Monday, September 21, 2009

"I'm Here"

March 26, 1983 Alaska 1 day, I'm here

Dear Ophelia,

"The plane trip was very boring. Cocoa and Chipper are so scared. They made it fine though. I said goodbye to Dan, Dad and Muffie. My room is so pretty. It has a twin bed and a vanity and a bean bag. I'll put a picture of it in here. Cocoa and Pumpkin don't get along yet. Cocoa just hides a lot. I got a bird. Mom's boss gave it to me. His name is D.B. (dumb bird). I really love the house. Well I gotta go, bye Ophelia. Your Eskimo Friend, Jennifer."

Jennifer was touched by the details of her new bedroom. She knew it used to be part of the garage. She was expecting cobwebs and beams, so she was impressed that her room truly felt like part of the house. The other two bedrooms were three floors above her but she didn't care. Her room was large--large enough to park a car in it! Her new carpet was laid over cement slab, so this was the only thing about her room that was not cozy. Otherwise, she loved it!

Her mom hung curtains that matched her new bedspread. The bed was made of metal. Her mom and Jeff painted it white. The bird was a surprise gift that made her cry (pets were the quickest route to winning Jennifer's heart--probably still are!) The built-in vanity with the round light bulbs made her feel like a rock star. She had no idea how much care had gone into preparing for her arrival until she arrived!

Jennifer's new bedroom and D.B. in his cage

The built-in vanity

The condo complex on Burl Ct. in Anchorage where Jennifer lived
These condos sell today (2009) for around $185,000

I think the excitement of Jennifer moving to Alaska was mutual. Her soon-to-be, step-dad worked hard to get his house ready for her. When Jennifer first decided to move to Alaska, her mother lived in an apartment alone. Her mom had purchased a townhouse in Anchorage. It was still being built when Jennifer decided to live with her mom. Jennifer had been looking forward to having her mom all to herself.

Soon after her decision to move to Alaska, her mom announced her engagement to Jeff. Everything changed overnight. Her mom got out of her town home purchase. Jennifer's fantasies of uninterrupted girl talk and chick flicks and chocolate for dinner were dashed. She learned that she and her mom would be moving into Jeff's condo with his ten-year-old son instead.

Jennifer was happy and disappointed all at the same time. Finding her bedroom so lovingly designed for her made her feel better about the new living arrangement. She was also happy that her mom found a nice man to marry. Jennifer had met Jeff the summer before and remembered liking him.

March 27, 1983 Sunday

Dear Ophelia,
"D.B. is fine. I love him so much. We were busy today. First we went to the church Mom and Jeff are going to be married in. Then Mom and I went to a bridal fair to see dresses. Then Mom, Jeff, Joel and I went to a ski shop to get cross-country skis for me. But they didn't have what we wanted. Then Mom and Jeff went to a home-show. Joel and I stayed home. Joel is really fun to have around. I must sign off, bye Ophelia. Your friend, Jennifer."

Wow! What an insanely busy first day in Alaska! Cocoa dealt with the move by hiding under Jennifer's bed. Chipper burrowed into his cage bedding. Jennifer hit the ground running...

March 28, 1983 Monday

Dear Ophelia,
"I was home all day today. TV is not very good here but that's okay. I am going to school on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is Good Friday, no school. D.B. bites sometimes but he's not too bad. He's one and a half years old. I am hand-taming him. I put my hand where his legs are connected and say 'Up D.B.' and soon he will jump on me by command. Well I gotta go, bye Ophelia. Your friend, Jennifer"

The shine is already starting to rub off the new penny... Jennifer is trying hard not to complain. TV was probably the same in Alaska--it's just that her dad paid for every cable channel and her mom didn't.

March 29, 1983 Tuesday

Dear Ophelia,
"I stayed home today, boring. When Joel got home we watched TV and did the dishes. D.B. came upstairs today. He does not bite often and he jumps on my finger. Joel still wants a hamster. I am nervous about school tomorrow. Well I gotta go so bye Ophelia. Write in ya later. Your friend, Jennifer."

What a huge change for Joel as well. Jeff has three kids--a daughter who was about eighteen and twin boys who were ten. Joel lived with Jeff. Angela lived with her grandparents and the other twin, Christian, lived with his mom. Joel's family was scattered like Jennifer's.

Joel was a sociable kid and he was excited about Jennifer coming to live in the condo. But it was probably stressful for him to have an older girl move into his house, get the largest bedroom, a new bird, a cool bean bag chair and bring two other pets with her, a cat and a hamster. There may have been some pet envy there along with a healthy dose of mixed-feelings.

(Note to self: never accept a free pet with the name "Dumb Bird", or any pet with the word "dumb" in its name!)

March 30, 1983 Wednesday

Dear Ophelia,
"Today I went to school. Mom took me and I went on a tour. The school is very confusing. I have no homework. I met a girl named Adrienne and a girl named Laurel. They are popular. They like me a lot but they smoke. I will never smoke, don't worry. Wendler is a lot different than Bowditch. Well I gotta go, bye Ophelia. Your friend, Jennifer."

Even after seeing a little bit of Anchorage, Jennifer still had major illusions about Alaska. She fully expected Eskimos wearing furs and mukluks to attend her junior high. Everything was shipped to Alaska on barges and so it was typically months behind the Lower 48 when it came to fashions and movies anyway.

But not quite this far behind...

The student bodies Jennifer was expecting, seriously!

Jennifer, who always won awards for being "Most Conscientious", did not want to intimidate the other students with her "fashionable" California wardrobe. She picked out the goofiest, plainest outfit she owned to wear the first day of school. It was a brown shirt with an iron-on horse picture and a pair of non-designer jeans--big mistake! When Jennifer arrived at Wendler Jr. High, she saw nothing but cute leggings and mini-skirts and polos and feathered hair. It was worse than California!!! These Alaskans coveted their hard-to-get fashions!

Few of the kids at school were real Alaskans anyway--they were chichacos (newcomers). If you aren't born there, you will never be an Alaskan according to Alaskans. Most of the kids were "military brats" (another term tossed around lightly in the tundraland) or they were the children of people like Jen's mom and step-dad--people who sought their fortunes in the last frontier!

March 31, 1983 Thursday

Dear Ophelia,
"I have homework in Math and English. It's due Monday because of no school on Friday. The school is still confusing. I don't like it much. It is late. I've been crying for about an hour. I miss California and Muffin and Dad and Daniel more than I thought I would. I miss them most at night because I think about them more. Well I gotta sign off, bye Ophelia. Your friend, Jennifer."

Jennifer was used to outdoor schools. After each class, she walked outside and through courtyards to get to her next class. Wendler Jr. High was indoor with indoor lockers. Jennifer missed the fresh air and the mental break that she got by walking outside. Wendler was loud with slamming lockers, echoing voices, shoes clattering on hard floors....she never got a break from all the people.
Wendler Junior High School, Alaska

At night, alone in her bed, she cried for California. Can you blame her?

Which is your favorite state in America? Why?

Alaska Facts
Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867 (116 years before Jennifer moved there)
1968--oil is discovered in Prudhoe Bay
1977--the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline leads to an oil (and economic) boom
Alaska is the largest state in the United States of America

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