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The Mail Truck

This is a 1997 photo of Elizabeth Cooper Churkin's Roadhouse. ItThis is a 1997 photo of Elizabeth Cooper Churkin's Roadhouse. It was later converted to a grocery store owned by the Kraskoff's. Today it is a gift store and contains Russian art, icons and other things for tourists and collectors.

Last year I asked Emil Dochok (one of Agrafena's children) to create a miniature freight sled. Emil is extremely artistic and makes three sizes of snowshoes and many styles of dog sleds, usually of the racing type. He made a pattern and created an exact replica of the type of dog sled I remembered as a child. This exquisite piece brought memories to my Mother about the mail runs her Uncles used to make. Apparently her Mother's brothers used dog teams for making the mail run to Kenai and back. Her father also had dogs. The dogs were fed fish, cooked cornmeal and oatmeal along with any other available food sources. Sled dogs were considered dangerous (usually part wolf) and always kept penned up.

I have no recollections of mail runs with dog teams. What I do remember is Walt Christiansen and his mail truck. Once a week Walt would make a pilgrimage from Homer to Seward stopping at homes and restaurants along his route to deliver groceries. He would pick up people who needed transportation to Seward for a doctorís visit and the next week he would bring them back. Mom would give Walt a grocery list, which might include a chicken,a slab of bacon, canned hotdogs, spam or corned beef (because we had no refrigeration other than a wood cooler on the back porch), fresh fruit (normally apples and oranges), lettuce,eggs, a case of canned milk, a box of Hershey Bars (for school lunches) and things not available in Ninilchik. Mom and I would stay up late stoking the coal stove and visiting by the kerosene lamp waiting until Walt arrived. It was like Christmas at least once a month. When my brother Rodger had a horrendous side-ache Walt took Mom and her son to Seward. They were gone a week. Rodger had an appendectomy and obviously Waltís passenger service saved his life. I suffered from painful toothaches and gumboils (children did not go to dentists and doctors unless there was an emergency). Walt transported me to Seward to stay with my grandmother while I visited the dentist. Walt did not accept payment for his services. He picked up your grocery list and/or the passengers at the front door and delivered everyone and every thing back to the front door.

Walt was an important part of our lives in Ninilchik. He brought the mail to the post office. He delivered groceries to Mrs. Samís store. Mrs. Sam Kraskof had a small assortment of supplies. An ancient refrigerator contained soda pop, several quarts of milk (the rest of the milk was frozen in her freezer), some cottage cheese, canned butter, and other perishable items. She had two freezers with hot dogs, stewing chickens, frying chickens, hamburger, stew meat and one or two steaks. There would be approximately two or three packages of each item. She would have dozen or so bananas, perhaps two or three pounds of oranges and apples and another freezer containing the wonderful coveted quarts of ice cream. Things were expensive but we walked several miles to the village to purchase just one item and carried it back home. When grandma told us to go buy ice cream she always reminded us to hurry home before it melted. We attempted to accomplish this in record time; we knew we could eat the treat as soon as we returned. If Walt didnít have the mail and freight run this would not have been possible.

Later Walt retired his mail truck and bought Osmar's Store in Clam Gulch. He had the Post Office, Grocery Store, Gas station, tire and car repair as well as the liquor store. Fishing was declining and it was about this time that we were no longer able to purchase the bulk of our winter groceries from the canneries. Prior to this time the canneries ordered case lots on credit for all the Peninsula people. (Remember the old adage, "I owe my soul to the company store?" Well this is how it used to be.) Walt carried many people on credit through the Winter. He would fix your tire, repair your vehicle and sell you a few groceries or a case of beer. In the fall many people owed more than they earned to Walt. He allowed families to continue charging rather than starve. Walt special ordered formula for an entire winter for Zoya (my daughter) when she was a sickly baby and could not drink the normal canned milk formula. Walt has been retired for many years and the store is gone but when I drive past Clam Gulch I always remember to pay tribute to this wonderful man who helped the people of Ninilchik.

Note: The store owned by Mrs. Sam was previously the home of my Grandmother Cooper Churkin and the site of her roadhouse. The old building containing the store is now a gift shop. The original store was very similar to the way it is now except it does not contain groceries and freezers. The only thing missing is the odor of Mrs. Samís cats (she had a penchant for white cats), the smell of food from her tiny apartment and Mrs. Sam herself clad in her turban, long flowered skirts and old wool sweaters. Sam Kraskoff (her husband) was a part of the store for many years often driving to Seward for supplies himself. In later years, after his death, Mrs. Sam would drive to Kenai, Homer or else where to purchase groceries from the retail stores and resell them to us. Walt's store was previously owned by Osmar's and he sold it to Ninilchik Native Association. My sister-in-law and her husband managed the enterprise for several years. Eventually the building burned to the ground.

Copyright 1995

Emil is now gone to that great resting place in the sky but he will live forever in his art and his concern for saving our subsistence life style. I can help locate other types of native art. I will do this to help Native Artists without any fees for myself except the cost of the phone bill used to locate an artist and the postage.

Have you ever wondered why my print is so large? Well I have lots of older friends who use the web and it's hard to see. They have reminded me of that when they previewed my pages so I accommodated them. One thing I recommend is purchasing a pair of prescription computer glasses. I bought a cheap pair from one of those discount places and it is the best investment I have ever made. $49.00 with exam and two pair of plastic glasses for the computer. I can see it all. If you can't read this consider doing the same thing.

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