Monday, September 01, 2008

Paper Daisies for an Alaskan Birthday


I am here in Douglas, Alaska, celebrating my mother's 83rd Birthday. It is a cold and rainy day but we are all snug and warm inside and filled with anticipation of family all coming over later for cake, ice cream and gifts for our dearly loved 'birthday girl.'

Wishing for flowers to put out in my mother's special crystal vase and having nothing but wild ferns and some tree branches, I managed to find three pieces of colored paper and created a birthday bouquet out of paper and taped together drinking straws! "Necessity is the mother of invention " and my mother deserves all we have to give her.

Born and raised in St. Martinville, Louisiana to French parents, she grew up as a wild child of the bayous, frolicking under the moss covered trees, picking and eating pecans and sugar cane for treats, and loving the wide open fields and slowly flowing water of Bayou Teche.

My father, on the other hand, was born and raised on Douglas Island near Juneau, Alaska to Finnish parents who came over to search for the ""streets paved with gold" that he'd heard about. My grandfather worked for the Treadwell Gold Mine on Douglas Island until its cave in back in in 1916. My father herded dairy cows as a boy, chasing them onto a small ferry and transporting them across the Gastineau Channel to the Juneau side for pasture. He learned carpentry and photography from his father and electrical training from correspondence courses and eventually became an electrician for Alaska, Electric, Light and Power Company in Juneau.

Meeting one other as school age penpals, they met in person during World War II when my dad went down to meet her in Louisiana, met her, immediately fell madly in love with her and managed to persuade her to not only marry him but move to Alaska...a Territorial state that must have seemed like the ends of the earth to her and to her family.

Raising 5 children in Alaska together, my dad helped my mother battle Stage 3b inflammatory cancer (when they came to live with me in Salem,Oregon) for 9 months, and now he is her primary caretaker as she faces the daily challenges of diabetes and advancing Alzheimer's.

When asked to come up to help, I managed to pack a bag, buy a one way (for now) ticket and arrive in Alaska in just a few days of planning. I came here, knowing that they wanted me to help them go back down to Louisiana for one last visit and knowing how incredibly hard that would be on and for my mother, I had many concerns. Hurricane Gustav has, of course, changed everything.

So now, we sit in our Douglas, Alaskan home, watching TV as we alternately see photos of Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin intermixed with photos and maps of Louisiana. We are wondering what is happening to the little home they still own in St. Martinville and wonder if it will still be there in the future or if it will flood. It is quite ironic, really.

But today is my mother's birthday and that is the most important thing of all. The gifts are wrapped, the 'bouquet' of paper daisies and ferns set out, and guests will arrive this afternoon.

It will be, as my mother always says, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world......a very good day.

5 comments:

  1. Oh what a neat story of how they met. And yes I would imagine that going from LA to Alaska was night and day for her :) I hope all pans out well after the hurricane, my BIL was deployed to go down there already for loot patrol now and cleanup after. xoxo melzie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Happy Birthday to your mum!! xxx

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very Happy Birthday to your Mom and hugs and prayers for you and your Dad. Lovely story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Belated birthday wishes to your Mum.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Happy Happy Birthday to your mom! Your flowers are beautiful.

    ReplyDelete

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