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.


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