Life in Haines is like a country song, at least for one of us

Heather Lende

HAINES -- Why shouldn’t my friend Christy be Dr. Phil’s personal songwriter? Because she has lived here her whole life, most of it above the family business, the Pioneer Bar and Bamboo Room Restaurant? (A bamboo curtain once separated the two.) 

Christy Tengs Fowler is so sure she’s the one for Dr. Phil that she tried to spend her life savings producing a CD of her Dr. Phil Project songs. Except she couldn’t actually save any money thanks to unexpected bills for liquor, then halibut for the fish and chips, and… She forgets what the final one was, but by then her brother had heard enough to front his “little sis” (Christy will be 60 on her next birthday) the cash to chase a dream of writing hit country songs that she’s delayed for decades. It was rekindled watching Dr. Phil’s self-help TV show. “I realized that all his sayings I had written down and saved were the perfect hooks,” she says. 

Christy has been trying to attract Dr. Phil’s attention for the seven years since she went to Nashville and Los Angeles and recorded nine songs with studio singers and musicians. 

She was not totally green. She graduated from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and when she was in her 20s had an offer to write for a Nashville record company, before her father called her home. She has run the business ever since, the past 28 years with her husband Bob Fowler, and now their two teenaged sons. They live above the place with Christy’s 87 year-old widowed mom.  

Christy believes Dr. Phil will embrace her tunes once he hears them. She did pass one onto to a woman she met in L.A. who said she knows his son, but that was three years ago. Christy’s also pretty busy with work, family, and her role as Haines’ poet laureate. She writes her elegies after closing time and delivers them at many memorial services. She is my first and usually best source for the obituaries I write for the Chilkat Valley News.

Christy has written so many birthday poems for former sawmill owner and “Gold Rush Alaska” star “Grandpa John” Schnabel since his 80th, that for his most recent (93rd), she told us to re-read the previous year’s. When a beloved daycare operator moved away, Christy ran from the Pioneer to the library to read a poem for her.  That was a breeze compared the one she delivered after a friend died from burns suffered in a cabin fire. She comforted his accountant widow, and all of us, with this closing line, “When you count your losses and prepare your balance sheet, debit less the pain, credit more the sweet.”  

Christy hopes a new documentary “Above the Bamboo Room,” that some Seattle-area artists with a Haines connection (one, Terri Weagant, has parents who lived here) are filming, will reach Dr. Phil. Terri confirms what we already know. “People love her songs. Her music is fantastic. Even if she never hears from Dr. Phil, her work will not have been in vain.”

Still, Christy cites her favorite Dr. Phil-isms as reason for hope: Life rewards action. You create your own experience. There is power in forgiveness.

Christy never planned on living in Haines, but her father needed her. Marty Tengs was on the school board and borough assembly. He played chess in the bar, when he wasn’t tending it, with the same smile Christy has.  She adored him. He was an alcoholic. She doesn’t drink. “This Family Needs a Hero” is Christy’s most personal song. 

“Dr. Phil says it a lot -- ‘This family needs a hero, and one of you has to step up.’ I wrote it for my young self. The little kid with a drunk father.”  

I remembered what Christy told me for the obituary of one her waitresses. Shane dreamed of being a painter, but artfully arranged hamburgers and French fries instead. “She was one of those people I fired about five times, but she was a great person. I loved her.” When I said that seemed a tad crazy, Christy explained managing the bar forced her to appreciate the good in people and to forgive, and sometimes ignore, the bad. “Otherwise, what’s the point?” 

 Is Christy the hero she sings about?

 “Me? No. My dad became the hero because he was sober the last 20 years of his life and that changed everything.”            

A Kickstarter funding campaign for “Above the Bamboo Room,” says it’s about believing in dreams.  

Christy has two that recur. In one, Dr. Phil asks for the CD, and she can’t find it.  In the other, she says, “I look him right in the eye, and say, ‘This is your lucky day.’” And why, seriously, wouldn’t it be? 

Haines author Heather Lende’s third book, “Find the Good,” will be published in the spring of 2015. Until then, check her blog or Facebook page