A primarily slate gray- and brilliant green-colored notch on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula. A weather-beaten little fishing town pinched between tall craggy mountains and a deep, silty bay fed by the runoff from glaciers. Shale and rain.
My favorite place as a three-year-old: the boat harbor. Briny smells mingling with diesel fuel, sounds of seabirds and boat horns, the deep squeaking sound that fishing boats in their berths make when they bump up against the pier with the buoys or old car tires that are lashed to the sides as bumpers. Snarls of slippery kelp piled up on the shale beach. The occasional mess of rotting herring; a great place for a roll, according to Rhody, our mangy Pomeranian.
I was born in the hospital, delivered by a doctor named Noise. Where we lived was not really a house or a church. Everyone referred to it as “the parsonage”, which I understood to mean our place, where people came for church, which was conducted by my dad. The structure was strangely ordered, like it was built by stream of consciousness rather than according to a plan. There were normal things like a bathroom and kitchen, but then there were levels, staircases, a big open space next to a cramped space. It was always unfinished – not under construction, but each part was partly built and then left alone as soon as it was functional. It was a fun place to be a little kid.
It was just my dad and my mom and my five-years-older brother Nathan and me, and then my two-years-younger brother John showed up. They didn’t make it to the hospital, so he was delivered at the parsonage by Rev. Keene. Two years after that, when I was about four, we packed up and headed across the peninsula for Kenai. My dad needed to build another church. For some reason though, we didn’t go directly there, but instead spent six months in a tiny cabin in a tiny place called Hope. That name was probably ironic for my mom, but made no difference to me. Camping for six months was great.
This cabin is where I have my earliest memory of my dad. The ground outside the cabin was really uneven, what they call hummocky. There was a plank laying there, across one of these hummocks. My dad said, Hey Mark. Want to be a human skyrocket? That sounded awesome, so I said, Uh-huh. OK, he said, Go stand on the end of that board. Which I did without question or suspicion. Then he jumped on the other end of the board, and I went flying off and presumably burst into tears, although that part I do not remember. I do recall my dad laughing his head off though. He could be kind of a dick, as I learned for the first time that day.