Ramblings from the Cove...
By Lars Gren
I was astounded at the number of letters, cards, messages of condolences, and donations to CWFF in memory of Elisabeth. I tried to write a response as they arrived but it took short time for me to not keep up. Anna, who addressed envelopes for me, said that I did exceedingly well. I hope so, but if not, be assured of my appreciation. Folks have asked, "How are you doing?" Under the circumstances, quite well, I think; what has been the greatest help was the events of the last five hours and fifteen minutes that we had together while Elisabeth was with us and especially the closing few minutes before, as the hymn puts it, "stepping on shore and finding it Heaven...waking up in glory and finding it home!"
I was invited by Kea's parents to come to Alaska for Christmas, and it didn’t take but a second or so to say, "That would be a great idea." Some 15 years ago or so Elisabeth had been invited to speak at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast and it did not take a long time for her to accept the invite. Neither of us had been to Anchorage before, so with visions of seeing a large bull moose with a magnificent rack of horns, its head stuck in a fork of a tree giving me a great photo op, I anticipated a memorable trip. When it was mentioned that bears might also be seen, it lessened the appeal, but I was assured that most bears would be in their winter dens. Along with that was the possibility of seeing wild sheep and ptarmigan. Well, if nothing else, there would be at least deer by the dozen. It was only after my arrival that I learned that deer had not claimed Alaska as part of their domain. Of course, nothing wild was seen on that trip with Elisabeth, but the very day after our arrival to the Cove, moose were photographed grazing on the lawn of the City Hall. With that in mind I was eager to have another go at it, for surely I would not be “skunked” a second time.
The flight out before Christmas was uneventful, which is what one always hopes for, and arrived as scheduled around midnight East Coast time (8pm Alaska time) with Kea’s parents waiting. In the morning—well, technically morning—I awoke about 10 am with the dawn just turning to daylight and realized that daylight here pretty much matched the winter daylight hours that were normal for me when I lived in Norway. As I looked out the windows towards downtown Anchorage, about eight miles away as the crow flies, I could see the skyline and the crowded main north/south road with the auto lights making it appear as though a steady stream of light was on a continuing moving path.
The home elevation sits at about 1000 feet and rising not far from the east side is the start of a mountain range with several peaks in view. Nearpoint, rising to an elevation of 3000 feet, is but a skip and a jump from their property. This is the one that Steve, Kea's father, climbs about every day-- save on Sundays-- for a bit of exercise. Of course, prior to my visiting, the question was asked if I would join and have a climb. What can one say in such a predicament except, "Sure, why not?" Well, for one, I did not have great footgear, and secondly, walking Surf Road in Magnolia is different than going up a mountain which peaks at 3000 feet. How could I not have a go at it? Steve had some cleats that he attached to my rubber boots and off we went. The first part was the easiest, for mercy was shown in that we could drive a short distance up before trudging on to the upward path. It was not long before some of my underused leg muscles began to complain that they had aimed for a walk but not through a mountain pass. No, I did not get to the top; that will have to be left for another time, and if so, it would be in the summertime. I also found out that the descent is rougher on the knees than the ascent, except for the portions of the path where we could sit on our bottoms and slide down the snowy path- a bit like sledding without a sled, while only watching out for the occasional roots and shrubs that have survived the trampings of daily hikers and wildlife, best avoided by bottom sliders on a fast slide. On our last bit of the walk I again marveled at the scenery of the white snow on the upper heights--heavy and a different type of growth of trees, alders and brushy undergrowth on the lower slopes. Then as we drove the last bit toward the house, the city lay stretched out in what one could call a valley from where we were.
Jet lag was not a problem and there were things to do and see--Christmas was in full swing, for I learned the Huffords took seriously the admonition of family gatherings, feasting, and gift bags for the neighbors to the extent that I have never seen before. I've lost count of how many times we all assembled for food, games, puzzles of a thousand pieces...well, there was something going on every day, with the children bounding about having fun without any fussing. On the first day, though, Kea's mother suggested a drive to the city. It tickled me when I thought of the five mile drive to get to the post box for any mail which is just at the point where one picks up the main road in the city. Imagine living there and on a rainy day suggesting someone walk down to the postbox and see if the mail has arrived and getting near the box and realizing that the day was a holiday for government workers. Have a fun return trot.
As we were in the city center I spied the sign for the Captain Cook Hotel and thought that was the hotel that hosted the Mayor's breakfast. As I walked in there was no doubt about it and that day began to replay itself. The memories were clear, seeing the ballroom and remembering that there had not been enough space for Elisabeth's book table and so I had set it up in the hall where there were exclusive and pricey stores. Elisabeth had gone in to one on my urging but decided that it was not her style, content with a skirt, blouse and blazer which was often what she chose. Simple clip-on gold earrings and on the lapel, a gold initial scroll script "E". I can name a few other things but for the most part she did not deviate from a classic look.
It was near lunch so I suggested that we settle at the Hotel Bistro and with that we sat down and the three of us all chose the lentil soup--if you happen to be there one day and feel the need for a "bite" search no further, it is a top choice. As we sat and chatted, the memory of meeting a young couple in Anchorage, those years ago, came to mind. They had not been long married and had read some of Elisabeth's books, which I think had a part in their going to the mission field. We had another chance to be with them the following day when they came to join us for breakfast, and so began a friendship of 20+ years following their remarkable work in various parts of the East. It happened that the wife was in the States at the time of Elisabeth's home going and she was able to attend the funeral, a treat for both her and me.
Strange how much I live in the past memories. Well back to the "now" and we did have another outing prior to the end of my visit and that was a drive along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet--my guess that is southerly from the city. We had driven it on our first trip to Anchorage all the way to Portage Glacier where we were to view the great sheets of green ice- well, at that time fog rolled in and we could but see two small pieces of ice floating on the shoreline. So much for the great glacier sights. This time we were not going that far; we thought that we might see the elusive moose, but no. However, we did have a great sight of snow-capped Mt. McKinley in sunshine along with the range of mountains on the far side of the inlet. I noticed how shallow the inlet was along the shoreline, seemingly flat for quite a distance out. I wondered aloud whether or not folks would walk along the shoreline instead of walking on the narrow road path, and the answer was a resounding "no!", for there are beds of quicksand and at times signs of warnings are placed along the shore to discourage this practice. Years ago, a newlywed couple had not heeded that and the wife could not be saved even with the aid of the fire department.
One last event-- for the second time in my life I was part of caroling (a Hufford tradition, I believe), out with old folks and young, along with chocolate treats for those who open the door to listen--well, if they don't open the door we still sing and drop the sweet package on the doorstep. At the last house of the evening, we were even invited in and given little oranges. My first time caroling? Well, that was the previous Christmas and organized by Carrie and her visiting sisters--totally unexpected in the frozen northeast. But that too went well, even when they sang to Steve the Postmaster and to Lorenzo who has the local beauty salon.
God bless y'all and that's it from the Cove