Life at 20 Mile

by Sherry Hetzler

Sometimes I think it's a minor miracle that Steve and I survived our childhood, between the bears up north and the moose and 'accidents' it is rather amazing.

At 20 mile, besides the Wesley/Swan's place on the lake side of the road. Our house, Sam and Al Axtell's little cabin and later Al's big cabin, then the Berry's. Once across Victory Creek and down the long road to the lake, you would find the Headlee's, and Swede Jack Johanson's places and at least half to three-quarters of a mile from them was Andy Simons huge old log two story place and his little one man mill. If you stayed on the highway to 19 mile, then you would hit Howard Long's road and it was probably closer to a mile down to his house and rental cabins. Then down by the railroad tracks was Ernie's place but for much of the time it sat empty, and I don't recall what happened to him.

We were actually a pretty close neighborhood. And for the longest time I was the only girl over the age of maybe eight. I was supposedly "watching Steve" after I turned about 10 or so or when Caroline Wesley or Jerry wasn't there. We would be all over that whole area, a couple times all the way down to 18 mile where the road went over the river and railroad from one of the sharpest curves you ever want to drive. Much of the time I babysat every kid within a 15 mile radius, and sometimes even kids in Moose Pass. Steve usually ran with the elder boys, either Ronnie Wesley, or Rusty Swan, and later Johnny Torgesen. Believe me we found a lot to get into trouble with at 20 mile. One of us was usually in hot water. It doesn't seem like we lived at Lakeview section house very long before the folks bought the house, maybe a year two at the most. We had bikes, and feet and spent a lot of time not only at the lake, but in the woods and on parts of the mountains around the house. Like all kids we had our "forts", and we panned for gold in Victory Cr. And probably bugged the neighbor's silly. We were supposed to ask before we went as far as Andy Simon's but I think that was pretty much a not happening, if we wanted to go we did. Andy was a pretty famous guide, not only in Alaska but apparently elsewhere too. He always sat in an overstuffed chair under a huge water buffalo's head. I always thought the sucker would fall on him. I think there was a big moose head, and lynx and I know a stuffed owl also in that room. Andy chewed and spit snoose constantly, but he liked to tell stories and I would usually spend at least a half hour or so sitting with him and listening. Steve and whoever was with us would usually "help" Herbie or talk with Andy's daughter Rita. I know we were always welcome and they usually had gum or candy that was sent home with us. We didn't seem to spend as much time with Jack, could be he didn't much care for kids, I know he would come over and visit with the folks. It's possible he worked and just wasn't home much, although he seemed to be well over 60 when we met him. We didn't go north too often, it was three miles more or less to Lawing where there was another fairly good sized neighborhood. Alaska Nellie Lawing had her cabin there, and it sat right on the lake with the back portion built on top of pilings sunk into the water. She was probably in her 70's then; I believe I was in high school when she passed away. The O'Learys, Bairs, Thompsons, and one other family lived in that area.

Both Mom and Dad worked at one thing or another all the time. I was pretty much responsible to have dinner at least started, and sometimes I had to do the laundry, and keep Steve in line (Ha and who watched me?), make sure the house was kept clean and whatever else would pop into Mom's head. Steve probably had chores too, but it seems like I got lots more. Steve was one heck of a story teller, and more then once we would all be sitting on the hill above the mile post sign and he would scare us all half to death with some scary story that we knew he made up, but it would send us scurrying home scared spit less.

Even as a kid I was an early riser, and sometimes suffered sleepless nights. Many times I would sneak out and weed the garden in the middle of the night if I couldn't sleep or take a walk up the hill.

I was a reader from the time Mom first taught me to sound out words, and I learned to write stories then too I suppose. It's no wonder we all wear glasses now because I am sure we all read all hours in the light of the midnight sun, which actually isn't that bright.

We would spend hours when it was dark watching the stars, when we could see them anyhow. We had sleds and a toboggan, and our favorite places to use them were down the driveway that went to the old section yard after they tore the house down, and down the power line road beside the house at 20 mile. How we never got hit by a car or semi truck is beyond me, taking the power line road was definitely a risky deal. A bunch of us would pile on and someone would shove us off and believe me it is a steep hill, and we would fly down and sometimes crash at the edge of the road. Quite as often we would go flying across the road and down the bank on the other side and wind up in the trees about 20 feet from the roadbed.


© 2006 Sherry Hetzler