By Norma Kirkpatrick
In 1976, my husband and I went for two weeks to the Aleutian chain of Alaska, to help some friends who had a mission church there in the little community of King Salmon. My husband preached and visited some of the other mission stations, flying by light plane with the missionary, after they swept ice and snow off of the wings with a broom. The population of King Salmon and nearby areas was a mix of Eskimos; young military men and women working the vital radar installation; and a group of staff in charge of the government-run weather station.
There were also two military jets in a hangar right off the runway, with four pilots who rotated with twenty-four hours duty on, and twenty-four hours off. The radar station would call them on alert if Russian jets flew out over the Bering Straits; they would arm their rockets by removing black warning flags before they scrambled up the ladder into their one-man jets.
The missionary wife, Marianne, ordered her groceries by the year. The items were barged up from Seattle after the Naknek River ice had broken up. They lived in a winterized house trailer with a lean-to against the side to stack frozen fish and elk meat dressed and packaged. There was a small basement built under the trailer where the bulk items were stored. Our church shipped a big box of fresh fruit with us on the plane; it was a great treat for their entire family.
She shared with me that a few years before we went out to work with them, it was the time of long darkness, and her husband, Don, was often away on the dog sled, or bush plane. She had the short-wave radio and could talk to contacts for short periods of time. Her two teen agers would bundle up and go out to visit friends, but she was left home alone with her baby. She began to go down the ladder to the basement more and more frequently; and get a candy bar.
Marianne had ordered one big box of candy bars for a year of seldom treats for
each of the family members. If the children mentioned candy, she would say no; they were saving it for something special. She felt safe, because Don was tall and skinny, and never ate candy. He was a total health freak. That night, the children were playing board games; Marianne was straightening the kitchen, when Don suddenly stood up and went down the ladder. She told me she knew reckoning time had come and she had not felt like that since she was a child. He came back up the ladder carrying the empty candy box. The children were wide-eyed, looking around at the five members of their family to see who had been the culprit. Don looked at Marianne. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t help it.”That was all that was said. The next time Don flew into Anchorage, he bought a big box of candy bars and stored them in the basement, with the understanding that Marianne would not be allowed to have any more that year.
That day, Marianne learned justice must be served by adults, as well as children. She learned that we are never too old to make a mistake, and that temptation is powerful. She learned that children can be tenderhearted and give their mother a bite of their candy bar; now and then. She also knew what she had always known about Don; if any one broke the family rules, they had to pay the piper. Of course, he was very careful that year, because he knew Marianne had her eye on him; just hoping he would break a family rule.
Kirkpatrick is a guest columnist for the Opelika Observer. She also collaborates with authors on literary projects and writes an occasional poem. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.