SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska




September 24, 2012
Monday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- When Outsiders hear about my upbringing – all that fishing and hunting and trapping – they tend to get pretty misty eyed, especially the male ones. They imagine how their life would be different (i.e. better) if they had been the youngest son of the one the last great outdoorsmen.

I have noted previously that it was a double edged sword and that there were times I would have liked to have had a little more traditional life in my first 15 or so years, but to quote that relentless cliché, it is what it is.

Oddly enough, this summer brought back some flashbacks about another part of my childhood. It was a double marker about the passage of time.

When I think back on growing up, I don’t often spend a lot of mental time reliving the cold, wet hours spent trudging and re-trudging the muskeg. I think back to the occasional periods of relief, often spent outside the cozy confines of Our Fair Salmon City.

jgp Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith
By John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Fortunately, my family also believed in “getting outta Dodge” as often as finances would allow and I spent quite a few summer weeks visiting family in Seattle. The big city had toy stores, it had Seattle Center, it had weather that didn’t involve raincoats (only a Ketchikan resident could make that statement with a straight face. Heckfire, I remember some days where the heat steamed off the pavement in the Emerald City!)!!!

One thing it had was much, much, much better TV. I have warm memories of being plunked in from of the tube in the morning after breakfast to watch two shows.

Andy Griffith and JP Patches.

The Griffith show was certainly part of most Americans’ cultural background. The black and white once upon a time town of Mayberry, the awe shucks small town philosophy where everything turns out allright in the end, my Red-headed doppelganger Opie, the whistling theme song. I especially loved the idea you could go down the fishing hole in a manner that didn’t involved forced marches through the muskeg and rain.

Over the years, I have watched the people on the show go on to other things (big time movie directing, appearances on game shows, detective shows that only 90 year olds would watch). And of course, with the exception of Opie, they all grew old and died. Opie, of course, couldn’t grow old and die because he was my age and, well, no one my age grows old and dies.

Of course, the other one who was immortal was Andy Griffith himself. Until this summer, when he finally died. There were the usual heartfelt eulogies and I too felt sad, at the passage of time and loss of that sense of “youth.”

It will probably kill me if little Ronnie Howard someday kicks off before I do! Although he is actually a couple of years “older” than I am. Which is a real big deal when you are a little kid. Now, well, not so much.

Which brings us to this summer’s other loss.

Like a lot of other “Patches Pals” I probably didn’t get half of the jokes I watched on the JP Patches shows those summers. But I was right there with the slapstick antics, the weird characters who were clearly men playing women (Gertrude!) and the odd joy of hearing your dinky little home town mentioned on "big city" TV,  (Ketchikan the Animal Man!).

Later I would understand the inherent wackiness of a show that was essentially ad-libbed day after day on live TV, but at the time I just laughed and laughed and laughed. And the next show I would laugh some more. It got the point where I would try to schedule our activities in Seattle around being able to the watch the show. My mother usually had other things to do and was not pleased. Fortunately I was indulged more often than not.

My favorite memory of my Seattle grandmother- a Ketchikan child in the days of Mike Martin - was sitting with her watching Patches and eating ice cream. She was diabetic and not supposed to indulge but she frequently did, usually when my mother or one of her other daughters wasn’t watching!

So naturally when Chris Wedes, who “played” JP Patches in Seattle on TV and elsewhere for half a century, passed away this summer, it was another nail in my childhood memory box. One of the great things about clown makeup is that it prevents “aging.” He looked the same for fifty years and so his eventual demise was less obvious.

Except, of course, for the fact he had been ailing for several years and the Seattle media had held, if not a death watch, then an endless stream of tributes every few months noting that he was still “with us” but not for much longer.

The old clown, though, had the last “ad lib,” stretching out his time longer than expected, creating what amounted to a multi-year victory lap around the Pacific Northwest.

So, as I reflect on a youth spent about a half century in the rear view mirror, I do occasionally think about my great outdoorsy Alaskan childhood. But I also miss those Seattle days of good TV, mirth and lots of ice cream.

Thanks JP and Andy. See you in the re-runs.

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