The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Frank E. Baker
Special to the Seward Phoenix LOG 

Memories of the man behind the screened window

 

November 9, 2017 | View PDF

Photo courtesy of Resurrection Bay Historical Society

The old Federal Building at 5th and Adams, where City Hall is now located, was razed following the 1964 earthquake.

Ed. Note: During the early 1950s Seward's U.S. Post Office was located in the Federal Building at 5th and Adams, and the jail was situated in its basement. In third person, former Seward resident Frank E. Baker relates for the first time a story from his childhood when he was eight years old. The name of the jail prisoner used in the story is fictitious.

"Hey kid..." The voice filtered out through a screened window at the base of the Post Office stairs.

Frankie looked down toward where the voice was coming from, and then he saw a dark form behind the screen. He stepped slowly down the stairs and, with hesitation, leaned closer to the window.

"Hi kid."

"Mister...what are you doing in there?"

"I'm in jail. What does it look like?"

"I shouldn't be talking to you." Frankie began to pull away.

"You're already talking to me," the man observed.

"What did you do?" Frankie asked, concealing his nervousness by holding up the day's mail so the stranger could see it.

"Nothing much," he said with a coarse cough. "Stole a few things off the dock on the graveyard shift a few weeks ago."

Frankie felt a rush of excitement. He was talking to a convict. He marshaled more courage and stepped closer. "My dad says he knew one guy who worked down there for 10 years and never stole a thing...then one night he took a small can of shoe polish home and got fired, arrested and slapped with a big fine."

"Say kid," the stranger rasped, not paying attention to Frankie's chatter. "Is that a comic book you got there?"

"Yeah. My dad doesn't let me read very many...just Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Fox and Crow, stuff like that."

"How'd you like to make a swap? I've been reading the same one for two weeks."

"I don't know," Frankie said tentatively. "I might get in trouble."

"Whose gonna find out? It can be our secret."

"Well...what do you have?" Frankie said.

"Flash Gordon. A little beaten up, but still readable."

"Flash Gordon! My dad never lets me have those."

"Here. I'll just slide it through the crack under the window. What do you say?"

"Okay, I guess," Frankie said, looking around to see if anyone was watching. I've got Bugs Bunny. Are you sure you want it?

"Kid, I'd read a cook book if you had one."

"I can't take this ho

me," Frankie said, looking at the battered Flash Gordon comic. "Maybe I can read it in our fort."

"You gotta fort?" The stranger asked.

"Yeah, a good one. We made it out of boards we found lying all over town."

"I had a fort when I was a kid. Up in a tree. We pulled the ladder up after us and no one could get up there."

"I gotta go," Frankie said, clutching the tattered comic book carefully so as not to cause further damage. My mom will be wondering why I'm taking so long. Maybe I'll see you again."

"Maybe. Thanks for the trade. What's your name, kid?"

"Frankie...Frankie Baker. What's yours?

"Tom Oldham."

"Good to meet you Tom. See ya."

"Okay, Frankie."

The strong sea smell of Resurrection Bay washed over Frankie as he began the five-block walk up Adams and along Fourth Avenue back to his house. He couldn't wait to tell his friends that he had traded comic books with a guy in jail...a real criminal! But by the time he reached the back door of his house, he realized that he couldn't tell his friends. They'd somehow tell their parents, they'd tell his parents, and the whole thing would be ruined. It had to be a secret, at least for now.

"Did you get all of the mail?" His mother asked absently, putting something into the stove oven.

Frankie was inwardly proud of himself. He was only eight and today was the first time his mom had sent him on an errand downtown. "Sure did," he answered, placing it on the kitchen counter. "Not too much stuff- I think there's a letter from Grandpop Redline."

"That's good," she said warmly. "Go get washed up. It will be time for lunch soon."

Frankie visited the man in jail a few more times after that. And then one afternoon in August, when warm summer winds swept across Resurrection Bay, he looked down through the screened window and no one was there. He called to the stranger, but there was no answer. He paused for moment, then turned and walked silently back home, thinking that he would probably never forget the man behind the screened window-the man who had done some bad things, but who didn't really seem bad.

Freelance writer Frank E. Baker and his family lived in Seward from 1946 until 1959. In the late 1950s he helped his brother-in-law, Don Lowell, assess the feasibility of bringing Anchorage television to Seward by climbing Mount Wolcott, near Kenai Lake, where a translator was installed. It became operational in 1960. Frank currently resides in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah.

 

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