Once upon a time.

June 2, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Posted in I'm related to these people., We Have a Bear on our State Quarter | 1 Comment

Here’s some olde Alaska!  Check out this photo of two couples, one complete with their catch of the day.  Fish that touch the ground taste like the ground and lose their eyes and unmarked sides to ravenous seagulls.  We’re all about seafood quality in Bristol Bay.  Hence, Mrs. Carlson’s refusal to put down her fish and expose it to less than awesome conditions.  I can so relate!  I wouldn’t put it down either.  As Gollum sang, “Our only wish, to catch a fish, so juicy sweet!”  Besides, a beautiful fish is an excellent addition to any photo, yes?

Grandpa James and Grandma Olga

As funny as the fish part is, the portion of this photo that matters to me is on the right, where my paternal great-grandparents and their daughter, Mary, stand together in the sun.  This photo is the first image I’ve ever seen of this generation of my dad’s family, so it’s of great worth.  Old photos are rare enough, but documentation of my great-grandfather is practically non-existent.  See, my great-grandfather was as slippery as Mrs. Carlson’s fish.  There is one scrap of evidence in an Army log book that states, “James F. Timmerman; drunk and disorderly downtown…again,” but after that, nothing until 1918 when he showed up in Nome, Alaska with the listed occupation, “Gold Prospector.”  Then, he somehow made his way to Dillingham.  Throughout his life there, he didn’t write any letters and didn’t receive any either.  He never left Dillingham, and no one came to visit him.   He met and married my great-grandmother but managed to remain secretive even in that as she spoke no English and, according to my dad, he “spoke no Native.”  And he didn’t reveal much about himself to anyone else either.

There are two census records that show his existence in Alaska and one reference to a brother named Charles in Ferndale, Washington, but beyond that, Jim Timmerman is an unknown.  I suppose that meager collage is a lot for this era in rural Alaska, but I want to know more.  And it’s kind of driving me crazy.

I want to know who this guy was and why he chose to disappear into the place and culture of southwestern Alaska.  I want to know how many brothers and sisters he had and where his parents came from.  I want to if he liked Alaska or if he just didn’t have anywhere else to go.  I want to know how tall he was and what he admired.  I want to know if he could read and write.  I want to know what his talents were.  I want to know what he believed.

Despite all the mystery, one thing is sure: I love that he is holding his little girl’s hand.


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  1. I’m doing a measly two-page paper for school, am stuck on the second page, & remembered the “drunk and disorderly downtown again” bit so I googled it. I’m glad I did. I love this piece! “Slippery as Mrs. Carlson’s fish” is the written equivalent of shared smoked salmon! I also love that he’s holding his daughter’s hand!

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