Going north to Alaska
Woman shares family’s experience from Greene to Alaska
Editor’s note: When Eva Pollock Romanczak was an infant, her family pulled up roots and headed north to Alaska. Being so young, Eva has little to no recollection of her family farm on Love’s Hill, but she has returned to Greene County several times as a teenager and as an adult. Now living in Depew, N.Y., outside of Buffalo, Eva remembers Greene County as “peaceful and having a quiet beauty,” not unlike Alaska where she spent most of her life. What follows is a tribute to her parents and other family members, who had a much stronger tie to this area. All photos are courtesy of Eva Pollock Romanczak.
Fifty-five years ago, my late father, Don L. Pollock, sold the family farm on Love’s Hill in Franklin Township in Greene County and set out for Alaska with my mother and their four young children. My mother’s parents beseeched Dad’s mother to try to talk him out of the move. Grandma’s response? “I wouldn’t dream of it.” It meant her only son moving to what must have seemed the end of the earth, but she would not stand in his way.
As a young boy, dad admired the poetry of Robert Service and his vivid images of the far north. During his years at West Virginia University, he told his college friend, Ted Carter, that he wanted to be a pioneer and either Alaska or New Zealand would fit the bill.
In 1956, a slideshow presentation on Alaska was given at my parent’s church and the spark was lit. Mom said after that evening, Dad could think of little else. He still wanted to be a farmer, but wanted it to be in the land where the sunshine is in endless supply from May through September.
In the summer of 1957, he began to take concrete steps to fulfill his dream – with my mother’s support, of course. He flew to Alaska to survey the situation. In a letter to my mother while he was away, he told her that stepping off the airplane in Anchorage felt like he was coming home.
The Washington Observer covered my family’s departure from Greene County and in part had this to say: “Friday, June 13, Don and Martha Jacobs Pollock, of near Love’s Hill, started their caravan on an almost 5,000 mile journey. Their destination is the fertile region at the foot of the majestic Alaskan Range, near Anchorage, where they expect to settle and carve out a venturesome way-of-life in a style reminiscent of the frontier wagon days.” And from the end of the same article: “One fact is certain, the spirited Pollock’s have accepted with a wholesome eagerness the vexing challenge offered in the land of the midnight sun and the flickering aurora borealis.”
My parents had nothing waiting for them upon their arrival in the Matanuska Valley near Anchorage – no job, property, family or friends. After a month on the road, they pulled into Palmer July 15, 1958. Within a week, dad found a job as a hired hand on a farm. In September, just before snowfall, the farmer’s son returned and wanted his job and the basement apartment back.
After a quick scramble, dad found a vacant cabin for sale on a mountain nearby that came with one hundred and 60 acres of land.
My father wrote: “Snow on the ground. No wood had been cut and dried for the winter, and the wind was blowing. Some of it went under the house, but part of it went through the house.” He spent the first winter cutting firewood, repairing the house and hauling water. Mom was busy with children and doing her best to adjust to a very different lifestyle – one without indoor plumbing.
My older sister remembers mom didn’t have much to spend on groceries that first lean winter. Our new home was bordered by tall mountains on three sides and it must have made her feel isolated. The winter winds come from the north and howl across the face of the mountain and can blow without stopping for three days to a week. Alaska is a land of extremes – the winter months are dark but the sun never seems to set in the summer. How alien it all must have seemed to my parents.
On a trip back Greene County five years after they left for Alaska, my parents did an interview with The Washington Observer and in it dad describes our way of living:
“We raise and hunt for most of our food,” proudly stated Mr. Pollock. “My wife does all the baking, canning, and all other household chores while I work with the Department of Agriculture in research. We raise most of the vegetables except any that need warm climates and won’t grown such as tomatoes. The hunting and fishing is the best anywhere and therefore, we have all the meat and fish anyone could want.”
And from my mother in the same interview: “The principal fuel and heat comes from logs and wood. If I haven’t learned anything while in Alaska,” Mrs. Pollock quickly quipped, “I have learned to chop wood.”
Growing up Alaskan, my five siblings and I all felt at home in the outdoors. We roamed our 160 acres with complete freedom. It didn’t matter if it was January or July – we had no desire to stay inside and spent hours and hours outdoors building creative toys and playing. Each spring, as the snow melted, we would build little boats to sail in the water flowing down the ditches on our driveway and beyond. Sometimes our imagination got us in trouble.
Later when we had horses, my younger brother and sister decided to set up a toll road point down at Wolverine corner, about a mile from our house. A neighbor lady who was stopped by two kids wearing bandanas on horseback brandishing a toy pistol did not appreciate being asked for quarter. She promptly called our mother when she got home and that was the end of that.
Looking back, I think one of the hardest things growing up so far away from Pennsylvania was not knowing our extended family. We traveled back to Greene County as a family only a few times. When mom and dad’s nest was empty of kids, they did try to get back to Pennsylvania at least every couple of years. Still living today are mom’s brother, Ben Jacobs and his wife Audrey of Waynesburg and her sister, Emily Montgomery of Jeannette.
And on that mountain in Alaska there are now four family homes and the next generation is growing up knowing their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. As for my mother and father, after their deaths in 2010, my younger brother Daniel carried part of their ashes back to Love’s Hill in Greene County, where they began their lives together.