Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy 91 in Douglas, Alaska



My father is 91 years young today. A pioneer Alaskan by birth, he grew up with his large Finnish family, here on Douglas Island, Alaska. Both of his parents emigrated from Finland in 1901 and raised a family of 11 children. My father learned to fish, to hunt, to raise vegetables, and to can all of this bounty. Other foods and store bought items had to be specially ordered from catalogs and shipped up on barges that took many months to arrive.

My father learned to make and to create all that he did not have and to make do, with what he did. He learned from his father to be a craftsman and self-taught man with many correspondence courses in everything from electrical engineering to photography to art courses to medical knowledge. He entered pre-med programs at the University of Washington and Tulane University in New Orleans...the area where my Cajun French mother was from..his penpal whom he met, courted and married.

My father served in WWII as the skipper on a supply ship and watched as 4 more of his brothers also went off to join him at war. My grandparents were known as a 'Five Star' family...giving 5 sons to the cause. Four sons returned, one shot down as he piloted his plane to a safe landing where his men were rescued at sea.

Although he never was able to complete his college degree, his 3 years of hard college work and studying taught him to maintain an inquiring mind and a thirst for endless knowledge that continues today. He still reads books, magazines and a daily newspaper and watches the news and weather channel for continuing information on the world outside his Alaskan home.

Endlessly seeking alternative medicine's help in his caring for my mother who is legally blind, a fragile diabetic, and now facing the uncertain future of Alzheimer's, he works tirelessly to care for her...work that exhausts the rest of us, he is proud to be able to do. My wonderful parents are intelligent and witty people....with a sense of fun that creates interesting and endless stories that they constantly tell much to the delight of our families.

59 years later, they continue to live in our island home, a house which was originally my grandparents home, but burned to the ground in 1972. My parents have survived that housefire, the falling of a dry docked boat on one of my brothers (crushing him and requiring years of body casts and healing), the near death of another brother during surgery and the diagnosis 6 years ago of my own mother with inflammatory breast cancer.

Through all of this, my indomitable father has stood steadfast and strong. His Finnish ancestry and his own determination to keep going has brought him now to his own 91st birthday. We will celebrate with our large family all coming over for barbecued steak...his favorite. And believe it or not, the barbecue will most likely be out in the snow... followed by a big birthday cake and ice cream....inside, thank goodness!

It is snowing today, in days past the southeasterly winds have been blowing at 60+ m.p.h. But here in our home, it is warm and comfortable. I have decorated their house with homemade 'Happy Birthday' signs, a homemade crown, photos, cards and fabric covered presents. Others will be arriving bearing more gifts.

My dad is spending his 91st birthday using a snow blower to clear the driveway, and shoveling snow off of his car so that he can drive my 82 year old mother to the beauty parlor for a perm...just in time for his birthday party. "Make me beautiful' she is all set to tell the beautician...it's my husband's birthday gift!" She has this speech all planned out and we are already laughing over it.

It will be a good one. How can it not be? He is surrounded by love and who can beat barbequed steaks with a sprinkling of snowflakes and a beautiful wife with a brand new hairdo?

8 comments:

  1. WOW 91!!
    Please send my Happy Birthday wishes to your Dad.

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  2. Happy birthday to your dear Father!. Enjoy your steaks. We grill in the cold and snow all the time.

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  3. Lovely post! Happy Birthday to your Dad!

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  4. What a wonderful event! My mother is 91, and for anyone to have lived that long is truly a celebration. I am sorry your mother is in such ill health, but it sounds like she gives your father the heart to keep on keeping on. Happy Birthday!!!!

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  5. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing his story with us! He sounds like an amazing man! Happy birthday to him! And a hope for many more!

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  6. Happy Birthday to your daddy. I am sure he cherishes celebrating with his baby girl.

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  7. This is so sweet and touching. Happy Birthday to your wonderful Dad. Glad you're enjoying your visit with your Mom as well.

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  8. A very happy birthday to your father. Your parents are absolutely amazing! I can hardly wait to see pictures of he party - and your mom with her new "do"!

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.