We select the family heritage we want. My father loved his maternal grandfather and hated his father. He was the result of a forced marriage between his mother Pirminia, Augusta, Victoria Schneider and an older German beer maker. After they were married, Pirminia moved to Kansas City where she had two children. But she couldn’t stand Kansas City nor her new husband and fled back to Chicago.
Husbands had full rigthts to their own children in 19th Century Kansas, so Pirmenia ended the marraige in one of the few ways a woman who wanted to keep children could. She ran away with them.
Pirmenia went to Panama where the United States was building the Panama Canel. There she met C. W. Jones, who my father also didn’t like. Jones published an English language newspaper for the Canal construction crews. We never learned anything else about him.
She was the youngest daughter of a once rich and powerful family. She struggled to survive. As canal construction moved inland, excavation machines unearthed ancient Mayan burial sites. My father combed through the tailings to discover Mayan gold jewelry, statues and small cups. His mother melted them down into gold bars that could be quickly and easily sold.
“I felt so guilty about melting down all that priceless stuff. I’ve always wanted to be an archeologist, but mother wouldn’t hear of it.” He never let us forget what he had given up to support his family. It was a much repeated lesson about the sacrifice that fathers were expected to make for their families.
As Panama construction ended, CW, P1rminia and family headed to Alaska for the world’s next great contruction project, the Trans Alaskan Railroad. Contruction would begin in 1915. They arrived in the summer of 1914 to get a start on what they knew would be a tough winter. Temperatures dropped to forty below zero. My father said he could spit and the gob would freeze solid and explode before it hit the ground. It was another frequent story. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
CW ran a newspaper again. Pirminia started the first hotel in Anchorage and acquired a sizable chunk of land that would later become downtown Anchorage. Somewhere near the port, she constructed a huge, double layer tent with canvas curtains separating the interior into “rooms,” which she rented to construction workers. Two years later, they had a wooden structure.
My father’s older brother, Al, at the age of twenty-four, became Anchorage’s first Postmaster and in one famous story saved the canvas building from burning to the ground. They panned for gold and my father still had a collection of large nuggets when I was growing up and gold was $34 a ounce.
We lost downtown Anchorage to back taxes during the Great depression and the gold nuggets slipped away … one by one.