Love on the Last Frontier
She stepped through the door into the low slung honky tonk on the edge of town. The stark change from brilliant sunshine to the smoky dark bar room forced her to stop and let her eyes adjust. As she stood there, she heard a loud wolf whistle and a male voice call out, “Hello, sweet thing. Step right over here. There’s a stool with your name on it right next to me.”
Amid hoots and catcalls, she looked around the crowded room and realized that the place was full of blue collar working men in plaid flannel shirts and Carhartt coveralls. A handful of women with heavy makeup, plunging necklines, and various degrees of inebriation were sprinkled among the rowdy good old boys. What she didn’t see was an empty seat.
“Come on, honey. Don’t be afraid. These boys might be hungry for what you got, but they definitely won’t bite unless invited.” It was the same voice as before, inciting another round of hoots, hollers and bawdy laughter. By now her eyes had adjusted and she could see the young man with black hair, dark eyes and a slyly crooked grin waving her over to what looked like the only vacant seat in the place. She stepped on toward him, trying to look cool and confident despite her shaky knees and wobbly ankles.
One glance let everyone know that she was new in town. She wore a flirty mini dress, just long enough to keep from looking slutty, and platform heels high enough to break an ankle walking across gravel parking lots in a town with no sidewalks and very few paved roads. Her thick brown hair hung nearly to her waist in perfect hippy fashion.
She perched herself on the barstool beside the young man with broad shoulders and an outdoorsy tan.
“So whatcha drinkin?” he asked.
“Black Russian,” she replied.
“Barkeep, a Black Russian for the little lady,” he called out.
“Now,” he said to her, “You need to tell me your name, because I make it a practice not to buy drinks for women I don’t know.”
“I’m Val,” she replied with a smile. “I never drink with strange men, so what do they call you?”
“These guys all call me Johnny Spark. I’m a welder by trade. Strike and arc, make a spark, that’s how I make my pay. I’m a journeyman with the Pipefitter’s Local. I have a travel card, so I can go anywhere in the country and get a job at any union local. I move around a lot. I’ve seen some beautiful places in the past few years, but none as beautiful as here. I guess that’s because this is my home. I was born and raised here. I’m an Aleut. So what’s a sweet young thing like you doing in the Last Frontier?”
“I wanted an adventure. I grew up in the West, in Utah, but there’s not much frontier life left there now. Then I started hearing more and more about Alaska. My dream is to get out somewhere remote, set up a log cabin and start living off the land. I want to have a big garden, a few chickens and commune with Mother Nature.”
“Whew, you are a hippy girl, aren’t you? Want to dance, hippy girl? Here’s some quarters, pick out something you like on the juke box.”
She went to the jukebox, but quickly returned. “All that’s on there is country music. I didn’t know what to pick.”
“Well, I guess it’s up to me then,” he said as he left her to go choose something suitable for dancing.
“You better beware of Johnny Spark, little lady,” said a man seated beside her. “All the women here call him ‘the Devil in a welder’s cap’. He can be a heartbreaker.”
Johnny returned, hand outstretched to her, just as the music began. It was a slow ballad. He held her close as they glided across the dance floor.
He softly sang to her, “Silver wings . . . They’re taking you away . . . leaving me lonely.”
From that moment on she was completely swept away by Johnny Spark. Within a few weeks they moved in together. They spent the summer together “playing house”. Johnny was attentive; he took her dancing, brought her flowers, and helped her make new friends. Toward fall, Johnny’s local job ended. So he went to work on the TransAlaska pipeline. The jobsites were very remote and he would often be gone for weeks at a time, but there were no local jobs available.
After one particularly long stretch alone, Val decided that she needed a change.
“Johnny, it’s so hard for me being alone so much. What’s the point of me sticking around here when you’re not here with me? This is not why I came to Alaska.”
“Aw, babe, you know I’d be here if I could,” he said. “Let Daddy give you some sugar and you’ll be just fine.”
“There’s only one thing on your mind and it’s not commitment,” she snapped, turning her back on him.
“Well, I told you from the beginning that I move around a lot for work. You’ll just have to get used to it,” he said coldly.
“I’m not going to get used to it,” she said. “I’m going to move on and find a life that makes me happy. It just doesn’t look like it will be with you.”
They parted ways and each went on with their own challenges and adventures.
Johnny traveled the country working in nearly every state here and there for nearly forty years until construction jobs became scarce and he was no longer strong enough to perform the hard physical labor required.
Val pursued her dream of a remote cabin in the woods. Eventually her cabin grew into a remote lodge where she welcomed guests from around the world to share her home, her table and her corner of the great Alaskan wilderness. Occasionally, she would reminisce about her “ex”, the only man she ever loved. She carried an emptiness inside and like Johnny, she never married. Eventually the rigors of life in the bush became more than Val could handle. She sold her lodge and settled in a home overlooking Kachemak Bay.
On a shopping trip with friends, Val was browsing in a discount department store seventy five miles from home looking for outdoor furniture for the balcony of her cabin by the bay. She noticed a man walking by she thought she recognized. He wore a plaid flannel shirt and Cahartt overalls. His hair was nearly all white, his eyes dark.
She walked up to the man for a closer look.
“Johnny?” she asked.
“You’re as beautiful as ever, little hippy girl,” he said, flashing his slyly crooked grin.
They embraced at once laughing and crying tears of joy. They sat on the furniture on display and caught up on their lives now.
“I have a little place about twenty miles south of here,” Johnny told her. “I stay busy keeping it up. I’ve done enough traveling. I’m glad to have a place to call home.”
“I have a nice cabin overlooking Kachemak Bay,” Val said. “I still raise a few chickens for fresh eggs and keep a small garden for fresh vegetables. Tell me you’ll come visit me some time.”
They sat together sharing the particulars of how to contact each other and directions to their homes. They even picked a day for Johnny to visit Val at her cabin.
On the chosen day, Val was excitedly preparing for her guest. She cooked a lovely meal, set a small table alongside her balcony rail so that they could enjoy the picturesque view while they ate. She was taking the homemade strawberry rhubarb pie from the oven when she heard a strange sound. She walked out to the balcony rail and looked down to the front yard. There was Johnny with a huge bouquet of flowers. Beside him was a small box. He pressed a button on the box, picked up the microphone and began singing karaoke just for her.
“Silver wings. . .”
© 2015 Victoria Steik