Column - Commentary - Humor
REMEMBERING THE BIG BLOW OF '68By DAVE KIFFER
November 23, 2018
Yes, I know that probably shocks y'all who think that my mouth is all tongue, but I do have teeth (although my dentists will no doubt concur that I haven't always done a very good job of taking care of them).
Why is the number of teeth that I have (had?) matter? Well, it is an anniversary of a very interesting day of my youth and the number of teeth I had is a big part of the story.
Like many Wetnecks (Ketchikan lifers) I have memories of the great Thanksgiving Day Storm of 1968, which happened 50 years ago this month.
The fact that I can even remember something that happened half a century ago naturally pains me. Back when I was in high school, I looked ahead to the year 2000 and thought "wow, I will be 41 that year." It seemed soooo long into the future as to be incomprehensible. Now, of course, is it so so so far in the rear view mirror. You can do the math.
But I digress.
Fifty years ago, when the Great Thanksgiving Day Storm of 1968 roared into town, I was more concerned about my teeth. The visiting orthodontist, Dr. White, was worried that I would end up like my parents (both of whom had lovely sets of teeth that they kept in jars on the nightstands).
Clearly good strong teeth did not run in the family and Dr. White wanted to fix my teeth, but first there was the problem of too many teeth for my smaller than normal jaws. Yep, even though I am always "jawing" I have smaller than normal jaws. Maybe because I have small jaws I am like one of those little two stroke engines that has to go twice as fast as everyone else. Someday, an archeologist will dig up my skull and surmise that I am some odd subspecies of hominid because by jaw size is smaller than normal humans. Neanderthalis Ketchikanus Motormouthus or some such thing.
Anyway, in order for my teeth to develop normally, some had to go. So Dr. White scheduled the first of several extractions to take place on Nov. 28, 1968.
Now, this was a little odd because most folks don't have dentist appointments on Thanksgiving, but as I noted Dr. White was a "visiting"" orthodontist so holidays were less important than availability. Dr. White was available on Thanksgiving so I had to be as well.
This, natch, caused a bit of consternation because in our house Thanksgiving was always about eating and nothing dampens one's enthusiasm for eating than dental surgery. I was not looking forward to smelling all that great food and not being able to touch it because my mouth was full of cotton balls and was - to quote my distant relatives from Maine - number than a hake.
I guess I better explain that. In Maine "numb" means dumb and a hake is a fish that is not known for its intellectual prowess. So "number" (or "nummah" as it is actually pronounced) than a hake means you are incredibly stupid. Long time sufferers of my writing will find that an apt description.
But I digress, again.
When we got up on the morning of Thanksgiving 1968, it was blowing pretty hard.
The wind had been in the 40s and 50s for about 24 hours and Ketchikan was looking a bit disheveled. Thanksgiving storms were nothing new. It seemed like just about every Thanksgiving between 1955 and 1985 had a wind storm of some size. These were often accompanied by power outages which were accompanied by much profane muttering as families tried to cook turkeys and stuffing on woodstoves or Coleman lanterns.
It is one reason why every Thanksgiving meal in Ketchikan has to include cranberry sauce even though no one actually likes cranberry sauce. Over the years, Ketchikan folk have become adept at presenting food for Thanksgiving that needs little or no preparation. Anything canned is especially appreciated during power blackouts.
Lucky for us, the storm was peaking as we got in our car for the trip downtown to the appointment which was in Dr. Stephens' Office in the old NBA building. The National Bank of Alaska building was one of Ketchikan's few brick buildings and had what looked like quadruple-paned windows. This would prove to be a good thing shortly.
Between 8 am and 10 am, that morning, the storm did indeed peak, according to the national weather service. The weather gnomes over on Annette Island (20 miles from Ketchikan) estimated that between 8 am and 10 am, the windspeed in Ketchikan reached 80 mph with at least one gust into the lower 90s. My appointment was for 8:30 am. Lucky me.
A little before 8 am, my mom called ahead to see if the appointment was cancelled. By that point the water from Tongass Narrows was being sprayed onto our house on First Avenue.
The receptionist told us the appointment was "still on". Grumpily we all piled into the pick up truck and began driving "to town".
Speaking of driving "to town" that was indeed what we called it, even though we lived "in town" at the corner of First and Jefferson. Any trip Downtown, was still a trip "to town". It was a simpler time then.
We were the only car on the road.
Well, not quite. One of the Volkswagons at the dealer had loosed it moorings and was being pushed by the breeze on Tongass Avenue. It was traveling slowly, but somewhat erractically. Kind of like a newbie trying to find an address on Tongass Avenue and wondering why it's on Water-Front-Mission-Stedman and it's the same street.
And there was a lot of debris on the road as well. Barrels, buckets, sheets of plywood, a couple of mailboxes. My father swore under his breath as he drove around the stuff on the road. My mother white knuckled it (her fingers digging into my arm) the whole way. I remember the truck taking a sudden jolt sideways as we passed the Austin (now the Tongass Towers) building. The Austin and the Wingren (Marine View) acted as great big wind deflectors. It even looked like those big concrete bunkers were "shaking"in the breeze.
We eventually made it Downtown to my appointment and scrambled inside the building and up to the office. I got into the dentist chair and sat waiting. Every so often a gust would rattle the building and the lights would dim. The howl of the wind was constant and growing lounder. I hadn't been around many trains at that point in my young life, but it was beginning to sound like a freight train was rumbling outside. Every so often there would be a loud bang as some flying object whacked the outside of the building. I was a little tense.
Dr. White was not. He just bustled about as if it were a normal day. He was just getting ready to "numb" me when the wind-train got louder, seeming to be right outside the building. Then, above the roar, we heard a loud crashing, scraping, crunching sound (it was the KTKN tower over on Inman Hill coming down). Almost immediately, the lights went out. Dr. White looked out the window.
"I think we're good for today," he said. "We'll reschedule."
On the Web:
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.