We Alaskans

Remembering Ma, and finding the magic in life every single day

UNALAKLEET — He remembered a time she and I picked out music together. I imagine we were in front of her big, black stereo, weeding through her CDs. She had a lot of them. A song we picked was "Bohemian Rhapsody," and he thought that was cool.

"You and your mom were such good friends," Charlie said.

"We were good friends. She's the definition of love to me," I told Charlie and thanked him for the memory. I thanked him with the kind of gratitude you feel in your cells, your bone marrow.

Greatest source of love

That night I thought about my friend's story. That memory of Ma sparkles and shines. For a moment, I felt her comfort again. I cried a bit, happy Charlie decided to message me. I missed her and had the thought I often do — some days it feels like life will never be as bright as it was when Ma was with us. At that moment, the thought seemed unacceptable.

[Anguish of mother's suicide can't replace joy she spread]

My mother was the greatest source of love for me. She made every little moment special and celebrated everything — from a kid giving away their first ptarmigan to a cousin's graduation. She celebrated a sunny day by gathering people for picnics. She celebrated the first humpy I cut for drying by proudly showing it to Papa Ralph – me unga-ing at his attention and sweet words.


She celebrated my son's birth through her simple presence. She took breaks from sweeping by dancing to CCR, which played loudly in the house. And after her tragic death more than 10 years ago, a fog settled in our lives that sometimes lifts, but always returns. For years I have prayed, relented, prayed, relented, prayed, relented. Burn this fog away.

And that night, after Charlie's story, magic happened. I simply thought of a quote from one of my favorites. I searched for it and found it.

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." So said Roald Dahl. He and my friend helped me remember that I had been stuck in thinking a certain way for far too long. I expected someone else to clear the fog, when I had the power all along.

While my mom was indeed an incredible person, she herself wasn't particularly sparkly and shiny. In fact, she'd hate to be described that way. After talking to Charlie, I realized the reason those memories of her are so bright and beautiful is that she looked for sparkle and shine every single day — in someone's humor, in the place we cut fish with gobs of family, in the food we ate (especially her own), in the innocence and spunk of her grandkids.

Your life is grand

She constantly found reason to laugh. She looked for it. She sought out the magic in life, every single day.

Ma told me that for too long I was waking up wondering when life would be grand. When would my days brighten up and take off? Maybe it'll happen when I finish the house. Maybe when I travel the world more and marvel at all it offers. Maybe when I make enough money to bring my dad to a Yankees-Red Sox game with dad cheering for the Yanks and me for the Sox. Maybe life will shine when I have enough money to build a cabin upriver, where I'll use Coleman lanterns and eat Spam and sourdough. Maybe it'll happen when I'm in a relationship. Laureli, your life is grand. Your son is grand. Your daughter brightens this world.

The next morning, I had Freddie Mercury singing through my little speaker. The sourdough starter bubbled on the counter, the sun was shining, and I enjoyed a particularly great, normal cup of coffee. While the cool morning air hinted it was nearly time to pick blackberries, I knew it would be hot enough for a swim in the ocean later. Maybe hot enough for getting another gallon of blueberries — without battling the mosquitoes. And the shiniest thought that morning — mom and I were good friends.

All magic.

I felt the fog lift that day. I know it'll return. But now I know how to burn it off and get it out of my days. I have sparkle and shine in my life every single day, and I just have to open my eyes.

Laureli Ivanoff lives in Unalakleet where she's raising her two children, Joe and Sidney. They eat a lot of fish and are very proud of their Yorkiepoo named Pushkin.

Laureli Ivanoff

Laureli Ivanoff, Yup'ik and Inupiaq, is a writer and advocate in Unalakleet where, with her family, she cuts fish and makes seal oil.