Bits and Pieces with Little Context

 

 

DSCN1656A box of papers has been in my possession for these past eight years.  It lay closed, each flap folded over another.  Once  opened, I found a file that had been removed from my late mother’s house when it was sold.  Why it was shuffled off with me is unknown.  Like so many other things that needed a place, someone took it, and I guess I took this.

 

 

 

The file held papers.  Letters.  A Certified Copy of Death Certificate.

 

 

 

– – –

 

 

 

Scott W. Habig | Male | Date of Death:  August 10, 1973

White | 23 | Date of Birth:  August 7, 1950

 – – –

 

This story has no happy ending.  It provides no answers.  Only more questions.

 

 

 

Scott was my big brother, the oldest, yet the smaller of my two.  He was sickly with asthma, at a time when too few reliefs were known.  I remember the urgent midnight phone calls.  Grandparents coming to care for me, tucked into bed at the end of the hall, while Scott was rushed to the emergency room, gasping for breath.

 

 

 

Sometimes he was propped up on pillows.  I watched from outside the room, secluded, as grandparents and parents sat by his side.

 

 

 

One day he left.  I seem to remember he was given an ultimatum — attend school, find a job, or leave the house.  He disappeared for a long time — what, in the innocence of childhood, seemed like forever.  Yet it wasn’t forever.  I would find out what forever felt like later.

 

 

 

He surfaced in Alaska.  And one day I walked in after school, greeted by a stranger in my house.  The thick, full beard and healthy, broad shoulders belonged to a man I thought I had never met.  Alaska’s clear air had been good to him.  He was a logger, dressed in a red plaid shirt and good sturdy boots, as loggers should be.

 

 

 

The visit was cut short by a trip to the hospital, and abruptly by a flight back to Alaska.  I had so little time to reacquaint myself with my brother who had become a man.  No time to be relaxed enough to let myself be embraced by him.  No time to tell him I missed him.

 

 

 

Did he visit more than once?  Twice perhaps; I just don’t remember.  There were letters.  I was told when Scott mentioned me, said hello, but I never read them.  There was a Poloroid of a girl.  Dad mentioned something about her being an Indian, but I didn’t think so, because her hair wasn’t in braids, and she wasn’t wearing animal skins.

 

 

 

Then a letter mentioned he was married.  Then another enclosing pictures — a different girl.  One with a red up-do and bright eyes, wearing a pretty dress and cutting wedding cake.  The man with the broad shoulders and thick beard standing next to her.  Smiling.

 

 

 

I can’t describe the mood when the wedding photos were taken from the envelope.  I was too young to remember, and there was something I was too young to sense.  I was, however, old enough to know better than to ask.  Old enough to keep my questions to myself.  If not for the letters, I wouldn’t have remembered that I had briefly met his wife the Christmas before she was widowed at the age of eighteen.

 

 

 

When he was hurt my mother cried long, low, mournful sobs.  I never saw her cry like that before or since.  She knew.  My father tried to tell her she didn’t know, but she knew.  They flew to Alaska, and saw him in the hospital, but as my mother knew he would, he died.

 

 

 

 – – –

 

 

 

Death was caused by | Clostridium Perfringens Sepsis

Due to or as a consequence of | Pelvic Crush Injury

Accident | 8-2-73 | 8:00 AM | Struck by loading equipment

Injury at work: YES | Place of Injury: Logging Camp

Location: Wrangell, Alaska

– – –

 

DSCN1653At this point you know as much as I knew before I opened the file.  In all, there are over twenty letters.  They were saved for a reason.  Mom didn’t save much, so you have to decipher for yourself the reasons she kept what she did.  She kept the ponytail she had cut from my four-year old head.  She kept the certificates of baptisms, births, and deaths.  And she kept these twenty-some letters.

 

 

 

I have arranged the excerpts as chronologically as I can.  These pieces of letters are meant to tell a story; not the whole story, but enough.  Some of the grammar has been left as is, some I have edited.

 

 

 

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad

“Two letters in one week, not bad huh?  Are you feeling any better, Mom.  I really hope so.”

“I don’t know if I told you before but we eat real well out here.  T-bone steaks on Wed & Sat pork shops – roast beef – chicken etc.  We get eggs, bacon, ham, toast, pancakes, french toast, hot cereal for breakfast every day. “

– – –

“Dear Don

“Just a short note before I go to bed . . .”

 

Scott asks Don if he needs money, and says if he still does, he can lend it.  He says that Don can pay him back or just pay Mom & Dad the money because he owes them.  He goes on to write:

 

 

 

“I still hope to make it back for Xmas but we’ll see what Mom & Dad say, I’m not coming back if I can’t see you people without a lot of strain and so forth, you know.”

“Your ‘little’ Brother
Scott”

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“Did you people die, or just break your hand?”

“There’s 3 ft of snow outside (6 ft in the woods).  It’s about 10 above and to top it off, the city of Wrangell with 160″ of rain a year is almost out of water . . . We are so low they only turn on the water from 8:30 – 10:30 in the morning and 8:30 – 10:30 at night.  The school has no water at all . . . That night I worked out with the Varisty Wrestling team (sweated) then played basketball for an hour & half (sweated) and finally worked out with the Jr. Hi team (sweated).  I was on my way home and got side-tracked by Jerry Campbell and played pool with him.  I didn’t get home until 11:00, so I didn’t shower.  That night . . . the dog wouldn’t even come near me.”

 

This is from a man who, as a boy, barely had enough strength to leaf through a sports magazine.

 

 

 

“I can’t wait to get back to the woods and start logging.  Man, when I’ve got a good crew, everybody wants to work and knows how to do the job, I have so much fun I can’t believe they pay me to do it.”

“I’ve been on my weight-lifting program for 3 weeks now, I’ve added a 1/2″ to my arms and a 1/4″ or so to my shoulder spread.  I can curl 40 lbs 5 times with one arm and can lift over my head 145 lbs (if I grunt a lot).”

“Would you send me the Fridley Sun or the Tiger’s Tale from the high school.  Everybody here wants to know if you speak the same language?  (‘Do you live in igloos?’ I say)”

“Say Hello to Jeanie and Don for me”

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“I’m sorry about not writing sooner, no excuse I just didn’t get around to it, sorry . . . I got a ‘promotion.’  I’m a chaser now.  I’m the one who unhooks the chokers from the logs when they get to the landing and take care of everything on the landing — load trucks, etc.  It’s 25 cents an hr more, and I get an extra 1/2 hr a day.  We went to a 9 hr day here (40 hrs. + overtime) and we work 6 days a week.”

“Last week we went to hoot-owl.  That means no one in the woods between 12:00 noon and 6:00 at night so that means we went to work at 3:00 in the morning and left the woods at 12:00.”

“Yesterday was my birthday.  I finally made it to 21.  I’m not in jail, nobody really hates me, I’m not over $400 in debt (including you).  I’ve got a good job, a little savings and lots of friends.  I don’t think I’ve done too badly all things considered.”

“I’m going to try to make it home for Xmas this year if that’s alright.”

“Love
Scott”

Downtown Wrangell, Alaska, looking north along...
Downtown Wrangell, Alaska, looking north along Front Street by the Diamond “C” Cafe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

October 17, 1971

“Dear Mom and Dad,

“I guess it’s been a long time since I last wrote.  Time just seems to get a way from me.  I’m not working at Sykes anymore.  Its a long story but I’ll do my best to shorten it.  It seems that Sykes tried to cheat the sawmill by marking all his logs from the No. 1 sale as if they came from the No. 2 sale.  He gets more money for #2 logs.  Well he got caught.  So the mill stopped payment on our logs and started a lawsuit against him.  Sykes started a lawsuit against them also.  By the time any of us learned of all this, it was because Sykes couldn’t make the payroll.  That left me and most of the guys high and dry.”

“So I got a job out here at H & S logging.  I hired out as a choker setter and after the first day the boss asked me if I could pull rigging.  I lied and told him I could do the job.  He started me that day and I’ve been doing it for the last week.  The boss seems happy and Tennesse Crockett, the hook tender, says the boss said I looked like a good man.

“To prove that all this week my crew has been top dog every day and we’ve been in the bonus money twice so far.  You get $3 a day extra every day you get 200 logs, $4 for 225, $5 for 250, etc.  I’m making $5.93 an hour and overtime for anything over 40 hours and we work 6 – 8 days a week.”

“I’m the youngest rigging slinger in this part of Alaska.  The average is about 26 – 27 years and here I am only 21 and I’ve got the best crew of the logging company that is second only to Thornby in log production three years running.  There are only 600 pro-loggers in Alaska so news travels fast.  I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about getting a job in logging again.”

“I’ll also be the Jr. High coach this year in wrestling.  Last year’s coach worked for the Forest Service and got sent to Kake, a little town up north.  If I save enough money out here or if Sykes comes through with the payroll I’ll be down for a week or so later this year but . . . I’ve only got about $200 saved now.”

“Write and tell me all the news there.  There’s not really much I can write about here in this logging camp.”

“Love
Scott”

“P.S.  Send any letters to Gen Del.  This camp won’t be open long enough to make it worthwhile changing address.  Shiela sends the letters all to me once a week.  By the way my asthma still doesn’t bother me too much here.”

 – – –

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“I got about 1/2 my wages from Sykes and as soon as his equipment and stuff is auctioned off I’ll get the rest.”

“You haven’t written in a log time, you’re even worse than me like that.  I’ve taken up boxing this fall here in camp.  I guess I do alright.  Nothing to brag about yet.

“I’ve been taking my little dog out on the rigging with me.  He’s a real logger’s dog now.  He was sitting on a log we hooked and when I called him he wouldn’t come so I got mad and went ahead on the log, it started to move and it flipped him up in the air and into a bush.  I thought it killed him but about two minutes later he stuck his head out and looked at me like, ‘Wow what the hell was that.’  He always stays by me since that. 

“I’m going to try to make it to Mpls for about three to four days on Xmas, unless you’d rather I didn’t.”

“Love
Scott”

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad

“How’s everything back in the old country?  Most everything here is fine.  Except that i just had my crossbow, logging boots, a jacket, and some other stuff stolen from me.  What makes me mad is that I’d only shot the crossbow one time, and boots were the type with spikes in the soles and cost me $75, I only got a month wear out of them.

“Im sending this picture of Sheila and I.  She doesn’t look like much but she’s a great girl, Mom.  As much as I hate to say it, I think she has wedding (ish) plans for me this summer (if not earlier) and doesn’t look  like I can get out of it this time (SEND HELP).  I don’t think I’d make a good husband or father, but I can’t convince her that.  Oh well, you can’t fight progress.

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad,

This is not my idea.  Sheila is sitting here threatening me.  She says if I don’t write you tonight she won’t send me cookies out at camp.”

“I’ve been so busy with the wrestling team.  I’m taking my Jr. Hi team down to Ketchikan for a tournament on the 19th of this month . . . I have four boys who could take the championship if I can teach them enough this week.

“I want to thank you for the Xmas gifts.  The sweater is beautiful.  I wear it more than anything else.  The Pendleton fits just right and makes me stand out in a crowd.  Tell Grandma and Grandpa that the gloves were perfect.  It gets so cold up here and you can’t get a decent pair of gloves, just mittens and you know how I hate those.  I needed socks too.  I only had three pair left.  The candy lasted until New Year’s but only because Sheila put me on rations.  That Fanny Farmers candy is the best you can buy.  Jeanie, your puzzle is one of the most popular things I own.  Everybody wants to try it, and try it, and try it.  Thank you all very much.”

“Sheila and I are planning a trip this Aug. and we hope to spend a few days in Mpls.”

“With Love
Scott

“P.S.  After reading this letter it sounds to me even like Sheila and I are living together, well nothing like that is happening (unfortunately) (It could have been a great winter) Just thought I’d put your minds to ease.

“Tramp L, my dog says hi to Harmon K.  The L in his name stands for logger.”

“P.S.S. I tried to call Xmas Eve but I couldn’t get a line to Minnesota.”

– – –

Early 1972

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“This is going to be short because I’m a little sick and have to work tomorrow, so I want to get as much sleep as I can.  Suzzie moved the wedding up on me.  It’s all set for May 20th at night.  I know it’s too soon, but she won’t reconsider.  Her brother, Bill, is coming home from the navy on leave so she says it has to be then.

“I’ve got the rings but we can’t seem to find a decent apt. in town at all.  Something will turn up  Write as soon as you can.

“With love
Scott”

– – –

“Dear Mom and Dad

“Here’s some pictures of our wedding . . . As you can see, she is just a little thing.  You know how short I am and she’s wearing high heels and has her hair done up.  We’ve been married 2 weeks last Saturday.  So far everything’s ok, but what can you tell in 2 weeks.  I guess we’ll just take it day by day.”

“She gets up at 5:30 and fixes breakfast for me and I get up at 6:00.  I leave at 7:00, but she doesn’t go back to bed.  She cleans house and then bakes all sorts of goodies for my lunch, like cake and cookies, homemade breads, pies, etc.  I get home at 5:15 and clean up and she always has dinner on the table by 5:30.  She’s a very good cook.”

 

“I’m running around almost bare-foot in the woods, because I’m waiting for a new pair of custom-made boots.  They are real beauties, 14″ top, they have #1 calks (means the spikes in the bottom are almost 3/4″ long), black heels and lace to the toe with double tongues.  But until then I’ve got some wonderful bruises from the falls I take because my old boots are worn-out.”

“Life with Susan is unbelievable.  I don’t think she repeated a meal yet.  I’m up to 153 lb.  That’s more than I’ve ever weighted in my life. . . . To sum up my life to date, I feel great, I work great, and I’m greatly in love with Susan.”

“When I was sick my reputation went way down (as a good logger) so now it’s going to take me until at least August 1st to get it back.  (If you can’t breathe you can’t work)  Reputation is the most important thing up here.”

“One more thing I’ve been writing poetry, the last few weeks here’s a sample of one of my logging poems. . . “

– – –

August 15, 1972

“Dear Shirley & Wydell,

“I thought I would write you, since Scott’s in the bathtub, reading, & chewing Copanhagen.  I’ve been trying to break him of the dirty habit, & it’s not working.”

“We have a special spot in camp we like to go.  It’s about a fourth of a mie from camp.  There’s a bridge with a little creek running under it.  It has the most beautiful rocks in it and on the banks.  The grass is kind of a lime green color and is very short.  There’s small trout, and a few salmon in it.  Actually, the whole place is beautiful.”

“God Bless You,
Your daughter-in-law,
Susan”

– – –

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“Thought I should write in the hopes I might get a letter in return.  How’s that for a hint?  

“Still got a happy marriage going after a whole 6 months.”

“We are planning a December 15 shut-down for the camp if the weather holds that long.  When we do shut down, Susan and I are coming down for a visit.  (Good news, bad news?)”

“I got a new promotion, I’m a rigging slinger now, make $6.48 an hr.  I had my proudest moment in logging about 2 weeks by myself.  I got 326 logs in one day I was pulling rigging and setting two chokers by myself.  326 logs is a good day for a 9 man crew, but for one man is unbelievable.  Everett Tyler (the boss) said if he hadn’t seen the trucks hauling them he wouldn’t believe it.  Needless to say, everything went just perfect.  Susan says she goes around telling everybody about it.  

“It sure is hard to keep men when it starts getting cold.  They cry like a bunch of babies.  If they think it’s cold they should spend a winter in Minnesota.”

“With love and homesickness
Scott”

– – –

December 28, 1972

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Habig

“Susan has told me how wonderful you both have been to her.  Thank you so much for making her stay an enjoyable one.

“I can only say that I could never ask for a nicer son-in-law.  They both teasingly call me a matchmaker, but I didn’t have a thing to do with it.  They spent three wonderful days with us . . . Scott is so anxious to start logging again that he’s getting restless.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who loves logging like he does.”

“Wishing you all the very best in the coming New Year
Virginia”

– – –

Spring 1973

“Dear Mom & Dad,

“We were told on Thursday we could move into the big trailer.  I told her we would move in Sunday when I had the day off to help her, but she had everything moved in by the time I got home Friday, so you tell me who was more excited about it.

“I’m a head digger now which is the job I want in the woods for the next ten years so everything is great here.  By the way, are you people still going to try to make it up this summer?

“Love
Scott & Sue”

DSCN1650

June 3, 1973

“Dear Mom, Dad & Jeanie,

“We were wondering if you are coming up this summer, & if so, when?

“How is everyone?  I hope nice & healthy.  How’s Harmon?  Is he still playing with his shoe and mouse?  How’s Gram & Grampa, still buzzing around?  Tell them I said Hi!  How did Jeanie do in school?  I hope fine.”

“Don still keeping up with the women.  I hope he has or gets a good one.

“Mom, Dad, I suppose you have been working pretty hard.  How’s the bowling and golf coming along?  I hope Great!

“Scott’s over at the bunk house now, visiting with his friends.  He’s going through his bad week, now that the pollen’s coming out, but other than that, he’s as healthy as a bear.”

“Lots of Love,
Scott & Sue

P.S. Tramp says hello to Harmon!”

– – –

“Dear Mom and Dad,

“We had a forest fire here in July.  It started at 6:00 at night and I didn’t get off the fire line until 7:00 the next morning.  I got a little too much smoke a couple of times and was sick all over the place.”

“Susan and I are still very happy.  I’m trying to teach her how to shoot but so far she can’t hit a thing.  I had her out the other day showing her how to climb a tree with belt and spurs but that didn’t work out too well”

“‘With all my love,
Scott & Susan

“P.S. Write once in a while or is the price of paper that high?”

– – –

 

After the funeral, Suzzie (that’s what we called her) stayed with us over the winter.  I saw my world through the eyes of someone who had lived most of her life on an eight-mile stretch of town surrounded by wilderness.  I think of those times often.  She was a sister to me.  I would like to have done the rest of my growing with her by my side.  But it was time for this child-widow to move on.

 

 

 

– – –

 

 

 

September 15, 1973

“Dear Shirley, Wy, Jeanie & Don,

“I thought I should get my pen & paper out & write.  I’m happy to say I had a real nice trip home.  My plane ride was wonderful.  I spent most of my time trying to figure out puzzles that I found in a magazine.”

“I told my mom about all the fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, & radishes.  She told me to stop talking about it, because I was making her hungry.”

“My older brother Chet Jr. will be leaving for college in January.  So, I’ll get my old room back.”

“There was a friend of Scott’s and mine that came over from Tyler’s.  He said, that he just got down working over at Nelson Log.  He said the same guy that hit Scott almost got him too, so he quit.  He talked to a guy over there that supposedly had seen the accident.  They guy told our friend that the Nelson guy didn’t see anybody back there when he backed up.  The first time he backed up, our friend told me Scott probably would have had just a few broken ribs.  The second time he backed up, Scott saw him coming, so he went to jump on a pile of logs nearby, and the bark of the log came loose making Scott lose his grip & fall.  The machine ran over him.  I had a hunch that he was ran over, by his injuries, but I wasn’t all that sure.  I finally got Scott’s extra pair of calk boots.  Somebody stole his wedding band, which makes me sick to think about it.  The witness to the accident went south & nobody knows where. “

“I sure miss you guys.  After being down there for a while & coming back up here makes me bored.  My girlfriends have been keeping me company, even though they have a family of their own to take care of.”

“All my love,
Suzzie”

– – –

October 12, 1973

Dear Family,

“I don’t know how many letters I write you and never send off, so here goes again.  Don’t get me wrong, because I love to write.  Although, I do wish you would write.  I would like to know how things are going for everyone.”

“I know I let Jean’s birthday pass by, but I thought I would wait & get her something later on, when I get some money.  I would also like to know your birthdays, Don’s, & Grandpa, & Grandma’s.  Please don’t let this pass by, because I love you, & want you to know I care for you.”

“I go to the Post Office every day & get nothing but bills.  (“Hint!”)

“I was wondering if I had any mail?  If I do, would you please sent it right away?  I also got word that I was sent money for funeral expenses so take it & pay for the expenses . . .I’m worried about the Trading Union letter, because I haven’t received a letter from them as of yet, and I have a buyer if they don’t.  If I don’t hear from them, then I will go over to Petersburg and talk to the guy personally.  I will do it very business-like, Mom.  I’ll practice before I go over there.”

“God Bless You,
All My Love,
Suzzan”

– – –

November 26, 1973

“Dear Family,

“I thought I’d write and let you know the good news.

“I took a G.E.D. course for a week, and got word today that I passed.  ‘Isn’t that great?’

“Love you, 
Suzzie”

– – –

December 28, 1973

“Dear Family,

“I wish I could have been home when you called.  Mom told me I had just hopped into the taxi & you rang.”

“I would like to thank you for the robe, slippers & jewelry box.  I like them all very much.  I hope you liked your gifts.”

 

“Will close for now, I ran out of words.

“Love You, 
Susan”

 

– – –

 

 

 

Like the closing of a book, these were the last words I read.  The rest of the file holds a contract for a marker purchase at Sunset Memorial Park, and a map with a faded red line showing the route the motorcade followed.

 

 

 

Block 1 | Lot 181 | Grave 3
_____________________________________
1950     (vase)     1973

SCOTT W. HABIG

DSCN1652

 

What shall I make of all this?  Bits and pieces with little context.  The constant chiding in hopes of receiving a letter or note.  Had I known, would I have written?  Did I write, but have since forgotten?  The period was so brief in my young life that it’s vague, like a dream.  All my life I have missed her, that sister who was at the same time older yet more naive than me.

 

 

 

For my mother it must have been an agonizing nightmare.  A son, pushed from the nest, falling to his death just as he finds his wings.  Encased in that, how could she possibly continue with the simple courtesy of letters, or the occasional phone call?  She rarely spoke of this time, nor anything before or after it.  That’s just the way we handled grief in our home.  I think, at a time like that, it’s possible that she just ran out of words . . .

 

 

 

Peace . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Bits and Pieces with Little Context

    1. Sometimes I think I have the most boring family ever, and then I stumble onto a box like this. I’m glad it touched you, however heartbreaking that might have been . .

  1. Thank you for sharing something so personal and deeply moving. Loss can cause amnesia. That was a powerful loss on many levels. My heart goes out to you. Time does not heal completely. It just lets the band aid cover the wound.

    1. Very sweet words. I think because I was so young, the hurt was different. I mourn the loss of the memory more than the loss of him. I miss what could have been. Maybe what should have been. And I sometimes diminish my loss, because of what I know my mom went through.

  2. Jean, you had me in tears. How heartbreaking to lose your brother in this manner and so far from home. And then to lose the sister you were just getting to know. I hope you hold on to those letters forever.

    1. They are very precious. I am trying to figure out how to store them so that they stay in order, as much as I can tell, anyway. I’m so glad the story moved you in that way. It is a really sad story, mostly for my mom. It could have been a lot sadder if he hadn’t found such joy in life, though. I have always found solace in that.

  3. Pingback: Friday Faves | Living Simply Free

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