My Mom and Dad were very hard workers. Both worked more than one job. And being African American in Alaska, there were only two places where the adults all hung out. The original place was called the Flats; there were two restaurant bars and a small store. They all got together on Fri, Sat and Sun after church. Sometimes they would take us kids to Big Lake. These men were all from Texas or back east and they were here to make money so they could move back to Los Angeles or somewhere where they could start a life. And in some cases they were going to stay and work on the Pipe line that was coming.
The second place was opened by one of the richest black guys we knew. He was a friend of my dads as my dad was a jack of all trades. And, he had done some construction work and painting for him. His name was Mr. Ford as I remember and he built what would be called a strip mall today. It had a soul food restaurant, barber shop, beauty salon, pool hall and a night club. As they say, the place was jumping. The Fords would invite me, my baby sister Debbie, Mom and Dad over for dinner. My mom and dad had many friends that I remember. They have almost all passed away. They were hard working and hard partying folks who loved each other and shared everything.
There are a million stories I could tell. My father was a jack of all trades, superintendent of the Presbyterian hospital, janitorial contracts with Elmendorf and Fort Richardson. On weekends he took on jobs like cleaning up factory buildings and stripping floors and such. That is where I came in. I did all the work. He would show me how and watch me do all of the work. I would get a pancake breakfast at the soul food restaurant or a Steak and Egg breakfast at one of the bars in the flats. We lived at 1427 Orca in a prefab home with a full basement.
My father and I made up the basement into a nightclub and on Fridays he would have his own parties with a blues band, gumbo or chili, poker and numbers in the back. I would serve drinks for tips. My Mom and Dad where known for their hospitality. I remember many visits from friends in need. That day was like any other day. This day was the day we would prep the yard to grow grass. In Alaska grass dies during winter, but my dad insisted on planting Grass every year. So, two of my friends and I were in the process of cleaning the yard of rocks and raking to get it ready for seeds. We finished about 5:30 and went inside to watch Fireball XL5.
We were all lying across my mom’s bed watching Fireball XL5 coming on when it hit. My friend Andre said, it is an earthquake. I had no clue what that meant. All I knew was the entire world was shaking violently. We fell to the floor and started towards the living room. My father was yelling for us to get under the kitchen table as he was holding my sister in the front door frame. After about two minutes of really violent shaking, it started to rock back and forth very hard. I couldn’t stay under the table. I had to see. You could see cars rolling in the street. The street opened up a couple of times. The telephone poles were swaying back and forth.
As scary as that sounds we seemed to get used to it and we just held on until it finally stopped. I remember the next events very well. The most important one was what my father said. He said I have to leave you guys and head to the hospital. It must be a mess over there. My sister and I were in shock. From time to time we had people stay with us until they could get back on their feet. My mom and dad were known for that. We had the prettiest nurse staying with us. I can’t remember her name. Her boyfriend was a black doctor in the strategic air command. I remember people used to say. Anyway, she said her boyfriend would be coming to see about her. He did and took her and my sister up to a SAC military site. My father told me to leave with Andre and my other friend Bruce. Someone would come for me.
We ran from my house looking at the devastation as we ran. We ran past Fairview Elementary and only chairs had fallen. We were hoping to be out of school for a while. No such luck, the school was good to go. We ran to Andre’s house where his mother was still freaking out. She was so worried about Andre and Bruce my other friend. There were like 20 people there and all of them with a scared look in their face. A bright orange light shot through the sky right after dark and some of them screamed. A few minutes later a long black Lincoln pulled up. A large man in a heavy overcoat came to the door and asked for me. I remembered him. He was the henchman of one of my father’s poker friends. He asked for me and never spoke another word. I got in the back of the Lincoln and he took me home. He drove me home which was like three blocks.
When I went in, my dad had come back and set-up a generator, but he had to leave right after that. My mom was sitting there with a small light, a bunch of bottles of booze and Nat king Cole playing on the turntable. She said, are you hungry? I said no mama. Right then my dad showed up and took me with him back to the hospital. The hospital had dropped four feet straight down. We had a makeshift flashing light atop the car. When we got to the edge of town they had military guards set-up and the waived him through. We went to the hospital. All of the patients were gone. Now, there were only soldiers sitting around.
I went down to the cafeteria as that was my favorite place when visiting my dad’s job. It was destroyed and there was no way I was getting anything to eat that night… After those events I remember, the neighborhood fathers guarding the water, military rations out of the can. Going on double shift with Denali and selling newspapers in downtown Anchorage. I was out of school at noon every day. I was able to save up live 3-5 dollars a day selling newspapers in downtown Anchorage as my friend and I were the first kids in downtown everyday with new papers. I owned the entire Mattel fanner 50 gun set. I’m writing because the girl who wrote when the Music Stopped was my neighbor. We lived at 1427 Orca and we all went to school together. Fairview Elementary was one block down the street.
I was 11 ½ as well. Her brother and I were best of friends. Finding her story was like being back there in 1964. My father worked 48 straight hours and was written up in a small article in the newspaper. He was being praised for getting to the hospital and helping to get all of the patients moved to the other nearby hospital We moved to Southern California after that ( right in the middle of the Watts Riots) and I have worked in Information Systems ever since. And of course Disaster Recovery has always been my favorite work.
I even worked as a project manager for an outsource firm which basically does Disaster Recovery as a method to transition entire Data Centers. I moved the Rockwell Space Division Data Center which houses the as built shuttle manual for each shuttle flight. When John Glenn came to Anchorage after his historic flight I was the kid who led the rest of the kids into the street to shake his hand.