SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

A Tale Of Two Red Heads


June 12, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- Tom Miller was the first “hippy” I ever got to know.

People who knew him as the " éminence grise" of the Ketchikan Daily News always chortle when I say that, but it’s true.

Yes, growing up in the 1960s in Ketchikan one did see “hippies” about. But not that many. And you surely didn't spend much time getting to know them.

You could tell the hippies from the gypsy loggers – who also had body odor and long hair – because they had backpacks to go with their body odor and bad hair.

And they were also frequently accompanied by cute, young, long haired girls who didn’t wear bras.

They were “passing through” on their way to some Alaskan adventure. Probably thought they could live off the land or form a commune or some such durn fool thing.

It usually took only one winter (or one particularly gruesome October) to convince them it was much, much, much more pleasant to form a commune in Northern California.

Anyway, Tom was the first “hippy” I actually remember talking to in the early 1970s. Not that he really was a hippy.

But he did have long hair, a beard and also always seemed to be schlepping around a guitar that he needed no encouragement to take out and start to play.

And, yes, he was also from a big bad city, Chicago.

Definitely a hippy, by Ketchikan standards, circa 1974.

I met Tom because he was into radio and a bunch of us were trying to create the radio station that became KRBD. We never thought it would last 36 plus years. Of course, back in the mid 1970s we didn’t think we’d last another 36 plus years.

We also spent some time together in community theater and writing radio plays. We drank a fair amount a beer together in those days. At least I think so. The mind has a way of self-censoring as one gets older.

He eventually went to work at KRBD when I was at the Daily News. Later I was at KRBD when he was at the Daily News. He was sort of my “doppelganger” and not just because we both had red hair.

About a month and half ago, an old Ketchikan dowager sidled up to me at a gathering and started telling me how much she liked a story that I had written. This happens every so often, and it isn’t always about something that I have written recently (on SITNEWS). Every so often, it is about something I wrote years, sometimes many years ago when I was at the Daily News. People have a long memory in this town.

Anyway, after a few minutes it occurred to me that she had mistaken me for Tom and wanted to tell me how much she liked one of his stories. This was also not an unusual occurrence.

Just about every time I had up and decided that everyone on this rock knew who I was, I would come across someone who thought I was Tom.

And not just because we both had red hair.

Although that was certainly part of it.

A couple of years ago, a man was telling me he had met my wife and what a great person she was. That also often happens, because it true. Charlotte is indeed a great person (and a patient one too).

Then he made some comment about how hard it must be for her to live in Ketchikan because she grew up elsewhere. That is also true, Charlotte grew up somewhere (New Mexico) where the sun shines more than twice a year. Sometimes it is very hard to live somewhere it precipitates 379 days a year.

But then he asked if she ever gets back to see her family in Chicago. Of course, I wanted to say. Terry Miller often does.

And yes, I was once asked if I was proud my son was at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

You bet your sweet bippy!!  Everyone in Ketchikan is proud that Tom and Terry’s son grew up smart enough to be a rocket scientist.

All I can say is that I pray Liam grows up to be as good and smart a kid as Jay Miller turned out to be.

I always meant to sit down and talk with Tom about just how he and Terry accomplished that spectacular feat of parenting.

In later years we didn't hang out as much as had years ago, probably some inherent by product of years of journalism competition. After all nothing can be “smaller” than small town journalism, sometimes.

Still we always talked at length when we did run into each other and each of us always learned something.

I always admired the fact that he never lost his curiosity for things, his sense of always wanting to ask one more question or squeeze one more fact into a story. And I envied his ability to manage to get to the heart of any matter without cheezing people off. I could get there too, but usually in a much less gentle way.

At Tom’s service, a friend leaned over to me and said she had never known a “journalist” could be so beloved in a community.

I couldn’t say it better myself.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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