Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Few Favorite Halloween Memories in 1963 Oklahoma & Alaska from 1996 to 2002

     Halloween has been always one of my very favorite holidays. When else can one go to someone’s door that they don’t know, knock on it and hope it opens and to be given something for nothing, just to make you go away? Granted one does have the obligation to dress for the occasion, either by making an investment in time and or money to create a costume. However, if a trick or treating soul plays their cards right, the initial investment will more than pay off in pounds and pounds of candy and goodies for their efforts and the candy can last well into the Christmas season and longer.

      My first memorable Halloween was when I was 14 in 1963 in Chelsea, Oklahoma. I was living for the third extended time with my grandparents. After six years bouncing from place to place between Missouri and California with my parents and four younger siblings, two years of which were in a foster home in Artesia, a suburb of Los Angeles where I attended 7th and 8th grade, I was more than ready to be “home” again. That fall Grandma Alta who was almost 60 and myself in 9th grade decided to go “trick or treating”! I never gave a thought that perhaps we were both too old. Maybe because I always liked getting free stuff and being genetically related Grandma must of too. I dressed as a gypsy and Grandma a pirate with a black eye patch. We made our costumes and headed out, going door to door in the small NE Oklahoma town of 1,600. Most people had no idea who we were until at one house they asked if they could see Grandma Alta‘s, the pirate’s hands. Grandma had vitiligo, a common autoimmune skin disorder in which white spots appear on the skin usually occurring on both sides of the body in the same location. The disease has been around for thousands of years and occurs in 1-2% of the population. Unfortunately, for my Cherokee Grandmother with dark skin, these white patches were a dead give away who she was, once her hands and arms were revealed. Nonetheless, we had a great time, got lots of freebies, fooled many folks and I learned that one is never too old to go door to door begging on Halloween as long as you can still get up and go.

Our niece, Ariana in her witch's costume - Halloween 1996
     It would be 30 plus years before I would continue this tradition in Alaska. In 1996 my brother Abe’s children, a niece and nephew came to live with my husband Joe and I for the year so their Mother could return to school in Oklahoma to study to be a nurse. She had enough of my brother’s laziness and living off the government and divorced him a year or two earlier. Joe and I took the two, Ariana and Ben, door to door on Halloween in the old established part of Anchorage, Turnagain.. The two siblings did well and gathered about 5 pounds of candy each. That year we learned where to go for the best treats and who to avoid.

 Ariana, Ben &
Mt. Mckinley, Talkeetna, AK
October 1996
Ben, Aunt Mary & Ariana - Halloween 1996

Uncle Joe & Ariana with their carved pumpkin
     Half way through the year my poor fragile niece decided she had enough of my rules and regulations. She was depressed and although we tried to get her the psychological help she needed, it wasn’t enough. She returned half way through 7th grade to Oklahoma to live with my younger sister and that didn‘t work either. Ben, my nephew was another story. He lasted the year, made straight As in sixth grade at Turnagain Elementary and was a true joy. After Ben left in the summer of 1997 we decided to give another shot at adopting an older child. It would turn out to be pretty much a nightmare with a few good memories and consequences intermingled. It did keep the Halloween tradition of old folks trick or treating with the young alive, especially for my husband Joe that brought in 7 pounds with our adopted son John when he was in sixth grade. That was the year, 2000, when we had the “haunted bookshop” during the Turnagain School Carnival with many of the leftover books donated from our former bookstore, the Alaskan Renaissance.

     We met John in Aberdeen, Washington September 16, 1998 and within a week he returned to Anchorage with us. He was 9 years old and living in foster care for a couple of years in multiple foster homes. John was artistic but he couldn‘t read or count to more than 10 on his hands. We fixed this problem and he was on the honor roll eventually while with us, but the emotional damage he suffered we couldn‘t fix or anyone else including a multitude of psychologists and therapists.

     He, his brother and two sisters were taken away from the biological father and his girlfriend after his Mother left them with him. John came from a long line of petty criminals and was an example of ignorance breeding ignorance. His Mom decided to take back the two girls and give John and his younger brother up for adoption because she wasn‘t up to raising boys. Guess she should have thought of that before she had them, but ignorance is bliss. On the other hand I knew from the start John and I just didn‘t click. We tried and I knew what my Grandparents had done for me and I wanted to pass it on. Little did I realize that I had bonded with them as an infant living there my first two years and again in first and second grade. However, once a child is nine years old it is next to impossible to bond with them, especially if the parents are still alive as in John‘s case.

     Now if there is ever one thing that will help a person bond with a child, it is probably candy and its retrieval. John had not been here much longer than a month when Joe, John, Moonshine and I went on our first Halloween trick or treating event. John wore my nephew’s costume from 2 years earlier the first year. He collected enough candy that he was happy temporarily. The next year we continued the tradition and John entered a Monster drawing contest at Great Harvest Bread Company and won free cookies for his entire 5th grade class at Turnagain. John however wasn’t too comfortable being a success, but he was from time to time whether he liked it or not. After that, Great Harvest Bread Co. became part of our Halloween tradition up until John was in 8th grade and he outgrew it and us as well.

     These days we still frequent Great Harvest. There is a one cookie per Halloween drawing entry now, no mega winners like in 1999 when the bakery was still a newbie in Anchorage. Great Harvest is an exceptionally generous business, giving out huge slices of bread to all visitors since their inception, no purchase required. They even try to return your money and give you a new loaf of bread if you aren‘t satisfied with a selection. That is over the top for even tight wad me and where I draw the line on something for nothing.

Memoir - Mary Alta Buckingham - October 29, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Remembering My Oklahoma One Arm Great Uncle, Jack Mason

      My maternal Grandmother Alta’s younger sister, my Great Aunt Carrie was married twice before marrying my Great Uncle Jack in the 1950s. Like they say the third time is the charm. Carrie wasn’t particularly lucky in marriage until then. Jack’s marriage to my Great Aunt was his first when he was in his early forties. He was of medium height and size, always wore clean starched tan kaki shirts and pants. Jack Mason was a super nice guy, with a big heart and a generous streak to match. He was a hard worker. My Great Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jack had a nice home in Nowata plus a cabin on Grand Lake also in Northeastern Oklahoma that I visited frequently as a child and teen. It was there I would catch my first and last fish, a carp that had to be tossed back because it was uneatable. I never had the gift for fishing or the stomach, but Jack did despite just having one arm and hand.

      Uncle Jack lost most of his left arm and hand in an industrial accident early in his work life in the Oklahoma oil fields, years before I knew him in the 1950s. Jack was giving a hand signal out of a vehicle when a passing vehicle damaged it to the point amputation was necessary. The missing hand and arm was replaced with a gold hook that served as his prosthesis. Jack used that hook like it was a hand until the day he died. He continued to work in the oil fields and fish incessantly despite his loss. He and his father both worked for Phillips 66 Oil Company from the start. One of my cousins claims Jack’s father sold his share in the company early on.

      The thing I loved most about Uncle Jack as a kid was his generosity and that he always carried a big pocket of change which he shared. He liked to give the money to the youngsters to spend on goodies. Once at a family gathering at my Great Grandparents, Claude and Nancy Wilson in Chelsea, I recall hardly being able to contain myself when I saw Jack was there. I grew so impatient wanting to capitalize on his generosity that I almost jumped the gun and asked him if I could have “some money?“. Was I afraid he would forget? He must have sensed my 7 year old impatience because he passed out the coins without delay and saved me from embarrassing myself.

      Jack worked in the Oklahoma oil fields up until his death in 1966 when he died of brain cancer at the age of 63. May he rest in peace and be assured that he is truly missed by his Grandniece “Alaska“ Mary.

Memoir -
I will always enjoy the memory of my Great Uncle, Charles Esc(h)o
“Jack“ Mason
- April 13, 2009/revised & posted Oct. 30, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Survivor Day, October 4th, 1980 and a Second Chance at Life

     My life began again my third year in Alaska in 1980 when I was 31 years old. In the fall of 1979 after obtaining a job teaching Spanish and French to oversized high school classes of 40-45 students at Anchorage’s Bartlett High School, I bought my first Alaskan car.  It was  a brand new blue Honda Civic. Now it looks so plain, but then I thought it was a beauty.

My first road trip to Homer, Alaska, May 1980.
     When school let out for summer 1980 I landed a job teaching “American History to the Civil War” at Fort Richardson Army Base. The Texas college extension class was composed of all males. Now this should have made a 30 something woman joyful, but not being a great orator of American History, it simply added to my discomfort. However, the job allowed me to make additional payments on my new car and by the fall it was close to paid off in less than a year. Teachers in the Anchorage School District back then were the second highest paid in the country next to Connecticut and that suited me to a tee.

      With fall I started a new job teaching just Spanish at West High. This was quite an improvement after trying to teach French the year before with only two French classes from Tulsa Junior College. I didn’t have a clue how to speak French, not even how to say “do you speak French?” in French; but the Anchorage School District was desperate for teachers and I wanted a good paying job and that it was. I would listen to tapes each night before the next day’s teaching assignment. It was the days in Alaska when anybody with any sense and connections was working on the slope and the pipeline making the really big bucks, but I was teaching.

      Sunday October 4th, 1980, (two days after paying off my Honda at Credit Union One) and preparing my lesson plans for the coming week of teaching Spanish at West High, I was off to pick up my sometime boyfriend, Joe Smith, from McLaughlin Youth Center. Joe worked there as a counselor. Back in Oklahoma in the spring of 1978 Joe Smith convinced me that Alaska was the promise land. Since I always wanted to come here to begin with, because of the cool weather and adventure, I was easily convinced and flew into Anchorage in August 1978.
     On my trip to McLaughlin to pick up Joe Smith from work that fall day, October 4th, 1980 about 4 p.m. I was hit by a Gary Alberts driving with his family south on C Street. He ran a red light crossing 36th and blindsided me on the driver‘s side. Fortunately I was NOT wearing a seat belt or I would have been killed. I was thrown to the passenger side.

The most annoying thing was  I was ticketed! By the Grace of God/Creator however I had witnesses that Gary Albert had ran a red light. My witnesses were Pentecostal evangelist missionaries that drove around the country in a big bus.  They lived near Abbott Rd. and Lake Otis. Raymond House and his wife Jan believed divorce was Biblically wrong and akin to adultery. They tried unsuccessfully to convince me to reunite with my first husband in Oklahoma. We had just got divorce the summer of 1979 on my way home to Alaska after a 2 month trip to Spain.  I was "hired" by the organizer to help chaperon high schoolers and make sure they didn’t drink too much wine.   There was no age limitations there and wine was served with every meal at the school, maybe because it was safer to drink than the water.

 The reconciliation never happened and my ex husband I would not see one another until October 2011, 32 years later. Eventually I got an out of court monetary settlement from the accident and used it to pay off my two land investments. However, the unjust ticket has always been a thorn in my side. What was the cop thinking? Was he partial to the other party because they had a pack of kids? But that was just the tip of my problematic iceberg. I was severely injured eternally and lucky to be alive and suffered from PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder due to the wreck that haunts me til this day.
My sister flew into Alaska shortly after my accident thinking I was a goner. When I saw her standing there in my room at Providence it literally brought me back to life. Dr. Frederick Hood told Angie by phone “that my lungs had collapsed and they didn’t expect me to make it much longer.” She arranged with the bank she worked at to borrow the money she needed to come to Alaska, a $1,000! She booked a flight that night for the next day for a week vacation!” She told me she “remembered riding the bus around Anchorage for a poor women’s tour and something to do between visits to the ICU for 15 minutes ever 2 or 3 hours. Doctor Hood, a graduate of Oklahoma University Medical School, told Angie that “it was a miracle I turned around as I did. When she arrived he told her if I made it at all, I would be in hospital at least 6 - 8 weeks.” It was three and a half. She made all the difference.

I was released in late October in time to vote in the Presidential Election. I walked the 3 or 4 blocks to Northwood Elementary on my crutches. A school where I had worked 2 years earlier as a bilingual tutor. My vote didn’t do any good. Yes I voted against President Reagan and he won anyway. Never really liked Reagan knowing he was for the rich. Also I had a high school boyfriend whose stepfather was a big campaign manager of Reagan’s in California before Reagan hit the big time. My boyfriend was physically abused by his stepfather, Reagan‘s campaign manager to the point of being put in the hospital due to injuries several times in Spain. As my Grandfather Robert use to say, “birds of a feather flock together.”

After being released from Providence Hospital I was advised to wait until second semester to return to teaching. However, I was so grateful to be alive and eager to get on with my life to the fullest again that I went back to work teaching Spanish at West High in December. In retrospect it would have been best to postpone going back to work.

In December 1980 I flew my sister back from Oklahoma for my Christmas vacation. I still have the snow covered Christmas tree I brought for her visit and use it from time to time when the Spirit moves me.  My sister, Joe and I must have went to Chilkoots every night she was here to the point I ordered a cup of coffee there one evening. Of course that New Year’s Eve was the grand finale. It was my “survival revival.” Angie, Joe Smith and I went early and stayed late, and late it was. Back then the bars didn’t close until the Ungodly hour of five in the morning.

These days my sister has long since quite drinking, Joe Smith has returned to Oklahoma and although I still drink a bit more than I probably should, it is not usually at bars. That New Year’s Eve was probably one of my last one out on the town. After that I always considered New Year’s Eve, “amateur night” and prefer to stay home and remember when I didn‘t and was glad to just be alive.

Mary Alta Buckingham -
October 4th, 2010 - 30th Anniversary Survival
Revised October 7th 2012