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growing up anchorage final (1)
Today we’re growing up in Anchorage. Many people who move to Alaska end up never leaving, but what about the people who grow up here and then move away? Jana Nelson came to Anchorage in 1948, when she was just six years old.
“For some years I’ve been toying with the idea of growing up in Anchorage, as Anchorage was growing up,” Nelson says. She left Alaska in the mid 80s to move to Oregon, but a few years ago she returned to Anchorage for a wedding, and couldn’t believe what she saw.
“It was one of those really cloudy summers in Anchorage. You couldn’t see the mountains, you couldn’t see the inlet. If my daughter hadn’t been driving us around I wouldn’t have known where I was. It was so grown up,” Nelson says.
So when Nelson returned to Oregon she decided to create a website dedicated to the city she remembered. She titled it growingupanchorage.com.
“It started out for me as an “I” project. I wanted to do it for my grandchildren, for me, for my children,” Nelson says.
But it didn’t take long before Nelson’s childhood friends found out about the site, and were offering to tell their early Anchorage stories too. She says she has about a dozen contributors now. Most of them are like Nelson: living in different states today, but still having that strong connection to Anchorage.
“I’ve been out here since the mid 80s, and after all these years I still talk about going home. It was just a magical time, especially the pre-statehood years. It was the frontier; we were all in it together. We had this sense of community and family, and we loved it. And I miss it terribly,” Nelson says.
And there is a lot to miss about this place.
“Let’s see, in this order: mountains, northern lights and king crab. Daddy working for BLM years and years ago, he and the neighbor Gus would fly down to Homer on business and they would get a king crab off the dock, bring it home. And I would come home from school and there would be a king crab thrashing around in the bath tub,” Nelson recalls.
The stories on Nelson’s website are often playful ones like that, but there’s tragedy and drama as well. She recalls a story from one of her writers whose father would land a small bush plane right on the Turnagain Arm inlet to pick up his children after a day of fishing. But after dealing with a broken tail wheel, the pilot was scrambling to get back to his children in time.
“When he came back the tide was coming in and they just almost didn’t get off the ground as the tide was flapping at the tires on the airplane,” Nelson says.
The stories often speak of an Anchorage that most people would have a hard time imagining today, but Nelson and her fellow writers look forward to sharing them all with their readers no matter where they live. She says she’ll never forget any of it.
“I think more than anything it just reflects the way life was then which is so different than now. It was a really special place, in a really special time.”