I was nine years old when my mother wrote the following letters to her mother (in Los Angeles).  My mother had given birth 2 months prior to my brother, the 5th child.  We had left the homestead fall of 1960 and moved into a one bedroom apartment in Anchorage.  Of course that apartment was too small for six of us, so everything was hauled up the stairs into a two bedroom apartment later in the fall of 1960, the one that we are in the process of moving out of the next spring — when these letters were written.

As I work with the very few of mother’s letters I can find for the early summer of 1961, I am beginning to understand why this process is the ONLY way to begin to construct anything like a coherent time line of my childhood.  At this time (see below) we were moving back into the log house in Eagle River AT THE SAME TIME mother intended for us to return to the homestead for the summer.

In effect, this meant that at least for May and part of June 1961 we were living in three places AT THE SAME TIME — all of them in a terrific mess with boxes of things packed, piled, loaded, moved — truly insane!

What is really interesting is that not one of the older four children, myself included, have any actual memory of the moves!!  That’s part of what motivates me to go looking for them — to solve this mystery!

I had no real idea until this point in my letter transcription process of how my mother’s insanity was completely reflected in the continual changing of our place of residence, and even in the overlapping of residences!!  The following letters act as ‘signifiers’ of the states of my mother’s mind that both created the moving conditions and was itself created by the moving conditions!

I notice again and again that her maniacal cleaning was a continual thread tying all the living environments together, even on the homestead without electricity or running water.  In fact, it was even so before we made it up the mountain — in her April 14, 1959 letter where she describes how we had no water for meals because she used it all up during the day scrubbing and waxing the tiny trailer floor as it sat in another homesteader’s snow covered field — as if dropped from the air by some giant passing bird.


May 31, 1961

Dear Mother,

It hurts me terribly to write this but I must.  The dam has broken and the flood is loose – our home is threatened by it.  I must tell you now – please cancel your plans, at least temporarily.  You mustn’t come in July at least.  Please understand.  We cannot possibly have things straightened out by then.

The past 3 years have been HECTIC in so many ways.  I don’t know, I think I’ll wire Spoerry [landlord of log house] and cancel the house.  Perhaps we should spend one more winter in town and put all in storage for the summer.

The house is 135 plus 50 oil + + +.  We have more jeep repairs as of today.

I might come down instead and next summer you could come up.

All is a mess.  I’m very unhappy.  I can’t stand it any more.  My nerves are shot to hell.  [triple underlining]

Really Mom – please tell me you understand.  All is a mess – my private life too!!  [multiple underlining]

I love you – and will write later.  Love, Mildred


June 13, 1961

Dear Mother,

Just a note – I’m sorry but I’ve so much to do.  It’s been this way ever since moving day – 13 days of it only it started of course away before then.

2 nites ago on our (ha, ha) anniversary I slept on bare floor here – last nite on a cot (work, work, work!)

Well this is [can’t read word] that you’re to cash our check for 150 [underlined 6 times] on June 20th.

All is O.K.  We’re just busy.  Log house has had all walls washed and floors scrubbed and waxed – it was absolutely filthy which made me furious after I’d had to per-fect apartment before I left for inspection!

Now I’m doing windows on inside and out and painting bed-rooms.

Last nite went to Anchorage and bought pots, pans, stainless steel flatware and towels etc. for the place.  It’s all strictly business!

I’m so tired I could die.

Well John is on his way so I want this mailed.  He received gift from you and opened it.  He loves it – so nice!  Will spend his Birthday at Homestead at his request.

I did get David’s ‘suit’ and it’s darling was so rushed forgot to mention it.

Will write later, Love, Me


Rest of letters here:




  1. Who instigated all these moves, her or your father or his jobs? Was she running from something or trying to make the best of a bad situation and couldn’t handle it? The running threads I see are moving, sickness, lack of money, pregnancy and cleaning. In other words…..stress. Never good for sick people.

    Not trying to stick up for your mother, simply trying to understand.

    • As I mentioned in my reply to the comment over on Take Care of Mothers blog, moving was a cornerstone of her Borderline matrix. It had NOTHING to do with anything that really happened in the real world. The moving was generated by that part of her madness that stemmed from the brokenness of her earliest life — but it took on a life of its own in her sickness.

      She generated ALL of the moves —

    • BTW, Mildred continued her continual moving patterns until her death — She was found dying a horrible death in 2002, alone in one of Anchorage’s shabbiest, grimmest ‘boarding house’ motels — and this was NOT due to a lack of funds. But this is her story, not mine — and I am currently working to find the borderline between these two stories….

  2. Two things come to mind: I wonder how your mother would have behaved if she did not have this extreme project(s) in Alaska to expend her seemingly endless energy


    your mother appears manic in the bipolar sense of the word!

    • She certainly had an extreme rage, most often directed at me but also toward my father. My sister, Cindy, remembers the crying she did all night, night after night. I don’t remember this.

      She was as obsessed with ‘reforming’ me as she was with the homestead.

      It also seems to me that in these letters she seems to be sick a lot!

      We have thought that without the homestead ‘project’ (great term for it!) she may well have killed us all.

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