Host Sue Deyoe speaks with Roberta Sheldon and Rick Ernst about the losses over the past year. A special reading from Sarah Birdsall, clips of Mike Fisher, Jay Hudson, Pete Dana and Norwood Marsh are featured. (59 min)
And Snow was General By Sarah Birdsall
The last time I remember talking to Mike Fisher was sometime around November 2008 at our usual spot: outside the Talkeetna Post Office. He was telling me he had recently heard from our old friend, Peter Dana, who had haunted this area in the early 1970s. Mike thought he might stop in to see my dad, Bob Durr, and tell him the latest from Pete. I told him my dad would love that. That coming February, Mike died two days before my father passed. Pete Dana would follow his old friends that coming July.
I saw Talkeetna’s home grown pilot, Jay Hudson, who I had known since childhood, at my father’s memorial service, smiling quietly as my brother, Jon, eulogized our dad. Two days later I watched Jay speak at Mike’s service. It seemed a lot of history for our area to lose all at once, Mike and my dad. But the year had just gotten started, and before it would close I would feel the crush on my heart as I watched one of Jay’s brothers, Chuck, help carry Jay’s coffin out of a local church.
Our area has had other hard years, no doubt. But 2009 was a year of losses: A year when the present seemed to cast a wide net over our town and snatch away core pieces of our living past; A hard year to put into words.
Like Pete Dana, Linda Ramsey passed in July. Here since the early 70s and one of the original “up the tracks” dwellers, Linda would have been among the dwindling numbers of residents who would still remember Pete, father of the once pleasant and much looked forward to Moose Dropping Festival, a man I remember seeing sitting at the piano at the Fairview on a gray quiet winter afternoon when my under-aged eyes looked in through the glass—
We are not there because we are here; somehow we all missed the flight—
He used to sing that. So here we are in beautiful downtown Talkeetna Alaska tonight.
He died in Australia , a long way from Talkeetna.
And Linda died in Anchorage , after illness, but her ashes were returned to the Susitna River with a wake of rose petals, like a bride’s train, following behind.
Then in August Emmila Denny got hit by a train at a crossing in Willow. She was here in the 1960s. She knew a Talkeetna that grows ever smaller in the rearview mirror with each passing day. Mud puddles on Main Street. Winter nights as deep and as still as the bottom of a frozen lake. The people who lived here then: Rocky Cummins. Jim Beaver. Don Sheldon. Ray Genet. And Mike Fischer—Emmila sang at his service.
For a brief time in late 2008 Emmila helped take care of my dad. When she’d leave him she’d say, I love you, you know that.
When Jay Hudson would say hi to me, he would always say my name. Always. Hello, Sarah. And then a smile.
I think of all the bits and pieces we collect from the people we share life with, like a bucket of pebbles off a vast beach, and I think how lucky, how very lucky that we live in a place where we can fill our buckets with these pebbles, that a conversation in front of a post office can turn into a precious gem, that the memory of a young blond pilot with flight goggles too big for his face can live on even after he’s gone, how lucky.
But the price for that is the weight a year like 2009 can have on the heart, like a steady snow that keeps building, a general kind of snow like what James Joyce wrote about in his story, “The Dead,” a snow that falls on the graveyard where Emmila and Jay now rest, that falls on the river where Linda’s ashes were joined with the water, that falls on the cabin where my father’s ashes wait a final resting place. A snow that falls on all the living and the dead. Falling faintly and faintly falling. And this last year, snow was general all over Talkeetna. Indeed.