We’d just built a house, enrolled Sue Ann in a wonderful private school and I’d started a new job working with Fortune 500 company, EG&G. Life seemed settled and solid. Sometimes I felt as if Vegas might not be the best place in the world to raise a child, but we were a good twenty miles from the Strip. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.
Don was retired Air Force and we’d lived all over the place, moving as much after he retired as when he was active duty. When you’re young and you have a family to support—and not any real aversion to moving around—you go where the jobs are.
One of our attempts to ‘go where the jobs are’ landed Don in remote Indian Mountain, Alaska, where he worked for RCA for over two years, coming home every three or four months to see Sue Ann and me (living in Ohio at the time). After deciding we’d had enough of being apart, he’d quit RCA and we’d made the move to Vegas (for the second time, in fact) because of—what else?—jobs.
Four years later we had good jobs, a new house, our daughter was happy and well-adjusted . . . and Don came home from work and said, “I got a job offer today.”
“Oh, yeah?” I was, of course, curious. Don wouldn’t have said anything if this job offer amounted to nothing.
“It’s in Alaska—”
And I immediately interrupted him. “You’re not going back to Alaska.”
“It’s not like that, it’s not remote. This job is in Fairbanks. We can all be together.”
Well, that was the beginning of discussion, arguments, Sue Ann’s wails that she didn’t want to move again, my resistance to leaving our wonderful new house behind, you name it.
Bottom line: Don wanted to take the job, I didn’t want to leave Vegas even though I knew it wasn’t the best place to raise our daughter, and what on earth would we do with two dogs, two cats and two hamsters?
It took a few months, but Don wore me down. I knew if we didn’t go, I’d kind of never hear the end of it (especially if life for any reason went sour in Vegas). And I have the kind of marriage that demands if one of us can make the other happy, even if it’s (kind of) not what we might want to do, we’ll do it anyway, because that’s what marital compromise is all about.
So we went. Sold the house, packed up the animals, rented a huge Ryder truck, and drove it all up to Fairbanks. It took us nine days and along the way I worried about what life had in store for us.
Yes, it was an adventure, and I was always up for one of those. But this was different. This was Alaska, The Last Frontier, so very far away from everyone we knew, both friends and family.
“Don’t worry,” Don said. “We’ll only stay a few years.”
I didn’t know what to expect.
After life in the desert, it seemed as though we’d traded one extreme for another.
I was sick with bronchitis that first winter, when temps dropped to sixty below for weeks on end and one of the heating zones went out in our rented house.
I didn’t like my job.
It drove me nuts to see snow in May.
It worried me that now we couldn’t jump in our car and drive to West Virginia or Ohio whenever we wanted to, and visit our family.
Dumb things to worry about within the bigger picture, which I couldn’t yet see:
Living in an amazing state that gives back to its residents in so many ways. Beauty all around me in a place where Sue Ann was safe, did great in school and dealt with winter far better than I. And Don was happy, loving Alaska. Before I knew it, we’d bought a house; a three-bedroom Victorian replica that reminded me of the houses in my Upstate New York home town.
Two years stretched into three, five, ten. And suddenly fifteen years had gone by since we moved. Sue Ann, now grown into a lovely young woman, met and married a wonderful Fairbanks guy. I had a job I liked and yet, I was homesick for family left behind in Upstate. I wanted to go back.
I won’t get into more detail except to say that we went back. In 2004 we moved to New York and settled on a farm not far from my home town. And it was good for a while, as I reconnected with the family I hadn’t seen in so many years. Don and I started a few small businesses. I planted a garden each spring and canned veggies all summer long.
But a funny thing happened as the years advanced: it didn’t take long for me to realize what Don had known all along: how much Alaska had grown on me, how many times during the day I’d remember small things. Like the way the summer sun would shine on my face at four in the morning as I slept with the blinds wide open. How clear the sky, how fresh the air, how quiet, how serene the world around me, be it June or January.
Most of all, how much I missed our daughter, still living in Fairbanks, happily married but missing her mother and father, too. Phone calls several times a week just didn’t cut it.
Sporadic visits definitely left a lot to be desired.
A fellow Fairbanksian friend of ours once told us you can’t leave Alaska without immediately wanting to go back; that once you’ve lived there, you won’t be satisfied living anywhere else. He’d left, too . . . and moved back, three years later. At the time I think I gave him an indulgent smile.
Now, I know what he means.
Because I want to go home.
--- Char Chaffin
Char Chaffin is a displaced Alaskan who currently plots a return to Fairbanks, in between writing contemporary romances and acquiring and editing manuscripts for Soul Mate Publishing. Her latest novel, Unsafe Haven, is set in Southwestern Alaska and is available through Soul Mate Publishing, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.