By early 1990, my brief marriage was all but over, about the same time my job was. After a false start with another company in a town where I knew no one, I quit and decided it was a good time to have my mid-life crisis. I went directly from my new ex-employer to the book store and bought two books about a subject that had fascinated me for some time: Michener’s ‘Alaska’ and ‘The Milepost,’ a soup-to-nuts travelers guide to Alaska.
Thus armed with literary fact and fiction about our 49th state, I set off.
The Road to Athabasca
With these words, Doug Guido invites us on an epic journey of more than five thousand miles, criss-crossing the lower forty-eight with a keen eye on his ultimate destination, Alaska. Many adventures lay ahead, including unique experiences in our forty-ninth state. To whet your appetite, today’s story jumps forward in his narrative entitled The Road to Athabasca and describes a surprising encounter with “Earl the Athabascan” from Ft. Yukon, Alaska.
Stayed tuned in the new year for further episodes of a trek which took Doug from Florida, through the western states and northward to Alaska. We will be sure to link the stories together at each episode should you happen to miss one.—Editors
I was in for a surprise on that warm central Florida afternoon. I had just returned from a trip to Canada with numerous black fly bites on my face and neck: large, painful, bright red bumps impossible to camouflage. In this deplorable condition, I entered the examining room in my office.
A couple of patients in their sixties, small and plump, sat holding hands. She had her silvery hair in a long braid flowing down her shoulder and tied with a rubber band. So did he. They were dressed in long-sleeved plaid shirts and overalls. Wore baseball caps and leather boots. In one word, they had the typical country-folk looks. I sensed in them a nervous anticipation.
The woman checked my face, turned to her companion, and said with a surprised look, “Honey, it seems like the doctor has them too.”
One of my favorite television programs as a teenager was Victory at Sea. I watched every episode, and the theme music has stayed with me all these 70 years:Don-Don-Don-to-Don – Dant – to – Dant – to – Dant…
The dream of being on a Navy warship and the music stayed with me even after I’d joined the Air Force and become a pilot. And as luck would have it, after completing my F-4E Phantom Fighter Training at George AFB, instead of Vietnam, I was assigned to the 62nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Misawa, Japan. It was a great assignment, because I have always liked the Japanese culture. (Later I would build a house there overlooking the Pacific Ocean and live off base inside that culture.)
I could have flown to Japan, but instead I decided I’d try to make that lifelong dream come true. Read more
My friends Maxine, Etta and I were open to adventure: a five-day hike on the Appalachian Trail (the AT). It’s 1988, we’re all in our 40’s, elated to take on this challenge. Maxine is a serious hiker, she has helped blaze the Florida Trail, she’s sinewy, brave, and fun-loving. Etta is a racewalker, many miles on her sturdy legs, and my best friend. I feel fairly fit, ready for something different, wanting to prove myself physically adept. “Mens sana in corpora sano”, as my high school motto had it, “a sound mind in a sound body”.
Maxine took me under her wing, and we spent several enjoyable weekends on Florida hikes. I learned to read trail blazes, hammer in tent stakes, tie food way up high in a tree to keep it safe from raccoons and bears. Various incidents are blazed in my memory: trudging cautiously across an endless field dug up and horribly disfigured by wild boar, the uneven trenches ready to turn an ankle without a moment’s notice. Then there was the brownie incident.
Jerry Noland, Susan Harrison, and Andy Mohr – members of OLLI’s Shared Interest Group Community of Readers and Writers share three short memoir personal essays as part of a project of Vivid Memories. Creating layers of meaning and weaving images in a limited number of words (under 500) seems to bring out the best in their writing. You, too, are welcome to send your vivid memories, even a prose/poem, (under 500 words, please) to the group for feedback and tips for editing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A while back we issued our “Memoir Challenge” and invited you to tell us about that moment when something happened that changed the course of your life. Several of you responded, and we shared your stories here in OLLI Connects. One of our respondents was Peter Terzian, and while his memoir fit the criteria of the challenge, he and we agreed that it lacked the drama essential to a compelling story. Fortunately, Pete’s imagination is not constrained by the events of his real life, and it has produced a fascinating and, of course, yet-to-be-completed memoir. We’ve shared pieces of it in past issues. This time around we’ve put it all together for you. Enjoy! — Editors
I was 19, living at home in Tallahassee the summer before I entered college—listening to a radio station that played pop hits. “Whoever calls in first with the answer to this question wins a special prize,” announced the DJ: “What character in French literature has a long nose?” I rushed to the phone—and was right! My prize: three free dance lessons at the local Arthur Murray Studio.
I was welcomed at the studio the next day by a pretty, perky instructor named Ginny, who suggested we take a few spins on the dance floor so she could gauge my skill level. I happily obliged, slinging together an assortment of improvisations on the two-step and trying to cover as much territory as possible.
“Hey, you’re not really mad at me,” I said, gently tugging on his curly chest hair, already graying and smelling so deliciously of him. “Look, look, that’s a smile coming out, I can see it, I can see it!” And, as if my very words cast a magical spell, his facial expression changed. From a puckered brow and a frown, my powers of alchemy brought light into his eyes and a smile broke into blossom on his lips.
He wasn’t mad at me; I could regain my sense of invulnerability, at least in the present moment. Sitting in his lap, I felt at ease, warm, loved, and, above all, safe. Maybe I could even talk him into taking me for a piggyback ride! He would stroll through our small apartment, his strong hands holding on firmly to my ankles, and I would delight in my newfound height, being on top of the world, literally and figuratively! I could gaze intimately at the patterns in the ceiling plaster; I could glory in the texture and feel of the upside-down tulip-shaped light fixture. I was above it all. From this vantage point, I was the monarch of our apartment and thus the whole world -what joy!
That was how it first came to my attention. My beloved hickory walking stick had been unceremoniously dumped in the brown river water, solely to satisfy adolescent curiosity. I don’t know which one of the ten-year-olds said it; nor did I know who actually did the deed. I only knew that my stick was fast disappearing in the swift current of the Trinity River, while I had the forced realization that, while it was a treasured possession – it figuratively represented my authority in the woods – I wasn’t going in after it. Nope. Bad choice. Current too swift, not a good swimmer, it’s just a stick. In that order.
It was the summer of 1973. A year after college graduation, I was making a life for myself on the gritty upper west side of Manhattan in a run-down tenement building occupied by a motley crew of hippies and disillusioned Columbia University graduates. My boyfriend Fred and I shared a fifth-floor walk-up at 105th Street and Columbus Avenue, adjacent to a building controlled by the local drug dealers. Each evening we were serenaded by salsa music emanating from the bodega just across the street, sometimes punctuated by the click, click, click of dominos accompanying excited comments from local Dominican and Puerto Rican players and onlookers.