A 90th birthday party

The US Coast Guard-themed cake that my dad got for his birthday

The US Coast Guard-themed cake that my dad got for his birthday

It truly is getting colder here and today I put on some leggings (atop 2 other layers of clothing) for the first time. Glamour is not huge in these parts. One simply piles on more layers of clothes. The most gorgeous moon is rising to the northeast of my apartment. They do seem to have pretty lunar tableaux here.
The last week of September, I was in warmer climes when my daughter and I flew from Fairbanks to Seattle for my dad’s 90th birthday. We had the festivities at the retirement place where they now live, which made things much easier and more convenient. On Friday the 26th, my dad’s actual birthday, we had a reception for the residents of the retirement community and the following day was a party for immediate family and various cousins. The weather was gorgeous that day so I’d gone outside to the entrance to greet guests, when I saw some cars pull up. Three of my cousins jumped out – two of them from Minnesota – causing me to do a double take as I had no idea they were going to show up.

My dad and his sister, Alice

My dad and his sister, Alice

And then the big surprise was that my Aunt Alice, my dad’s 99-year-old sister, climbed out of the car. No one had any idea that she was going to make the trip but since one of her daughters lives quite close to my parents, I think she wanted to see my dad and see this cousin’s new home. My father almost fell over when his sister walked into the entrance hall. Ever since my Uncle Ed had died in 2007, only my dad and Alice were left of the original 4 Duin siblings. They had grown up in New Ulm, Minn. during the 1920s and 30s.
It was delightful having everyone there – all the grandchildren made it, one of them flying up from California and of course Veeka and I coming in from Alaska. We had a fun party with lots of wine and speeches (from my 2 brothers and me) about my dad’s many exploits plus some toasts from the oldest cousins in both the Hammer and Duin families and a slide show of the highlights of my dad’s life.

My parents at my dad's 90th birthday dinner. Someone must have been cracking a joke at that point.

My parents at my dad’s 90th birthday dinner. Someone must have been cracking a joke at that point.

There were several people there I hadn’t seen in many years and these days one cherishes each moment there is. Once you’re over 50, you never take extra time for granted! We got to see the newest addition to the clan: Lindsay and Jason’s 6-week-old son Wyatt.
All too soon it was over and we were back on a plane landing in chilly Fairbanks. By this time I have had my car winterized – which means adding several heating elements to your engine so the car doesn’t conk out at 20 below. Which is why you see cords danging out from underneath the hoods of everyone’s cars. And electric outlets everywhere around town. And signs on the fronts of stores telling you not to keep your engine running. That may sound weird but apparently with some cars – once you turn off the engine – good luck in getting it started again. We’ve had our first snow – on Oct. 4 to be exact – and yesterday I made Veeka happy by tromping all over town to find her a sled so she doesn’t have to borrow one from other kids.

Wyatt Nicholas, the first born of Lindsay and Jason

Wyatt Nicholas, the first born of Lindsay and Jason

It’s midterm week here so I have a pile of papers to grade. I myself am taking 2 graduate courses to finish up my MA by December, so I’ve no lack of things to do. One of the courses is my master’s degree project which means putting together a book manuscript. It’s mostly done but there’s a lot of factchecking I need to do. Plus I may have another assignment from More magazine, so I need to do some prep work for that. Plus I’m auditing a sort of advanced Photoshop course Mondays and Wednesday mornings where I am learning neat tricks for doing digital art. Plus Veeka undergoes all manner of life dramas, so my plate is always full. The other big event that happened here was my Snedden speech on Oct. 1. The Snedden felloow (me) is expected to come up with a keynote speech to which the community is invited and where one makes all sorts of remarks about the State of Journalism Today. The department ran ads in the Fairbanks News-Miner for a week, I put up notices around campus and about 50 people showed up to hear me (which is not a bad

Me giving my speech at UAF's Murie auditorium

Me giving my speech at UAF’s Murie auditorium

turnout, actually). I even sold a few of my books. Yes, I did talk about where journalism was going but what everyone was fascinated by were my stories of Appalachian pentecostal serpent handlers. Yep, the topic I’ve been talking about for some time but it never fails to fascinate, especially up here where folks aren’t at all familiar with Appalachia. I got quite a few questions as well. I expect to keep speaking about this topic until the book I’m writing about all this comes out, so you’ll be hearing more on it, but it is fascinating and as I told the audience, these pentecostals plus the Amish are the only Americans who are willing to die for their faith these days.

One thought on “A 90th birthday party

  1. John Morgan

    I’m so glad your dad got to see his sister and everybody had a good time. I can’t imagine Veeka having any life dramas. A little Princess 🙂 I’m glad they enjoyed your talk on serpent handling. It is indeed a fascinating subject.

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