Life in Alaska – Dan’s Letter to Lad (1) – July, 1940

Daniel (Dan) Beck Guion

Daniel (Dan) Beck Guion


July 28

Hermanito Mio,

Here I be where you might have been, while there you are where I might of bin, and opposite sides of the continent, at that! I suppose you never appreciate the present…. either the future or the past seem more important. At least, that is how it seems to me. Here I am in Alaska, sort of wishing I were home or in South America. When I was home I was wishing to be either in Alaska or South America. When I was in Venezuela I was wishing I were home or in Alaska! And apparently I am not getting over it! I often think of Venezuela with nostalgic yearning. The few times we spent together crop up in my memory now and then … the first time in Carora, when Carl Nelson was on his way out… that time you came out to Totuche with news of Ted’s accident… and later, when you picked me up on the way to Carora, with a bar of chocolate and “Bush”, and the meal of cheese and crackers in a café.. and the pounding on the door of the hotel Commercio to wake up the mozo who slept just inside the door… Alas! You appreciate such things only in perspective.

The present soon becomes the past, so it seems most important to make the most of it. The only news you have heard of our present (Ced’s and mine) has come to you, indirectly, through Dad. Naturally the reports have been colored by his point of view.

Here is mine!

We drove, neither loitering nor hurrying, to Seattle in what was not a very interesting trip to me. Uncle Sam’s USA seems rather drab after the exotic atmosphere of Latin America. We saw the plains and the badlands and the mountains, but for the most part they were very much what I had expected them to be. Further, living in a car is not a very restful experience, so I was glad to get to Seattle and find a few days on my hands in which I could relax. There is a nightclub on 2nd Avenue called “MUSIC”. It is a beer and dance joint with no cover, no minimum, no orchestra, two floor shows nightly, and a large percentage of sailors on shore leave. I was sitting at a table, brazenly sipping a glass of beer and watching the dance. One of the sailors who drifted past looked just like Art Mantle! I had heard, just before leaving home, that Art was in Honolulu. Further, I knew that most of his time in the states was spent in San Diego. So I figured it must be coincidence that a sailor looking like Art, was in Seattle. The dance ended, and that sailor walked over to his table, nodding a greeting to one of his buddies sitting near me. I leaned over, saying, “Pardon me, but what is the name of the fellow who just waved to you?” “Claude Mantle”, was the startling reply. “God!”, I muttered, “I know him well!” Then, rising, I picked up my glass of beer and walked over to Art’s table. There were two girls there, one of them just staring off into space, the other, the one Art had been dancing with, was listening to something Art was confiding to her.

“I guess you know me, Art!” I asked mysteriously.

“No I don’t”, he replied truculently.

“Yes you do”, I continued, unabashed.

“The hell I do”, he growled, giving me a hostile stare.

I was a trifle discomfited by this time, thinking I must have changed considerably since I had seen him last. “Ced and I are on our way to Alaska”, I said pleasantly. A look of puzzled bewilderment turned to consternation. “Jesus Christ!” He stood up. “I ought to be shot!” He grasped my hand. “Jesus, Dan, I didn’t know you. I ought to be taken out and shot!” He stared at me, worried lest I resent his earlier attitude. He turned to the girl at the table. “Can you imagine that?” He asked her. “This is an old pal of mine. He is a good egg. He’s not like you.” She ignored him. He turned to me again. “Christ, Dan, I was just going to take a sock at you!” He laughed a little. “Do you know who I thought you were?” “No”, I answered. He gave a little laugh again. “I thought you were a ‘pogue!” This meant nothing to me, but I imagined what it might have been, and Art explained later that a “pogue” is a “fairy”, of which all sailors are leery. They run into such a lot of it that every man in civilian clothes who appears in the least bit friendly is eyed with distrust. Art explained that Hollywood is full of “pogues”, many of them big shots in movies who pay the sailors to be their escorts!

But Art was quite put out about the whole thing, admitting that he had been drinking too much beer, and taking time out, now and then, to insult the girl at the table. He asked about everybody, particularly Biss and Zeke, expressing surprise and annoyance to think that they, of all people, had been married. He gave me some lurid stories of the lives the sailors lead, and later we went to the YMCA Hotel where Ced and I were staying, to waken Ced out of a sound sleep. We talked until nearly 12:30, then went back to the “MUSIC”, and had another beer, and parted.

Tomorrow, the second part of this letter. Dan’s daughter, Arla,  just sent me scanned letters written by Dan while he was in Alaska. I will be posting them in order in the regular rotation before I post the final letter of 1940. We won’t get to 1941 very soon. I enjoy the way Dan writes and I hope you will too.

Judy Guion



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