Monday, July 24, 2017

1973

The story I am about to relate is true, and very minute details still remain with me, to this day, although the event took place over forty years ago, on the US Army Post at, Fairbanks, Alaska, called Ft Wainwright.

There are other homes on the far side of the street, I have friends who live in all of them...but one

My earliest memories include things which, looking back, I now know were paranormal, but as a five year old kid, I had already learned, whether by social cues, or by reprimands from people who were not with me and didn't experience what I had experienced: the human race is generally much happier when these subjects are not discussed. 

My father was a military man, through and through. He made the US Army his lifelong career, which exposed me to an international and better-suited mentality as far as understanding that my race, or my religious views, did not compose the entire picture of everyone that I knew. 

And when I was a kid, I knew everybody. John Michael Sheffy was my best friend, and he lived next door, in a building which had eight different family-sized dwellings within it. Each of our buildings had been hewn-into the Alaskan landscape, which itself is notoriously, and in every way unreliable, as the permafrost melting in Spring tends to roll the earth itself from underneath any structural foundation, and renders total collapse of those dwelling places which are not set upon a platform which can extend into depths, deep enough to where the thaw/freeze process cannot compromise the structure. And if the Army did two things right, it is build stuff, and over-educate military dependents...

Besides John Michael, there were a number of buddies, Mark Tedro, John Sullivan, Keith MaCintosh, the Koranovitch's, the Doans'es: there were a lot of us. Some of these people were the younger brothers and sisters of my older brothers' buddies, like Shawn Mcullough, whose older brothers Victor and Kevin taught me the F word, some were just buddies that I hung around, like Jamie Schlappy, but we all went to the same Elementary school. And, after Cheena Hill Jr High burned-down, even our older siblings found themselves bused right next door to Aurora Elementary School, where I began Kindergarten. 

This, however, occurred in high summer, the Summer of 1973. The second event occurs in the late summer, right before the first late August snows, and the thing that happened still runs endlessly through my mind, and has yet to be explained. 

In Alaska, and in Army life, terms and vocabulary from the far-flung corners of the world tend to find their way into the common speech quite often. And, in the early seventies, terms from New England were all the rage.

"Wicked!" being the word the coolest kids use to describe a thing in the higher echelons of praise, and perhaps the most strange and particularly New England word for a very New England situation: the door yard, pronounced:[doyee·odd].

What the door yard is applies to the unique situation wherein the parking for a group of buildings in which people live, is intentionally meant to represent the rear-side of the buildings. So, if there are three buildings, in an open horseshoe layout, the fronts of buildings each extend to the face farthest from the joint parking area, and thus the back door is the primary point of reference, and of entry. 

What a dooryard is refers to the entrance you use the most, which normally is the front entrance, but due to barrio-living, it isn't really the back door, and it certainly isn't the front door. Calling it the dooryard alleviates the conflict. It is the door closest to where you park...
This is a door-yard, in English, backyard. But this photo shows everything but our quarters. In my drawing, the homes running behind the arrow are described as "only on the far side of the street". Visible is Mark Tedro's house.

Well, in Summer, 1973 I had the world on a string. See, by now, this is my second duty station, and third set of quarters on-post, and I knew how things worked. They worked by seniority, and the persons who'd been there the longest had that seniority. In fact, only my best friend, John Michael, and his brother Daniel, were people I saw daily who'd been there longer than I. It was a pattern I would re-live dozens of times throughout the world, but for that Saturday, in May of 1973, I was pretty much the man.
This pic is not drawn in the same orientation as the helicopter pic was taken. But I hope it helps...

We would all gather on this sewer unit which was flecked green and an undercoat of yellow that showed after each thaw, and the paint would peel away like the peel of an orange. And though it pissed the adults off to no end, we would gather there on Saturday mornings, and decide what havoc to make, and whom to make havoc upon, if this indeed was in-order.
This is on post. In this very area, we played chicken, last to leap out of the way wins. Alaska Railroad runs that state, and made daily protests, until the Comm Gen of Wainwright ordered the area "off limits". That shit didn't work.

And, on this particular Saturday, the entire group of our set of buildings were represented by John Michael and I, and we convened with the reps from the single dwelling homes along the street behind Ninth Street, where we lived. Hailing from that road, and our contact among this sector of our large group of friends was Mark Tedro, with whom I had spent the entire previous summer catching grasshoppers. I don't know why, exactly....


It was like a competition to see which one of us could capture the most. And, on those lucky days when his mom's dad was there, he would pay us for them, because he actually was Alaskan. He had a cabin on Harding Lake, which was the coolest thing in Ft Wainwright. And only real Alaskans had those...like Bobby and Shelly Harder's mom. She had one, and it was cool.

We heard stories about the awesome power of the Cheena River which ran through Ft Wainwright, and, at one place along the river, functioned as the border between the civilian area of Fairbanks, from our little military window on the world.

The river, the Cheena River....it had power. Once upon a time, in the heady days of steamboats that ran upon the river prior to its being altered by the military, one of those steamboats capsized...all souls were lost in the raging torrents which had undertows which school officials, siblings, parents, and anyone who thought we needed to listen warned us to avoid, because these undertows were inescapable. Once you fell in, the Cheena would pretty much just eat you, swallowing you whole...
Way upstream from Army post, these steamships still run....

So, generally we avoided the river. So, when we could go to Harding Lake, this was the pinnacle of summer, and I can recall some happy times on Harding Lake. The first time I ate smores, the first time I swam, the first time I caught a fish without adult supervision: all on Harding Lake.

But this day in May was not yet warm enough to go to the lake, and we also wanted to find the stash of Playboys which were hidden by Mark in a place we could never relocate. And, though I had been with him when we hid them, I couldn't recall the place, either. And, the assembly of this group, the single home road, the six homes which had kids in our circuit in them, included, were discussing the dilemma, accusing each other....


And, as we were gathering, from behind the corner, and accompanied by a ethereal glow, stepped this beautiful young lady, whom not one of us had ever seen before. She was tall, blonde, and something to behold. I believe that this girl was the first time that a living person's appearance literally sucked the air right out of me. She took my breath away.

While arguing over who was going to be her boyfriend, which, in the language of military kid means, "show her around, teach her where the bullies live, etc." she walks up, boldly, and said, "Hi!"

"Hi!" we all answered, but then, an odd series of events begins. Between us gathering, and she emerging from around the corner, there were twelve or so kids that became eleven, ten, nine, and in that space of time, only three of us still remained.

Since I had been there longer in Ft Wainwright than anybody except John Michael, and I beat up his bully, I was the boss, so I answered her, "I'm Kevin. Kevin Drummond, this is John Michael. What's your name?" I asked.

"My name is Stephanie!" she said, smiling. And then it was just me and John Michael. "Where do you live, Stephanie?" I asked.

"Oh, that building right there." she replied, motioning over towards the building around from which she had appeared. I knew the family a little. What I knew is they didn't have kids, at least, not our age, and my brothers, Derek and William, who were about the oldest kids in our circuit, didn't have friends, there, either.

And I said this to Stephanie, because this is my domain. And she picked the only house that had no kids living in it, as her house. This demands investigation, in kid rules.

"No kids live there!"
"You're right," she answered in that smug girl-who-is-right voice, "But my grandparents live there. We actually live in town."
"Hah!" I said, "You're a civilian!" which is military-kid for, "Man....you have much to learn!"

Before I could figure-out the best, least provocative manner in which to say this, Stephanie reached over, and in a very odd way, wrapped her right elbow around my head, but at the pate, and, as I stood on her right, she walked me a few steps towards the playground, then turned back, but in this odd choreography, then, still in this silence that came from nowhere, she let me go...

"I have to go eat lunch, now."
"Will you come out, later?" I asked?
She smiled, and assured me she would.

By now, even John Michael had gone home, so I did, too. When there was nothing going-on at my house, I decided to go over and talk to Stephanie, before she left. That way, she would at least remember me, or so I believed.

So I walked right up to the door to the military single-dwelling quarters which Stephanie told me were her grandparents' house, and I knocked on the door.

The older lady who answered knew me from the neighborhood, and said, "What can I do for you, Kevin?"

"Is Stephanie here?"

"Stephanie? No..,nobody lives here by that name...."
"You don't have a granddaughter named Stephanie, who lives in Fairbanks? She has blonde hair, and was wearing overalls today?"
"No, I sure don't." she said.

I looked while she was talking, and it had to be this building because every single other building had kids I knew in it, and there was no possible way that she lived anywhere else. The lady who answered the door was kind, but just had no earthly idea what I was talking about...like I was from another planet. Sensing my extreme doubt, she added, "Honey, I have kids, but they all live in the lower forty-eight (Alaskan for Washington State, and the rest of the United States), and I don't have any grandchildren. She said she was visiting here, in this house?"

"Yes." I said, but maybe I got it wrong.

As I walked away, the feeling of having been exceedingly pranked overwhelmed me suddenly. And, as the lady shut her door, and I walked off, I couldn't help but to demand an explanation. Instead, I walked boldly onto that lady's driveway, and almost as if under some kind of control, I started to unsnap the black leather boat cover and see if she had included her grandma in this elaborate hoaxing of me....and as the third snap made its audible noise, I realized that I had invaded that family's space, and relented to quietly be befuddled.

Again I knocked at the doors of homes along the road, but I knew them, all of them, and used it instinctively to gather testimony from everyone that had seen the event, and discover just exactly what part they had seen. I deduced that this was not an event that I had imagined.

That night, this event troubled me, and I had a hard time falling to sleep.

And, after many weeks, I just forgot all about this goddess whose beauty had hidden behind its face a mystery that I couldn't unravel. And gradually, it vacated the place of being a topic, at all....until.....


One day, John Michael and I had been out in the playground, when he had to go in. See, he actually liked Sesame Street and Electric Co, and his mother and he watched it together, a lot. But, perhaps due to my brothers' ridiculing that kind of educational show, perhaps due to my advanced intellect for my age, I couldn't get into them. And I was accustomed to spending this part of the afternoon alone, because of it.

When who should step from around the corner but Stephanie. "Hi, Kevin! My name is Caroline!"

I was once-bitten, and a bit short when I answered, "Well, that is odd. The last time you were here, you were named Stephanie!"
"Last time?!?" she replied, she actually indicated real surprise, her mouth fell open, and she got angry....

"Yep!" I pronounced, "last time. You still visiting your grandparents over there?" I inquired, nodding in the direction of the building upon where the thing that so troubled me had taken place...

"Of course!" she said. "Come, let's swing!"

And I recall examining the ground, trying to be secretive about looking, to see if she had left footprints....and she did leave footprints. And we swang.

Then, always the daring sort, I asked her to see saw with me. And we played that game, Farmer, Farmer.

For those of you who don't know: this is a game where a kid who is on the 'up' part of the see-saw action, says to the other kid, "Farmer, farmer, let me down."

Kid protocol demands that the kid on the downside reply, "What will you give me, Charlie Brown?"

Then the two negotiate, and this can go on as the promises range from marriage, when a girl and boy play, to a fishing pole that catches fish and a bag with endless gold in it....

But, there is the awful trick of "cherry bombing", when the low-side gets off the see saw so quickly that the high side kid comes down on their butt so hard that it hurts....


It was during the time where I was supposed to give her stuff, when she said, "Kevin Drummond, don't you cherry bomb me! Or I will never speak to you again, ever!"

And that is precisely what I did! Ohhh....she got pissed! She was fuming!

She got up, face red, frowning, and she turned and walked towards the building where she vanished from the first time. I ran up behind her, I said, "Caroline, I am sorry! C'mon, give me a chance....!?"

"No!" she turned. And she pushed me down. I got to my feet and was right behind her. This time I followed her around that corner, and bam.....she freaking vanished. Before my eyes. I looked up, down, sideways, and then I pounded on that lady's door. She was going to explain this thing, and every single bit of how they did it....

But nobody answered.

So I went back to the driveway, and ripped the boat cover off, then I ransacked their utility closet. And, as I was going over the boat, again, the older lady and her husband came driving up the driveway....and I fled the scene. I noted the places she had walked in the sand of the playground, even saw where she had pushed me down...

I passed the night terrified that the lady was going to call my mom, and perhaps the MP's.

Later, during the night, I had a dream where both of them told me that they weren't mad. And, when I awoke the next morning, I had a red rash-like place on my chest.


That place has always been there ever since. I grew up with my mom demanding, "Kevin, QUIT SCRATCHING YOUR CHEST!"
Medicine and doctors couldn't remedy it, and when I was in high school, one of my dearest friends, John Revels, who is gone, now, gave that red-spot the nickname, "Kevin's Third Tit."

I still call it that.

2 comments:

  1. Somebody told us that ghosts from the Cheena Riverboat tragedy, in 1920's(?) often walked onto post. It was felt by other kida that this could explain the phenomonon.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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