A few years ago, after my grandmother passed away, my grandfather came to visit. He brought something for me. He'd been going through the basement and found his old slide projector and Kodak camera he'd used while being stationed in Alaska with the Air Force. I had no idea he'd been in the Air Force, to Alaska, or ever owned a camera. I realized I didn't think I'd ever had a conversation with him before.
The camera had a note: "Last cleaned Sept. of 1958." That was the year he was stationed in Kotzebue, Alaska, and recorded his time there with the Kodak. He started to tell me stories of his time in Kotzebue. It was the year he was 21, and canoed up the Noatak River, discovering an abandoned fox farm. He watched a muktuk eating contest on the Fourth of July. His friend "borrowed" a baby to compete in a papoose race. I wanted to know more about this place and his life that I saw in his slides.
This summer we went back to Alaska and visited all of the places he had been. The radar site in Kotzebue closed not long after he left, and all that remains is the giant white dome the locals call "the golf ball." The main street was paved now, but the general store was right where he left it. A beluga was caught the day we arrived and divided amongst the freezers of friends, and salmon were hanging to dry just out of reach of the sled dogs who seemed to be off for the season. A lot had changed, but he thought more had stayed the same. He felt it was still a young man's place.