Alaska B&B Hostesses of Iron

Guests sometimes say, oh, you were so brave to move to Alaska by yourself. I don’t see why. I drove a car with air conditioning and heating on paved roads and slept in a bed each night. It wasn’t too rough. Then I moved into a house made of 2x4s and dry wall…No canvas tents of gold rush days. My toilets have pipes that run out of the house to a septic tank…No honey bucket to dump…

The part that’s tough is to live up to is the role of being a B&B hostess in Alaska. These women up here are made of a stronger metal. This is something I discovered the first time I met some of the other B&B owners in this area. They are my heroes, and it’s astounding, some of the things they’ve been through, these women. When I first met them, I wasn’t used to everyone being so kind and being willing to share so much about their businesses, how to do it, what to expect, how to manage the operations.

There is Janet. She’s got to be over 80. I hope that isn’t rude to ballpark how many decades she has under her belt, but who am I kidding? She’ll never read this. She’s far too busy to sit down at a computer or the Internet. She’s got three businesses that I know of, and is involved in everything. When I saw her yesterday, she was pressing the flesh, because she’s running for the electric cooperative board, not that she needs more to do. She has volunteered for everything that needs done in Palmer since before I was born. Janet isn’t afraid to share her opinion on things, and she has a long list of practical experience about why her way is very likely the best way.

And Helen. Helen is 4’6″ and all energy. She’s well into her 70s and is always on the go. She drives a land yacht of an old lady car and is barely home between pushing for a hospice house, reading to elementary school kids, and “going to play cards with the old people” at the Pioneer Home. She runs a B&B in the home that her husband accidentally built on someone else’s land, when surveyors were hard to come by. He thought he knew where their corners were on their acres. Helen knows about hard knocks, isn’t shy about speaking up for the underdog, and watches out for me like I was her own.

Donna doesn’t do as much with her B&B any more, but she was instrumental in our B&B association when I moved here. She kept a lot of pieces going in the organization and I learned a lot about marketing a B&B from her. As I got more involved in the association a couple of years later, one time we had a board meeting or something at her house. As we sat around the table, another gal mentioned an injury she experienced lately. She lives 40 miles outside Palmer. She had accidentally touched her curling iron to her cornea, and the pain was immense. She had to put breakfast out for guests, bundle up her toddler, and drive herself into Palmer to the hospital for help. “Oh, that’s nothing,” Donna said.

And Donna proceeded to tell this story: Years ago, she lived in a cabin out quite a ways. She got up early to light the wood cooking stove in the kitchen, in the dark. The trap door to the root cellar was open and she didn’t know that and fell right down into it. No one else was home since it was during hunting season. She blacked out then woke up on the dirt floor of the root cellar, in a lot of pain. When she had fallen, she reached and grabbed to stop her fall, and had broken the rungs of the ladder on her way down. This is likely why she had severe injuries, I think she said a dislocated shoulder and broken ribs. With no ladder, she had to pull herself out of that root cellar and walk to where they kept their vehicle near the road, then drive herself into town, all in that excruciating pain.

So I thought for sure that had to beat all. But then I heard what this other woman in our association did. I nearly passed out, listening about it. Her family doesn’t have health insurance so she does what she can to take care of their needs. She has animals and is not shy about the practicalities of birthing, or cleaning meat from hunting or fishing. A good friend of hers is also a vet. This B&B lady knew that vets sometimes use Super Glue to close up some animal wounds. So, one time after needing some stitches in her eyelid, she didn’t want to go back to the hospital to have them out. She took out the stitches herself and closed the remaining wound with glue. Worked fine.

Here’s the part where I get oogy. Then, one time she had some intense, sharp intestinal pain. For a reason that made sense at the time, she had it treated surgically in Mexico. She came home to Alaska to recuperate, all stitched up, with a drainage tube coming out of her belly. A couple weeks later, she seemed healed up. She wanted the tube out, but didn’t want to pay to have a doctor take it out. She decided to take care of it herself. The bath tub seemed like a good place to do that, in case there was any blood–wouldn’t want that on the carpet! She didn’t tell anyone else she what she was doing because they might have yelled at her. She got in the tub and began removing that tube, pulling on it. She said she could feel it, moving between or around her organs inside. She had pulled most of it out, but then it was stuck. Turns out it had been secured in place. She needed to use scissors to loose it, inside of her. She said it came out with a “plop” because of blood and other junk that had clotted or gathered around that end. She said she lost a bit of blood in this activity and had to just lay there in the bathtub to regain her strength a bit. She’s doing great now! And I bet you $5 she’d do it all over again, if facing the same thing.

Besides the self-surgeries and the ones who dragged themselves to the emergency rooms, then the ones who are always there for anything anyone in town needs a volunteer for, these women are the stuff legends are made of. They’re the ones who have had it rough and who have been through just about everything between them. This is what you buy into when you stay at a B&B in our area. It’s all a very tall order for me to live up to, since I’m the junior B&B owner, only having been here or 5 years. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that any of these women have had to deal with anything worse than to decide between beef or chicken for dinner. They are the most gracious, kind, and self-effacing women you’ll ever meet. Though most B&B guests get to know the hosts a little bit, it’s too bad to me that more don’t get to know all the amazing things these women have been through.

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