Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pickles the Pig

We rolled out of Tok grimly. Last day. Last. Day. Sure we would be in temporary lodging on base and still have the fun of house hunting and settling in, but we would NOT be driving for hours on end looking at snow on either side.

So naturally in between the towns of Gakona and Gulkana (which I'm sure are both the same darn word in some language, and probably mean 'stupid cheechako who doesn't know enough to keep their nose warm') we came around a gentle curve and hit a massive patch of black ice. Strange moment - sort of like wiping out on a mountain bike or on skis, because mentally you're already anticipating stuff far down the road and suddenly everything is whizzing around at top speed and then nothing but white snow everywhere. It wasn't too bad really, the engine still worked just fine, the tires seemed to be in good shape, we were just well and truly stuck in the snow bank that had caught and saved us.

I did not call Kirk names. I did not say that he obviously was going too fast around that curve. I might have thought it, but I didn't say it. When you've been driving for two weeks and you've just gone off the road miles from even the closest small town, in the middle of a very cold Alaska November there are some things you just don't say. I pulled out the emergency blanket and tucked it around the kids (see! The REI folks were right! Of course, we put it away almost at once because it was crinkly and irritating, but it was comforting to know we had it) and Kirk started hiking back up the road. L. Frank Baum came out again and we began following the twee adventures of the overly gorgeous Polychrome. I tried not to think about how long Kirk had to go, or how cold it was. I giggled with the kids over how funny it was to go spinning around in the middle of the road and then POUF! and didn't calculate how long it would take just to get to the town.

Actually he was back within five minutes. Someone was driving up the road and had immediately offered to give us all a ride to Gulkana where we could find a tow truck. The woman gave the impression that she wasn't very used to talking to strangers, and all I can remember of the drive was that she was listening to Christian AM radio, and that she home-schooled her seven kids. She dropped us off at a restaurant (the Gulkana restaurant? Probably) and while Kirk went off to negotiate with the tow truck driver the kids and I headed in to get them some hot chocolate and something to eat while we waited.

And... and... what a wonderful day! Not only did we get a puke-your-guts state fair type ride in the car, but there was (deep gasps) a pig! A real live, big pink oinking pig! Right on the deck of the restaurant. They were thrilled. I could hardly get them in the door.

They were given pancakes (the only thing on offer) and powdered hot chocolate, and spent a happy hour drawing pictures of the pig and writing her love letters. Because, as the owner informed us, her name was Pickles. This was almost too much.

The restauranteer talked solidly the entire hour - about leaving a high-pressure, high-paying job in Los Angeles (in movies? Advertising? Can't remember now...) to uproot their overly materialistic teenagers and bring them up to Alaska to be raised the right way. Saved their souls apparently. (Oh, and let me tell you about the honeymoon bride who missed the stop sign and drove their brand new RV right into the field. Snow up to the windows. Time we dug her out she was in tears - husband was still asleep. Slept right through the whole thing and she didn't want to wake him up because he'd be so mad) Except none of the kids still lived in Alaska, they all went right back to LA as soon as they were old enough. Still (and let me tell you about the Russian choir boys who came through here on tour. Well, they weren't here on tour, and I can't remember why they came through, but let me tell you those boys could eat! I never made so many pancakes) they call us all the time, and they know there's a world outside of California.

Finally Kirk came back with our newly freed car (and his new friend Cletus - I swear - who had fallen SMACK on the ice three times just hooking up the tow truck to the Saturn, said it was the worst black ice he'd seen in years. [and so there you wife who thinks harsh words towards her innocent husband]). He paid for the pancakes, joked with the restaurant owner (in the brief pauses for breath), and managed to sweep the three kids past the pig and into the back seat.

I thanked the woman again, for letting us in even though she wasn't really open yet, and for letting the kids give her dozens of paper-napkin portraits of her pig.

'Yes, well she's a really nice pig, is Pickles. She's always been the friendliest thing.' the woman said, scratching the happy pig on the back. 'Glad you got to see her. We're butchering her tomorrow.'

As we drove away one of the kids said dreamily from the back seat. 'I just love that pig. Some day I'm going to come back here, and I'm going to move in right next door, and I'll see Pickles every day.'

'Okay, honey,' I said. 'It's a plan.'


Anonymous said...

Note to self: do not order the BLT at the little restaurant in Gulkana.

kid 1 said...

I never new the pig died!

For Kirk said...

Child 1, your spelling is lousy! But I still love you.