The mud was still frozen when I walked to KIYO Galena radio station at 9:15 a.m. on April 25, 2012. Frosted-stiff grass poked through the icy puddles-turned-lakes. Jeremy wanted to interview me. Jeremy was a newcomer disc jockey from Washington, not the state, but D.C. How he’d found his way here was a mystery; furthermore, how he’d acculturated to this village without Starbucks, light rail transit, horns honking, bright city lights, and a sea of suits and ties was beyond me. To me, everyone is a story. I interviewed him first. The interview with me was a fun conversation. I appreciated the opportunity.
Guest teaching was up next. I arrived at an aviation class with a power point of plane crashes – mostly my dad’s – and excerpts from Alaska Bush Pilot Doctor about flying situations: bobber gas gauge, wobble pump, broken ski cable, and so on. I wished my brother Mark was there. He’d actually know about all this aviation stuff; I just collect pictures, stories, and facts —and write about them.
The journalism students interviewed me for the school paper, “The Hawk.” They asked good questions, such as “What do you hope to accomplish while you’re here?” Uh……have an adventure? Nope. Better answer: to find out about Galena Interior Learning Academy. “Do you mind telling us how old you are?” Yes.
The day raced on. Language Arts class kept me hopping with Five Senses Writing, journalism WWWWH applications, and Personification. Two girls joined me in the cafeteria. I wasn’t going to starve for conversation or food in this village. The Fox (missionary) family invited me to share supper with them in their home. It was my pleasure. I’d brought gifts for their girls – little Naomi and Ruthie. Names just like my sister and me.
Genny hadn’t missed a beat. With only a weeks’ notice, not only had she organized my shuttle services and lunches stops, but she’d put together a Meet and Greet at the library.
When I opened the library door, there was a man standing with his back to me. He could have been any man; any man in blue jeans and a baseball cap, but he wasn’t. He had graying red curls edging beneath his cap. Could it be? I walked slowly around him. His big smile and twinkling brown eyes confirmed it. Chris Sommers! He’d been the cutest little Athabascan Indian boy in my Tanana Day School class. Tanana, a village upriver from Galena, had supplied me with plenty of life-long memories, and he wasn’t the only classmate I’d heard about over the decades.
My sister, Mishal, works for Tanana Chiefs in Fairbanks, and flies up and down the Yukon River and keeps track of people’s where-abouts. She thought Chris lived in Galena, and was even the chief of the village.
I’d bumped into one of his younger sisters when I was in Tanana in 2009.
I certainly surprised her when I saw her walking down Front Street and called out, “Are you a Sommers”?
“How do you know?”
“There aren’t that many red-haired Natives up and down the river; and, in Tanana, back in ……….the only red-heads were from the Sommers’ family.”
Well, that started a conversation and she, two men, and I sat down on a backless wood bench facing the Yukon and talked about that year’s river breakup that had flooded Tanana.
Then there was their sister Marie. In my estimation, she’d been the prettiest girl in the Tanana Day School; prettiest of all in grades 1-8. Her smile can be seen on the cover photo of ‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory. (First girl on the left.)
I wished I could have talked to Chris longer. Didn’t he have three girls? Didn’t they all graduate from college? Colorado? Ah…..success stories I would have liked to have heard.
My time in Galena ran out. The memories won’t. I’m already thinking about next year’s jumping off trip from Fairbanks. Hmmmm…..Tanana? Again? I hear the school teacher graduated from the school there and went back to teach. Why? What drew him back? I’m sure there’s a story.