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Survival in a Northern Wilderness: A Mother's Story--Part XLII

The first winter in Fairbanks were pedestrian for the Violet Kielczewski family. Violet enrolled her two youngest children, 10 year old Billy and 6 year old Linda, in The Joy School. One day, Linda came home from school and told Violet that she had another Linda in her class and she would come to school crying and the other kids made fun of her. Violet’s Linda pointed out “that you would cry too if you did not have any warm mitts and boots.” Linda asked Violet if she could share some of her warm clothes for her new found friend, Violet did up a small box of tights, long underwear, sweaters, some mitts and a pair of boots and the next day Linda brought them to school. The next day Linda brought a note from her teacher saying the mother of her classmate brought the clothes back to school and told the teacher that they were not taking any handouts for their children, in the note the teacher asked if it would be okay if she could keep the clothes at school and dress little Linda up in them during recess when she went out to the school yard to play. Violet sent a note back thanking her.

The following spring things started to look up, Orrah got a job with The University of Alaska working as a maintenance man and Wesley got a job at the U. S. Army Military Base where he eventually obtained his career status as a steamfitter and plumber. Elnora saved enough money to buy an old 1950 Chevrolet station wagon, she was afraid to learn to drive it and it sat in front of their place for half the summer until an 11 year old boy got into it and drove it all over the yard so Elnora declared, “If he can drive it I can learn to drive it too.” Eventually, Elnora drove it back and forth to work, Orrah pitched in for gas and they rode to work together.

Violet and her family lived in Fairbanks for five years, but got tired of the long, dark winter days with only three and half hours of sunlight and were tired of keeping cars heated and running in temperatures ranging from 30 to 60 to 72 below zero. They sold their house and hired a van and loaded what was left of the “conglomeration of paraphernalia” that they had brought from Rainy Lake and sent it out to the Kenai Peninsula where they had leased some property on the Cohoe Road. Wesley and Orrah drove a big flat bed truck while Elnora took Violet and the two younger kids and drove her Rambler Station Wagon. They built a big home and then in the third year the boys built a 45 foot boat to fish for halibut and salmon, they christened it the “Johnny Sue.”

Violet, after losing Frankie then her husband, once said to her children that she was wondering if they were all going to be picked off one member here and one member there until they were all taken out of this life. Violet later guessed that wasn’t far from the truth. In Violet’s own words, “Since that time I have lost three more of my beloved sons.” Tony had quit piloting big jets and went back to flying bush planes, just after his 27th birthday he was lost while flying a five passenger Cessna 185, she was told that he was taking 600 pounds of food to a village and it was also disclosed that he had left a message on the recorder that he also had an unidentified passenger with him. They said that he might of hit a cloud bank and went away on up into the British Columbia mountains, after 10 days of searching they gave up. They also told Violet that if anyone could survive it would be Tony, however they never found him. On January 4th, 1974 Violet lost Wesley, her first born, when he went through the ice on a snow machine on Tustumena Lake, she knew they don’t bother bringing bodies up because of the deep holes they go into; bodies are soon covered over with glacier silt and the water is so cold that they never decay, they just stay the same, and that is where he lies to this day.

It was during the hot dog days of August 1981 when the phone rang as she was going out the door, it was her daughter-in-law Mardell in Orr, Minnesota. Now what?

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