The conversation about Alaska begins with "And where do you live?" When I respond, "Juneau, Alaska", people always react with surprise and almost always say, "Wow. Really? What's it like?" Or, "Wow. Really?" My observation is that nobody does that with other states unless they were born there or lived there, as in, "Oh, cool. I used to live in Omaha." Alaska elicits a strong reaction from just about everybody. And then, almost invariably, people ask, "So, where is Juneau exactly?"
This is when I use my 'Hand as Alaska' illustration. I straighten out my arm, and turn it in a little so they can see the top of my hand. Then I spread my hand out with the index finger separated from the other four. I curl the other three fingers in, and put my thumb straight down. Pointing to right above the knuckle on the inside of my thumb, I say, "Juneau's right here." If they haven't drifted away by then, I show them the Aleutian Chain on my index finger and Fairbanks between the first two tendons. No way to do justice to the Kenai Peninsula, but that would be too much information anyway.
It seems to stymie the people that we would actually choose to live here year-round, especially since we are retired. All I can say to them is, "Juneau is my home. It is my community. I absolutely love it."
We came to Juneau as a Coast Guard family in 1977. It was our fourth duty station after Alameda, California, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and San Diego, California. We drove from San Diego, California, to Prince Rupert, got on the ferry and headed north. That was quite the adventure for Doug and me. Our four year old son and our 18-month old daughter only remember it from the pictures in the album.
When the ferry pulled into Auke Bay, I fell in love with The Place itself before I met a soul. Once I saw downtown Juneau, I was totally hooked. Good thing, because we spent what seemed like an eternity in Room 3 at the Driftwood Hotel as we searched desperately for a place to rent. The green glow of the TV reflected off the kids' faces as they watched Mr. Roger’s, Sesame Street, and cartoons. "Cabin Fever" doesn't exactly capture how I felt after that first week in the Driftwood. After the second week, the headline would have been "Wild-eyed mother, with two small children in tow, collects driftwood at low tide to build shack."
We ended up buying a brand new house on Gee Street from Don Madsen. He didn't like the sheets I used to cover the living room windows, so he gave us a line of credit to buy curtain rods. He wanted it to look "homey" to entice other families to make their homes on Gee Street. We managed just fine in our first real winter. When spring came and the ground thawed, Doug put up a log fence. In the summer of 1990, we planted grass seed. I remember making a run to get more seed and fertilizer, and the store was closed tight as a drum. Sheepish, I arrived back home empty-handed. It was 11:00 at night.
In February of 1978, I decided I needed to spend a little more time with grown-ups, and I got a job as a Clerk-Typist with the State of Alaska at the Department of Education. Tier 1. Yes, indeedy, folks, Tier 1. That Tier 1 part didn't mean much to me at the time. I knew we'd be moving in a year or two. (Cue the "foreshadowing".) It turned out that being home with the kids was easier on me than the guilt trip, and I resigned after 7 months.
Juneau was our home. Our community. When we got orders for Port Angeles, Washington, in 1980, I really hated to leave. After we found a house, I landed a Secretary job with the real estate agency that sold it to us. One of my more entertaining duties was to write ads for the paper. My favorite was the line I wrote under the photo of a fixer upper that had been on the market forever: "The pits on Cherry Hill."
With the encouragement of the Broker, I studied hard, and got my real estate license. When we got orders to Kodiak, I wailed, "They probably don't even have houses up there!!!" Turns out they did, but sticking with real estate just wasn't meant to be. A Coast Guard wife, who was being transferred, tipped me off that she was leaving a part time job in town, I went in for an interview. I was hired as the Secretary/Office Manager at the United Fishermen's Marketing Association.
The UFMA office is in the Harbormaster's building. It also had a meeting hall. Fishermen would often stop by and visit. A big part of the job was to keep the coffee pot full. I learned a lot about the Alaska fishing industry and the Byzantine politics that goes with it from Jeff Stephan, my boss, and the Manager of UFMA. Little did I know that all that information would come in handy years later.
In 1986, Doug got orders for Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC. We moved from an 800 square foot government house in Kodiak to a three story townhouse in northern Virginia. We were rent-poor, and didn't have the furniture to fill it, but it was a safe neighborhood and we discovered IKEA. I got a clerk job working for Prince William County, in Manassas, Virginia.
When the D.C. tour was coming to an end in 1989, I was 41 years old. I told Doug I wanted to stop moving. I wanted to "get a job and see what I can do. Plant a tree and see it grow. If my neighbor gets pregnant, I want to watch that child grow up. I want to go back to Juneau to live there the rest of our lives."
We returned to Juneau, rented a house in the Valley for a year, and finally found the perfect house (still under construction by, who else, Don Madsen) with the water view we wanted.
I got a job at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) as a Clerk Typist (Tier 1), and ended up the Executive Director. Our neighbor's daughter graduated from Harvard this year. Their son is going to Georgetown University. The spindly alder that anchored our lot when we bought our house towers above the streetlight. It is a good life.
My intention with this blog is to have fun with it. We bloggers have been asked to "build community". Building community in a community I love is a good thing.