29 November 2007

To Bonnie Potter: a tribute

Dug's paternal grandmother, Grandma Potter, died yesterday. The hard part was that it was so unexpected. She went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain earlier this month. During surgery for a supposed hernia they found out her gallbladder was the problem. She never fully recovered and passed away in the hospital.

I didn't know her really well. We didn't see each other often because of the great distance, but I loved her. She will be missed.


Soon after Alaska became a state, Jerry and Bonnie Potter moved up to the "Last Frontier" to homestead with their three boys, Roger, Paul and Mike. Their oldest, a daughter Sharon, opted to stay behind in Oregon to finish high school.

Grandma told me that she agreed to go to Alaska on condition that they would return in a few years. But after getting used to the entirely different way of life that is Alaska, she realized when she visited her daughter that she didn't particularly like the hustle and bustle "down south." Alaska has a way of weeding people out. Most who dream of Alaska don't have a proper understanding of the place. Of the new settlers, few make it beyond their first winter. But if you make it through and still love it, you probably won't leave. Grandma and Grandpa were two of the latter.

The first house they built was this tiny, tiiiiiiiiny little place. It's Grandpa's workshop now, but when the boys were still home, Grandpa, Grandma, Roger, Paul and Mike all lived in that shed. The boys slept in the attic. I don't think the whole thing is more than 600 sq ft. How Grandma lived year after year with all those boys is beyond me.

Eventually they built a larger house. The one they have now. Doesn't sound like much to us city-folk until you find out they did the whole thing themselves. Chopped the trees, milled them, the whole shabang. And they were sixty!

When we went to see them the last time, I was still amazed at everything. They have a little stream that feeds their own resevoir that provides them with ice-cold glacial melt for water. They have a huge garden (practically a small farm) that they get most of their vegetables from. Grandpa has those big tractors and wood-working machines.

They lived the homestead life thirty-one miles outside town. And believe me when I say "outside" town. The big town of Haines has a population of 2000 people and when you drive 1/2 mile down the highway you are in Alaskan wilderness. Thirty-one miles under those terms becomes pretty significant.

And Grandma thrived there. Amazing. She had a frontier spirit if ever there was one. Winter after long-cold winter, Grandpa and Grandma were each other's companions.

You would think that in order to survive, Grandma would have turned into a gruff, old woman. But somehow she didn't. She was the sweetest, comfortable-in-all-the-right-places, white-haired woman you ever met. Now that's not to say she was a pushover. If she thought something was ridiculous, she'd let you know. But I never heard her raise her voice to anyone except Grandpa. And that was only because his hearing is so bad.

Grandma Potter and Dug's dad are now living the good life up with the heavenly host, for which I am so happy, but the hardest part when someone dies is the regret of those left behind. I wish that I had asked her more about her life. I wish I had called and written. I wish I was more involved. But I know Grandma would never hold that against me, so I have to let it go as well.

I guess the greatest tribute I could give her would be to turn the above "I wish"'s into action with those who are still here.

I love you, Grandma. You will be missed.

1 comment:

mej said...

Ive backspaced my message about 7 times now because i am not sure what to say. so on that note, i am sorry for you and doug and especially for grandpa potter. very sweet story, amazing what God saw her (them) through. she sounds like someone we only dream of becoming. very nice tribute trish.