The holidays are over when the kids (and teachers) go back to school. But not quite. There are still cards to look through, Christmas messages that warm my heart. There’s always one from Alaska. Dawn and I keep in touch each year, ever since the fall I spent speaking in the Bering Strait School District.
That year, Jim and I flew in small planes to stay in some of the villages with magic names like Teller, Nome, St. Michael., Stebbins… One village was Brevig Mission where we were told the first outsiders brought diphtheria. All the village adults died, but many children lived. The minister Brevig founded an orphanage there for them.
In another village, Teachers dressed us warmly in parkas and mukluks. They took us out in an open boat on Norton Sound to look for a whale they believed had been caught in a net.
In Shishmaref, we were introduced to Herbie Nayukpuk who ran the Iditarod and came in third more than once.. Herbie showed us his dogs, beautiful creatures with faces like masks. Dawn made us a moose dinner that tasted like my mother’s pot roast. We had muktuk beautifully arranged around a hill of salt.
In Unalakleet, Roz treated us to crimson tundra berries and made sure we had jars of it to take home. Her wishes will appear any day now; they always do.
The wonder of that visit to the villages, were the children who met us at each runway. They knew my books, they knew my characters, they talked about my plots. They held my hands, and when I left, they presented me with woven baskets with their names inside. “Remember me,” they kept saying. I still keep those baskets in my office where I can see them every day.
I tuck Dawn’s card up in my office, too. When the writing is hard, I look at the picture of her family and open those baskets to read the children’s names. I do remember them. I still write for them.