Morning for Sokroshera Chapter Sixteen

By Timothy Smith, 2020

Morning for Sokroshera Chapter 16

Tim’s novel of Russian America (Kodiak Island area)

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March 29, 1964: Fort Sheplen, Easter Sunday – huddled inside an abandoned ammo bunker as a storm rages outside.

Judson awoke stiff, shivering, and more than a little grumpy. He wondered, after spending only two nights in the bunker, how long any of them could endure it. Then his nose caught the scent of frying Spam, and he heard someone whistling merrily out by the bonfire. Was that Laura? What was that tune? “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” It was Easter Sunday, of all things. He was on some other planet compared to all the other Easters when he had heard that tune. Memories of starched collars and Easter egg hunts, of organ music, choirs, and the comforting presence of his mother in the church pew beside him almost brought him to tears. Judson shook his head at the surreal conditions around him. Their accommodations may as well have been a tomb, and they were being held inside by the sleet and wind outside as securely as if a stone were rolled in front of the door. Our resurrection is still to come, if at all, he thought glumly. (Edit)

He heard a rustling beside him, and turned to greet Sandy Ann. “Today’s Easter, I guess. Russian Orthodox Easter is not until May 3 this year,” she said. “We call it Pascha (Пасха).” She was silent for only a moment before adding, “But the Lord is risen every day, isn’t He?” Judson could not help but chuckle and smile at his friend the theologian. Whatever else they might have to complain about here in the clammy hillside, none of them was alone, and there was amazing comfort in that. They walked to the fire, and Judson thanked Laura for reminding him about the significance of the day.

Laura’s early morning labors were displayed on a couple of plates beside the fire. Breakfast was fried Spam on freezer bread with jam if desired. Laura apologized for not being able to cook very well on the little fire in front of them, but Judson told her, “Fried Spam with jam is the best food what am!” Herman, Barbara, and Rinny had joined them by this time. Hunger overtook anyone’s desire to argue with Judson’s culinary review.

Herman looked out the open door of the bunker and remarked that the wind seemed to have slacked off considerably since last night. But the bone-chilling, soaking sleet had not lessened, so they were still effectively sealed in their tomb. They huddled together, but this time they stayed in the hallway, near the front room, where the adults were staying. So how does a tired collection of young people pass the time on such an occasion? By delving into a tired collection of jokes. Jay-Jay had heard hundreds of “elephant jokes” and “knock-knock jokes” back at his old school in Arizona, but he still managed to hear a few that he’d never heard before. Sandy Ann waxed philosophical, thanks to an elephant joke that she got from her uncle Jakob: “Why do elephants paint their toenails red? To hide in the strawberry patch.” That much Judson had already heard. But she continued, “Have you ever seen an elephant in a strawberry patch? See, it works, doesn’t it!” It could have been their tiredness, but Judson couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it all.

One of Judson’s knock-knock jokes veered perilously close to the kind that had gotten him in trouble earlier. Herman played the straight man part as Judson said, “Knock-knock!” (Who’s there?) “Madame!” (Madame who?) “Madame foot’s caught in the door!” Laura, a few feet away and attempting to clean out the frying pan she’d used at breakfast, laughed out loud at that one, and Mr. Hansen chided, “Now don’t encourage him, please!” But he didn’t sound particularly upset.

A couple of seconds later, another one of those unnerving six-second aftershocks sent everyone into choruses of “Whooftie!” A small, calm voice spoke after silence had settled in. “See, Jay-Jay, God didn’t want you to tell that joke!” —Barbara, followed by a ripple of laughter. Then another voice, “My heart hurts every time we have one of those big ones.” —Sandy Ann, with her hand on her chest. Judson decided to throw out the unspoken rule about not holding hands. He grasped hers, and saw her grateful smile in what passed for light in the dim room.

Author’s comment: One reader said, referring to the quake and tsunami, “Did you have to make it so rough?” “Actually, it was worse,” I said. The quake and tsunami portions are based on first-hand stories of those of us who were there, and draw from the experiences of people in several villages.



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