Photo courtesy Fair Family Collection
The date is Oct. 19, 1957. The place is an airport in Kokomo, Indiana. The occasion is her departure from the Midwest. Her ultimate destination is Whittier, Alaska.

Photo courtesy Fair Family Collection The date is Oct. 19, 1957. The place is an airport in Kokomo, Indiana. The occasion is her departure from the Midwest. Her ultimate destination is Whittier, Alaska.

Jane’s Story

I imagine my mother’s inability at this moment to truly understand the change her life is about to undergo.

There are many ways for the story of a family and its home to begin. I have chosen to begin with this black-and-white photograph of my mother, taken when she was 22 years old. It is one of my favorite images of her.

The date is Oct. 19, 1957. The place is an airport in Kokomo, Indiana. The occasion is her setting out from the Midwest for Whittier, Alaska, where my father — First Lieutenant Calvin Munson Fair, United States Army dentist — awaits.

I imagine my mother’s inability at this moment to truly understand the change her life is about to undergo. For starters, she is four and a half months pregnant with her first child.

Although my father has surely sent her some description, the mountain-bound, ocean-fronted, glacially influenced Whittier is an alien world compared to the flatness of rural, north-central Indiana, with its neat county roads running precisely north-south or precisely east-west, its myriad fields of corn and beans, punctuated by farmhouses, churches and schools, and by occasional streams, railroad tracks and rare patches of old-growth hardwoods.

And she is about to become a military wife, entering a world in which she will be known primarily by her husband’s rank and his successes and failures, a far cry from the nurturing home her parents had provided, her small, cozy circle of friends and family, and the familiarity of her teller job at the bank in nearby Logansport.

Despite these many unknowns, Mom is smiling in this photograph, which was almost certainly taken by her father — Frank Lincoln Jump, a successful farmer, a devoted father and husband, and an officer in the Indiana State Grange. Standing near Frank is Jane’s mother, Gladys Irene Jump (nee Schwalm), almost certainly more tentative than her husband about this occasion, and definitely more worried.

To Frank, his daughter is about launch herself into the adventure of a lifetime. For Gladys, “adventure” is hardly the right word. Gladys has seen both of her sons join the military but eventually return. At this time, they are married men with children, living in farmhouses just down the road from her. But Jane is her only daughter, her baby.

Whittier — in Alaska, which is not even a state yet, for God’s sake — is more than 4,000 miles away. It lies beyond the U.S. border with Canada, beyond, in fact, all of Canada entirely. Dangers Gladys cannot comprehend lie in that icy region accessible only by train or ship. She doesn’t appreciate these risks. She doesn’t see the potential rewards.

But she tries to comfort herself with the notion that Calvin’s Army hitch is only three years; after that, she hopes (and prays), he will have gotten Alaska out of his system, and Jane can return home to Indiana where she belongs.

Mom is smiling because that is what polite people do when they are asked to pose for photographs, and my mother, during all 85 of her years on this Earth, was the epitome of politeness and proper behavior. But she is also smiling because she is excited. Finally, finally, she will be able to reunite with Calvin, who has been gone since mid-August.

Her letters from just before this time ache with a yearning to be with him again, to leap through the last of the military hoops, to tear through the red tape and be permitted to live at the Whittier Army Station.

Since she is “in the family way,” she is also eager to forge a permanent union with Calvin, to truly start a life together, sharing something they can call their own.

She will realize this dream, but not perhaps in the way she foresees in the moment captured in this photograph.

I also like to think that my mother is smiling because she is pregnant with me — a ridiculous thought, perhaps, but I include it because I want to establish where I, too, got my start. (I am subtext here.) Although I was clearly conceived in Indiana — probably not far from the Indianapolis Speedway, but that’s another story — I was born in March 1958 in the Territory of Alaska and, except for college and travel, have been here ever since.

In the Oct. 19, 1957, photograph, my mother is standing outdoors on a gravel drive near the airport tarmac, awaiting the announcement that will allow her to enter the paved area behind her and climb into a twin-engine Lake Airlines DC-3 that will transport her on the first step of her voyage north.

On the ground to Mom’s right is her baggage: a small carry-on and three pieces of sturdy grey luggage that will become a mainstay in our upstairs hall closet for decades. In her hands are a pair of white gloves and a medium-sized, dark purse. Mom is wearing lipstick, a sensible hat, and a long, dark coat that hangs below her knees. She is also wearing high heels, dark to match her coat and hat.

Like most farming families, whenever the Jumps left the farm — unless they were hauling livestock or grain — they washed themselves and put on “town clothes.” They combed or brushed their hair. They made themselves presentable. Going into town without cleaning up just wasn’t done. In this photograph, my mother is acting the part of a proper, conservative-minded, church-going young lady. Frank and Gladys were understandably proud.

This captured moment from 1957 also marks both a literal and a metaphorical departure from the bosom of farm life and family. In her early years in Alaska, Jane will assuage the difficulties inherent in this change with semi-annual trips Outside and by encouraging friends and relatives to visit her and Calvin in the Last Frontier.

Accustomed to the Midwest’s broad vistas and open skies, she will struggle in Whittier with the claustrophobic mountains, the immensity of the ocean, the monstrous depth of the snows and the seemingly interminable winter.

More comfortable in the company of the young wives of enlisted men, she will bridle against the notion of being one of the officers’ wives, with their hierarchies and their formal teas.

She will find it difficult to stay warm and tough to cope with both the brooding darkness of midwinter and the unending light of midsummer.

When the Fairs move to Soldotna in 1960, she will navigate the cramped confines of a house trailer and then the isolation and inconveniences of a homestead life until they build their big new, colonial-style house on a bluff overlooking a broad valley of the middle Kenai River. She will worry about the safety of her children, who insist on playing outside, regardless of the moose and bears that pass through.

But, in the end, she will rise to each occasion. She and Calvin will persevere. They will raise three children, including the one hidden in this photograph, and will eventually see three grandchildren brought into the world. They will meet kindly, loving neighbors. They will become founding members of a new church in town. They will surround themselves with new friends and opportunities. They will make new memories.

Six decades after this photo was taken — six decades after Mom posed politely for the camera while waiting to board the airplane — many things had changed. As much as my mother could never have foreseen the life in Alaska she was about to begin, she also could not have portended its ending:

My father had been dead for a decade, and my mother, after leaving the homestead and selling the house in which she and Dad had forged a life together, was a resident in an Anchorage assisted-living facility and struggling with memory loss.

Still, even as the shutters of her mind were closing to the past, she professed no regrets concerning the life she had traded in Indiana for the life she had helped to build on the Kenai. It hadn’t always been easy, she told me, but it had been worth it.

The moment in that Indiana photograph led to Jane and Calvin having 50 good years together. They created a family, all successful, first-generation Alaskans still living in this state.

Jane and Calvin wove themselves into the social fabric of the peninsula and established solid reputations here.

For Mom, near the end, the ties to Indiana were fewer than ever before. Most of her friends at this time were Alaskans. She, too, was an Alaskan and felt like one. There was a sensibility here that she had grown into.

From that eager beginning in Kokomo on Oct. 19, 1957, Alaska had become home.

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