Posts Tagged ‘blue berries’

To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

Martin and Maggie would regularly fly a ways up the coast and inland
to bring groceries and government check to an old retired reindeer
herder. This day they buzzed over his cabin but things didn’t look
normal. There was no swirling smoke coming from the chimney even though
the temperature was below 0°F. When they landed, they found old Kiyukuk
nearly starving with his feet inside a stone cold wood stove.
Apparently he had gashed himself in the side with an ax and was unable
to do the hard work necessary to survive such frigid temperatures.
Martin and Maggie packed him up then hauled him back to Golovin to

With the extreme cold, frost built up on the door
jam. One had to give the door a good yank to un-stick the bottom of the
door from the threshold. It opened with a screech not unlike nails on a
chalk board. Upon arriving Maggie shoved the door open and Martin helped
the stooped old man, protecting his side, into the house. He seemed
visibly relieved to be in the warmth with promised food and care. I was
shocked to see him. He looked so much like the holocaust victims I saw
in pictures that my stomach literally turned over. The base of his jaw
line protruded like a ship’s deck while his neck disappeared somewhere
under the inverted bowl under his jaw.

It was hard to imagine this old frail man running across the tundra tending, herding and butchering reindeer. I could imagine, however, after living with him
a short while, why he remained a bachelor. He had some pretty quirky
ways. He was given my old room — a small room filled with grocery
inventory and a cot. At night he listened to his radio tuned to a
Russian station. Lying in his long underwear he probably hadn’t taken
off in years, he would mimic the radio voices speaking Russian. “Does he
speak Russian,” I asked Maggie. “No,” she answered. He did speak only
in Inupiaq with Martin and Maggie. He wouldn’t respond to my English
though Maggie assured me he could understand.

Because he had been in near starvation condition, Maggie felt it best he be given food rationally. Most nights the family had ice cream. When the freezer door
at the bottom of the stairway opened, he was down the stairs from his
room and at the kitchen table in seconds. But when the toilet seat over
the honey bucket displayed evidence of his distressed digestive system,
the ice cream for Kiyukuk (Donny called him “Captain K”) was off limits.
Some evenings we would wait for him to retire then the rest of us would
open the freezer door as quietly as possible to retrieve ice cream.
Most of the time we got away with it, which was difficult as he had
excellent hearing, especially for the particular squeak of the freezer door.

Blue berries picked in the late summer and fall then
frozen were also a regular winter dessert. The first evening Captain K
had berries with the family he would take a bite then spit little bits
of berry debris onto the floor. Finally he said (in English) “Maggie,
who picked these berries?” I first wondered if it was me but then
assured myself that I picked a pretty clean bucket of berries and was
proud of it. I’m sure he chose to speak English that one and only moment
for my benefit.

He hadn’t and probably couldn’t wash his hair for a really long time but he didn’t hesitate to take Maggie’s pink comb from a kitchen drawer and use it.

One morning, standing atop of the stairs, I witnessed the top of Captain K’s wispy haired head bending over trying to look through the cracks in the stairs. Beneath
the stairs was the honey bucket (toilet) where Maggie happened to be
taking care of business. Captain K apparently was trying to peek a look
through a narrow opening. He swayed back and forth trying to find the
clearest view.  “What’ou doing?” I asked (I had begun to pick up
village speak). Surprised I had caught him, he scurried on up the stairs
saying his usual mantra, “Yah, yah,”  passing me and into his
room. I heard Maggie laughing and I had to join her. I should have been
more aware a couple nights later of just how female lonely this ‘ol guy was.

One night when I passed his room I saw he was still clothed
and reading a Bible but seemed to be having trouble. I offered to sit on
the end of his bed and read to him. I had read a passage or two when he
grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth. Ewwwwwwwwww! I was surprised at
how strong he was as he had trouble opening the front door for the frost
on the threshold. But, I should have known better.

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights reserved
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