We Alaskans

Reading the north: Klondike gold and 'Women in the Locker Room'

Gold Rush in the Klondike

By Josephine Knowles; Quill Driver Books; $16.95

What it's about: When Josephine Knowles left for the Klondike gold fields in 1898 with her husband, she didn't know she would be facing a constant battle with cold, disease, malnutrition, and the ever-present possibility of death. With quiet determination, she resolved to survive, to endure each fresh hardship without complaint, and to be of service to the community around her.

"Gold Rush in the Klondike" is Knowles' story of her year in the Yukon Territory, a revealing personal memoir of day-to-day life at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Written in a clear, forthright, 19-century style, "Gold Rush in the Klondike" presents terrifying struggles against a hostile environment, picturesque descriptions of an untouched Arctic wilderness and Knowles' keen observations of men and women on the frontier.

Excerpt: In the dusk light it looked like a phantom ship, so much so that the dogs were almost paralyzed with fear, and howled and whined incessantly.

I realized that the captain was going through a great deal of danger in trying to rescue us. His sacrifice and the fear that he would be unable to help us through the wrecking of his ship almost put me in tears. In a short time, the boat had come near enough to the rocks so that I could call to the captain. The water was so rough that I could now hear the sides of the vessel pounding against the rocks. It seemed impossible that it could come near enough for anyone to come to us or for us to get on. By the means of long poles, the crew was feeling the way through the rocks and shallow water, and thus managed to keep the boat from being dashed to pieces.

At last the boat came to a stop right next to the shore. I thought I heard the sound of someone ripping up lumber from the floor of the vessel, and a man soon appeared carrying a long piece of joist, which he had apparently torn from the flooring. With some difficulty he managed to bridge a gap between the boat and a rock on the shore. The captain called for us to come on board.

I was chosen to go over first. I experienced all sorts of fearful sensations as I walked across that shaky plank. Beneath me I could see the water foaming and dashing against the rocks, and knew that a misstep would mean death. The next to come over were the dogs. Pete seemed thoroughly scared, and it was only after much urging that he picked his way across. Mrs. Gregory refused to come alone. She wept, and cried that she could never make it. Our calls and begging were useless.

Women in the Locker Room

By Maggie Holeman; Publications Consultants; $15.95

What it's about: Growing up in a challenging family gave Maggie Holeman the determination to go against the system and prevail. During her career at the Anchorage airport, Maggie was instrumental in getting separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and hair regulations for women. Maggie was the first woman to achieve the award of weapon proficiency, making her the top gun at the Sitka Police Academy. She developed and became one of the first field-training officers at that airport in both police and fire. Maggie received a legislative commendation for bravery for her response to the YC-122 crash. After earning her bachelor's degree in criminal justice, she worked as an adult probation and parole officer for the State of Alaska and Boys Detention at McLaughlin Youth Center. After 23 years with the state, Maggie retired to the small community of Hope, population 150, where she runs a well known bed and breakfast and finds her days peaceful, without turmoil.

Excerpt: Dad was one of the first white men to speak the Athabaskan language fluently in Alaska, even before it was a written language. On the nights when he drank his whiskey, his legs crossed in his green recliner and chanting Athabaskan, I didn't appreciate the language. In fact, I hated it because he only chanted it when he was intoxicated. Beside him in the green chair were his un-filtered Lucky Strikes and an ice-filled glass of amber-colored destruction, which he constantly refilled until the spirits consumed him into an unconscious state.

Margaret Loomis David, my mother, was born in Mobile, Alabama, on Dec. 25, 1912, and had always been robbed of gift-giving extravaganzas. We tried to make her feel special by wrapping presents in birthday paper as well as Christmas paper, and baking her birthday cake. I remember her crooked smile and red lipstick, her gray hair and dark eyes. The scent of her perfume, Shalimar, stayed with me for years after her death. I can still see her sitting on the end of our couch, cigarette smoke wafting in the air, her left leg securely tucked under her. Once a week my mom would visit the beauty parlor just up the street to have her hair shampooed and curled. The bounce and color in her hair was eventually replaced with bobby-pins and hairspray and blue dye.

When the three of us kids came home from elementary school we tossed our school books onto the fireplace mantle, wired from our day and desperate for play. But our excitement would disturb her peace, and our world would become darkened like hers. Only moments after arriving into the 1953 flat-roofed house my father had built, we felt her damaged spirit as she sat there sipping on her whiskey, her near daily ritual. Her empty words "How was your day?" were a vacuous question.

The population of Anchorage in 1951, the year I was born, was 47,000. Located 61 degrees north, it is just north of Oslo, Norway, and St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a subarctic climate with the Northern Boreal Forest. Anchorage is located at the base of the Chugach Mountains and alongside the treacherous Cook Inlet waters of Southcentral Alaska. We lived one block south of the city limits in Anchorage, on 16th Avenue between L and K streets. It was a nice middle-class neighborhood with lots of kids. Almost everyone knew each other.