Between Two Poles
By Shirley Kurth Schneider
Shirley is an ordinary woman doing what her commitment to husband and family require. She could be any woman, anywhere. But, she doesn’t live anywhere. She lives in Alaska, married to a man obsessed with the allure of the Last Frontier.
It is the 1960’s and America’s need to secure her borders attracted a new brand of Cheechako to Alaska’s Interior. It was a period between homesteading and gated communities. With a future secured by guaranteed employment, many ordinary lower-forty-eight escapees, with family in tow, harkened back to a by-gone era, searching for their Daniel Boone hat, intent on chopping out an independent existence.
An important component of their newfound independence was the desire to avoid the home mortgage. Self-construction of the family home, paying as they built, became a choice for many. However, in the Interior one brief Alaskan summer is not adequate time to construct a home. Consequently, a family was often obligated by circumstances to abandon their modern lifestyle for a move backward in time, to an outmoded standard of living. Army Quonset huts; partially completed houses and basements, as well as rehabilitated log dwellings dotted the wilderness acres surrounding the city of Fairbanks. Peace of mind and control of the inhabitants personal environment to be reclaimed, if ever, after years of physical and psychological sacrifice.
Alaskan history has been inattentive to the role these individuals contributed to the settlement of the Last Frontier during this period. Especially of the woman whose resourceful, adaptive ability and spontaneous thinking was as much a requirement of survival as the family’s closeted weaponry. Between Two Poles is a memoir of one such woman.
From the moment Larry lifted her over the threshold of a modest trailer in the Interior in 1962, to that minute within the sobering walls of the courthouse where they severed their legal bond in 1984, accountability to marital vows had mostly swayed in his favor.
In 1965 a rustic 25-foot by 25 foot, log enclosure provided shelter for the couple, which by this time had added the demands of an infant to the equation. By 1969 the log basement was busting away the chinking with the addition of three little girls delivered by cesarean in a twelve month time period. At that point yesterday’s antiquated way of life was no longer simply inconvenient. The wilderness environment that had once captivated now produced a feeling of vulnerability. The deference she once afforded Larry replaced by contempt. His unreasonable desires and her compliant behavior had created a frontier tragedy from which none would escape without emotional injury.