Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of a memoir written in 1931 by the 14-year-old son of lighthouse keeper Baard Jens Lervick, who served at four Alaskan light stations from 1913 to 1930.
I was born in Ketchikan, the first city in Alaska, in the Arthur Yates hospital, no longer in existence. When I was three weeks old, I left the hospital with Mother and Dad on the mail boat Good Tidings for Tree Point Light Station. My father was assistant lighthouse keeper. The station consisted of three dwellings, a boat house, a barn, two oil houses and a signal building, with two families besides us living there.
We lived in the third house, which was nearest the signal building. Behind the house there was a gully where the north wind used to blow the white foam from the beach up on the lawn, which looked like patches of snow.
I am a lover of the trees and woods and in the long summer before my birth, I feel sure my mother must have enjoyed herself thoroughly. In my mind, I can see the heavy pine woods with the ground all covered with pine needles. I hear the wind rustling in the tree tops and tearing them like mad when a storm came up.
I see the bay in front of the tower with the shining surface of the water changing in all the different lights, reflecting the blue sky and the clouds above with the deep shadows of the mountains and trees, or rippling prettily in long curves as a light breeze played over it, or foaming and dashing waves bounding high upon a stern and rock-bound coast. You can readily perceive that such a scene and such an experience are the most enjoyable to me of anything I know in the world, and I like to reflect that I have lived in such a place.
The day of my birth was December 20, 1917. It was cold and the snow was deep on the ground that winter. Mrs. West of Tree Point Light Station was the first person to come in and look me over. The mail boat was going to Tree Point that morning and I arrived just in time so Mrs. West could go back on the boat and bring Daddy the good news. I feel glad that I am a real Alaskan Sourdough.
When I was three weeks old, Mother and Dad took me to Tree Point, forty-five miles from Ketchikan, and Dad said it was a terrible trip. The wind changed when we had completed half the trip and it became real stormy, so mother and I were seasick and Dad surely had his hands full, but we finally finished our stormy trip. Dad said I cried lustily as I was handed out of the boat.
The first thing I can remember is going with my father to light the big light in the tower where I saw our Star-Spangled Banner wave from the flag pole. Dad left me sitting on a chair in the engine room. As soon as he was out of sight, I scrambled down and immediately fell into a can of oil, which I tried eating, but it had a disagreeable taste, so I decided to follow Dad up the stairs of the tower.
I managed the first twenty-five steps, greasing and oiling them all the say. I fell down and slid all the way to the bottom. I made such a racket that dad came to see what was the matter and he found me at the bottom of the stairs. When Dad was through cleaning up the mess I had made, it was quite dark. He hunted all over for me and he finally found me in the coal locker, dusting the floor and the coal with an old feather duster. Oil and coal dust is a find combination. He picked me up by the seat of my pants, and I haven’t forgotten the after-effects yet.
My next recollection was seeing a groundhog coming up from a hole in the ground. It proved to be a good little watch dog when I was a baby, but mother didn’t see the idea at all. When I was a little baby, Mother used to put me out on the porch for a nap while she worked in the garden. One time, she thought she heard a noise. Turning to look, she saw the little groundhog sitting close beside my basket looking at me. I suppose he was wondering what kind of an animal I was.
Mother tried to chase him but he would hardly move. He would go only as far as around the corner of the house, and when she turned around to her work, he would be right back. She finally had to take me into the house.
The summer evenings were beautiful but the air was alive with mosquitos, so I couldn’t play outside very long. Mother would turn on the phonograph and I would sit at the window and watch the deer come out of the shadows to feed on the lawn. Sometimes, there would be as many as six or seven deer at a time. These deer were never frightened; they would listen to the music while eating and if I shouted to them, they would just look at me and start eating again.
I never will forget the first time I heard a wolf howl; neither will mother. I was amused, but mother was afraid. I was too small to realize that a wolf in my vicinity meant dinner for him later.
One early morning in the latter part of September, Mother and Dad decided to go picking wild cranberries and I put up such a fuss that they had to take me with them. We took the boat and rowed for an hour to a place called Boat Harbor, an inlet south of the station. There we got out and climbed a steep bluff and on top of this bluff there were cranberries everywhere.
Daddy put his gun up against a tree and we started to pick berries. We hadn’t been there very long when out of the silence we heard a yowl. Mother jumped about ten feet and wanted to know what that noise was. Dad said it was an eagle. I believed it, but Mother wasn’t so sure. Daddy knew better. Pretty soon, the hills were ringing with wolf howls, and Mother wouldn’t stay there any longer. Daddy wanted to go on picking, but he had to give in. We went down to the boat, built a campfire and had something to eat. That is all I can remember till we got home. Mother was so frightened, she would not go picking cranberries again.
Dad was made head keeper after John C. Johnson’s death. We got a new assistant keeper and family. They had a little girl about seven years old. I was a little past four and we had some wrestling matches together. Mother used to wonder where all the buttons on my clothes went to. Once, my friend gave me a bloody nose, but, of course, we had some fun together, too, for she was my first playmate.
When I was five years old, Dad transferred to Mary Island Light Station for Mother didn’t like Tree Point anymore. She was afraid of wolves. Mary Island was twenty miles closer to Ketchikan. Mother used to read poetry and stories to me ever since I can remember. When I was six and a half years old, Mother started to teach me the first-grade work and she taught me till we came to town. In the fall, we would pick different kinds of berries, cranberries and juniper berries. I would also go fishing and trolling, sailing and rowing with Dad.
Dad had made me a nice [model] sailboat. I was out sailing it in a creek that ran through the yard. As I was following my boat, a delicious smell came to my nostrils. I immediately anchored my boat, went to see if Mother was baking, but she wasn’t, and then I knew who it was- Mrs. Ross, the assistant’s wife. She often made delicious doughnuts, and more often told me good stories, so I ventured in more for a doughnut than a story.
I rapped on the door and it was opened promptly. I asked her if she had a story for me today. She said yes, and I took the seat that was offered me. A plate full of doughnuts was placed in front of me and boy, they were delicious.
The last summer I was at the station, my cousin Peggy came up from Vancouver. We surely had fun that summer. We went swimming and rowing, trolling, beachcombing and prospecting, catching butterflies and hunting seashells. At last fall came and Peggy had to leave for home to start school and I also had to resume my studies.
Mary Island became quiet and I got very lonesome. It was an odd feeling for it was the first time I had ever been lonely. I was continually wishing we could move to town. My wish came true for that very winter, Dad was promoted to Depot Keeper in the Lighthouse Service and we moved to Ketchikan.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.