Memoirs of an Alaskan IIX

Chapter 8 – Through the Darkness

You may spend a lifetime with someone. Countless events, experiences, adventures and challenges. When you think of this someone, or anyone for that matter, there are certain images, events, memories that bubble to the top first. Certain pictures in your mind, call it a mental thumbnail if you will, that precedes all others. When I think about my brother David, this is the memory I usually think of first.

It’s winter. Probably 1984. David is in 2nd grade and 7 years old. I am in 4th grade and 10 years of age. This is one of the only years in the early eighties where we attend public school. Although in different grades we sit only a few desks apart in the same classroom. There are 48 students in the entire school, K through 12 and our class is comprised of grades 1 through 6.

Our bus stop is the farthest from the school, about 45 miles away. To get to the bus stop we must rise very early and take a snow machine ride across 4 or 5 miles of frozen ground to the main highway, where Lee the bus driver takes us on the hour plus ride down the Glen Highway to school, picking up the rest of the students as we go. The highway is narrow, steep in many places with sharp curves and often along a cliff side.

In the heart of winter it’s always dark when we leave for school and growing dark when we return home. It’s always cold. There are a lot of different memories, experiences, lessons from that year. This one rises to the surface.

To get to the bus stop we ride on a dogsled pulled behind the green machine, a small John Deer snow machine usually driven by our stepfather. The sled is made from a frame of aluminum electrical tubing. The runners are salvaged cross country skis with old tire tread bolted on at the rear for traction to stand on if your driving a team of dogs. The basket has a floor of old plywood. David and I take turns in the basket or on back standing on the skis. The skis are the coolest place to ride. Your standing up and get a better view. You get to lean into the corners to keep balance. It’s a fun ride.

This particular morning it’s very very cold. Very dark. David’s on back. He’s not yet tall for his age, more plump and still holding on to his baby fat. His short legs spread wide across the skis and hands reaching nearly over his head to hold the crossbar. Looking back he’s probably too small to be back there. But looking back I also remember how David was, even then. Never willing to accept he was too small or too young or too anything to do anything I might be doing or anything he wanted to do. David didn’t care. He was defiant. He wanted to be in the mix, wanted to experience and be involved as much as anyone and everyone else.

So this morning, he’s on the back. I’m in the basket. We’re speeding to the bus stop, over humps, around corners, up small hills and through little meadows to the highway. Sometime in the first half of the journey we hit a bump and I look back and see his little bundled up body rolling away out of sight behind me as we speed off. I turn back and yell at our stepfather driving. He can’t hear me over the roar of the green machine. I keep yelling but no answer. I turn back around but David is long gone in the darkness.

The next several minutes to the bus stop are long. Long. I don’t know if he’s hurt. Or scared. Or both. It’s cold and dark. Some stars but no moon. I know that once the snow machine is out of sight it will be very quiet for him. Not many sounds at all. Maybe a slight breeze. I think about the wolf tracks we often see in the fresh snow at the edge of our dog lot, just out of reach of the dogs chains. I think about the moose that walk right through the barbed wire fence around the horse pasture. How they stretch and pull the barbed wire and snap fence posts off at the base. How we have to fix it every spring because of all the winter moose damage. And I think about David, out there in the dark on the road all alone. Except for the moose and the wolves and only the stars to light his way. And I’m scared for him.

So we reach the bus stop and the bus is already waiting. This is common. Lee always waits. The snow machine pulls to a stop. Where’s Dave? He fell off. Well why didn’t you say something? I did, you couldn’t hear me. So we turn around and speed off back the way we came. Lee still waits.

Now this is the part I mentioned before. The part I think about when I think about David. The snow machine cuts through the darkness. I’m still in the basket but I’m kneeling, half standing so I can see farther in front of us. I know we must be getting close to where he fell off and suddenly there he is, right in the middle of the road and walking fast on his little bundled up legs. There he is in his Sorels and his little snowsuit with his straw blonde hair spilling out of the hood and over his forehead. With impossibly rosy red cheecks and not a single tear on them. With huge brown eyes that don’t show an ounce of fear but maybe a hint of embarrassment at having fallen off.

There’s David, trudging through the darkness because he knows that’s what he needs to do to get back to us.

And we pull up next to him and he climbs back on the skis in the back of the sled and we loop around though the snow and head back to the bus stop.




2 Responses to “Memoirs of an Alaskan IIX”

  1. Josi writes:

    Perfection. Absolute perfection.

  2. KandiRae writes:

    Prayers ascending, he’s on his way back…

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