by Peter S. Oleson
At the shop, strange shit was going through Glen's life. He was one of
those kinds of guys who would actually go home for lunch and watch the PTL
Club on television. For some reason or another, his wife decided to cast
off the imaginary chains that bound her, and Glen's world crashed down
around him. He had built another house for her, and as it sometimes goes,
that precipitated a weirdness between them that festered through that
previous summer and on into that winter. Anyway, we who worked with him
were enlisted, along with Lou, to help finish the house that continued to
drive them apart. I remember in particular nailing shakes on a roof on
Thanksgiving weekend. A roof so steep that you could set a full beer on
scabbed on 2X4 and lean it against the roof without a drop spilling. A
with sunshine, but still below freezing, when Lou danced up and down the
ridgepole singing at the top of his lungs, one missed step meaning certain
death. God, I love this place.
One weekend, after the roofing was done, we had a strange kind of
housewarming party. Strange in that the mood was kind of tense in the
house, I think everyone pretty much knew there was no "family"
going to be
living in there. I was standing out on the deck with one of the neighbors,
most everyone else sticking pretty close to the stove. It was evening,
sun just disappearing behind the Alaska Range clearly visible to the West.
We noticed a strange light coming over the Kenai Range in the East, and
huge globular ball of light moved totally silently and quite quickly across
the sky from East to West, much faster than any jet would. It had no trail
behind it, I thought maybe it was a meteorite, but it was so big and it
didn't seem to descend at all. It just disappeared over the mountains to
the West, a total distance of perhaps a hundred miles in all. I'm sure
other people saw it, but I never heard a word about it on the radio, nor
read a word in the newspaper. Oh yes, the northern lights have indeed seen
The bank ended up getting the house. The wife ended up with a divorce
she took the kids, Matt and Junior, along with her to somewhere on the East
Coast. Glen and Lou started hanging out together. They even had some kind
of "club" of guys once burned. Glen didn't watch the PTL Club
that, and he and Lou were known to drink a beer or two from time to time,
they drove around in an old big block Dodge and raised hell. One night
they ended up in Anchorage without much money and slept in an all night
porno movie theater.
Diane and I got through that winter OK, though there were nights when I
wondered if it would ever get light or if the wind would ever quit blowing.
It was so safe and warm there in the old cabin, things just seemed to
flow into each other. All the problems with the cars outside in the cold
were forgotten as soon as we were inside. Everything was so immediate.
needed to get the stove going -immediately. We needed to get something
cooking on the stove- immediately. We needed to haul the water in before
it froze- immediately. In that kind of a survival atmosphere, we did manage
to find time for snuggling against the cold. Of that time, those cold
months, those moments of intimacy were what kept me going.
We decided to go out to Feuding Lane one day and visit Lou and Darwin.
walked in the door to the sound of fresh moose backstrap frying on the
stove. Lou had poached another moose to feed his dog team. Things were
different back then. We feasted and talked about guns, and women, and the
problems with America, especially the places we came from, how we would
never go back, how we would leave Alaska if America ever came here, how
much better a 30-06 shot with a 32 inch barrel instead of a 30. How close
that damned bear got before he decided to turn and run. How much closer
would have let him get. Which sled dog was in heat, and who to breed her
to, Alaskan stuff.
Spring came once again to the Northland, as it always will, no matter how
far away it seems. Those are the hardest months, those late winter-early
spring months. That's when people tend to go a little bit bugshit and do
stuff like chop up their wives and burn the pieces in the woodstove. Cabin
fever, they call it. They should call it cabin madness, because that's
where it can drive you, straight to madness. Summer should be here, but
never seems to come. We planted our tomato and squash seeds in the house
in February, May seemed a universe away. April brought the anniversary
Eric's death, and all the attendant thoughts. Having lost my most favorite
person, I thought that perhaps having the rest of the family up here would
do much to replace him. I began actively lobbying them to move. They,
as much of an emotional quandary as I, were receptive. Dad was soon to
retire, also soon to have his polio defective leg removed while still
covered by his company insurance.
That summer was the summer of the foundation, we needed to do something
about that rotten row of logs that our house set upon. I enlisted the aid
of Glen, perhaps selfishly, he being absorbed by the fact that his chosen
spouse had gone her own way. I thought he needed something else to think
about. God knows what he thought. We worked our asses off that summer,
with the aid of copious amounts of beer. We dug out under the house and
built forms for the cement, we mixed cement by hand, in a borrowed mixer
and moved it by wheelbarrow. On the evenings that we didn't work, we
sometimes drove into the mountains to bathe and fish in mountain streams.
It was a lot of work, mind you, but it was also fun at times, and it took
most of the summer. I believe that that was the summer that my brother
Otis and my mother drove up to visit. After the foundation had been
finished, and the floor poured, we spread word that a house warming party
was in order. Otis and I went to town and bought a keg of beer for the
occasion, but nobody came. Very strange party, me and Otis and Diane and
Mom at a kegger with "Terrapin Station" on the stereo. It took
weekend to polish off that keg.
During that summer, when Glen was helping us with our construction, I
introduced him to Diane's' sister Debby. Something clicked and they ended
up married after Glen's first wife obtained her divorce. He has held that
against me ever since, when things go wrong. Marriage seems to be an on
again, off again, love-hate, event driven kind of thing at times, doesn't
it? When it works, it works wonders. When it doesn't, it's hell with an
attitude. If yours is some kind of different, count your blessings. Basic
human relations is something I don't seem to have really gotten the hang
of. I try to relate to my children and my wife, but sometimes they seem
distance themselves, and I suppose that sometimes what I do seems to them
to distance me from them. Perception seems to be the culprit here, lack
communication leads to the perception that all is not right, and assumption
carries it over into no man's land. I no longer try to be all things to
The next winter was a most special one. Imagine yourself in a log
cabin home with the wind blowing sideways snow, and your doors flapping
against their stops. One of those nights, amidst all that conspired against
us, we conceived our first child, Molly. Nothing has been the same
since. Because of the fact that Alaska was the only state in which the
possession of marijuana was legal, we had built a green house and grown
substantial quantities of that herb. Back in those days, if you went to
the local grocery store after, say, 10 at night, you most certainly would
run into people reeking of smoke with those stupid smiles on their faces.
Most of the time, we had that same dumb look. But that winter, when Diane
took my hand and placed it on her stomach to feel the first kicks of what
was to be out first child, Molly, I swore off the drug thing, and with
exception of alchohol, which I have abused at different stages of my life,
I have pretty much kept to that promise to myself, though some might argue.
The next spring, everything went to hell at work. Bill had elected to
take on the Chrysler dealership that was available because the dealer in
Kenai went out of business. We kept after it for a while, but the product
was so poor back in those pre-Iacoca days that it became a losing effort.
One day Bill's wife, Charlotte, had had enough and called all the honcho's
at the car companies that we carried and flat out told them that we weren't
going to deal with them anymore. Such a very odd thing to do. We all had
to find something else to do after that.
After Bill closed up the shop, Glen moved to North Kenai and started
own shop. I threw my lot in with Jeff, the drive being much shorter. He
started an auto repair shop in Soldotna. Later on, we hired John, who had
also worked at Bill's for a short time and had recently moved up from
Montana. John was also building a house, and he and I kind of hit it off.
At least he would listen to my choice in music whenever I decided to assert
myself in our relationship, but sometimes he made me listen to some really
lousy mainstream stuff. He had constant problems with his spouse, though.
John was a man who, shall I say, had drunk at more than one waterhole.
That, I assume, because I have not, is a habit that is hard to shake.
Things went awry for John from the beginning of what was supposed to be
connubial bliss, another story that only he can tell. Things may have
changed up here a lot over the years, but it has always been a hard State
on relationships. Anyway, we worked with Jeff as subcontractors, keeping
our own books and letting him use us to further his business. I didn't
know until later that that was illegal, because of the tax thing. Once
again, the IRS raises it's ugly head, but had I known, it was to my
advantage to be employed, not subcontracted.
It was another busy summer (aren't they all?) I got Jeff and John to help
put a real roof on the cabin, and got more family visitors up from
Wisconsin. Chicken coops got built, a coop for the goats, I bought a few
more Volkswagens. That summer, too, we went to Lamaze class. I learned
the things that were expected of me, and I was warned about that time of
childbirth called "transition". I was told to expect to be cursed,
called names, and to be prepared to deal with things I had never expected.
Diane went into labor on a Friday night. We went to the hospital on
Saturday. Diane was in "transition" for 8 fucking hours and
child on Sunday morning. I heard shit that I wouldn't hear again until
had our next child. What can you do, but let it pass? A miracle, some
people call it. The birth of a child IS a miraculous thing, and if you
haven't seen it happen, you should. I took that first child, Molly, from
the doctors hands, as I have taken Althea and Alaric since then, and I held
her and looked upward, as there was no window in the room, and I showed
to the "gods" that I believe in, and silently asked for their
looked at that squirming thing in my hands and my heart was overcome with
love. Is anything so perfect as an innocent newborn child? I think not.
Tell me if I am wrong. Is there any place for anything but love in this
world? Help me understand why our country continues to kill people in the
name of peace. What kind of peace is it that we get through death? While
I'm at it, exactly why does evil exist? I digress again, with no apology.
That summer, my pleas to my family, as broken up over the loss of Eric as
I, helped to get them to move up here. I had used money they sent me to
procure the lots on either side of our house for them. They all showed up,
with the exception of my brother Otis. A season of building ensued. On
one side, my sister and her husband and children and all the attached
social requirements. On the other side, my parents built a beautiful log
home. I was involved in it all. With the entrance of my family into my
neighborhood, things began to change. We began to have a few problems with
some of the neighbors. The place began to seem a little crowded to me.
Diane's brother Larry moved up from Wisconsin by way of California. He
kind of a loner and ended up building a little cabin way out in the Funny
River area. Long damn ways down a gravel road that was constantly in need
of repair, but the country out there was beautiful and very few people
For us though, the next couple years were pretty good ones. It was nice
have people around us for once. There were always building projects going
on, either ours or my sisters or parents. We had my sisters four children
running around all over the place, plenty of birthday parties to go to
there. Diane and I had our second fine daughter, Althea. Mom's dog, an
old Irish Setter, finally died and she was busy raising a new one about
same time that we finally found a dog that had a chance to replace Dago.
Barney was an Airedale puppy just full of piss and vinegar.
I never did get around, though, to putting in a well. It got pretty
obvious, after Althea was born, that we were going to have to either add
to the cabin, or just build another house. I've always felt a little bad
about moving out of that neighborhood. I think my mom had this vision that
we could all just stay there forever, but we decided to move out to Funny
River, very near where Larry lived. We bought a 10 acre parcel out there
and started to plan a way to get away from where we were.
We had a little money saved up, and wanted to build without going into
debt. So we had to get something up to move into until we could sell the
old house and get some more money coming in. We built what was intended
become a 16X24 garage with an upstairs workshop. It never did become a
garage. Matter of fact, I'm pounding away at my old 486 right now where
car's front bumper should be. The garage area is our living room now,
I seem to be getting ahead of myself. We moved into our little garage,
which I divided into four rooms. Downstairs, we had a tiny living room
a kitchen. Upstairs were two bedrooms. We didn't have running water,
electricity, or a telephone. I ran copper tubing throughout the place and
we used propane for lighting and cooking. We had a little wood stove for
heat. Hey, what can I say, it was paid for. Entertainment consisted of
little battery AM radio, although, as time went by, we did get a small
generator that we could fire up to watch movies with the VCR. Mom and dad
bought the 10 acres next to us and they put up a little shack out there
stay in, too.
At work, Jeff let his success get the better of him, I think. He
developed a "roving eye" that settled on the wife of his best
wasn't me). If he had been older, I would have thought that it was a
middle aged crisis thing, but I suppose it was just lust that drove him.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with correctly focused lust.
Jeff's just seemed to be directed at the person who could cause the most
emotional harm to all around her. Greg, the kid we had working with us,
and I, decided to keep ourselves out of the thing. I suppose we could have
easily known what was going on, but we chose the "higher way"
and after it
all came out later, we were judged as culpable as if we had known. Our
was to desire to remain uninvolved, which in the course of human events,
seems to be regarded as just too stupid to be believed. "Too stupid
believed" seems to be something of a motto for me. I guess it just
cool to believe in basic human values. Is the world too complex for me
people like me? I believe it isn't, and that is one of the things that
drives me to write. Perhaps there is someone out there that will read this
and feel assured that it's ok to feel the way they do, that someone else
has felt that way and made his or her life work in contravention to
society's prevalent attitude.
I went to work with Glen, as a sub-contractor, at his shop, which he had
moved closer to Soldotna after he had a little trouble out there in North
Kenai that involved Lou and Edie, the owner of the local house of exotic
dancers, over one of the girls who danced for her. There was some cussing
and yelling and some stuff got broken. Somehow a phone got torn off the
wall at the shop. Lou had to find another girlfriend. Glen found another
Peter S. Oleson