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Chaplain Doug Williams

Gene's Welfare Check

Humble people

understand trust

in a way others

cannot.

A memory stays with me from the summer I turned 10. It

influences me, even today. It shapes how I look at life and

living. Funny how lessons fromour youth, lessons we don’t

fully grasp at the time, can come to shape our adult lives

and values.

Chaplain’s

Message

Doug Williams is a Senior

Law Enforcement Chaplain

and can be reached at

dougbw1@cox.net

.

Chaplain’s

Message

We lived in a small remote settlement called Cape Yakataga on the Gulf of

Alaska. My father served as station chief for the Federal Aviation Agency. The

mail plane attempted, during those years, to come once a week. That frequency

represented a substantial improvement over the previous once-monthly service. I

say “attempted” because Gulf weather didn’t cooperate predictably. If the allotted

day for mail delivery had us “weathered out” or “out of the flight circuit,” it would

be another week before letters and packages arrived. Barring emergency air service

requests, weather could extend the arrival of flights out to weeks.

The mail’s arrival was a morale booster. It provided tangible contact with the

outside world. Letters from family and friends, parcels from Sears, Roebuck and Co.,

1

or special items from stores in Cordova or Anchorage came by air, at considerable

expense. Thus, a package usually found itself received after much anticipation.

Beyond that, the mail plane’s arrival served as a community get-to-gather. All

available hands unloaded the plane. Then people hauled the cargo to the ad-hoc

Post Office set up in one of the FAA’s maintenance buildings. There, after the labor-

intensive work of unloading boxes, barrels, and sacks of mail ended, folks gathered

to visit. Then the local part-time post mistress began sorting mail. Glad individuals

reached for envelopes and packages at the calling of their names. Others watched

expectantly for small cubbies bearing their names to receive an item.

Catching up might mean connecting with people who went unseen for days,

weeks, or months; a reality of bush existence. It also meant that seeing the “regulars,”

people who made it every Friday, or bi-monthly, or monthly verified their “all-ok”

status. Mail day was a kind of central dispatch for the “bush telegraph”

2

and a means

for checking welfare.

On one of those neat Fridays, someone commented that a man named Gene hadn’t

shown up with his regular frequency. His mail had accumulated for some time. For a

boy my age, that mystery promised adventure, if only in my imagination. Eventually

someone approached my father and asked him to use the radio. They suggested

trying to see if Gene needed assistance. Back then, in bushAlaska, we had only crank

telephones (rarely, if at all). InYakataga, those were limited to the FAAand theWhite-

Allis site.

3

A very few of the Sourdoughs

4

had two-way radios. One of them lived

a few miles from Gene. His name was Clarence. In his

seventies, Clarence lived alone, miles from our settlement.

No roads connected his place with anywhere, because there

were no roads in his neck of the woods. In fact, all told,

roadways (think tracks) totaled 25 miles if you added all the

side ventures and offshoots. Most of these connected the

infrastructure of the government facilities. After that, think

in terms of a hundred road-less miles to the next settlement

in any direction. Alaska is a vast land.

To get to Clarence’s place, you had to travel 10 plus

miles of beach. You then left your

vehicle, if you had one. If you had a

river worthy boat (strong currents),

you could get within about five miles

of Clarence’s cabin, after a two-hour

motorboat trip upstream before you

used shank’s mare.

5

Gene’s cabin

lay about another five miles beyond

on a foot trail.

I liked Clarence. He acted

interested in my trapping, hunting,

schoolwork, and life in general. Beyond that, it seemed that

many of the locals (all 50 +/- of us) liked him too. Gene

on the other hand, seemed to enjoy tormenting us with rude

curses, pokes, slaps, and pushes if he bothered to interact at

all. Most of us kids steered clear of him, and the adults acted

distant. Later I learned that Gene’s reputation included

rumors of trap robbing and cabin raiding. Generally,

people felt he was untrustworthy. Reports surfaced that he

possessed several items Clarence had reported stolen.

So, a certain irony began to unfold as Dad made the

radio calls to Clarence for a welfare-check on Gene. A

70-year-old trapper hiking 10 miles round trip to check

on the condition of a 40-something-year-old prospector

who had wronged him. Clarence went. Late that night,

he radioed back that Gene was in a bad way. He thought it

looked like mercury poisoning from amalgamation.

6

The

next day several men went to render aid. Gene died on the

way to an aircraft rendezvous point.

After a couple of days, concerns mounted for Clarence.

He had not responded to radio hails. They found him

sitting at his rough plank table. Coffee cup in hand, staring

at nothing in particular, his lifeless body looked tranquil. I

listened, not fully grasping yet wishing it wasn’t so, while

the men reported the details about finding Clarence.

Dad believed Clarence’s rapid return hike on Gene’s

behalf contributed to a heart attack. I recall asking my

father why Clarence went when Gene had done the things

people said. It was life lesson time. Dad told me, “Humble

people understand trust in a way others cannot.”

The ancient Greeks didn’t understand being humble

as we do today. They thought humility

7

marked the low-

down, the faint-hearted, the weakly, and degraded. If you

presented yourself as less than the cat’s meow, you weren’t

worthy of consideration. That came in part from a belief

that human-kind centered the universe. The gods had little

purpose if humans weren’t the object

of their attention.

Later the word would come to

mean completely the opposite. When

people trust in something greater

than themselves, they have no good

use for the weakness of arrogance.

Swiss philosopher Frederick Amiel

once said,

“There is no respect for

others without humility in one’s self.”

Clarence trusted that doing right

contributed to the overall good and outweighed retribution.

He was a humble man.

Endnotes

1. Another history buff moment: Sears, Roebuck and Co. is

the official name with the comma, “and” spelled out, and

Co. abbreviated.

2. “Bush telegraph” – a slang term for unofficial channels of

communication in rural Alaska: typically word of mouth.

3. A USAF routing site for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning

System (BMEWS) instituted during the Cold War era. It

aided in the transfer of information from Alaska to NORAD

in Colorado.

4. Sourdough—a name given to long time Alaskan residents.

Google the word’s history.

5. Shank’s Mare – slang term for walking. The shank is the

leg portion between the knee and ankle (shin or tibia) and

“mare” as in a horse: i.e. the human leg doing the job of

transport in lieu of a horse.

6. Gold amalgamation – a process where mercury is mixed

with material containing gold. The mercury and gold adhere

to one another and are heated to vaporize the mercury leav-

ing the gold. The mercury fumes have toxic neurological

and physiological effects.

7. Greek = tapeinos (tah pie NOSS)

Kansas Trooper

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Kansas Trooper

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