Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Michaella Phillips
Michaella Phillips
Michaella Phillips talks about her grandfather, about coming to Unalaska, and about meeting her husband.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2009-16-02

Project: Unalaska Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Apr 26, 1996
Narrator(s): Michaella Phillips
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Sections



Looking around old buildings and finding a menu

Menu from Christmas dinner on the USS Pensacola in 1943

Discovering that her grandpa was "Chesty"

Coming to Unalaska to fish

Skiffs in Unalaska and getting asked out on a date

When the date finally arrived

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Transcript



RAY HUDSON: Great, Michelle please. MICHAELLA PHILLIPS: I'm going to tell one story which is kind of old in a way because it relates to my grandfather who I never met, who died in Iwo Jima, during the war.

And, he was a Navy man and traveled around more than I knew he did. I found this out later. But I've been here 18 years and I've always loved going through the old buildings. I lived on Fort Mears, you know, with my son when he was little we always would go through the buildings.

And, one time we were over at the softball field, there was a game going on the old softball field, over by the fuel dock on the other side. And we were digging around the buildings, it was during a break or something, and Ben was real little and I was on the second floor and there was a room back in there and there's the beer cans and the pop cans and the garbage but there's always something if you look, you know.

So I was going through some papers that were some garbage in a corner and I found some ledgers from an old store keeping records, you know, provisions that had been marked in.

And you could tell it was old ink and stuff and I kept digging and I found a menu for Christmas dinner on the USS Pensacola in 1943.

And I thought well this is really neat cause it had a little colored picture of like a Madonna with two babies and it was typewritten and there was a little hand written note on the bottom.

This person had meant to mail this off to someone they cared about cause it said, "Thought you'd like to see this," and they signed the name "Chesty".

I didn't think too much about it except that it was really neat. And I buried it with all my stuff and it stayed buried for a long, long time. This was about 15 years ago.

Last year, when they had the anniversary of the war and all that and my grandmother was very involved and my family was involved. And they were talking about it and I happened to be going through some boxes and I came across this menu.

I just mentioned it to my mom and she says well that's really neat when you come down at Christmas, you know, bring it.

And of course, I forgot to bring it. But I was down there and I was with my mother and my grandmother and it was the first time I'd been with family for Christmas since I was like 16. It was a real big deal and my grandmother is really getting older, you know.

And she's getting to where she's always talking about the old times. And she was only married to my grandfather for just a few short years but they had two children. And it was the happiest time of her life.

They were in Pearl Harbor. She was married in Hawaii and she kept talking all the time, she was talking stories when I was down there. She kept going, "Oh how I miss Chesty. Oh, I miss Chesty." I asked my mother, "What's this Chesty? Grandpa's name was Ossie."

She says, "Oh, his men loved him so much they gave him a nickname, Chesty." I says, "You know, that's so strange. That's the name that was on that menu I found from the Pensacola."

She says, "Well, you know your grandfather was on the Pensacola before he went to Midway in the early '40's." And I said, "This can't be. This is just too strange. This is the twilight zone."

I says, "I'm just going to go home and check it out," but don't think anything about it. So I went home and I dug it out and I just had the strangest feeling, you know. So I made copies of it and I sent it to the only two people I know who could authenticate a signature to my mother and my grandmother and my grandmother, the next Sunday, she goes, "You have to send that to me. Send it to me, you know. Just because I never got it.

You better put it in the mail and send it to me," she said. So that's my story about my grandfather.

MICHAELLA PHILLIPS: When I first came here 18 years ago I came on a crab boat. It was a 1942 power scow called The Viking. It was built to serve the war and ended up fishing out here for a long time.

Didn't know where I was coming to. I got on the boat in Kodiak and it was kind of an adventure. But I was really broke and when I got here the strike that started in Kodiak had caught up to Dutch Harbor fishing community.

So I found myself on this boat tied up at the Whitney on the other side. Without any money for a ferry I understood you could take to the other side to the village.

The strike lasted for well over a month. And all that time I was on this boat looking at this small body of water that separated me from this village, this whole world that I was so curious to explore.

And it was such a sense of isolation in a way. Rufina talking yesterday about a whole community of people being at Driftwood and knowing there were other people made me think of that.

You know, how such a small distance can make such a big difference.

A lot of people had skiffs and they were, like the horses in the wild west, they enabled you to get where you were going. And where in the old west you would tie your horse up at the saloon or wherever you went,

in those days people would take their skiffs and beach them up in front of the village. And they'd take their gas lines everywhere so no one would steal the skiff. And when you'd go into the Elbow Room or the restaurants, people would be sitting down and instead of laying their gun on the table that gas line was right there on the table. (Laughter)

So nobody could take off with their ride. This story also relates to how a little thing can have such a big difference in lives and it relates to skiffs. When I was on The Viking I had been corresponding with someone I had met casually in Kodiak and written back and forth for several months.

This person was delivering in Akutan and we were delivering in Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. Finally the boats both were in town here at the same time. And he called me up on the boat radio and said, "I'm over at Pan Alaska, let's go out tonight.

I'll come over, I'll get a skiff." Neither of our boats had skiffs. He said "somehow I'll get a skiff and I'll come and get you and we'll go out tonight."

This was like a first date. And I was real excited because it was the first thing I'd really done since I'd been here. You know, something different than fishing.

And, but I had been warned that this person was not really very reliable and not be surprised if they didn't show up.

So I was kind of like going about my business and the night's getting later and later and I finally had just kind of put it behind me and figured well, he's not going to show up and he comes into the galley and he says, "I know it's late.

I'm really sorry. I had a really hard time getting a skiff. I couldn't get much but we can get there. We can get over there." Now this was a beautiful, beautiful night. The water was just calm.

It was a full moon. You know, totally romantic. Just really nice. So we go down and we get in the skiff and I looked for him to pick up the oars to cross over to the other side and he picks up an oar and in the other hand he picks up a broom. (Laughter)

He could not find another oar. I don't know where he begged for one or where he stole the broom from. But it is just so precious that someone was so determined to keep this date that they used a broom and an oar to pull me out under the full moon.

To the Elbow Room for this date that, well, our son turned 16 two weeks ago. (Laughter)