FAIRBANKS — Early on Monday mornings, a purple-haired woman can be found at Forget-Me-Not Books. She might be in the back, sorting through new arrivals, or working with a watering can, caring for the plants. She moves with the easy confidence of a person whose home is here in Fairbanks, of an author in a bookstore, and a woman whose purpose is to show others the love she wants to see in the world.
Martha Markey arrived in Alaska in 1951 with her husband, Bob Markey, who was in the Army. The couple previously lived in Michigan, which was, Markey said, "overpopulated and over-regulated way back then." The two drove to Alaska and liked it so well they decided to stay.
The two lived in a trailer they'd driven up the Alaska Highway and lived in an RV park, long since gone, near Cushman and Gaffney, not far from the bookstore she frequents today. The couple only left the state for a short time, just long enough for Bob to finish his service with the Army in Michigan. They came back as soon as they could and Bob took work on Fort Wainwright as a carpenter, a position he would eventually retire from. Markey gave birth to her two daughters, Susan and Lucy, in Fairbanks.
Markey took work at a local restaurant, then at the laundry in the hospital and then as a letter carrier after Alaska was granted statehood. Markey was initially granted a route of seven mailboxes and 80 miles. She never served more than 75 mailboxes on her route at the start. According to her book, Markey was "the first woman in Alaska to bid on and be awarded a contract to deliver the U.S. mail in Alaska." She stuck with it for 14 years.
She stopped her work with the U.S. Postal Service only when the organization wouldn't cut her route, which was somewhat unwieldy by 1974. She never missed a shift, though her route grew to some 1,000 mailboxes and more than 150 miles of Alaska's rough and icy roads each day. She wrote of the changes in the organization and how the way letters were addressed in those days made a long route on bad roads even longer and harder.
Markey said her rig "slid into every ditch" and that she'd slid down hills, lost control on slick roads and experienced sexism by supervisors and road officials. Despite these trials, Markey is glad to have done this work.
"If it didn't happen, I wouldn't have ever wrote a book," she said. Markey's nickname at the time was "Easy Money." It served at the title of the book she wrote about her time as a mail carrier, published 33 years after she resigned.
Markey and her husband, along with a group of their friends, worked together to build a church, donating their time, money and labor to erect a building that still stands today. The building was given to the denomination's larger organization, and though it's construction represented a physical manifestation of Markey's faith, that part of her spiritual life changed drastically a short time after it was built.
Markey no longer attends church, instead finding it more important to make connections with others in less formal settings. "I do believe we can have heaven right here on Earth, if we start listening to our soul and start speaking from our soul, or from God, and not from our ego or lower self," she said. At 88, she said promoting this idea is her highest priority.
Markey was well into adulthood before she learned about the dyslexia that slowed her reading in school. She said she is unsure when exactly the revelation came to her, but learning of it changed her view on her schooling.
Despite her difficulty reading, Markey completed an associate degree at the age of 76. "I found out I was a pretty good writer," she said, adding, "Lousy with the spelling and grammar." Her friends helped her with the editing and in 2007 she self-published "Easy Money."
Markey went on to self-publish three books of memoirs about her life in Alaska, a book of poetry, a book of recipes and a book about her childhood in Michigan. The books can be found on Amazon.com.
It has been a long life of hard work with people she loved, and now, though she's not exactly taking it slow, Markey has only one standing appointment each week. She returns to Forget-Me-Not-Books to help out. She helps with the sorting of the books and organizes the yearly plant sale, which raises hundreds of dollars for the Literacy Council of Alaska. Caring for the plants, much like homesteading, comes easy for Markey, who grew up on a farm.
Her smiling presence and positive attitude inspired Donna Schultze, admin coordinator at the Literacy Council, to nominate Markey as an Outstanding Senior Volunteer this year. Markey received the award at the Senior Recognition Day luncheon.
“She’s funny, she’s bright and she’s cool, and I want to be her when I grow up,” Schultze said of her nomination.