried that Chuck’s trips to fix the generator or gather firewood were an excuse to leave us alone so we would go back to our room to continue exploring the delights of married life. Who knew, I surmised, perhaps there were peepholes in the wallpaper or above the ceiling light fixtures. Maybe the mirrors were of the two-way variety. Periodically I reminded myself I should not have seen Psycho the year before. Too late now, I was unnerved and suspicious so I made sure that when I showered, John was in our room. Maybe it was paranoia, but I could not quite keep my mind off the outside chance that something was terribly amiss.

John turned out to be an imperfect groom who argued with me frequently over trifles. We had a heated discussion over how to cook his eggs for breakfast; I frustrated him because I won more often than not during our strip poker games behind the locked doors of our room.

Cleaning up. © Jana Ariane Nelson

When we were decorating the tree, I dropped a glass ornament, breaking it. Chuck did not seem to care. The ornament did not appear to be anything more expensive than something you would buy at Woolworth’s bargain basement, but it still gave John the opportunity to be disappointed with me, although Chuck thought it funny and took pictures of the mishap.

By the day after Christmas it was time to head home to our jobs and the real world. John and Chuck spent some time making sure our car was in reasonable running order, and we got off to a late start. Chuck saw us to the door as we were leaving.

“You will need to have it checked over thoroughly when you get back to Anchorage,” Chuck said. “I could only do so much.”

John shook his hand. “Thank you so much,” he said, “we have really enjoyed our stay.” I parroted John’s comments.

Contrary to all my fears, Chuck had been a considerate and unobtrusive host, not the “Norman” I had been afraid he was. Eventually it would turn out that John was the bigger menace … but that’s another story.

Our drive home was punctuated with periodic stops to keep the car from overheating. It was not an easy or restful drive but I still had time to reflect on the past few days.

Keeping with the season that was turning from darkness towards the light, I made a resolution to try to keep my imagination out of the shadows.

Psycho was the last horror movie I ever watched.

A Tribute to Unfulfilled Talent