Steve flipped through the photo album while sitting on an old trunk in an attic. He had come to his recently deceased great uncle Ted’s house to sift through the remaining belongings to see what might be of interest that he would like to keep from the estate. The rest of his great uncle’s family had already been through the house. But his great uncle Ted didn’t have any close family, and the attic had scarcely been picked through by anyone else. Getting up the retractable attic stairs was difficult. Whatever the case, Steve sat at the dusty trunk with the photo album in hand, flipping through pictures of times past.
Ted had been an adventurer during his life and had traveled the world. Steve never really knew the old man, as his father liked to call him. He just remembered meeting him one time during his childhood. His father had picked him up from school, and they went by Ted’s place. Ted had just returned from Alaska. He had recently competed in the Iditarod dog sled race and spent some time fishing and bushwhacking in the backcountry until returning home to Oklahoma just a few days before Steve and his father’s visit. Their stay wasn’t very long. Steve’s father wanted to drop off a couple of things from Ted’s sister since she had passed away a month ago while Ted was still in Alaska. Even though Steve was only ten at the time, he could still remember that meeting because it seemed odd along with Ted’s stature; he was a giant of a man.
“Stevie, you should go to Nome, Alaska, one day.” Ted had said to him before his father butted between him and his great uncle.
“Ted, here is a letter and a necklace from mom. She spoke of you before going, and she wanted you to know she loved you.” Steve’s father exclaimed to Ted with a tone of remorse. He handed a letter and necklace to Ted, who took them bowing his head.
“I’m sorry, Pete. I know you don’t think a lot of me, but I loved your mother. She was my sister. We grew up together. We just had different goals in life. I’ll stop by and visit her grave while I’m home.” Ted spoke sorrowfully.
“Alright, we have got to get going home. Take care, Ted.” Steve’s father said as he turned back putting a hand on Steve’s shoulder and headed for the door.
“Remember Steve, get up to Nome, Alaska someday. I think you’ll be amazed. I’ll show you some pictures sometime….” Ted was speaking to Steve as Steve's father hurried him out the door. Steve looked back at his great uncle in genuine interest, but his father pulled him through the door in a rush to leave. They got to the car and got in.
“Steve, pay your uncle no mind. The man is deranged—all his crazy travels and adventures. I should’ve never brought you here with me. I just wanted to get those things to him as your grandmother asked.” Steve’s father informed him as they were pulling out of the driveway. That was in 1994.
The memory had returned to Steve as he opened the album to a page marked Alaska 1993-1994. A single picture slid off the page onto the floor between his feet, picture side down. Steve reached down, picking it up, noticing writing on the back, Pilgrim Hot Springs Orphanage Near Nome. He flipped the picture over and saw a photograph of what looked like some old barns.
Steve looked back at the page with the missing photo. The rest of the pictures were of the town of Nome, and various images of dogs, dogsled teams, and Iditarod finish line shots. He held the photograph of the orphanage in his hand, and for whatever reason, Steve felt some connection with the place in the picture.
Again the memory of his great uncle from 1994 popped into his head, “If you ever get the chance, get up to Nome, Alaska.” Steve placed the picture back into its spot in the photo album and took the album as his only keepsake of his late great uncle Ted.
A couple of months passed, and Steve had gone back to work and his usual routine. It was mid-June when his company had asked him to go to Anchorage, Alaska, to work a convention. Steve jumped at the chance. Especially after he learned that once the week-long sales pitch was over, he would have a few days to see Alaska. He immediately asked if it would be possible to visit Nome, Alaska, and explained to his boss Harry that it was a childhood dream.
“Godsakes, Nome? What on earth for Steve? There ain’t nothin’ up there but crazy locals and gold seekers. You want to start gold prospecting, boy,” Harry jeered him as Steve made his request.
“No, no, Harry. See, my great uncle told me one time to see Nome. He had completed the Iditarod race, and I thought it would be a neat place to see,” Steve explained.
“Well…sure. You’re a good man, and I think you’ll give our company a great service at the convention. Tell you what, we’ll cover your flight to Nome from Anchorage and your hotel, but whatever else is on you. Hotels aren’t cheap up there, you know.” Harry instructed.
“Thank you, Harry. You won’t be disappointed in me. I’ll get us some new clients up there, you’ll see.”
“I hope so. I’m throwing you a bonus there, so do well, Steve.”
Harry was always on the mend over any additional expense. Still, the man was as good as gold at heart with the proper motivation. Two weeks later, Steve was in Anchorage attending his company’s booth at the convention. Steve was successful at the conference, gaining two significant contracts with some oil exploration companies from Fairbanks. With the successful sales under his belt, Harry called Steve to congratulate him.
“Good job Steve, by God, they may not be huge in the industry up there, but you got us a foot in the door. Proud of you. Go ahead and take a full week up there; just put it all on your company card. I’ll see you a week from Monday, and we’ll have lunch. I want to hear all about your trip, particularly what these new client fellas were like.”
Harry was ecstatic, and he always was when the prospect of new money came up.
It was a good thing that Harry had given him a whole week because flying into Nome isn’t like flying to your typical city in the lower 48. Weather can be a constant issue. The first flight he got out of Anchorage took a whole hour and a half of bumpy turbulence on a twin-engine prop plane to just get turned back to Anchorage because Nome was socked in with dense fog. The plane circled for 20 minutes, waiting for a good enough break, but none came and had to return before expending too much fuel. The next day Steve spent all day at the airport before the flight was canceled just before boarding.
Feeling like he might not ever get to fulfill his goal of reaching Nome his uncle’s memory came back to him. He decided to have a drink at the hotel bar. He had sit at the bar for 10 minutes alone, sipping on a Yukon Jack whiskey, when a beautiful dark-haired woman sat up next to him. She had long black silky hair and blue eyes. Her build was better than average with mid to large plump breasts. She was about his age, he guessed, with a smell of lavender freshness. She ordered a whiskey also and started in at the bartender about the Nome flight. Steve decided to make some conversation.
“I’ve been trying to get to Nome for the past two days.”
“Ha! That’s Nome for you, honey. Somewhere a long way from everywhere. I should know I am from there. Lizzie Grant’s my name. So what are you doing going to the ass end of Seward’s Ice Box?”
They spent the next hour at the bar having some more drinks and a fun conversation together. After cocktails, they were both back in Steve’s room and started to get hot and heavy. Then as they began to kiss, lying on the bed, they both pulled away and stared at each other.
“I’m sorry, but for some reason, this feels awkward. It’s like I know you somehow, and when I start to kiss you, something is off,” Lizzie said as she sat back at the edge of the bed.
“I understand. I, too, feel the same way. It’s ok. Let’s call it a night and say it was good to leave it here,” Steve added.
“Yeah, we got each other’s contact info. Let me know how it turns out in Nome. I am going to stay with a friend of mine in Anchorage for a few days. That picture you showed me, that’s an old orphanage outside of Nome. I know some of the old Sister Nunns in town had connections to it. I grew up in foster care.”
Steve was able to fly out the following day and arrived in Nome in the late afternoon. Steve rented a Jeep and drove through town a bit before heading for his hotel. What struck him about Nome was just how plain it was. The streets are primarily dirt or gravel. Most structures sat up on foundation pedestals and double-stacked mailboxes, built this way because of winter snowfalls. The town did have a wild west feel to it, especially near the docks where dozens of gold prospectors had rigs along the beach for dredging the shallows. Still, Steve felt somehow at home here. He couldn’t quite understand why.
After a couple of days exploring Nome, Steve decided to find the Pilgrim Hot Springs location his uncle had mentioned. He didn’t quite understand why his great uncle Ted had recommended such a place as Nome. Still, maybe it was because of the dog sled race that made it more thrilling, but that wasn’t happening until the following March. Steve had stopped by a local convent to see what he could find out about the old orphanage and information on Lizzie Grant. Sister Abigail told him how to find the old orphanage and that she remembered Lizzie. Sister Abigail must have been near 90 years old, but still sharp. She also pointed out that some of the older foster children’s records were at the old building location.
The next day Steve found his way after an hour’s drive on a tiny one-lane road out to the Pilgrim Hot Spring. The hot spring had been converted into a local hot tub by hunters. Two old wooden structures on the property looked more like barns than orphanage housing. One of them still contained some rooms that withheld papers and files in storage. After searching through the records for a few hours, Steve came upon a flimsy package wrapped in brown paper labeled Lizzie and Steve Grant. He could not hold back his curiosity and opened the package. Inside he found a picture of a young girl and boy. The papers and photographs indicated they were twins. The boy’s records showed that Ted Lanzig had taken him to Oklahoma to the care of Pete Dawson.
Steve’s mouth dropped as he muttered, “Ted Lanzig and my dad? Uncle Ted? Lizzie’s my sister?”