This month’s cover is a photo of Tess, my Mom, when she lived in Alaska. It was taken by Clarence, my Dad, who was quite impressed with her adventurous nature. Written on the back side is a note to his parents. It says, “This is it, Nice Eh? She had all kinds of nice clothes but likes to wear buckskin.”
After twelve years in a Catholic convent for girls, Mom travelled to Los Angeles where her aunt encouraged her to take photography classes. Cameras then were quite complex. Her stepfather was gold mining in Alaska and offered her a flight to Aklavik, NWT, to visit Grandma. After the visit Mom flew to Anchorage, Alaska, and found a job as assistant photographer at Mount McKinley Park. She was to take pictures of wolves and record their habits. The pay was $125 per month plus room and board. She loved dogs and the wildness of the north, and her heart sang.
Mom became friends with Laddy, the chef at the hotel in Curry, a small town between Anchorage and Fairbanks. One day, he said they were looking for a camp cook. The pay was $1,000 per month plus room and board. She told him she didn’t know how to boil water, let alone cook. Laddy said he would teach her. She got the job and he would come over at 5 am and teach her how to fry bacon and poach eggs, then get back in time for the hotel to open. He gave her an army manual… How to Cook for 100 Men. During the afternoons, he would teach her to bake bread, cookies and pies. As she recited some of her adventures in learning to cook, Mom started to laugh and said, “The wolves and bears ate well that winter. Some days we threw out more food than we kept.”
When I asked her how she met Dad, she said he was a carpenter working for the B ‘n B (bridge building) crews for the railway. In 1944, the Alaskan Railway was the only form of transportation. The government was building the Dew LIne and Air Bases at Anchorage and Fairbanks, in case of a Russian invasion. Cook cars stationed themselves on the side tracks. During the two years Mom spent in Alaska, her cook car was moved many times. During one of the transfers, she heard they were looking for a bull cook. She told Clarence, for he was a good shot and could supply the meat she needed. That would reduce her costs and she could spend more on fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh eggs occasionally.
On their days off they took trips into the wilderness and that was fun until she almost drowned. Their homemade raft broke up after hitting the rapids and they lost their guns and other equipment. Her dog, Chinook, jumped to safety and Mom was thankful to have her along on the nineteen-mile hike back to camp along the railroad tracks in the semi-dark night of the North. When I asked if Dad had checked the rivers beforehand, she said no, he always said, “You’ll survive.” I said, “It sounds like you are lucky to be alive.”
I asked Mom why she married Dad. She replied, “We got along great. He loved photography, the great outdoors and adventure. He said that if we got married he would build a hunting lodge on the Kenai Peninsula. He would be the guide and she would look after the base camp. They got married by an Eskimo commissioner in the middle of nowhere with a ring made from a nail. When vacation time came, they decided to go home and meet the parents. First they went to Oregon to meet Grandma on her farm and then to Michigan to meet his parents. She started to fume when she told me, “Clarence arranged to have me fired from my job so that I couldn’t return once I left Alaska. I didn’t find this out until much later, but I still have the letter.” When they arrived in Alpena, Michigan, they stayed at his folks’ home and before she knew it, Clarence’s brothers had arranged to buy land on Hobbs Drive. Dad was glad to be with his family and shortly afterwards Mom was pregnant. Dad decided that was best way to keep her, for they had seven kids in eleven years.
Mom got her spirit broken and our family pictures show the darkness around her eyes and her acceptance of life with no adventure. This was a change she didn’t want to see. She felt cheated and lied to, as she adapted to Dad’s demands. No longer did he appreciate the gypsy side of her and communicating became difficult. He wasn’t so adventuresome when it came to changing his lifestyle or keeping his promises, and he no longer wanted her travelling. When Grandma died, he could see no good reason for allowing her to go home. She sold a cow for gas money and drove to the funeral, having decided she would deal with him when she got back.
A few years later during the Christmas season, when I was twelve years old, she cried all day and all night and couldn’t stop. She went to her doctor and was told she was having a nervous breakdown and they hospitalized her. A week later she felt stronger and returned to Rosswood. She got a court injunction and had the RCMP drove us into town. She and Grandpa bought a house and she started working for the local newspaper, The Terrace Omineca Herald. Mom was no longer willing to put up with Dad’s abusive side. When I asked why she put up with it for as long as she did, she said, “He had lots of good traits, and each time we argued he promised to change. I believed him, plus there was no support for women who left their husbands, whatever the circumstances.”
I am glad that the times are a changing and women have more support. Many men are embracing their softer, more feminine side. Today we have counsellors and weekend retreats that provide positive reprogramming so that we are more in touch with the unconscious patterns we have in relating with our mates. I believe these are a reflection of our childhood belief systems and to go against the established patriarchal rules takes lots of inner knowing and strength.
My way to deal with my Dad’s anger and lack of being there for me as a child is to do breath work that releases pent-up emotions. Every three weeks, Ken and I enter a space where it feels safe to bring up the old memories. As he presses on the tight muscles in my shoulders I cry and feel the frustration I felt as a child of not being accepted for who I was. I didn’t get loved if I spoke my mind or didn’t do as Dad asked. I was never taught how to negotiate if we disagreed. It was his way or the highway, and for a child there is no highway.
Today there is a highway and Gerry and I both know it. I will not keep quiet if I am feeling hurt or left out. We are learning to listen to each other and negotiate what is important to us. With time and practice. We are findIng ways to get past our discomfort when speaking our truth. He takes the time to read Musings but gets bored when I write about my process.
Ten years ago when my kids left home and my marriage ended. I took a look at my body posture and decided it was lime to take time for me. My shoulders felt like they were on lire when I typed, my hands went numb when I walked. Changing my eating patterns and studying nutrition was not helping my posture. I read one of Alice Bailey’s books that said, “The truth of our childhood is stored in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday the body will present its bill, for it is incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no comprise or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.”
Now I am at a point where I no longer need to fix my Dad (or any other relationship) so that I may get loved. During my last session it was more like … “You don’t deserve a daughter like me” and “Get your shit out of my body.” I am no longer willing to carry the energy he imprinted in me. Now, I get to watch my mother as she struggles with keeping her eyesight. Nutritional supplements are helping but only so, so. The problem is emotionally-based, and she does not have the time, the energy or the expertise to open up her emotional wounds. Her optimistic attitude and love of life are her saving grace and once in a while she gets in a good cry.
The Spring Festival will be over by the time you read this and plans for the Wise Woman Festival will be started. The weekend is a time to honour each woman for her contribution to making the world~ just a little bit better. Exchanging ideas, learning new ways of being and sharing the love and laughter lightens the load each of us carries. The July/August Issues will have the program schedule. Hope you can join us.