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Annie Stokes
Annie Stokes
Annie Stokes talks about growing up in Virgina and learning to garden in Juneau. She also talks about Stan Price and how he taught her to face her fear of bears at Pack Creek.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-06

Project: Juneau Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1995
Narrator(s): Annie Stokes
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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Stories from her childhood

Juneau's gardening community

Learning to garden in Alaska

Knowing when to plant

Meeting Stan Price

Going out to Pack Creek

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ANNIE STOKES: I could just say ditto. I mean I feel the very same way that Greg just expressed. But I just have to say that I'm so honored to be here as a part of this project because facing the next legislative session I think the thing that's the most important to talk about is cultural richness and the human spirit and community.

I think this is perfect timing for this event and the more we talk about these things the more we will be aiding the people that sit up in the capital to do their job, which is to define what we want in our lives and what kind of quality of life we want and the things we care about. So I'm really happy to be a part of it.

I just want to tell you two small things that my father told me about myself which was kind of an eye opener on his first trip to Alaska. He told me a story about when I was five years old, he said that we were driving down the Jamestown Parkway, which is in Virginia, I'm from Virginia.

And we were driving down there on a Sunday afternoon. I hardly saw my father at all, he was a doctor and he was always very busy. But Sunday afternoons he would take time to do his house calls.

So I would go with him and we'd always get ice cream, you know. So being my age I would slurp it and get it all over the car. Sometimes in his hair you know and on his coat, so everybody knew I was with him on house calls, which was nice.

And anyway, I would stand always up we had no seatbelts then. And my father would say, "there's some traffic up here sit down". And I didn't and he'd say "Anne sit down." And then I didn't and then he'd say "Anne" and he took his hands behind my knees and went like this underneath so that I crashed my bottom right on the seat like this.

And I just sat there like this... and I crossed my arms and I said, "I may be sitting down on the outside but I'm standing up on the inside." And my father said he remembers that story and he knew I would be very special.

And so the other story I want to share with you was when I was 10 years old my parents had saved enough money to build this dream house of theirs and it was this large colonial house with this, two chimneys, five bedrooms, five bathrooms.

I have no idea why we had five bathrooms. And um -- they had -- it was just this huge house. And I remember that day very clearly and I was very sad. I couldn't talk, very unusual.

And I ... went to dinner and I couldn't eat and then I went to my room and just cried for the rest of the night. And my father came upstairs and he said, "What is wrong? What is wrong with you? What in the world? We finally have our dreams come true. What is wrong with you?"

And I had to admit to him that I hated the house and that I really wanted to live in a log cabin in the woods with no running water. And so I, I really disappointed him a lot. And he knew that I would probably be moving north and moving to the mountains, which -- I feel I've done both of those things.

So I have to say -- -- coming to Alaska -- -- there are so many communities that you can be involved in. But one of which, well I guess its everything, is being concerned with the environment, relating to the environment. Whether it be sledding down in the cemetery where we go over all these dead bodies with glee and scream you know as we bump over these things, it's so exciting.

And then everybody comes up and drinks hot chocolate at the house. Or whether it be running out on Halloween night and I remember the northern lights. Probably you all saw them, were so amazing. And hearing everybody's voices down the street screaming with delight over the northern lights in the sky, moving like pianos across the sky and it was so beautiful.

And I could tell who the voices were, I knew all these people you know. It was pretty exciting. Or whether it be like ice-skating on Twin Lakes where John Engels so lovingly prepares that for all of us to go out there and take our children and ice skate.

Or whether it be taking saunas in the hot tubs you know in your neighbors and friends backyards. All these things are so important to me.

-- A huge part of it is being in the dirt for me, gardening and there's such a large community of gardeners here. And gardening is in my bones. If you are a gardener you know what that means, and if you are not a gardener you don't.

So I don't know my entire hill behind my house is filled with plants that have been given to me by all the gardeners in Juneau. And so I had an over load of raspberries and I'd be pushing those out the door and they'd give me -- oh -- foxgloves got some of those out.

And -- lets see -- they gave me like ajuga, columbine. We just have this huge exchange every year. So my hill is filled with these wonderful plants that people have given me. Tomatoes plants that I could grow inside and squash and we all share.

So it's once again it's this incredible community of people that get together at 8:30 one morning for garden club sale. You know, everybody's up at 7 like this you know just ready to go and filling your truck with all this dirt and plants and it's just very exciting what goes on.

And I have to say I have to share with you a story about this old woman named Fanny Tal who taught me how to garden in North Georgia, which it's a little area called New Canada. It's very much like Juneau. It's got the Appalachian Mountains are right there.

And it's this area called Suches, a valley where people are just -- -- it's isolated and there's a strong community there. People are ingenious they can do anything without anything. And that's the way Alaskans are I think, can create with very little.

And anyway I have to tell you what she looks like because she's just a vision. I mean she has this white hair that's just fluff you know that she never combs. She has blue eyes that are like heron blue eyes that are crystals practically, so beautiful.

She always laughing, she chews Copenhagen so she's spitting a lot you know, into a can or into her fire, into the earth or someplace. And she has big bosoms you know that just hang way down to here you know. And I think they hang down to there because she never wore a bra.

But sometimes she used to take these chicken crates and sew them together kind of and hike 'em up you know and then tie them up around here you know. And that was good, they'd stay up for a little while and then you know, gravity, you know they'd go again.

Anyway the reason I had to tell you this song is, is she taught me how to plant. She really taught me about digging with a fork, which in Juneau it's so -- you have to really loosen the earth. And you have to do it with a smaller implement and then you have to do it with your hands you know.

And she really taught me about putting that seed in and then going through really gently sieving you know the dirt through your hands and pat patting it kind of like you put a baby to bed. And that's how kind of I do it here in Juneau and when I --

I teach I other children to plant in Juneau and we work like that. And she used to sing this song, which I know you all know and maybe I'll sing it. Whatever. So it goes lets see. It's ...

It's a gift to be simple; it's a gift to be free. It's a gift to come down where we ought to be. And if you know it sing. And when we get there in the place just right, we will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained to bow or to bend we will not be ashamed, to turn, to turn we will be our delight until turning, turning we come round right.

And so we sing that song when I plant. And it's so important to sing when we plant and so she taught me many things. One time I said, "Why do you love being the garden so much Fanny?" and she said "cause I always know who I am in the garden."

And I thought that was an important thing for me to hear at that time in my life. Some people have to go next door to know who they are; some people have to go down the street. Some people have to go to another city. In my case I had to go across the world to find who I was. And I think a lot of people do that here, I think a lot of people came here for that reason.

I also remember her knowing when to plant, which in Juneau is so important. If you plant you know before mother's day or too early outside it freezes and everything you know is gone. And if you plant too late then you don't get a mature crop. But she knew when to plant she would watch the birds. You know the little sticks in their mouths going from tree to tree.

And she watched when the sun came up and when the sun came down. She always watched the day begin and watched the day end, really important for planting.

And one day I was snapping beans with her and she didn't talk at all, and I knew not to talk when she didn't talk, just to listen. So I just sat there -- for a long time.

Finally I said, "Fanny what are you doing?" and she said "I'm feeling the air." Well it was a whole new idea to me and I really liked that you know and I do that a lot in Alaska. I think a lot of Alaskans do that. And I have to tell you she was so close to plants nurturing plants, she nurtured the plants like Stan Price nurtured the bears.

And I mention him because he was this man who I didn't even know. He sat out in front of the Alaskan Hotel and by the way the first time I saw him I said "Oh my god, it's Fanny Tal in a man's body!" (Screams) they had the same hair, you know that white hair you know that he hadn't ever combed,

and he had those bright blue eyes and he was wearing this, this flannel shirt and this this suspenders just sitting outside of the Alaskan. And I said to him, I watched every time I passed him he really looked at me you know; I think he kind of liked me.

And you know I really liked him a lot, too. And I thought wow what a handsome older man, wow you know. And every time I passed him I thought wow, look at that man's eyes. So finally of course I talked to him and, and I said "What are you doing?" and he goes "Oh I don't live in town I'm just here for a few days before I go back out where I'm going"

and I said "you want to come to dinner?" and he said "yeah" "I'll pick you up at 5" "yeah." Ok so he came over to our house for dinner and our whole family just fell in love with him. He had these jellybeans, which I was going to chew a jellybean while I told you this story but I think it would kind of get stuck in my teeth

and, and then you know and then maybe it would sound funny on the microphone. So maybe I won't eat the jellybean right now, but anyway he had this pocket filled with jellybeans

OTHER PERSON: Lets pass it around

ANNIE STOKES: Yeah, Please help, in the honor of Stan Price have a jellybean. The bear man of Pack Creek, but anyway he loved to eat and he would come to my home and sit and, and feed the jellybeans to my children you know. And he said the bears love the jellybeans and as we ate every time he came to my house he would tell us these incredible stories and eat these jellybeans you know.

He said he fed them to the bears but the truth of the matter is he had a little addiction to sugar problem. I mean he really loved sugar and he would pop them in his mouth all the time you know and then they'd be gone. Anyway and so finally he said, "Well do you want to come out to Pack Creek, you know?" and so I was so excited.

I thought ok; this is my chance to deal with the bear thing. Which I've always been deathly afraid of bears since I got here, you know. I had a few bad experiences at Swanson Cove when I had children who were sleeping in my tent and my husband's gone out in the boat.

You know and the bear comes into the camp and I think I'm going to be eaten by a bear. You know those stories and so you run to the water with the baby on the back and they're screaming in your ear and you know .

The bears coming closer then pretty soon they're eating the Canadian bacon, which I cooked, not a good idea, no. And yeah that kind of thing, so I'm a little scared of bears you know. They come into my garden sometimes cause I have raspberry patches.

And I have to get out there with my Revere wear you know and bang these pots you know. So I'm a little scared of bears. So I'm thinking ok there is a reason why I met this man.

So I went out there with him, and when I flew in, we came, we landed near his berry patch. His little wild strawberry patch, which if you've been out there is huge because he has to share it with the bears, so you know he's got to have a lot to have some left for himself. You know he shares it with his children.

And I picked a whole bunch of them and took them into him and immediately after I got them there, you know they're so sweet to the taste.

He took two cups of sugar and just dumped it right over it you know. And so I'm like stirring it up and thought well I won't be having any berries tonight you know. Anyway and while we were talking he started to explain to me that he had raised these bears and he had them all named.

He'd go that one's Bikini and that one's Brownie and I don't think Suzie's around here anymore and, oh there's Belinda. You know he went through this whole thing he pointed them out to me. He knew all the bears in the area. I'm like going, this is incredible.

So he said to me that he would take me out the next day. So I'm preparing, I'm writing in my diary, oh my god... And I'm just sitting there and just as I was writing I heard the bushes go like this and they opened up and right where you're standing, right sitting was a bear just looking at me. So, you know, I was like oh so I just kind of went "hello I'm Anne nice to meet you" you know.

And I started quietly getting up kind of you know and moving backwards and I went in and closed the door and and Stan said, "Don't worry all these bears know everybody just be calm it's it's alright." So that night Bill Spear was there with his children and so he showed us these movies of these whales and his friend raccoons and the fox that came into his house and slept with him one winter and the squirrels and all the bears.

He had little pictures of him feeding them with bottles you know, through burlap sacks so that they wouldn't know and he was telling me about finding these little bears whose mothers had been killed and they couldn't make it through winter unless he took care of them. And so he raised all these.

Anyway, we went out the next day and I saw these adult bears who he had raised, some of which had grandchildren. So many generations he identified them for me, had grown up at Pack Creek and I just watched them. And he liked to always walk like this you know with my arm in here like this.

We liked to walk like this and it's so nice to do that you know and even today you can do that with any one of your girlfriends, your boyfriends, your husband, it's very nice. And so we walked down there and he had a little stick about this big.

And I said, "Well, you know Stan just tell me, I just would feel better if you tell me, you know if one of these bears charges or does something weird you know. Starts like (makes sound) or something you know what you know what do we do." He goes "oh don't worry I've got this little stick" you know.

And he goes "I'll just tap them on the nose and they'll just go away" you know so I was like ok. But you know I believed him and and that that is really what happened. It didn't happen, I never saw him do that. Because we watched them catch fish, we watched them meander with their babies, we watched them frolicking and playing.

I watched them sleeping all day, it was the most amazing experience that I have ever had. And I feel that I met him in order to deal with my fear of bears. And I, I think I've gotten over a lot of it.

But the thing that I wanted to say is that I said to him "don't you ever get lonely out here?" you know and I said you know "don't you miss a community?" and, and he said "no, no" he said, "I've got all these trees and I've got this stream and I've got these bears and I and then I run into Juneau and see you guys and all my friends in Juneau and I've got family and I could never ever be lonesome, I've got so much."

And I thought to myself about that. I feel the same way. An individual in a community is really for my, for me, it's me relating to the earth and all the people and all the things that have to do with it. And I'm very happy.

When I was little everybody used to say, to try to get me to cooperate 'cause I was a little bit non-cooperative, like my teachers, my Girl Scout leaders, I don't know the choir leader you know. They'd go "don't' you want to belong? Don't you want to belong and do what they're doing?"

You know and I wasn't so sure as a child. But as an adult I'm, I'm really happy to say I belong in Juneau and I'm, I'm happy to share all these experiences that we're sharing today. Thank you.