When I returned to Kodiak, Les met me at the plane. We quickly found a small furnished house at the edge of Erdman’s trailer court, rented it, and moved in. Now our Kodiak adventures could begin.
About that time, Les first proposed to me. However, when he asked me if I’d marry him, he said, “Now, don’t answer that question yet. Wait until I ask again.” Six months later he finally did.
Meanwhile, we settled into our little house. That house only got warm in the summer. We found a loose piece of the wall paneling and looked behind it. The only insulation consisted of a few pieces of cardboard and some newspaper, not even wadded up; just thrown in there.
At night, we’d iron the sheets before going to bed, just to make the bed warm enough to heat us until our body heat took over.
We had an extra bedroom. One day, Les picked up a fellow who hitchhiked down Mill Bay Road. He introduced himself as Paul Cox. We learned his broad Southern accent came from his West Virginia upbringing. He ended up renting our extra bedroom.
Paul worked in a shrimp cannery, which quick-froze shelled shrimp. One of Paul’s jobs was to clean the conveyors each night. Frozen shrimp would be caught in the sides, so he’d bring us home a sack or two of fresh shrimp most nights.
While getting reacquainted with Kodiak, I learned that a local man had a small bakery by the boat harbor. He made big, round loaves of Russian rye bread. They tasted excellent! More than once, Les purchased a round Russian rye loaf, still warm, and we’d tear off chunks and eat it on the spot.
I went back to office-work, securing a job as a bookkeeper at Kodiak Oil Sales. I rather enjoyed the job and the other people I worked with. Besides, being head over heels in love, I couldn’t find much wrong with life at the time.
One day, Les came in to the oil company office with two black kittens, brothers from the same litter. He decided we needed some cats. He got two so they wouldn’t be lonely.
Paul Cox was the one who named them Uptight Cat and Loose Cat. Uptight, who grew up to look like a miniature black leopard, acted like a cat who had just had his tail stepped on. He never mellowed, but fit his name perfectly his whole life. Loose Cat had the opposite personality. He had to be one of the most relaxed cats I’ve ever known.
Les had big hands, and when Loose Cat was little, Les would hold the cat on his outstretched open hand. The cat would be seated on his hand with both front legs hanging down in front of him. He trusted us completely. When he got tired of sitting that way, he’d just fall over backwards, believing Les would catch him. Fortunately, he always did.
You could lie Loose Cat on his back and rub his belly, saying, “Dead cat, Lou.” The cat would obligingly fall asleep. Uptight, on the other hand, played the hyper role. One of his favorite games was “fetch.” Les had a rubber mouse on a piece of nylon fishing line. He’d whip it back and forth in front of Uptight and then throw it into the next room. The cat fetched the mouse, returned, and dropped it at Les’s feet, then meowed at him to throw it again.
The cats fit their names. However, Paul claimed that the reason for Loose Cat’s mellow personality originated from a few criminal actions. Paul liked a bit of weed after work, so he kept a cup on his nightstand which contained rolled-up joints. Loose Cat would steal them from the cup and chew on them.
Paul says that the cat finalized his loose personality when he stole and ate a whole gram of hash.
After Les’s second proposal, we got married in our living room. Our wedding music: “Our House,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:
Our house is a very very very fine house, with two cats in the yard,
Life used to be so hard; now everything is easy ’cause of you.
We had our wedding reception in the large back room of the Montmartre. Millie Markham gave us the wedding reception for our gift. She even made a punch that lived up to its name — more like a “wallop.” We’d become friends with the current cooks at the Montmartre, too, who made fine Mexican food.
They knew Les loved jalapenos, so gave him a gallon jar of the sliced hot peppers for a wedding gift.
Less than two years after our wedding, Les got out of the navy. He was thoroughly sick of military duty, and Kodiak reminded him too much of something he now found distasteful. So, he persuaded me to leave. We decided to go to Colorado, and selected Colorado Springs as our new place of residence.
Of course, Uptight Cat and Loose Cat came with us. Also, younger siblings of Les’s decided they would come to live with us, too. Actually, the first to arrive was Les’s younger sister, Mary, who we had invited to join us.
I enjoyed Mary’s company a great deal. However, she didn’t always make the best choices of men. Once, when she invited a fellow we disapproved of to the house, Uptight and Loose took care of him for us.
We lived in an upstairs apartment in a big old house. This one night, Mary’s new beau came by to visit. He started up the stairs. Uptight and Loose waited at the top to greet him. When he saw those black cats, he said, “I’m not coming up there. Those black cats are devil cats and I want nothing to do with them.”
He left, forever. We would have applauded, but didn’t want to make Mary feel any worse than she felt already.
We found some good friends in the Colorado Springs area, but I missed Kodiak. At last, Les admitted he did, too. Now we had to stay until we made enough money to return. We both worked, and started saving.
Then we decided to move to Manitou Springs. The old spa, now nearly vacant, needed a manager, and Les was given a rent-free apartment upstairs and a space downstairs in payment for a management job that was more like building babysitting.
He opened a Tae Kwon Do dojo, and put his black belt in the art to good use. He had taught classes in a couple of the schools in Kodiak. I told him he should have been a teacher, as he was a natural at instructing others.
The dojo caught on. The classes began to grow. Then a friend said he wanted to move up in the mountains to the little town of Dekkers, on the South Platte River. Would we go with him?
As we had bought a Chevrolet pickup and a little travel trailer in preparation for our return to Alaska, we happily joined him. We were happy in our new residence. Then came the rains, and a dam across the front of a small lake broke, flooding the area. Les was visiting family in Texas at the time.
Fortunately, I’d been warned of the impending flood, and took the cats and moved into a motel in Woodland Park. Loose Cat, however, was not used to being confined in a room. I went to get belongings from the car. When I returned and opened the room door, the cat bolted.
Down the sidewalk in front of the units he raced, with me close behind. At the end of the row, the sidewalk made an abrupt turn to the left and then continued on past the owners’ attached residence. Around that corner, unseen by us, slept a large German shepherd, enjoying the sun. When Loose Cat reached the corner, he and the dog made eye contact.
That cat shot up in the air a good three feet. When he came down, he was three sizes larger than when he went up. The dog, wanting nothing to do with this creature from out of space, had run halfway across the big yard before the cat even touched ground.
It’s a good thing we moved to the motel, as the flood hit the house, pulled it off its foundation, and tilted it a bit. I’d moved most of our belongings upstairs, another stroke of luck, as the house floor was now covered with mud. We loaded our possessions into trunks we had, fortunately, and then, as the road was washed out, we took everything out on pack horses.
That message seemed load and clear. Go back to Alaska while you can! We loaded everything we owned in our little trailer or in the camper on the back of the truck, put the cats in the trailer, and off we went. We had a sign on the back of the trailer that said, “Alaska Or Else.”
We thought it would be nice if we could take the cats for walks during the long Alaska trip. We decided to leash-train them. Wrong! When we put the harness on Uptight cat, he outdid Houdini by squirming and twisting until he somehow got out of that harness.
When we put the harness on Loose Cat, he just laid down. We could have dragged him anywhere. So we gave up on the harness idea. Instead, when we camped at night, we just let the cats out. They would explore and hunt for a while, and then return for their supper and warm bed. I believe the message was, “We don’t need no stinking harness.”
One day in an Idaho forest, Uptight Cat created a bit of a diversion. I sat on a hillside above the camp, writing in my journal, so I saw the whole incident. Les was talking to an older couple who had camped next to us. Then Uptight Cat came galloping out of the woods, chasing a very fast, very scared baby chipmunk searching for a good place to escape the jaws of death.
Ah! A hollow tree trunk! That might have been the chipmunk’s vision of the scene. He ran up to the old lady and darted inside her pant leg and up her leg.
The poor lady! She started dancing around, yelling, “Get him out! Get him out,” and grabbing at her leg. When they finally retrieved the chipmunk, Les put the baby in his pocket, while Uptight Cat searched for the poor creature. When the cat wasn’t looking, Les put the chipmunk in a tree.
I tell you, when you have cats in the family, you never have a dull moment.
After many adventures, we arrived in Kodiak. We planned to live in the little trailer until we found a more permanent dwelling. A friend in
Bells Flats gave us permission to stay at his place. A long extension cord from his house gave us power for our little home.
Les got a job in a local cannery. Our “landlord,” Shorty Taylor, played steel guitar, and hired me to play bass in his country dance band — fun and easy work.
We had a lead singer — I did a little harmony and played an occasional banjo tune in addition to the bass. For the rest of the evening, the drummer and I stayed in the background and swapped jokes. We played fun, easy gigs.
I played off and on with those folks for some time. Every year around the holidays, the Elk’s Club had what they called the “Purple Bubble Ball,” and we played at more than one of these.
Always in attendance was Smokey Stover and his wife, Lois. They loved to dance. Short people, they danced close to the stage and the music. I liked to watch them, as they obviously really enjoyed themselves.
Smokey had an important position in the community. He ran the local dump. Lois had a more genteel job as bookeeper for the Kodiak hardware store, Sutliff’s
Paul H. “Smokey” Stover, well-known for his colorful personality, ran his dump in style. He offered a bonus to the community that many enjoyed. Every Sunday he made his famous clam chowder and fed it, free, to all who came to partake. Of course, the rule was you had to bring your own whiskey.
I never got to attend one of those widely-touted events, but I know some folks who really enjoyed them. Once his working days rolled past, Smokey wrote down his stories in a little book that’s now a collector’s item. It’s called “The Retired Failure.” The man had a certain pizzazz, wouldn’t you agree?
One day, Les asked me if I’d like to go to Spruce Island. It’s a small island, approximately seven miles long and three miles wide. The Native village of Ouzinkie is situated at one end and the Opheim “plantation” is located on the other. Ed Opheim’s wooden dories were famous among many fishermen.
Les’s friend, Dan, who sat with him the first day we set up our sound system onstage in Kodiak, now worked as foreman for the small cannery in Ouzinkie. On this visit, we planned to meet with Dan.
When I first saw Spruce Island, I loved it immediately. To me it represented heaven on earth. Largely covered with spruce forest in verdant, mossy green, it had a mystery and a beauty that will always rank number one in my heart.
When we got there, Dan offered Les a foreman’s jot at the cannery in Ouzinkie. We could live in his house on Eskimo Cove, a couple of miles from the village. Dan had married the only Opheim girl, Edna, and they had built a primitive house there. I hoped and prayed that Les would take the job.
We returned to Kodiak, and I knew now that my most fervent dream was to live on Spruce Island. I’ll finish that tale in the next installment.