Well I didn't mean to leave you all hanging last week, I just couldn't type the whole story in one day, it's too long, especially if I was going to give you all a lot of detail.
Ok, so I left of at my arrival to live with Fred, and it's now August 2004. Fred had decided before I arrived that he was going to add a bedroom on to the house. I was aware of this already and it was intended to be de before I arrived, but it wasn't so that made for a bit of chaos because the house was't very big, you have to remember, the people who live there typically build their own houses and Fred was no exception. So my belongings ended up staying in the back of the truck until the room was done, which wasn't too long. It was like the rest of the house, it had plywood floors and he installed an oil stove for heat. I ended up painting and trimming it out to look nice, but it was funny, the rest of the house didn't look like the bedroom. The bedroom was the only room made with boards and drywall inside, the rest of the house was made from logs so it was rustic everywhere else. Now, you might think - wow, how neat, I bet all those logs were beautiful...lol Nope.. those "home made" houses are very basic and they're all over rural AK, many do not have much in the way of closets, or space in general. Most of the time it's very cold so everyone in the house has all of their winter gear out. And you need serious winter gear, not like what we have in the Midwest. I mention all this because in a very short time it was very cold after I arrived and I soon figured out all the hooks and nails I kept noticing were used to hang coveralls, coats, gloves, you name it. When everyone came in, they would take all of their outer wear off and hang it all over the place. It's just how it is, and the heat from the stove dries everything and keeps it warm and toasty until you need it again. So, if you like the romantic, beautiful look of a log home, you won't find it in a home like this.
So, how did my life go with Fred after I got there? That's a question I need to answer the end of the story makes sense. As soon as I arrived Fred showed me a little bit more of "how they do things". Well as you can image, a dishwasher was just something they laugh at, that's what the girls were for. So, here was the routine that was shared with me. Fred worked on Eilson Air Force Base in a civilian job. He had a very good job, I don't recall what he did, but he made good money. Anyway, back to it, he told me he got up early and now that I was there, I should make his breakfast every morning, and it should be a big breakfast, sausage (which he made fresh right there), toast, eggs, and potatoes. I was to get the eggs from the chicken house and set them out to thaw, it was so cold they would freeze. He had another big barn building that he had sacks of potatoes in from the growing season, so everything was there for me to do this for him. I was also told I needed to learn about taking care of the dogs so I could help with that. There was always loads and loads of really dirty laundry needing to be done, and I would need to plan a big dinner for everyone and have it cooked each night.
It became very clear overnight, that Fred needed a hand, not a girlfriend, not a future wife, but another worker. All of the "sweet, nice" Fred was gone just that quick. He had these expectations because his wife who passed (who was native Alaskan), had done all these things. I was devastated, and immediately full of regret. I was there though, and the younger of the two girls was so excited she couldn't stand it. I had to figure out how to live there, or head back home, and if you saw how happy Megan, the youngest was, you would understand why I decided I had to give it my best.
Also within a day or two of my arrival Fred took me to Megan's school, she was in 5th grade and was doing really bad. He introduced me to her teacher and the principal of the school, and let them know I would be handling everything with the kids schooling... news to me too. I couldn't figure it out at the time, but the teacher and principal both seemed "over" excited about me being in the picture. I soon figured out why. The oldest girl was 15, here name was Michelle, and in high school, which was on the military base. There were so few children in this part of Alaska that there was no high school for them. The way the grade school worked was that many grades were combined. It wasn't what I was used to, and I'm not sure if it was the best set up. I know Megan was lost. She had barely learned to read, and by this time she needed to be using reading to learn, not still trying to learn to read.
Michelle was a handful. On my first day there alone, when Fred had gone back to work, she skipped school, was lying to me about everything, and clearly did not want me there. Both of these girls had been through hell. At the time I didn't know how bad, but I later pieced it all together. Megan was 10, so I did the math backwards on her. Her mother had been gone for a year, so she was 9 when she lost her, and her mother had been sick really bad, to the point she didn't even know who Megan was for many months before that, so that put her back to 8, and her mother had been sick for about 3 years prior to that, meaning she was only 5 when her mom could not longer care for her the way she probably wanted to, so Megan had missed out on her mom all together for the most part. For Michelle it was different. She had known normal life with her mom and she was hurting terribly, but couldn't express is. And, let me just say, Fred's attitude was "there's work to be done around here, so stop your whining and get (whatever) done". When one of the girls asked Fred if they could do something or if they wanted something he always said, "we'll see". I hated that, that wasn't an answer. And he had these girls doing chores that were a crazy amount of work. If they balked at all, or said anything, he would yell at them and say "I'm the King of this house and you'll do what I say". By now I was wondering what in the world had I gotten myself in to. Megan had fallen in love with me because she needed to love someone. And no one had been sensitive to her needs like I was. Michelle hated me, and Fred just needed another worker...
But if I thought my responsibilities were much work, they were nothing compared to those poor girls. Here's how their day went, especially when the cold set in, and don't forget the darkness - the sun didn't rise until about 11:00am starting by about October or so. The girls had to get up at 5:00am, and give food and water to 30 dogs. Now, keep in mind it was usually between 10-15 below zero. In order to give water to the dogs, they each got out a plastic sled, then they would get 5 gallon water buckets and fill them with hot water and put two or three of them on each sled. They would then pull them in the snow from dog house to dog house and break up the ice from the previous watering they had had, and put new hot water in their containers. The dogs drank most of it immediately before it would freeze on them again. Then they also had to feed them. If a dog needed more straw in it's house they had to take care of that too. Then they had to get ready for school. When they got home from school they had to tend to the dogs again. They had to do the food and water routine all over again - keep in mind, it was dark again, because the sun was only up until about 2:00pm. They also had to "train" with the dogs, so they had to help Fred hook up the whole mushing set up, which is not small deal, and they would mush some dogs so they were all ready for their weekend mushing league events. Then the girls ate dinner and they had more chores around the house to do, which started with the day's dishes. Fred wanted all the dishes left for them to wash. I wasn't to do the breakfast dishes, nothing, the girls were to do them all at night. Those chores always varied, they were whatever Fred needed done such as feeding pigs, chickens, he even had the butchering chickens and cleaning them, whatever he could think of. Then finally about 8:00pm they were done and could start their homework. Well - now you understand why Megan could barely read. I found myself trying to do as many of their chores as I could to free up some of their time. I hurt for those girls while I was there. I tried multiple tines to talk to Fred about it, about their education they were not getting to work at, and got no where, he saw no value in anything but "work".
Megan and I continued to get closer and closer while I lived there. She began to turn to me for everything. I got very involved in her schooling. I made a point to go eat lunch with her at school once a week which she loved. I also walked her to the bus every morning. BTW - those girls walked over 2 blocks in darkness so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face, to the highway where the bus picked them up. They had to tromp through deep snow, and wait in horribly bitter temperatures. It was brutal, but for them it was normal. I also made Megan read to me every night. I battled Fred for time for her to do her homework. And it was a battle let me tell you. Megan was different then Michelle, Megan was curious about the rest of the world and wanted to see it. She had taken a trip to AZ when her Mom was ill because her Mom had been there for treatment. Megan realized there was more out there then just AK. So I stressed to her all the time the importance of her education. I told her it was her ticket to see the world. She could go to college in another state. To this day I hope she was listening. I hope she reached some of her dreams. But with Fred in the picture, it would have been hard. Ten years have gone by, it's hard for me to image, she's a 20 year old woman now, and I wonder what her life has become.
I got a job for myself while I was there because I needed out of the house and to be around other adults besides Fred who I was quickly growing to despise. I got a job at the State Farm office in North Pole, AK. I sold mutual funds. I was a licensed broker already so it was a perfect position. The women I worked with were all from the lower 48 too, they were military wives, so it was perfect, we all got along really well. That job was my connection to normalcy.
Before I go today I wanted to share a few other tidbits about life there. In the winter, no one turns their car off when they run errands, it's just too cold. So you can go to the grocery store, bank, post office, anywhere and you just leave your car running with the keys in it and no one takes it. It's just how it works. If you do have a job, usually the employer supplies an electrical outlet area for you to park in, so you pull in, get your extension cord, plug it to an outlet attached to the building, and plug it into your vehicle (which are equipped with heaters). This way when you come out of work 8 hours later your car or truck will start up. We lived 15 miles from the closest town, which was North Pole, and 30 miles from the biggest city there, which was Fairbanks. North Pole is where Santa really lives... it's Christmas all year round there.
Ok, I need to run for today and get some other things done. I'll pick up here next week and tell more of the story...