07 February 2011

Chapter 33: "Billiard Hall Conversation," Pt 2

         “You know, Cap, I’ve had the same sense about the place since
we first went to work up at Erie.  The people will be gone soon.  Maybe
not the camp, but the people.  Even grandfather said it would not last. 
He told me I’d live to see it all end and that even the railroad would
quit running one day.”

        “If that’s true, and I am sure deep within myself that it really
is, what do you think will happen to McCarthy?”

        “McCarthy will still be there, even if the mine quits.  Look at
all the placer claims out there.  McCarthy does a lot of outfitting,
just like Chitina does.”

        “Maybe, but even if McCarthy survives Kennecott, it won’t be the
same.  Think about it.  What do you see on the railroad except Kennecott
ore and Kennecott freight.  There sure aren’t many passengers.  Never
were. When I came back from McCarthy last time, I was alone in  the
coach.  Just me and the dog and that attendant.  That was it. 

        “This is just a mining railroad.  I know it looks like something
more than that, but without the mine, I don’t think there could be a
railroad.  Nicolai was right.  We’ll both live to see the end of it. 
And that means the end of McCarthy.   You don’t think Rose would want to
stay in that town once the supplies stop coming, do you?”

          “So Cap, what are you saying?  Are you saying that Rose will
leave and go where ? Where will she go ?”

Main Street
Forty-below in
Chitina  --Anchorage Museum of History & Art
        “Where do you think ?  She’s a big-town girl who’s making money
at McCarthy because there’s so much business now.  That’s it.  When the
business moves, she will too.  She’ll probably leave Alaska.   Do you
think she’ll really want you by then anyway?  You know what she is.  She
loves money.  Not you.  Not any man.”

        Johnny almost struck Cap for that, but backed off.  Cap was
ready for him, but  Johnny’s anger gave way to depression.  He leaned 
back in the chair, feeling spent.   He had to face it and admit to
himself that Cap might be  right.   

        “Sorry about that, Cap.  I know you’ve been polite about it and
avoided the subject. The sad part is you may be right.   She probably
proved your point when she  refused to come back here with me .”

        “Look, Johnny, I told you what I believe.  I don’t want to dwell
on it.  I’d rather try to beat you at this game of billiards than fight
you.   What good would the fighting do?   We’ve backed each other up
since school days--since we were both six or seven years old.  That’s a
long time.  We’re sla’cheen who are fortunate enough to claim the
same grandfather.   If we’re going to fight, let’s save it for someone
who truly is our enemy.”

        They started a new game.  Cap beat Johnny easily, probably
because Johnny’s mind was somewhere else.   He was silent for some time
before finally speaking back up.

        “I got a letter from Frank Buckner.  He wants us back next

        “Really?  Do you you want to go back?  If you really want to go,
I’ll be there with you.  No money around here, anyway.”

        “Still?   After all that has happened?”

        “Still.  It doesn’t matter what has happened.  We’re

        “Frank wrote that the company plans to repaint the mill next
year.  They’re also going to build a larger hospital. He wants us back
because of our experience on that power plant job.  No problem getting
on, he wrote. The superintendent has okayed us for rehire to do the
paint job. It’s a big one, similar to the power plant painting job.  
Harder, though, because the building has old paint which has to be
scraped off.”

early Kennecott
circa 1912      
--Cordova Museum
        Cap considered it,  while he watched Johnny rack up a new game. 
He opened the stove door and put in yet another stick of wood.

        “We sure have to work hard around here to stay warm.”

        “Yes, it hurts me to watch you sit in that captain’s chair and
place a stick of dried,  cut firewood into a hot-burning stove.  It must
kill you, Cap.”

        “You know what I mean.  It takes a big load of wood to keep any
of these places going.  That’s all day out in the woods.  Sometimes I
think we had it easy at Kennecott.”

        “So it’s Kennecott ?”

        “It’s either that or the railroad maintenance work again if we
want enough cash for the year.  Trapping isn’t going to do it. I just
want to be able to get out of work by fall time so I can hunt and do the
guiding business again.   We completely missed it last year. At the time
I never gave it much thought because we were so busy.  But I don’t want
to miss out on the hunting.   Then there’s still next winter’s

        “So, it’s settled then. We’re a team, once again.”

        “We’re a team, Sla’cheen.”

        Kay-yew-nee jumped for the door.  His ears were straight up and
his tail started wagging.  Johnny’s mother Helen came in the door. 
Charles followed. The wagon was waiting outside with her companion Fred
from Copper Center holding the lines.   

        “You two have been down here long enough.  It’s cold out here
and I came to pick you up for dinner.  We’ve been working on the moose
stew all day, and you need to come home.  That’s that.”

        “I cleaned out the back of the wagon so we can ride below

        “That’s good of you, Charles.  You’re a great skell-eh.”

        “It’s really cold out there, Johnny.  I’m riding in back with
both of you.  Mom keeps warm with Fred up front.  She actually enjoys

        “Fred’s my blanket,” Helen replied.

        “Let’s head on up the hill, Cap.  I’m ready. You’re staying
until after the cold spell, aren’t you ?”

        “I’m ready for some good Native food, and I was planning on
staying with you anyway.   Soon as this weather breaks, I’ve got to pick
up my supplies and get back to Tonsina.”

        “Smitty ! We’re leaving ! You back there ?”

        Rita stepped through the door.

        “Smitty’s sleeping.  You’re the only ones left.  I’m closing now

        “Got a bottle ?”

        “Got money ?”

        “Will these do ?”

        Johnny threw several silver dollars onto the counter.  Rita’s
eyes widened.  She was resigned to credit in the winter time.  The coins
were a welcomed sight.

        “You want two bottles ?”

        “You got it, Rita.  Say good night to Smitty.  Be sure to
tighten up the stove.  Goodnight.”

        “Did you see that old red-haired witch’s look when I threw her
those coins, Cap ?  Guess that’s what it takes to make women happy.”

        The four of them walked out to the waiting wagon.  A huge horse
was anxious to get moving.  It was frigid out there.  The smoke from the
stacks throughout town was rising to about sixty feet and then leveling
off, creating a canopy of gray where the temperature was warmer.   This
was a phenomena of extremely cold weather.

        Fred had the use of the horse thanks to his connections with Orr
Stage Lines.  He had driven the wagon up the hill only to find Helen
wanting him to bring her back down to pick up her two boys.  She
considered Cap the same as one of her own sons and she fussed over him
just as she did over Johnny.  
Fred, a good natured Tl’aticae’e Native who had known Helen since the old days, 
had happily obliged.  He would be staying with Helen tonight, putting up the
horse in a makeshift barn until morning when it had to be returned to
the stage line company.   Actually, he would be taking the wagon into
Copper Center tomorrow himself.   The wagon passed the Commercial Hotel
and began the pull up the long hill into the Indian village of Chittyna
where a large pot of moose stew and a very warm and cheerful, if
somewhat smoky, large open room awaited the five of them.

        “If Emil was still alive, he’d have been here with me.  I would
have taken care of him.  He would not have needed to buy a cabin for

        “I know, Mom.  I wish I could have brought him back.”

        “You did.”   Johnny looked up from under the tarp to his mother
who was huddled close to Fred.  He pulled his heavy coat around himself
tighter.  It was biting cold out there.   He looked forward to the warm
fire up the hill, the moose stew and the home-brewed tea. 

        “Skeel-eh, look !  It’s the Yaw-koss out to greet

        Cap was pointing toward the Northern Lights, which were dancing
wildly across the sky in all their brilliant hues of red, white and
green over Chittyna Village. 

        “It’s like the old days at Taral.”

        “Yes, it is skeel-eh Charles.  You were there with us to
hear the story Shee-ya told us that night.  The Great Creator is
smiling upon us tonight as we ride home to the house we built for our
. Sla’cheen, we have made the right decision.
Kennecott waits for us once again.
        “I hope it waits for me, too, Soon-ga.”

        “For you, too, Charles.”

        Johnny listened to the conversation between Cap and Charles
completely astonished.

        “You think we can somehow get them to hire Charles ?”

        “Charles will be there.  I’m sure of it, Sla’cheen.  The
time is right.”

winter hauling
Winter hauling
over the frozen rivers in the lower Copper River valley 
-Laurie Nyman photo

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