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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Spud Murphy BS: A Dickens of a Christmas (11) RE: BS: A Dickens of a Christmas 09 Dec 01

In December 1950 I was longshoring on the dock at Valdez, Alaska. It had been, in truth, a dickens of a year. Mary and I had driven to Alaska over what was then called the Alcan Highway, possibly the worst job of road construction ever, anywhere, built by the Army Corps of Engineers strictly for military traffic to Alaska during WWII. After that, things just never got any better. We worked in a road house at Sheep Mountain on the Glenn Highway which was such a scabby place of public debauchery even Robert Service wouldn't have been caught dead in it. While we were looking for some other cave to hybernate in, we managed to total our car by hitting a patch of glare ice on the Eklutna River Bridge, and then, in order to have a place to live, we 'took care of' an economically distressed road house on the Glenn highway without realizing all that entailed while the owner and his family vacationed in California. We were personally so broke by then we were down to snaring snow shoe rabbits for survival rations. Then Mary gave me the exciting news that she was pregnant.

Two gypo freight haulers who frequently stoped for coffee at the road house we were babysitting were Jack Root and Vance Anderson, and they convinced us to move to Valdez where with their help I found work on the docks unloading cargo that was destined for Anchorage or Fairbanks.

The winter of '50-'51 in Valdez was a real doozy. Snowdepths all winter long ranged to 22 feet and better and the snow was so deep the entry to the Valdez Hotel got moved up to the second floor. People living in trailer homes had to climb down ladders in the vertical shafts dug in the drifted snow to get into their homes. The snow on Thompson Pass was so deep the snow plows couldn't break through and if they briefly did, the blizzard drifted the road in right behind them. For one ten day stretch no highway traffic of any kind made it in or out of town over the pass.

Vance and Jack were in Anchorage offloading freight when the blizzard hit a couple of days before Christmas. They made it back as far as Copper Center trying to beat the storm and that was where they still were on New Year's Eve.

I got my paycheck from the dock company on Christmas Eve and after I paid my bills at Beales' Rooming House and the Pinzon Cafe I had exactly twenty-four dollars and fifty cents left over to buy Mary a pair of ski gloves with a leather outer mitten and a knitted wool inner glove. Mary had two or three dollars left from her parttime job at the Valdez Pharmacy, which was also what passed in town for a general store.

On our way from the Pinzon to the pharmacy to do our shopping for each other we decided to stop at Vance's house to check on his wife Fanny and his two little boys, one of them six years old and the other eight. When we went in side there was an axe and what was left of a wooden kitchen chair in the middle of the kitchen floor. There wasn't another stick of wood furniture left, anywhere in the whole house. It had all gone into the kitchen stove during the blizzard.

I took the oldest boy and we went down to the dock where they kept the coal for the heaters that were used in winter for the produce trucks. We got a couple of gunny sacks of coal while no one was looking and managed to get it back to the house without getting caught. Then Mary and I left to finish our shopping.

When we got to the pharmacy I told Mary I didn't want any present and she said the same so we spent what money we had buying presents for the boys. I recall that along with some other smaller stuff we bought one a pair of six-shooter cap pistols, gunbelt and all and the other an eighteen wheeler just like his dad drove.

As we came out of the pharmacy the wind died down and the clouds cleared off enough to let a little moon come through and there were the biggest snow flakes you can imagine coming down. We headed back to Fanny's with the presents and at the first cross street we came to a couple of christmas trees leaning against somebody's back porch caught my eye. I knocked on the door and asked the lady who answered if she needed both trees, and if she didn't, could I have one. She told me I could have both, they were both surplus, but I only needed one, which we lugged with us to Fanny's place. The boys were in bed so we helped Fanny with the tree and then headed back to Beale's.

My mother had sent us a big fruit cake, which was one of her traditional things to do and some how it had come with the boat mail a couple of days before, just in time for Christmas. We counted up our change and had exactly fifty cents left between us so we took the quart thermos bottle and went back to the Pinzon and had it filled with coffee. It was still snowing big, soft flakes and Christmas music was coming from somewhere. We went back to Beale's and sat on the bed and drank cups of hot coffee and ate big slices of fruitcake. That was the most wonderful Christmas I ever had.


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