Evangel Island Journey 6A  (the first of three articles based on Larsen Bay)

The Evangel and the Smith Family  Winter in Larsen Bay

By Timothy Smith (restored/revised 2019)

Life in Larsen Bay Part One: Winter in the Village

The large Alaska Packers Association cannery in Larsen Bay gleams in the sunset  in November of 1956. In my opinion, this is one of my father Rev. Norman Smith's best photos. Kudos to Dad's great eye for composition and that little Argus C3.

The Smith family (and the Evangel) wintered in Larsen Bay from the fall of 1952 to the spring of 1957, and returned regularly every summer until 1964. I was born in the spring of 1953, making Larsen Bay my first home town. This series of articles tells a bit about our life in the village and about our summer visits there. The last article tells about our last return with the Evangel in 1964, and the visit my brother Kelly and I made in the summer of 1998 as a memorial to our Dad, who passed in 1996.

Our simulated island journey on the Evangel pauses in  the little village of Larsen Bay for a series of articles on life in my first home, spending the winter of 1956-57 in the village before continuing to the north-end. Most of this part of the story would be better told by my older siblings, because I was only five years old when we moved away. But since we went back for extended visits every summer for many years, I too have a lot of great memories of Larsen Bay. Therefore, I am also combining and compressing events, and adapting details to tell this as a coherent story.

As a tale of challenging lifestyles and environmental hardships, our winters in Larsen Bay would rival anything out of the Little House on the Prairie books. But as a child, I had no basis of comparison. My siblings, Noel, Jerilynn, and Robin, moved from an apartment college town environment in Berkeley, California to a tarpaper shack with no running water, no indoor toilet, and occasional electricity by portable generator, in a remote village in the 1950’s. I, on the other hand, was the bouncing baby getting accustomed to his environment as successfully as any other child. But looking back at what I considered normal, I hope I can do the story justice. Whenever I fail to adequately explain our situations, the photos may help to fill in the gaps. I am once again glad that my Dad and later my older brother Noel documented our life in the village with  these photographs at a time when very few people had cameras.

About the photos: This panorama is from the fall of 1953, spliced from two negatives, and shows the Alaska Packers Association cannery on the right and Larsen Bay village on the left, with an early snowfall on the tops of the mountains. The long dock is beyond the buildings to the right. The little hill on the point overlooking the cannery, where Dad took these two pictures, was a favorite place for Easter Sunrise Services as well.

Coming Home to Larsen Bay

As the Evangel turns from Uyak Bay into Larsen Bay, every rock and tree looks familiar to me. I am home, and anxious to see my friends and play with the toys I had to leave behind. It will also be a relief to be off the boat and to sleep on a bed for a change. The Larsen Bay cannery, owned by the Alaska Packers Association, has what was once the longest dock in Alaska. The cannery is huge, and makes me think of what a city might be like (having never seen one). After tying up, we all grab things to carry, the first and most necessary things we'll need for staying ashore. Dad and Noel will bring the heavier things by getting our wheelbarrow, which we stuck in the shed when we left.

I am still a little kid in the summer of 1956, so I think the hike from the dock to the village is very long indeed. As I walk down the alley between two of the buildings, I pass by a row of roaring diesel generators. I can feel their radiator fans blasting me with heat, and the smokestacks are not tall enough to keep the diesel fumes from nearly choking me. This part of the walk has scared me since I was an infant, because it is so noisy. I race forward, and only relax when I'm around the bend a little, step off the dock planks and I can walk on the beach trail. The beach grass on either side of the trail grows sometimes higher than my head. But I soon break out of the green and onto the shoreline, where the beach trail leads me beside a small bluff, up a little rise, between a couple of buildings, and on to our place.

About the photo: This is a view of the middle of the village at high tide, taken from the Evangel in 1956. The chapel is in the center, the small shack we used as our home is to its left (just left of the white pole), and the old schoolhouse is to the right. The large house on the left with the light-colored roof is Dora Aga's place. The stairs on the bluff, went down to the community well (spring), which was almost at tide level. The mountain kept many houses out of direct sunlight for several months in the winter!

As I walk on the shore trail past the bluff, can see Edith Swan's little gray house, the one that used to be the school, and just beyond is the chapel with its gleaming white cross atop the bell tower Dad built. I go a little past that to a ramshackle tarpaper shack that has been my home for my whole life. It is a cozy place for me, but oppressively small for anyone with adult height, because only in the kitchen can they completely stand up. This trip home will be very exciting, because in the spring we hope to start moving into a much larger new home, the warehouse, that Dad built directly behind the chapel. But for now we go to back to the little shack that is the only home on land I have ever known, and begin to settle in for what will be a long and challenging winter. My parents and siblings know this, but because I know nothing else, I don't think of it like that.  I’m just home! (Continues below…)

Left: my first home was a series of shacks strung together. The color photo bottom left shows the only entrance, to the back. The storage shed is taller than the house! Below: a 16mm movie frame shows the shack in spring, with sleds still out, Sootball the dog is running towards the camera.

Someone goes back toward the cannery to the tiny post office to pick up our mail, several weeks' worth of unread letters, and likely as not, a few packages of things some church has sent us.  A little while later, after Mom has taken inventory in the kitchen, I go with my sister Robin to the store to pick up a few things that we'll need for eating at home. We pick up some flour and sugar, and I buy some Smith Brothers (there's Trade and Mark under their faces, so I think that's their names!) licorice cough drops with my allowance. I'm a sailor home from the sea, and I'm hitting the town with my “pay.” There's been no good place to buy anything since we left Kodiak, and while nothing compares to the big stores there, I know everything I like and how much it costs here in my hometown.

The store is also the most likely place to meet friends, and I run into Stanley, who is there with his older sister. He'll come by later, and probably bring Roy, the other boy my age. (Both of them have cute sisters, but I am far too young to notice something like that!) Mom and Dad do not get a lot of their supplies from the store, because it is very expensive. A freighter coming to pick up the hundreds of cases of salmon that the cannery has processed will also drop off several pallets of canned goods for us in a few weeks. We will eat mostly that until spring. The local hunters always share their bear, seal and deer meat, and there will be fresh fish to catch for a little while yet, but nobody has refrigeration or freezers, so cans are our staple diet. But Mom needs the flour and sugar because she knows that our rhubarb patch, which grows abundantly behind the chapel, needs picking. There will be some pie as soon as Mom can get the shack's oil stove running and heated up again. (Continues below…)

The cannery store in Larsen Bay in this photo from 1966. As typical of “company stores” the prices were often outlandish, but with no other store for miles, places like this served a captive clientele. Mom and Dad did their best not to need anything from it! But as a kid, I appreciated their very good candy and soda selection.

Left: my parents in 1952. Above: My parents welcome little Timmy (the author) to the shack in May of 1953. Only the kitchen was tall enough for Dad to stand up straight, and the only heat was the kitchen oil stove.

First day of school, 1952. From left, Robin, Jerilynn (with the Evangel behind her) and Noel, ages 6, 10, and 12, respectively. My siblings’ previous school year was with hundreds of other students in cosmopolitan Berkeley, California, and Larsen Bay is so small in 1952 that there are barely enough students to hire a teacher. They have to contend with a completely new living situation that’s actually far less comfortable than aboard the Evangel, and (let’s be honest) the challenge of living with a brand new baby brother in a tarpaper shack with no indoor plumbing or running water!

Back home in the shack after my trip to the store, I help unpack a summer's worth of material by taking the things that are mine and putting them on or under the crib I still use. I’m still too small to do much of the hard work that everyone else is doing, but I’m now five years old and I’m really too big for that crib. There will be no space for a proper bed until we move into the warehouse.

I am old enough to get water from the well, and Mom gives me two gallon-sized buckets and has me make a couple of trips. The well is between the shack and the chapel, down a set of long steps to a grassy area almost at the tide line. I simply dip my buckets in the little spring and get them as full as I can. It is a long haul up those stairs, even with two small buckets, and by the time I reach the shack the second time, the handles have dug quite a crease in my little hands. I pour the water into a large (clean since new) aluminum garbage can with a lid. Soon after, Robin and Jerilynn also come in with larger buckets. Mom gets down the gallon glass bottle of  Purex chlorine bleach, and puts a capful or two into our garbage can water supply, and I get to stir it. The pungent chlorine smell is a little jolting. But after sitting for an hour or so, the water will be great for cooking and safe for drinking.  (Continues below…)

About the picture: Joyce Smith was a bit surprised in this random photo in the kitchen of the shack in Larsen Bay, 1954. But it has a wealth of information about our life in the village. “Blazo” boxes (wooden crates that each formerly held two square five-gallon kerosene or pressure appliance fuel “Blazo” cans) serve nicely as our kitchen cabinets, especially when lined with oilcloth. Blazo boxes were the modular furniture of the villages in the 1950’s, and could also serve as stools or end tables. Besides the dishes and such, in the Blazo box shelves I can see a can of Darigold powdered milk, the only kind available in the village. We also had powdered eggs – pretty wretched, and the probable origin of “Green Eggs and Ham.” The warming shelf of the oil stove behind Mom holds a lantern that uses Blazo fuel. On the stove are two teakettles (our only source of hot water) with two solid metal irons - Tomorrow must be laundry day!

Laundry day in the spring of 1956, sleds still propped against the shack, and the same dog (Sootball, our Cocker Spaniel) wandering about. But our family of six persons creates a lot of laundry. To wash the clothes, water was heated on the oil stove, poured into a wringer washer out in the yard, powered by our “light plant” (portable gas generator), and after rinsing and wringing again, all the clothes had to be manually hung up on clotheslines until dry.  The path of planks lead to the “nooshnik” (outhouse in local dialect) and on to the chapel, both behind the camera.

A Few Photos of Our First Home In Alaska

Some Challenges Of Daily Life

In the shack, the stove is heating nicely, and Mom is busy cutting up some rhubarb stalks. She has nearly completed the pie crust when my friend Roy appears, and we go outside to play for awhile. There’s a big pile of old lumber near the chapel, which will eventually be used to complete the warehouse, but for us it is part pirate ship, part teeter-totter. We stay amused until Mom calls me for dinner, and Roy runs off in search of his own. Supper is one of my favorites, and a classic Joyce Smith simple recipe: one can of Dennison’s meat balls, one can Standard Brands creamed corn, one can of Darigold unsweetened evaporated milk, and one can of water for each. Corn chowder, a Larsen Bay delicacy. Of course, supper is just as likely to have been canned sauerkraut and leftover bear steaks, or something equally hard for a kid to like, and long before spring, we'll be craving anything fresh and un-canned. It takes me years to realize that the odd things we get in cans are because they were the cheaper choices for a family on a meager missionary salary who has to buy almost all our winter food at once and pay for it to be shipped here to the village. Nevertheless, Mom is a certifiable wizard with the limited pantry choices, and tonight she has coaxed the oil stove into baking a fine rhubarb pie.

After all the corn chowder I can hold, I manage to save a little room for some still-warm rhubarb pie.  All too soon, it's time to go to bed. I sleep well, considering that it's the first night in weeks that I haven't felt the gentle (or not-so-gentle) pitch of the Evangel. After a few bustling days of unpacking and getting one last thing off the Evangel, our life begins to settle back into its winter rhythm. There are frequent trips to the well, occasional trips to the store or to the Evangel (which is now tied securely in a secluded corner of the huge dock) and church services have begun again in the little chapel. Almost every night our little kitchen table is filled with neighbors, adults one night, a bunch of kids the next, and it's amazing how busy we stay in a small town far from anything. We get the mail every few weeks when the Shuyak comes to town, and because many churches in the “Lower 48” are supporting us, we get lots of boxes of interesting things. (I like to help burn the empty boxes!) Come Christmas, we will have collected enough gifts for every child in town, and most of the adults.  (Continues below…)

Both the shack where we live and the little chapel use oil for heat. In this mid-50’s photo, local Larsen Bay seiner the Peanut brings our oil supply in the form of many 55-gallon drums. A few barrels are on the beach, Dad is standing in the water next to the seiner getting ready to roll another barrel ashore, and the man on the Peanut is about to roll another barrel into the bay. Notice all the barrels on the boat’s stern.

Left: The Shuyak mail boat leaves Larsen Bay in the winter of 1955. It delivers the mail every couple of weeks, longer if the weather is bad.  Right: My sisters Robin and Jerilynn wait for the mail at the tiny Larsen Bay post office in1953.

Left:The Evangel, tied to the long dock at Larsen Bay, spent the winter there from 1952-53 to 1956-57. Right top: Dad captured this fishing boat on a rare winter journey. Bottom right: A snow squall bears down on the Evangel. The boat was without radar and was underpowered, but more importantly, was not insured for winter use. This necessitated the tie-up in Larsen Bay for the winter months. Dad would have a very pressing reason, and would check the weather reports on the radio very carefully, before taking the Evangel anywhere in the dead of winter! In very cold weather, spray and snow could freeze on the hulls of boats, adding tons of weight and slowing them down even more.

The older I get, the more I realize that living in the village in the winter is very hard work. Somebody has to break the ice with a hatchet to get any water from the well most mornings. It is far too cold at night to go out in pitch darkness, even with a flashlight, and sit yourself on the drafty hole of the outhouse (which we call by its native name, “nooshnik”). Therefore, we use a “honey bucket” (which isn't!) which is a five gallon round oil can with the top cut out, half full of water, with a carved wooden seat on top. To the water is added a bit of Pine Sol, which turns the water milky white, and manages to mask odors. Truth be told, the “fresh, mountain scent” of that cleaning product will never make me think of anything clean for the rest of my life!

We have only a few fresh food items available in a land without refrigerators and with very infrequent and expensive new shipments in the cannery store. We have potatoes, apples, oranges, and onions as the four basic “fresh” foods that will tolerate the near-freezing temperatures of our shack. And it’s near freezing only if stored literally under the kitchen table, within feet of the oil stove. That supply of fresh food is usually long gone before we are able to go back to Kodiak for more civilized shopping in the spring. Once, a large freighter pulls in to the cannery, and we are invited aboard for dinner. I am given a banana, and make what I think is a logical conclusion. I take a bite! After all, apples are smooth and you bite them; oranges are bumpy and you peel them. Bananas are smooth. Therefore… Later, I make other mistakes based on being a young, thoroughly rural Alaskan kid. When, in the fall of 1957, our family visits relatives in Washington State for the school year, I have occasion to be served a nice fried hamburger patty at my maternal Grandma’s house in Arlington. I take a bite and loudly exclaim, “Oh, Grandma, this is good bear meat!”

My parents’ purpose for living in such a remote place is to share the Gospel as missionaries, and that changes and expands what happens at our house almost every day. Our little kitchen in our little shack is often a very busy place, for formal activities like kid’s Bible clubs, and informal visits from our neighbors, who seem to enjoy hanging out with us. And our place isn’t different from most of their homes: the kitchen is the gathering place. Like our home, most of theirs do not have a living room or even a couch, just a warm stove and a kitchen table. We adapt quickly to the local culture, and welcome everyone into our home. The chapel takes on its own local personality under my parents’ ministry, but our home is the daily hub or a thriving, informal, friendship-based outreach.  (Continues below…)

The EVANGEL in Winter

Life With Friends In The Little Shack

Top: Bible club - a cardboard biblical home graces our table with my sister Robin in the corner. Right: three local men try to figure out one of those little BB hand puzzles, with our “Blazo” box shelves and our outside door behind them. Right: kids apparently just hanging out. My brother Noel is on the far left, my sister Robin in the corner, and Mom and baby me on the far right. I can identify some of the others as Carlson and McCormick kids.

A sampling of many “Shack Door” poses: For some reason, standing in our doorway was often chosen as the best photo spot. Top left: Norman and Joyce Smith, 1953. Top right: Joyce and “Timmy,” 1955. Left: Edith Swan, a great friend of Mom’s over the years, visits on Valentines Day. In front of them are Jerilynn (left) and Robin, each with shiny red and gold Valentine candy boxes. (Year unknown)

Entertainment (after the press of all the missionary activities) for the Smith family includes board games by the hissing green light of a Blazo-powered Coleman lantern, listening to the battery-operated all-band radio, or running the “light plant” (portable generator) for a few hours of bare-bulb electricity. The generator uses expensive gasoline, which is in limited supply and needs to be reserved mainly so the chapel services can have lights, and for the outboard motor on the skiff. The hours we spend listening to the radio are very memorable. Shortwave is the most fun. Being so close to Russia, we pick up Radio Moscow a lot easier than the Voice of America, and in the Cold War fifties, comparing the two perspectives makes for some interesting discussions around the kitchen table. But whatever entertainment that may provide, we are regular listeners to HCJB (“Heralding Christ Jesus' Blessings”), the voice of the Andes, from Quito Ecuador – the most powerful non-governmental radio station on the planet. I’m sure we pick it up when it's broadcasting in other languages, but we have memorized its schedule of English programming, and always catch the “Haven of Rest” and the “Back to the Bible Broadcast.” There's also an afternoon “Children’s Treasure Chest” that sounds like it’s run by missionary kids in far off Ecuador. That gives us a different sense of a world community! And early every morning, Dad makes his instant coffee, nibbles on a few graham crackers with peanut butter, and tunes in to KFQD, an Anchorage AM station (over 250 miles away) that reaches us just fine, thanks to the thirty-foot copper aerial that Dad has strung out behind the shed.

My favorite entertainment is when Dad spends a little gas on the light plant, and we turn on the clunky tube-amp record player with the really big speaker, the one that we use for blasting out the soundtrack to our filmstrips, and play a few records. I am absolutely mesmerized by the sound of a good red-vinyl, 10-inch long playing record! We have a stack of albums by the Haven of Rest Quartet, so I’ve heard a zillion hymns by the time I reach Kindergarten. We also have two or three albums by Mantovani, including a 1949 opus that has my favorite music: “The Laughing Violin” and “The Bullfrog.” I am blissfully unaware of the lowbrow nature of Mantovani’s “dinner music.” It's pretty, and we like it! I have memorized every nuance of that orchestra’s playing, and will always love orchestral music as a result. A couple of 12-inch LP’s of famous “light Classical” melodies sink those tunes deep in my young head as well, with fond memories attached! Sometimes we play one of our few other 12-inch LP’s, a somber and melodramatic “scrapbook of sound” called “Hark the Years,” which plays narrated historical audio clips and song snatches from the 1890’s to the Great Depression, to a florid musical soundtrack. I love that record, too, and end up learning a lot of history that way. In addition, the unique tonalities of the snatches of popular songs in that LP will inspire me to collect antique records someday. But the sum total of our available entertainment for the winter probably does not equal what modern kids in Brooklyn or Berkeley would have for the taking on a good Saturday morning in front of the TV. But it is all I know, and it satisfies me. Nobody else I know even has a record player!

My passionate attitude toward music has a down side, for at my last birthday, I got a little tabletop record player and a stack of little golden records, a sacrifice I’m sure for my frugal parents. I love the records, and even like the “Suzy and Johnny” cutesy ones of Sunday School songs that Mom and Dad play sometimes for the other kids. Of course, I am the most careful four year old operator of a phonograph on the planet! However, I don't like my little record player at all; next to the big, beefy sound of Dad's record player, my little tin box sounds like a piece of junk, and I say so. In my mind I’m just being objective, but I think my parents are a bit shocked at my discerning ear. Larsen Bay in the winter of 1956 is no place to be a technology snob! But those who later know the adult me will not be too surprised to see the origins of Tim the audio engineer and Tim the 78 rpm record collector! (Continues below…)

All About Larsen Bay Radio: Our two setups in the little shack. Left: my older sister Jerilynn in the winter of 1953-54 with the Northern marine band radio from the Evangel (and our cat). Discerning radio-philes will notice antenna wire, ground wire, wires to the storage battery, and rarely-used electric connections to other things for use when the generator is on. Outside on the roof is the Evangel’s 20-foot copper-wrapped bamboo antenna. Right: in 1954-55 the setup is simpler: a multi-band radio, Zenith battery behind it, is attached to 30 feet of copper wire strung outside. It was too cumbersome to try to move the Northern marine radio and antenna every fall!

Winter Life: Radios and Pets!

We’ve seen Sootball, our Cocker Spaniel, in other photos. But here is Noel, my older brother, with his pet crow outside the storage shed, and the crow and the cat out in the snowy yard trying to break the ice off the water dish. I’m sure they shortly got help. I don’t know the story behind how the crow came to us, or the names of the cat or the crow, because I was too young to remember them. The photos are from the winter of 1953-54.

Life in the Chapel

The little chapel is a center for regular activity, all winter long. There are clubs for the kids, three services a week, and lots of special programs with village participation, for practically every holiday. If you saw the frigid and austere surroundings of Larsen Bay in the winter, you wouldn’t be surprised that we’d want to have some fun activities to break things up a bit. But I have to say that even as a child I love the church services run by Dad and Mom. We got new hymnbooks in 1955, green Broadman Hymnals, and I have memorized dozens of songs. I love “When We All Get to Heaven,” “Trust and Obey,” “Glory to His Name,” “Wonderful Words of Life,” and dozens more.

Being young, I'm not past misunderstanding a few of the lines. I can never understand the convoluted and archaic first line of “Moment by Moment,” which says, “Dying with Jesus by death reckoned mine...,” and I once completely misunderstood a verse of “We're Marching to Zion.” The verse says, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God...” and I promptly started looking around to see who wasn't singing! I asked Mom about it after the service, and she patiently explained that not everyone knew that song.  And one of the lines in “Trust and Obey” says we’ll  “…walk by His side in the Way.” I understand that one, because I can be “in the way” a lot! But what I get out of these hymns is a lot of personal, vital theology that will stay with me for the rest of my life, even if some of the words make more sense to me later in life.  

Permit me a few examples:

Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry!”

“Soon I shall see Him as He is, the Light that came to me…”

“I think of my blessed Redeemer, I think of Him all the day long, I sing and I cannot be silent, His love is the theme of my song!”

In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time…”

And I especially like the hymns about waves and storms, as an Evangel crew member:

“The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm…”

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me, over life’s tempestuous sea, unknown waves before me roll…”

And one final example, one of Dad’s signature songs that he would often sing as a solo:

“I’ve seen the lightning flashing, and heard the thunder roll,

I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul,

I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, telling me still to fight on,

He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.

No, Never alone…”

Our New “Warehouse” and a Change of Plans

Maybe this is why I know all the songs? Tim in the chapel with the pump organ and hymnals, 1953

My older brother and sisters are away most of the day at school. Noel and Jerilynn are in the upper grades, and Robin is in the middle grades. The village is far too small for a preschool, but Mom makes one, and she invites some of my friends in to color and sing and play with toys. The big kids are in their first year in a brand new, two-room schoolhouse, built just up the hill from our new warehouse. And every day I can hear Dad pounding away in the warehouse, putting up the walls and running the electrical wiring for the times he runs the generator. How he got the materials for the warehouse is an interesting story. The thick, corrugated “tin” (actually galvanized steel) plates that coat the roof and sides of the warehouse, as well as nearly every plank and beam, have been scrounged from an abandoned cannery at the mouth of Larsen Bay. The cannery was far too deteriorated to repair, and Dad got permission from the owners to dismantle one of the larger buildings and use whatever he could. I remember last summer, the noise of the guys up on the roof, and the danger of removing the heavy building materials from the rickety old buildings. One of the few times I've seen my mom petrified was when I was walking on a loose plank and nearly fell in between the ancient pilings and sagging cross braces into the dark green water beneath the dock. From that time on, I walk in places that Mom says are safe, and don’t go near any dismantling operations. But Dad has scrounged some wonderful, solid stuff from those old buildings, and our warehouse will stand solid for many years to come. (Continues below…)

The New “Warehouse” Takes Shape

Top left: Uyak Cannery in 1915, sailing ship at the dock, and Harvester Island behind it. Top right: Uyak Cannery in 1956 as the Smith family began to dismantle it. Bottom left: Three people are visible (two on the roof, one in the doorway) as dismantling begins. Bottom right: the new “warehouse” nears completion as three kids from the village pose.

As the spring of 1957 approaches, our warehouse nears completion. I finally get a guided tour, now that nothing can fall or break off anymore! The warehouse is two big rooms with high ceilings. After years of ducking his head in the shack, Dad has designed ten-foot ceilings into this one! The front room will be our new home, and the back will have space for doing and hanging the laundry (indoors!) as well as lots of storage space. There are Blazo boxes floor to ceiling along three walls of the back room, and I quickly learn how to climb up them to retrieve some treasure without causing the whole stack to topple. But the front room is a wonder. There is green-painted plywood on the floor and four feet up the sides, to handle tough use. There is a nifty arrangement of strung wires with blankets over them to serve as individual rooms, and as promised, I have a bed. There is a large table made out of beams and plywood, and it’s big enough for all my friends to sit around without feeling crowded. In the corner is a very nice oil stove, ready for use. Best of all, the “nooshnik” is just a few steps outside the door. Maybe we won't have to use the “honey bucket” so much now!

The day comes when we move into the warehouse, and I think we all enjoy being in one big room instead of being in what amounts to one long hallway. In the shack, everyone at the back of the house had to march through all the other little rooms, making a way around beds and dressers and boxes, just to get to the kitchen. It was bound to be hard for anyone (like little baby me, for example) to get a good nap! Now, even though we are all in one big room, the curtains between the beds make for a slightly more private, yet still communal, existence. In the morning it is one of my jobs to pull aside all of the curtains to give us more floor space. We can even push the beds against the wall and have lots of room for activities. The windows on three sides are high up, and the ceiling is white, so even on cloudy days, there seems to be more light in the house than there was in the shack.

Early spring, 1957: our new home takes shape, with the new school behind it. In the center is our “nooshnik,” to the right is the chapel’s shed, and the chapel is just to the right of the walking man.

The day comes when we move into the warehouse, and I think we all enjoy being in one big room instead of being in what amounts to one long, low hallway. In the shack, everyone at the back of the house had to march through all the other little rooms, making a way around beds and dressers and boxes, just to get to the kitchen. It was bound to be hard for anyone (like little baby me, for example) to get a good nap! Now, even though we are all in one big room, the curtains between the beds make for a slightly more private, yet still communal, existence. In the morning it is one of my jobs to pull aside all of the curtains to give us more floor space. We can even push the beds against the wall and have lots of room for activities. The windows on three sides are high up, and the ceiling is white, so even on cloudy days, there seems to be more light in the house than there ever was in the shack. Mom and Dad are pleased; the shack was rented (if you can believe it!) and this new “warehouse” belongs to the Smith family. And it’s only a few feet behind the chapel.

My delight at my new home is to be short lived, for one day Dad and Mom get a letter (probably mailed a couple of months before) from their Mission Board bosses. The letter is informing them that we will be living somewhere “Stateside,” in Washington State, where all our relatives live, for the 1957-1958 school year. My parents will be speaking in various churches, and having some time to visit the family, and we will be living in a city somewhere with running water, a telephone, electricity all the time, and cars whizzing by our front door. I can't even conceive of the situation when it is explained to me. But the rest of the letter states that the Evangel and our family will be based out of Ouzinkie when we return to Alaska, because the Baptist orphanage there, Baker Cottage, is going to be closed down. We are to move in and run a village ministry from it like we've been doing in Larsen Bay. It is a big shock to us, but the consolation is that we can always come back to Larsen Bay and the chapel and our new warehouse, when we are traveling with the Evangel. So our new warehouse never gets to be much else than a summer cabin for us. I put all of this out of my mind when Mom reminds me that we still will have all summer to live on the Evangel, visit the villages, and spend time at Camp Woody. Besides, Mom says I will like my grandparents in Washington, whom I've never seen.

The Evangel Heads Back Out to Sea

By the time school is finally out in early May, I am ready to go places and do things on the Evangel again. We spend a few days cleaning and repairing the boat. The first few hours on the boat are musty, clammy ones, for the stove must be restarted and run for awhile before it gets comfortable, and it never completely loses the musty smell, since underneath the floorboards is a bilge that is never completely dry. But I don't care about that, because I know the Evangel will be shipshape in short order. The most exciting moment is when the batteries are all charged up and it's time to start the engine. The whine of the starter goes a bit too long, but the engine catches, sputters, and growls to life. The puffy white smoke in the stack changes to nearly invisible, the engine settles into its proper rhythm, Dad likes the way it is staying cool, and we go up on deck, untie ourselves, and head out somewhere. I can hear the clunk and clatter Mom is making as she stashes the canned goods and puts away all our clothes in the big bins under the cabin benches.

Getting the boat ready: Rev. Norman L. Smith in skipper mode, getting his boat ready to sail. Left: Our Northern marine band radio and battery are in the wheelbarrow, while Moses Malutin helps Dad by carrying the long bamboo antenna pole. Right: Dad carefully inspects the port side hull of the Evangel on the beach near the Larsen Bay cannery, in preparation for giving it a fresh coat of “copper bottom paint.” Both photos were taken by my brother Noel.

Before we take the boat out for any long trips, Dad will pull the boat up on a sandy beach near the cannery and scrape and paint her with “copper bottom paint.” Sometimes the paint is bright turquoise color, and other times it is a deep rust color, depending on the brand and availability. We don't hire anything done on the boat if Dad can do it and the rest of us can help. I learn to scrape paint as well as anyone, and before I can comfortably master penmanship, I will have mastered painting (follow the grain of the wood, so the paint gets into every little crease in the planks). I am allowed to paint anywhere except near the edges of another color – someone else does that. Dad sometimes has me paint the rudder and the metal rod that holds the rudder in place, because there’s nothing close to it that shouldn't be painted. When I get a little older, I will master the fine art of painting around the windows and other more advanced skills. Soon, the bottom is sparkling, the superstructure and hull glisten with bright white paint and “San Juan green” trim (named after the color of the hulls of all the San Juan cannery boats out of Uganik). The decks have a new coat of gray paint mixed with sand, to help keep us from slipping. The boat looks like new, at least for a few weeks. No boat stays looking nice for long in the harsh environment of the North Pacific, but we keep that boat looking as nice as anyone’s.

Soon the tide comes in far enough to float the Evangel, and Dad fires up the Lathrop engine, carefully pulling away from the beach and into deep water. Dad pulls out a rolled up chart from the slats above the wheel in the pilothouse, checks his compass, has me run back and check the rpms on the Lathrop's big dial back in the engine room, and we head down the bay and out to sea once more!

The next article is

A Larsen Bay Family and Holiday Photo Gallery from the 1950’s”

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Chapel scenes:

Top left: Worshippers outside the chapel after a service in late 1952. Top right: the new bell tower which housed the bell from Dad’s first church in Elma, WA. Left: inside the chapel in 1953. The adults to the left are Bill and Zelma Stone from the Kodiak Baptist Mission. Lower left: Palm Sunday, 1957 (with Mom’s new electric piano). Below: Easter Sunrise Service, 1955 on the point beyond the cannery. Dad is wearing rolled down hip boots!

Information from this site can be used for non-commercial purposes with attribution. The text of all the articles on Tanignak.com and TruthTexts.com are copyright 2019 by Timothy L. Smith (see the “About Tanignak.com” link). The photographs are copyright the estate of Rev. Norman L. Smith, or are copyright Timothy L. Smith unless otherwise attributed. Many thanks to the people who have shared their stories and those who have allowed me to use their photographs on Tanignak.com!