It was a day like any other. Wake up, read my emails. Then, there it was: “Hi All. Just wanted to let you know…there is a search and rescue operation going on in Nome searching for Frankie. No news yet and not alot of details.” It followed with, “One of SNC’s most dedicated employees, now retired, decided to take advantage of warm temperatures and went fishing early yesterday afternoon. He told his wife, Lavonne, that he would return home approximately 2pm. 2pm slipped by and Lavonne became a bit concerned. At 4pm she called her son Buddy to look for Frankie. Buddy found Frankie’s pick up truck, but no Frankie. The temperature was 20 degrees. Searchers assembled this morning and the search continues, with 4 search teams of 4 men each. A helicopter is on the search area, with 2 observers now. We will keep everyone informed of the search progress.”
I was hopeful. He was very familiar with the area, he could survive the cold. Frankie was experienced in outdoor survival, and maybe he just made shelter. It was a longshot however grim it seemed. But of course, my worst fears were realized the following morning when I read: “Body of missing Nome fisherman, 74, found in river” I knew with below freezing temperatures overnight, it didn’t look good, but one can never give up hope. Especially for missing friends.
Alaskan weather is unforgiving. You make one mistake, one miscalculation in the wind, snow, on a mountain, near a lake or river, and it can mean death. We are aware of the tenacity and toughness it takes to live here. Winter is eight months, and it gets below freezing on a regular basis. When the rest of the Lower 48 shuts down for a few snow flakes, or there are icy roads, we persevere and life carries on. School is not usually closed, and we scoff at those who cannot handle it. There is a reason why you see bumper stickers that say, “We don’t give a damn how they do it Outside” (Outside means in the contiguous 48 states.) Alaskans power through, press on, and are a stubborn lot.
If you go to work in the morning, and by afternoon you have seven inches of snow on your car when you are ready to leave for the day, you get out your brush, and begin scraping. Nothing we cannot handle. See someone stuck in the snowbank? Pull over and help them, because you never know when it could be you needing help. Having trouble negotiating a slippery ice laden hill? It’s not uncommon to see a few people hop out of their cars and give you a push.
Yes, we know what it takes, and that’s why we will defend our lifestyle to the max. It’s a challenge to live here in the winter, but the rewards of majestic mountains, hiking or walking trails nearby, rivers for fishing, and oceans for kayaking or surfing far outweigh the discomfort and cold of our long dark months.
But with all our preparation, both mentally and physically, there are still dangers. Accidents can happen. Misfortune does occur.
I don’t know yet what happened to Frankie, or the cause of his death, but I do know I’ll remember his ability to tell stories so vividly you could imagine it. He was funny, and also a bit of a flirt. He’d say, “You’re so beautiful.” No doubt, Mr. Ladies Man said that to a lot of women. Frankie was practical, and kept a simple life. He was dedicated to his family, and always wanted the best for his kids.
The last time I saw him was last summer. I was at the Apple store. You know how sometimes you see people, and you aren’t really sure if it’s them or not. It had been years since I’d worked with him, but was sure it was him. So, I spoke up, and said, “Hello”. We chatted for a few minutes. Frankie was with his family, and as he walked away, I was glad to have reconnected even for a few moments.
Life whirls by, don’t forget the people in your lives. People you see every day, family you are related to, or those you haven’t seen in a while. Take the time to share your experiences, your travels, bits about your family, or your future plans. It’s those snapshots in time that we learn about fellow humanity, which keeps us grounded. Sometimes we get annoyed because we are stuck in line behind a person that is chatting too much with the clerk. Maybe that person just needs someone to care. Or perhaps we are impatient with our server because they keep making mistakes with our order. What if that person is suffering from alcoholism, and they are trying to improve their life by working a steady job that challenges them?
That is one thing thing that Frankie taught me. Don’t judge. For ye not know where their shoes have walked. Be humble. Be a friend.
Will miss you Frankie and thank you for all the life lessons.