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Grandpa's Didn't Own Cell Phones (Part 2)

Grandpas didn't own cell phones. Part 2....

The adventures always started out the same. A couple knocks on his thin wooden door were usually met with a "come in, come in." If I didn't hear it, I would knock again with just enough force to rattle the three single pane windows in the door. Grandpa didn't hear so well. As kids we always thought it funny to watch him as he would cup his hands behind his ears, straining to hear the beautiful melody of his favorite T.V show, Lawrence Welk. It lost some of its humor though when we realized that this technique actually worked. Anyway, once you came through the door, you would find him sitting at his corner table, usually working on a crossword puzzle. On my way past the woodstove I would grab the old stool. It wasn't much to look at, cosmetically speaking. A worn, upholstered seat supported by four wooden legs. From seam to seam, on the short side of the seat was a long tear held together by duct tape. Grandpa was practical, and as long as it didn’t fail him, there was no reason to get rid of it. I guess growing up in the heart of The Great Depression will do that to a guy. Once I was seated at the table, he would offer up a treat. Grandpas always had treats. My wife used to get Little Debbie's whenever she went to visit her grandpa. I was never that fortunate. Usually it was a half of a banana or perhaps an orange. If I was really lucky, a peppermint Lifesaver would find its way into my hand.

He arrived in the Matanuska Valley in the spring of 1935. As part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, 203 families from the deprived upper mid-west were shipped to the Alaska Territory to form the Matanuska Colony. Once off the train, they made their way to the government assigned, "tent city," where they would spend their first winter in Alaska. This was a fascinating time in our history that I wish I had cared more about when I was a kid. I would love to hear the stories now, but during that time of my life, it was his moose hunting stories that kept me coming back to the cabin. My favorite story took place just outside of his hunting cabin, north of the town of Palmer. I’m not actually sure if it was his cabin, or if it was erected years prior and served as a temporary hostel for transient hunters and trappers much like himself. At any rate, he called it home for a week or two each fall. From the sounds of it, the cabin, which sat on the banks of the Matanuska River, was nothing special. A couple of bunks, a wood stove and a roof over your head. With the nearest road being several miles away, packing out a bull moose, often weighing in excess of 1500 pounds, could present quite a dilemma, if not for the nearby river. Not far from the cabin was a large, open area made up of marshland, scrub willows and the remainders of years of beaver activity. Together, it created the prefect moose habitat. At first light, Grandpa, and his hunting partner Charlie, would sneak out to the edge of the clearing together to take a peak. After a quick look around, they would split up for the day and meet back at the cabin around suppertime. Charlie wasn't much of a hunter. In fact, I don't ever recall hearing of a time where he actually killed a moose. That’s not to say he never filled a tag though.... It was day 5 of the hunt and Charlie didn't feel like looking at the same ground that had not produced a single moose in the first 4 days. Grandpa had killed several bulls in that clearing and tried to convince Charlie to join him. Having none of it, Charlie went off in the other direction. When he got to the clearing, he started scanning around the edge. In a clockwise direction, he carefully studied the edge of the willows all the way around. As he approached the five o'clock position, standing nose to tail, were two giant bull moose. All he could see over the tops of willow saplings were two massive racks.

The bulls had no idea he was there. He could see through the willows so he knew the direction they were facing. He quietly raised up his Thirty-Thirty, came down three feet from the antlers, then over three feet to clear the shoulder, pulled back the hammer and BANG! Hearing the shot, Charlie started heading in that direction. As he was just about to the clearing he heard another shot. Excited about the possibility of a downed moose, Charlie hurried out to where Grandpa was standing. "Did you get him?" Charlie asked.

"Yes I did, he's right over there." Replied my Grandpa. "And Charlie got one too....." To be fair, that's the only time I ever heard of him breaking the rules. Times were tough in Alaska in 1937, at least Charlie wouldn't have to worry about meat that winter. I don't know who coined the phrase, "Once you pull the trigger, the real work begins," but I'm guessing it was probably a moose hunter from Alaska, maybe around 1937. Two full days later, with nothing but a couple knives, a hatchet and pack boards, they had the last of the meat back to the cabin. All that was left to do was cut down enough willow trees to construct a raft sturdy enough to ferry two men, their supplies, and nearly 1600 pounds of boned out meat, down river to Palmer. The day long journey down the gray, off-colored water of the Matanuska was not all fun and games. The river currents were not the only concern, a potentially bigger problem was the freezing temperatures of water. The headwaters of the river was the Matanuska Glacier. Steadied by two 16 foot long push poles, they made it down to Palmer before dark. With the years supply of red meat out of the way, there was just enough time to procure the winters stock of Coho and Chinook. Eventually the cold weather and long dark months of winter would prove to be more than he bargained for. In 1952 they packed up everything they could fit into their army surplus jeep and headed for Washington State. Grandpa passed away in 1994, just shy of his 90th birthday. I got my first full time job around that time and shortly after, I moved into his cabin. After bouncing around a bit, Nichole and I married and moved back into Grandpa's cabin for a year while our house was being built. The cabin still stands today, complete with the woodstove and old tattered stool. Sometimes I wish I had written down all of his stories. Between my brothers and me, we can recall some, but not all. Oh well, it's probably better that way. Nobody could ever tell them as good as he could.

Ken Witt


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