When my mother was a child in Michigan it was a big deal to go even two miles to the nearest market, so when she and her cousin, Patty Jo, decided to bike to the nearest big city, six miles away, they thought they were on an epic adventure that even their grandchildren would talk about.
How could they have ever pictured one day living in a remote fishing village in Alaska with only about thirty residents and no roads, right on the edge of civilization? Talk about an epic adventure! Patty Jo was a single mother with two sons, Mark and Alex. My mom had five kids–I was only six, but my older, city cousins made a big impression on me and I never forgot them, Mark in particular who always looked out for little girls who could have gotten run over in the rough play my older brother and his pals indulged in.
To my delight, Mark recently left some wonderful comments on my blog and agreed to write a guest blog of his memories of my Grandpa Frank. And here it is. (My comments are in brackets.) Enjoy! Tara, A Daughter of the Walrus.
Mark and his first king salmon with his Uncle Frank
MARK’S GUEST BLOG:
I told Tara I’d write a little something about Uncle Frank. He was actually my mom’s uncle and Tara’s grandfather, but we always called him Uncle. I have no idea when Frank and his wife Pat moved to the Chuck [Meyers Chuck], but when my brother and I arrived on our first ever floatplane ride he was there to help us.
Now I’m telling bits of stories from nearly forty years ago so Tara can separate fact from fiction. Frank was a legit 7 foot 2 man [actually, either 6’4″ or 6’6″] man with hands like bear paws. I think he was close to 70, and I was told that he was one of the old school Montana loggers back in the day with longsaws instead of chainsaws. If you ever saw his house in the Front Chuck–it was gorgeous and big with log beams that ran the full width of the house–you could never deny any of his logging abilities. He built the house!
“How’d you get the beams up there, Uncle Frank?” Soft chuckle….”I put ’em up there.”
He really looked like Santa Claus and never once over several years did I hear him raise his voice. He was a gentle giant.
Top: My grandparents’ house; below: Frank in his fishing boat.
I caught my first king salmon with him which weighed out at 28 lbs. At nine years old I thought I was going to get pulled from the boat and begged him to help me. Each time he’d just chuckle, look me in the eye and say…”It isn’t my fish.” I love that now, knowing he made me fight for what was mine and I didn’t need help. Holding up the salmon I could proudly say….I caught it.
Then there was his woodchopping ability. In the bush everybody helps each other out and wood is a giant commodity when there is no electricity. Alex and I chopped wood every day but it was hard for a young woman and two boys to keep up with. I can’t remember who would bring us wood [Tara’s dad], but when it comes it’s still in the tree trunk, cylindrical shape [called rounds]. Maybe 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 feet? [Depends on the size of the tree, or log.] Slightly bigger than a 5 gallon bucket.
You roll them from the boat to the woodshed and when you begin to cut you use the back of the axe to hammer a wedge into the log, splitting it in two. Then you use the axe on the halves to split them into about three pieces a side producing six normal looking fireplace logs that I get around the corner here in Chicago.
Frank at his trapping cabin with rounds of wood ready to be split.
Anyway, Frank comes over to help us catch up. From the start to finish with the wedge might take me 20 whacks at the wedge if hit clean, then another 20 minutes to bust out 6 logs. We had been told watching Frank chop wood was something else, so we were excited.
He taps the wedge into the log with the back of the axe head, so it’s upright on its own, and with one hand smashes the wedge, spins the axe and two swings left and two swings right, chops the halves as they are falling!!
Never, never, never have I seen anything close to that since.
Me and Alex immediately wanted to become loggers so we could do it, too.
He does about 20 of those for us and takes off in the McKee Craft. I didn’t even include how quick he’d turn a cut log into kindling. We were set for a month in a half hour, if that.
Left to Right: Pat, Tara’s oldest brother Jamie, Frank and his McKee Craft
The last is just a story I was told with him in the room. When I looked at him he just chuckled and nodded. Good enough for me.
So the story went, and this was 30 years before eating hotdogs and garbage was all over TV, he and Pat went to a steakhouse where if you could finish the big 84 or 74 (I don’t remember exactly, but a Fred Flinstone steak), your entire meal was on the house.
This is one of those stupid bets that takes 3 hours for some dumb, big guy to get the last 20 bites down while sweating over his plate and taking water breaks. Frank apparently calmly carved through it like a normal meal and asked for seconds!
I don’t know how true it is but hearing he and Pat tell the story together and seeing the glimmer in his eyes as he nodded at me will be forever priceless. I hope Tara gets the picture of me and him up. Everyone should get a chance to see my Uncle Frank.
Those are my favorite memories. Just remember when you read these blogs of Tara’s, they’re being written by the granddaughter of Frank, one of the true original Alaska bushmen.
Left to Right: Mark, Mike (who later married a cousin of Tara’s), Tara, her sister Megan, her brother Jamie, Mike’s brother Bart, and Mark’s brother Alex.
1/26/2017 08:26:10 am
Digging the Tennis sweater T. I want that back. It’s come full circle in the fashion circle!! All of us bush kids together and Me and Alex in matching tennis sweaters. You just killed my street cred Tara….lol!!!
1/26/2017 09:13:11 am
Ha, ha! Well, Mark, my own tough street cred isn’t faring too well after this photo, either! If I can take it, so can you. 🙂
P.S. Check out the final comment on my blog post “Back On-line…Kind Of.”
1/27/2017 09:15:53 pm
Awesome man. Well told. Thank you!
1/30/2017 10:56:03 am
Well told! Thank you for writing this 🙂
2/1/2017 08:12:31 am
What a joy to read! Very interesting to read bits of your family history and appreciated the photos. So interesting–and such a different way of life than mine in the Bahamas. Thanks Mark!
Mark T Morse
2/12/2017 02:16:33 am
Wendy, I also have an interesting bahamas story. We used to travel to Nassau often as my Dad had some business there and loved to gamble. We frequently dined at the Greycliff and they would show us their vast wine and cigar cellar. Once he opened a box and said take one. I said thanks and what is it he explained on a recent trip to Cuba, Fidel had handed him that box off his desk!! Even better the golf course there isn’t great by US standards with its heavy Bermuda grass reasonably kept but definitely watered. But it’s old and interesting and very private. Once after a pretty hot 18 holes I went in to the golfers bar, 3 tables smaller than a little bedroom actually but who was sitting therr…..Sean Connery. He’s very kind and we didn’t bother him other than saying hello.. I remember dad had some funny words for him and we all chuckled. Not a bad day in the bahamas.
2/1/2017 09:20:58 am
Thank you to everyone who has commented. Maybe now Mark will believe me when I tell him he’s a good writer! I look forward to putting up future guest blogs by him.
Wendy, I love thinking of you in the Bahamas as I type this on a frozen beach. I lost my signal at my house and have to post where there’s a direct view of the tower across the strait on a snow covered mountain.
3/31/2017 12:44:59 am
Really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for posting!