Thursday, December 26, 2013

Celebrating Alaska Statehood 50 Years January 3, 1959 - 2009 - A Personal Reflection

I remember it like it was just a few months ago - I was already 3 years old and my Mom, a second generation Alaskan - Dee Lane, and my Dad, a third generation Alaskan - Chic Lane, took my sister Lisa and I over the few blocks from our house on the corner of 3rd avenue down to the Park Strip to watch the bonfire in celebration of hard won Alaskan statehood.

There was a great huge pile of wood, and the fire was well underway -- men would run up with all kinds of wood, spare or not, and throw it on the fire. And a whole tree was thrown in too! The tree being dry burned really fast with a great sputtering noise mixed with the festive scent of painted wood all together. As I understand now, there were fireworks hidden in the wood pile that went off from time to time. The United States Senate had voted to make Alaska the 49th state on June 30, 1958.

Just as we arrived from the north side a couple of men were dragging a large wooden box, the size of an outhouse or larger and throwing it on the fire, which was growing quite large. People stood around the fire in a huge circle and it was obvious there had been a bit of drinking going on. Part of a fence was thrown in, sometimes a couple of two-by-fours, or a 8 by 10 sheet of plywood, but mostly old sections of some built things.

My father ran up with his camera just as my Mom was buttoning up my sister's jacket, I think he had parked the car, having just gotten off of work as an architect. She wanted to know what had taken so long. She was pregnant with my brother Ward, born in July of 1958, we girls were born only 11 months apart.

The crowd was growing as the evening was coming in, and singing and hollering and whooping and dancing jigs, in groups of people cheering whenever a new item was thrown on the fire. It was pretty wild and I didn't see many children on the park strip.

Notably the people greeted each other by name since they knew one another! There were a lot of people there.

Later I was taught the "Alaska Flag" song in school. The flag was said to have been designed by Bennie Benson, but the truth was his school teacher designed it to help him submit something, and I think she was happy he unexpectedly won the award with her simple design; she didn't complain when her student got credit for her design.

My mom showed me the Anchorage Times newspaper which read "WE'RE IN!" we kept a copy of that paper for more than 20 years. The heat from the bonfire was so hot it burned our faces and kept us warm - finally my sister Lisa began to get too cold so our folks bundled us off to the house our grandparents built on the very corner of downtown Anchorage where the legal buildings are now, near the statue of Captain Cook.

"8 Stars of Gold on a field of Blue..." I had wonderful teachers. I stayed true.

From the time I was a babe in arms we had a visitor by the name of Yule Kilcher. He was a state senator and one of the most fascinating people I have ever known. I asked him once how many languages he spoke and he took a minute to count them all up and said - "if you include the dialects - it's 47." 47!!! Yule helped to write the Alaska State Constitution, and he stood for liberal causes in a conservative way. People now have forgotten that Alaska was once a liberal state, and it was the conservatives who opposed statehood.

The summer I turned 13 years old Yule took me to visit his farm down in Homer, driving like a mad man around each curve of the road which he knew every bit of from memory. Every where we stopped Yule spoke to the people in their native languages - and what a diverse set of people he knew - it was just everyone - speaking in Norwegian, Lap, Danish, Finnish, German, Russian, and French, and everyone was so happy to see him and asked us to stay if only for a bite, or tea, or sometimes a sauna! It was one of my most memorable life experiences as I met people from all over the world visiting Yule at his ranch, and his children and other family members and neighbors. I credit Yule with changing my world view completely.

So this photo was taken of the US Flag and Alaska State flag in front of the top floor fireplace in the Anchorage Pioneer's Home with the Christmas tree, when I was just visiting my mom for Christmas (thank you to the excellent staff there).

Myself if I were to die today I could honestly say that I have lived a completely unique and unusual life due to being raised in Alaska, and knowing the people I have been fortunate to meet like Senator Bob Bartlett, who was greatly responsible for Alaska becoming a state of the United States of America, Karin and Honorable James Fitzgerald (U.S. Senior Judge) and family - Dennis, Denise, Debra, and Kevin, Glo and Victor Fischer and family - Yonnie, the Listons - Bill and Helen, Mike, Mary, Lissa, Gene Guess and family, the O'Malley's, Ernest Gruening (Governor Alaska Territory), and Alaska State senator Yule Kilcher, his children, Wendell Kay - Eddy Kay, Nick Begich and his family, artist and teacher Alex Duff Combs and his family, the Selkreggs, Governor Bill Egan (who remembered everyone's names and family), Jill Smythe, the Arns family, the Rosenthals, the Jensen family, Kathy 'Willow' Graves, and later folks such as the Browns, Judge John and 'Mama' Kay Reese, Nancy Byrd, the Fairbanks crowd; the Drs. Forbes - John Forbes and Rob, Laura Forbes, the Deans - Doug Dean and Steve Dean, Nick Boseck and his family, the Hale family - Ed, Fred, and Billy, Jim Chase and family, Dennis Savage and his family, Dennis Hartley; the teachers at Orah Dee Clark and East High School, Anchorage Community College and UAA, and other notable people with enormous personalities and strong love for their fellow human beings. Really too many to write about here.

Having left Alaska to seek out world culture I became the student of Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan Lama in Seattle, where my Alaskan childhood served me well - as I traveled Thailand, India, Nepal, to study and observe what I believe is the real final frontier, not Alaska as the saying goes, but the innate nature of our own minds.

On January 3, 2009, Alaska will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Alaskan Statehood, and I will be there in spirit remembering a fairly warm day of June 30, 1958 when my mom buttoned me up and said "Look at the bonfire Linda, remember it, because some day when you are much older, you will be able to say, 'I was there for the first bonfire, when Alaska became part of the United States of America.'" I remember her black cat-eye framed eye glasses, and the look of joy, pride, and concern on her face as she told me this with her dark brown hair pulled back under a kerchief, she looked into my eyes so closely. And I remember the bonfire.

Someone told me recently that my life stories are like the movie Zoolander except real, so what's not to enjoy?

What I did not understand at the time was how rare my experience is, and how few people would be alive 50 years later who shared that experience. But I can honestly say, 50 years later, that I have lived fully because of Alaska, and because of the Alaskan community who raised me and infused my life with personality and love.

Happy 50 Years to Alaska, to Alaskans every where, to Americans, and to the World in which we live together - congratulations! To my relatives who are now raising the 6th generation of our family in Alaska - congratulations on the twins!

Respect goes out to my elders - my great-grandfather who resurveyed the Alaska-Canadian Border based out of Eagle in 1896, my great-grandfather Isaac Newton Lane - Cherokee from Mexico who was a Pony Express Rider and Alaskan, my grandmother raised in Ketchikan, my grandfather Billy Murry - a tailor, he owned the New Method Cleaners and the Murmac Bar in Anchorage, my grandmother Marion Murry - played organ during the silent movie era, to my parents Roland and Darlene (architect and planner), thank you to everyone who made Alaska more than just a beautiful place, but an amazing event.

Here's the lyrics to the Alaska State Flag Song:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue,
Alaska's flag, may it mean to you,
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes and the flowers nearby,
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams,
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear," the "Dipper,"
and shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O'er land and sea a beacon bright,
Alaska's flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

For a historical outline see:

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