Surprise anniversary and an Alaskan fishing trip in 1980 for fun and food

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Liz Taylor

March 26, 1980

Mouse River Farmers Press


                Someone said they were surprised that I had taken off for an Alaskan visit in March. I replied that I was surprised at myself, but one of the reasons I decided to visit my sister and her husband on the happy occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary was because my mother had never been able to go to California to visit her two sisters there, except on one occasion. In the 1940’s she did go and spend some time with her sister, Anna, during the final stages of a terminal illness, and returned home after Anna’s funeral. What a sad occasion for a visit. How much better to go for a party and take flowers to the living.

                The day after I arrived in Petersburg was Sigrid’s birthday, March 8th. About two dozen women and a couple of men, showed up at her home at various times during the day bringing gifts and staying to drink coffee. Someone asked if we did this in Towner, and I said I could not speak for everyone, but if that many people showed up for my birthday, I would be sure it was my last, and that they knew it.

                On the night of March 8, Sigrid and Harold and I went to the home of Marlene and Dave Cushing for supper. They had been invited about 10 days before for a birthday dinner. When we arrived at the Cushing’s new home there were no strange cars in the driveway and we walked in. The first thing Sigrid and Harold within the house was a beautifully decorated anniversary cake made by their daughter, Karen, and in the darkened living room were their children, Karen, Harold, Michael, and Kirsten, and a number of friends. More friends arrived later to share in the food and hospitality.

                It was a lovely party and a surprise to Sigrid and Harold. Their children had worked hard and planned well. Besides doing a lot of cooking and baking with the help of friends to surprise and honor their parents on this day! Actually, their anniversary date was March 15, but they planned to be out of town on that date, so the party was held a week early.

                Petersburg is a very hospitable town, as are all the Alaska towns I have visited since my first trip north in 1957. Indeed, the hospitality of Alaskans reminds me of that of North Dakotans, open, friendly, and sincere. Of course, we have all met folks from other states who could easily pass as Alaskans or Dakotans because of their warm and friendly ways.

                Most of my week or so in Petersburg was spent visiting with family and new and old acquaintances. The highlight of my stay though, was a “cook fishing” trip with Harold, Sr., Kirsten, Mike, and a neighbor, Caspar Westre.

                We left Petersburg boat docks around 8 a.m. on a quiet morning on Harold’s 45 foot diesel powered halibut boat, “Provider II.” A light wet snow was falling but no wind. Indeed, wind is quite uncommon in this area. The upper slopes of the mountains on shore disappeared in clouds and mist as we moved out into Frederick Sound. We saw an occasional robin’s egg blue ice berg and a boat or two as we proceeded to where the cod fishing would take place.

                Preparations had been made in advance—netting herring for bait, preparing the lines and hooks. Mike and Caspar were busy playing out about 1,500 fathoms of baited ground line, perhaps 400 hooks on lines about 30 feet apart made up these lines and it took some time. A line anchor and colorful floats followed and then we moved on to anchor near Sukoi Islets off Kupreanoff Island. We sat in the galley and drank coffee and ate sandwiches; the boat motor was shut off and the oil fueled stove warmed us enough to remove our slickers, or oil skins as they call them.

                Actually, I was never cold on deck either. We dressed warmly in the morning and as the clouds lifted by afternoon, we were basking in sunshine and admiring the snowy reaches of Beacon Point and other mountains in this area. Usually, a fishing trip for halibut, etc., is much further out than the five miles we went out for cod, but we wanted to make a trip that would get us there and back the same day.

                Kirsten and I spent some time on deck watching several sea lions playing in the water and on the rocks nearby. We then decided to take the skiff and row ashore and cross the point for a better look on the other side. Sure enough, after rowing ashore and taking a fairly short walk through the alders, devils club, and huge spruce trees, we reached the other side and took in a private sea lion show! We walked into the water as far as we dared with our hip boots and clapped our hands, splashed the water, to get a better reaction from the sea lions for picture taking.

                From my observation and limited knowledge, I gathered that these were Steller’s, or northern, sea lions where the adults weight close to 2,000 pounds. Because of their size, and because Kirsten said they might follow us and overturn our skiff (all in fun, I assumed!) as we returned to the “Provider,” we left them playing near the rocks and walked through the trees back to our skiff. By the way, the water was very clear and a myriad species of shells covered the bottom, along with starfish, sea anemones and many beautiful rocks and plants.

                When returned to the boat we again moved on to pick up the lines and hopefully, fish. As we headed back, Harold pointed out Beacon Point and asked if I remembered climbing it one day 22 years ago to go deer hunting with him and take pictures. I remembered it well. The beautiful spring fed stream we climbed along, the dead falls, ferns, moss, and that common place breathtaking scenery, and how glad I was when we reached the top so I could literally collapse and rest while he went off some distance and shot a deer!

                He later carried the deer back down to the boat, while I carried the rifle, camera, and with some effort, my own feet. As a matter of fact, I had left Sigrid’s jacket where I had rested, and it was never found, in spite of small searches for it during ensuing hunts.

                I was a tourist on this fishing trip, so did little to help bring in the catch…except to lean over the side and watch the fish come up through the clear water, saying such profound things as “there comes another one!” or, later, as Mike identified them for me, “here’s a stick fish…a spiny dog-fish, Pollock, turbot, gray cod…” And the heartbreak of watching him immediately free the halibut because they were not legal at this time.

                We kept all of the cod, except those that had been partly eaten by other fish, and as they were dumped aboard Harold and Kirsten cleaned them with enviable speed. Cod is a versatile fish, delicious cooked, baked, smoked, and, as every good Scandinavian knows, made into “lutefisk.”

                When we returned to Petersburg late that afternoon we had two or three washtubs full of dressed fish, and two more containers with the roe and liver. That night we had a friend and family feast of cod, cod roe and liver, and various other delicacies.

                By the way, cod roe (fish eggs) are equally delicious cold. They are contained in a sac about the size and shape of a large cucumber, and when cold you just slice off a few pieces and eat. I had some for breakfast the next morning. As I had eaten some kind of seafood everyday while there, it seemed no more than right to have “fish eggs” for breakfast!

                Being a survivor and probably greedy by nature, I brought back somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of seafood when I returned home. All of this was a gift from Harold and Sigrid, plus some gifts from friends and included a large salmon, tanner crab, king crab, salted herring, cod, homemade “lutefisk”, smoked dog fish, black cod, and salmon, and enough halibut frozen from last fall for a meal or two. Indeed, as I write this on March 23, my children announced they were tired of fish, so tomorrow I will serve venison, one of several packages also brought from Alaska so (as Harold and Sigrid said, I could taste their deer!) it will be still another treat.

                Thought for the day, “If you see someone without a smile, give him yours.”

                Next week…Sex, religion and politics…why not?



Mom writes about a 1980 trip to Alaska to surprise her sister for her birthday and silver wedding anniversary.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
By Liz Taylor
March 19, 1980
Mouse River Farmers Press

I did not have a column in the paper last week because I was on a trip to Alaska to surprise my sister, Sigrid, and her husband, Harold Medalen, on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary. They had not planned or expected a party and their children wanted to surprise them with a party a week before their actual anniversary.

When my nieces, Karen and Kirsten, first called from Alaska to see if I would come (I had ‘stood up’ for Sigrid and Harold when they were married on March 15, 1955), I said, “No, can’t make it. Impossible, can’t afford it. No time of year to visit Alaska,” and so on. After a couple of more telephone conversations in the next few days, I made my reservations for the trip!

I did not think I could actually surprise Sigrid as she works in the Health Center at Petersburg, Alaska, and that is similar to our County Nurses office in Towner. Her boss, Marlene Cushing, and several others were in on the surprise and I was sure someone would spill the beans.

I left Bismarck around 3 p.m. on March 6 (saving well over $100 it would have cost me if I had flown from Minot…another story) and arrived in Seattle, Washington, that evening where I had to stay overnight to catch the morning flight to Alaska. By making phone calls ahead of time, I was met at the Seattle airport by Mrs. Jean (Elliott) cox of Everett and her sister, Mrs. John (Donna) Koshak of Denver who was visiting Jean and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. (May) Howard Elliott, formerly of Towner and Denver. We spent a few hours visiting over coffee before they returned to Everett and I caught some sleep at my motel before the 7 a.m. flight to Alaska.

Alaska Airlines, and their pilots, are a little different from most of your regular flights, and are not for the faint hearted passengers. Although we flew in a jet, I am not really sure that the runways in southeastern Alaska are made with such planes in mind. For example, if the weather had been really bad we would not have landed in Wrangell or Petersburg following our stop in Ketchikan, but would have gone on to Juneau or wherever the weather was better, and stayed there until flying conditions were better before returning to Petersburg! Last year, in the month of February, Petersburg had no planes landing there for 10 days…something my nieces and nephews neglected to tell me until my arrival.

Between Seattle and Ketchikan we flew at 31,000 feet, at least that’s what the pilot said. I looked out the window at the clouds below and decided not to step out for a breath of fresh air at more than 5 miles up! Between Ketchikan and Wrangell we flew so low you could see the smoke curling from the chimneys of isolated cabins and fishing boats with the gulls flying behind to pick up the trash, or cleanings, from an occasional “cook fishing” trip.

The mountains in this area, all along the Inside Passage, are impossible to describe at this time of the year for their sheer beauty. Snowcapped mountains with their rocky crags descending to the lower reaches covered with varieties of evergreen just above the dark blue waters of the Inside Passage with its occasional iceberg of a light blue green color.

As we approached Petersburg, I noticed it was snowing more and I was sure we might have to go on to Juneau. If I couldn’t see the town, how could the pilot? And mountains on every side…
We did land, however, and as we did, I looked out the window and saw Sigrid and her two daughters and two grandchildren. Well, no surprise after all, thought I, but what the heck?

I got off the plane and noticed that Sigrid was walking toward the terminal rather than the plane. She stopped and looked my way (I later learned her daughters, Karen and Kirsten, has said, “Let’s wait and see if anyone we know gets off”). Anyway, she said she saw someone who looked like me, it had been 7 years since I had seen Sigrid, and 22 years since I had been to Alaska.

In any event, she realized it was me and hurried towards the plane where we hugged and kissed and laughed and cried in the softly falling snow! I later learned that she had come to the airport to pick up a package for her office. Karen and Kirsten had contrived other mythical reasons for being there.

A most happy occasion, and one that will live in my memory for years to come.

That night we had a mini-party and family dinner at the Beachcombers Inn in Petersburg. Sigrid’s husband, Harold, knew I was coming because the day before Karen and Kirsten had asked him if he could keep a secret, and he said yes, and they said, “Well, we can’t. Liz is coming tomorrow to surprise mom (Sigrid) on her birthday!” No mention of their Silver Wedding Anniversary…

Next week, a surprise anniversary and a fishing trip in Alaskan waters.

Trains, buses, fine music and old friends. Mom heads to Fargo for my brother’s Concordia College music recital.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Liz Taylor

March 5, 1980

Mouse River Farmers Press


                When I decided to go to Moorhead to take in son Justin’s sophomore flute recital, I felt the drive in a car would be tedious, so I decided to go by train or bus. I called the train depot in Rugby, nearest stop, to check on connections. I soon found they had all the connections, and I had none!

                Some major changes have occurred in our North Dakota passenger trains in the past several years. Major changes seem to hinge around the fact that the name has gone from “Great Northern” to “Burlington-Northern” to “Amtrak” with one less day of service per week for each name. Also, the name may have been changed with the hope that it would be lost in the phone book. Amtrak has a toll free number that is always busy.

                Since I wanted to go to Fargo on Saturday and come back on Monday, the gentleman at the depot rose to the occasion and advised me that the eastbound train only stopped on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, in the middle of the night.

                ‘Starline’ bus service offered a good deal, leave from Towner at 5:30 p.m., arrive in Fargo at about 11:30 p.m. after changing buses in Grand Forks. On the return trip, I could leave Fargo at about 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Towner at 2:30 p.m. with a one hour stop and change in Grand Forks.

                Since Winona Haman was going to meet me in Moorhead and take in the recital with me, I explored the possibility of going towards Bismarck with her on Monday and taking a bus from Jamestown to Drake. “Fine,” said the dispatcher, “We have three day service on that route, Monday, Wednesday and Friday…oh, wait, we don’t have service on holidays and Monday, February 18 is President’s Day. Which meant that I would have to return by way of Grand Forks, and I really didn’t mind the hour or so spent in the Grand Forks bus depot. They have three slot machines there; one for pop, one for cigarettes, and one for candy. I saw a kid hit the jackpot there and get a bar of candy!

                Actually, I enjoyed my trip by bus. It was still daylight for part of the trip from the Tastee Freez (local bus stop) in Towner on the Starline run, and I am a lover of North Dakota’s barren prairie landscape in the winter.

                We had about a half hour stop at a nice café in Devils Lake, and my two sisters from that area, Hjordis and Ruth, surprised me with a pleasant, though short, visit in the café. Ruth’s broken knee cap is healing nicely and she will be taking therapy to back in running shape.

                The Starline bus seemed to have the seats a little close together for my long legs, but it was not crowded with passengers. The Greyhound bus from Grand Forks to Fargo was roomier but it got so warm that I had to shed so many clothes to become comfortable that I feared arrest for indecent exposure.

                Justin met me at the Fargo bus depot at 11:30 p.m., where he had met Winona Haman at 4:30 p.m. She was waiting for me at the Ramada Inn in Moorhead, where she had passed the time reading a racy novel, and listening to people either partying or building cupboards in other rooms. The sounds were still going on after midnight.

                Justin’s recital wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, and we passed part of the time with a leisurely breakfast at the Village Inn Pancake House near the motel, with Bob and Beth Heintz of Fargo. Later, Mrs. Russell (Gwenith Kenny) Lee came to the motel and took me for a brief shopping excursion in Moorhead where the stores are open on Sunday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Winona waited in the motel where Mrs. Vic (Phyllis) Senechal of Perham, Minnesota, was going to join us to attend the recital. Her son, Kim, was Justin’s accompanist for part of the recital.

                I had not seen Phyllis for a number of years, and she looked grand, with the same wonderful sense of humor I had always enjoyed. I noticed that her hair, like mine, was getting gray, but not falling out. When you pass 40, you appreciate little things like that.

                Besides about three dozen students from the college, Bob and Beth Heintz, Phyllis Senechal, Gwenith Lee, Winona Haman, and I attended the recital at 4 p.m.

                I was very impressed by it, not only by Justin’s flute playing, but Kim Senechal’s spirited piano accompaniment on the first selections, and Twila Schock’s (Ashley, N.D.) equally fine accompaniment on the second half.

                For interested musicians, the selections were Concerto in G Major by Mozart, followed by an unaccompanied flute selection, Syrinx by Debussy, and Duo for Flute and Piano by Aaron Copland.

                I am always moved by a really fine musical performance, and this feeling was enhanced by the usual maternal pride. Besides being touched by Justin’s fine performance, I felt that Kim Senechal’s piano accompaniment, played with such verve and enthusiasm, was a remarkable feat in light of the difficulties he has had in recent years.

                As many of you may recall, Kim had his right leg amputated several years ago while the Senechals lived in Washington, D.C., area. Since that time, he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments and is currently doing well. He is a handsome young man and is majoring in music at Concordia.

                An interesting sidelight was that until about December, neither Justin nor Kim knew that their mothers knew each other from Towner. Vic and Phyllis now live in Perham, Minnesota, the Russell Lees live in Moorhead, Bob and Beth Heintz still live in Fargo, and Winona Haman lives in Bismarck. All send their greetings to Towner friends and relatives.

                I received a letter today from Sigrid in Petersburg, Alaska, today, along the pickled herring recipe. I will share this with you after I get a little more information. Her recipe was something like those I find now and then of my mothers, a lot is left to the imagination.

                She also sent me a poem, no doubt inspired by my references to my housekeeping.  “Ode to a Dirty House, by Louise Dillon. With so many lovely things to do, Why should I waste my life on you?”

                Next week, “A journey to the past.”



Some blizzard morning reading about blizzard kits in the days before cell phones and our newfound false sense of security.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Liz Taylor

February 27, 1980

Mouse River Farmers Press


                One thing about this business, you get interesting mail. I received a letter one recent day addressed to: “The Nice Lady Who Writes About Survival Kits, etc., Towner, North Dakota.” Apparently I’m the only lady (nice or otherwise) in Towner who writes about survival kits because the letter and booklet ended up in my mailbox!

                It was from a gentleman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was apparently visiting the Rugby area when someone related to him what I had written about a Minot TV weatherman’s survival kit advertisement promoting something called a “Blizzard Beater.”

I had written what I thought was a light-hearted criticism of the ad, saying in part that you could make up the same kit (advertised for $14.95) for $5 and have a party on the change. I stand by this statement, but you’ll have to spend a little more if you want adequate protection from the cold if you’re in a stalled auto on any of our northern roads in winter for any length of time.

                The Canadian who wrote to me was Ken Kennedy of Winnipeg and he told of his ordeal while stranded in a car in January, 1978, from Tuesday evening until Tuesday noon in the Morris, Manitoba, area. Temperatures dropped to twenty two degrees below zero, and winds gusted as high as 50 miles per hour.

                As he said in his letter accompanying the brochure he had written, called “Survival or Death,” a car is nothing but a windbreak when the motor stops. His motor had become wet sometime during his experience and as a result he had to keep warm enough to survive with equipment he had with him, and he had far more than most people carry.

                Since that time he has been experimenting to determine just what should be carried in the car to survive a lengthy stay if stranded because of a sudden storm. The booklet he wrote was most interesting and I recommend it to any northern traveler, whether you’re planning  to be on the road for just a short journey or if traveling is your business.

                It is about 35 pages long and tells you all “you ever wanted to know about this type of survival” but thought you knew. After reading it, I put some more “stuff” in our car and then decided never to go any distance from home without a written and notarized guarantee from the weatherman that the weather would be excellent when I started my journey and even better when I planned to return!

                Because of his job as a salesman, Mr. Kennedy does a lot of traveling and consequently has experimented with more than one survival kit. He is trying to have high standards adopted for such kits, and legal penalties for those which produce a false sense of security for the traveler. I know of very few people who are truly prepared to spend much time in a stalled car in the bitter cold.

For example, Mr. Kennedy burned 31 candles in 35 hours (candles designed to last 6 hours each, but more than one was needed at a time to produce any worthwhile heat). He also burned several advertisements, three newspapers, two telephone books, and about 900 matches. The large number of matches was required because he only burned one small, folded piece of paper at a time to make it last and produce less smoke in the car. In spite of this he suffered great pain from leg cramps and cold because of restrained body movement.

Do you have more than 30 candles, 1,000 matches, newspapers or telephone books in your car? So what, you may ask, you have a snowmobile suit and a blanket in the trunk…and if you have your family with you, who is going to get the blanket, who is going to get the snowmobile suit…and who will die first?

As I said, a most enlightening booklet written by “someone who’s been there” and back.

By the way, he sent me one of the brochures and you may obtain a copy by sending $2 to: Mr. Ken Kennedy, 362 Melbourne, Winnipeg, Manitoba R2K 1A9.

He originally printed the booklets to give his customers and then printed some more because of the interest expressed by others. Anyone who knows anything about printing costs will realize that he didn’t do it to make money, nor does he sell a survival kit. However, he does tell you what he has learned about them and what he feels is necessary.

I said I did a lot of reading, and would read almost anything, and this habit has apparently been inherited by my children. The other day at the breakfast table Ryan was reading a cereal box, aloud, and this is what I heard: “Which has more sugar, an apple or a bowl of “Lucky Charms”? An apple!”

The ad on the box went on to say that Mother Nature sweetens apples for two good reasons, to make them taste good and to make them a source of energy, and that’s why she puts 15 grams of sugar in an apple. And a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal only contains 11 grams of sugar.

There was more but I don’t want to give General Mills any more free advertising. Since I am always skeptical of commercials I am sending the side of the box with that claim to the Consumer Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., or maybe to Ralph Nader, and ask that they investigate the claims and send me a copy of what they find out.

Of course, it’s hard telling what they will do about it, being located in Washington, D.C. This is the city where they decided to give us the Susan B. Anthony dollar to save us money! According to the press release this dollar coin would save the Mint $50 million per year in the future. WHEN in the future?

They have temporarily discontinued production after 785 million coins, with 285 million in circulation (I’ll bet they’re all in banks), and 500 million in inventory. This dollar coin was the latest and greatest mistake our government has made since the “non-war” in Vietnam.

It’s too bad they didn’t just ask folks on the street whether or not they would like to have a dollar the size of a quarter a couple of years ago and they could have really saved us money! Most folks feel that a standard sized dollar coin would have been readily accepted.

If you were looking for humor and hilarity in this column this week, “the laugh’s on you!”

Next week, “A weekend in Fargo-Moorhead, or, ‘you can’t get there from here’.”




Never Grow Old

Never Grow Old

I knew Mom liked this hymn, an old gospel tune that I remember her recording on a cassette when she heard it on a public radio broadcast once. So I picked it as the song we would sing at Mom’s family graveside service in May, held after the awful winter and the wonderful funeral service that celebrated her life in January, 2009. Then I found this in her house today, handwritten lyrics to the song, written in her own hand on one of her famous legal pads with a black Erasermate pen I’m certain. She only wrote down lyrics when she really liked something and wanted to remember the words as she chorded on the piano with family or guests. This little piece of paper is a treasure.