Cordova Chronicles: An attic full of memories

A view toward the other half of the attic. Maybe two weeks of rain isn’t enough for this clean-up project. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

One of my favorite sources of tales is the Cordova Museum. Hidden in its recesses is a treasure trove of classics, including a complete collection of The Cordova Times.

Two levels below the main floor is the archives section, including complete bound editions of Cordova’s newspapers, beginning with 1965. Prior to that, issues dating all the way back to 1909 are stored on micro-fiche, a reverse image film process that was used in the tiny former museum to save space and document the deteriorating older papers.

A couple of my favorite stories, one about the big dynamite explosion at Alaganik, the other about a logger who drifted around Prince William Sound in an open skiff for two days trying to deliver a cooked goose to a nearby colleague for Thanksgiving, came from those historical sources.

Yet lo and behold, thanks to two straight weeks of rain, and sagging rafters in the ceiling of our 1920s era home, I discovered another archive: our attic.

Accessed by a pull-down stairway, with a pitched ceiling just high enough to guarantee several lumps on one’s head during every visit, it is where every item of dubious value has at some point been stored.

My, it is hard to throw things away, especially when storage space is readily available. We are especially blessed to have not only an attic, but also a warehouse and duck cabin. For example, at the latter are at least 20 pots and pans in dubious condition, but somehow worthy of a boiled cabbage and sausage dinner, or a taco omelet following the morning shoot.

Yet the space three feet above our heads is the favorite location for verification of a pair of undeniable trusims: Out of sight, out of mind; and delay is the deadliest form of denial.

Keeping things is a complex mix of:

  1. Emotional attachment: Fisher-Price toys — remember when our daughters played with these?
  2. Possible use: A Woolwich jacket with sleeves cut off for clam digging 20 years ago. When was the last time anyone found a razor clam near Cordova?
  3. Record keeping: Tax returns for the past 45 years — you never know when the IRS might call.
  4. History: A sword my Dad swore Count von Schellhorn carried in the Civil War (really, Dad?).
  5. Humor: A trophy Randy Bruce and I won in a double-elimination ping pong tournament between the Elks and Moose back in the mid-’70s — a champagne shower followed.
  6. Most importantly, indecision: A clarinet with most cork and pads no longer functional, from my days in CHS band, 1958-62. Who knows, it might still contain one more rendition of Moon River.

When in doubt, don’t throw it out.

The old IRS finance records provided particular insight into days of yore.


  1. A sales slip from the Cordova Outboard for 10.5 gallons of gas used to dig clams in an open skiff near Mummy Island in 1974. Charge: $6.62. Cost per gallon: 63 cents.
  2. A $103.50 billing voice from Eric Johnson, Johnson Construction, dated Sept. 13, 1973 for 11.5 hours to install a bath tub and shower door in our newly-purchased home on Odiak Slough. Cost of labor: $9 per hour.
  3. An envelope dated May 1969, mailed from Blaine, Washington that contained a check from Alaska Packer’s Association for work as deckhand on a tender, postage 10 cents.
  4. A bill from PARKAIR dated Oct. 19, 1973 for dropping off a replacement 18 hp outboard at the Pete Dahl duck Cabin. “Cdv-Pete Dahl $10.00, excess baggage $6.25.”
  5. A bill from the Cordova Medical Clinic, Arthur D. Tilgner, M.D., dated Aug. 30, 1975, for prenatal visit: $12.50, and delivery of infant girl, our daughter Gretchen: $200. My wife reminded we received a 10-percent discount for paying cash in advance.

Why, in an old trunk whose rusty locks required a hammer to open, I found a 1955 Sheridan Ski Club Patch, and something that will definitely go down to the duck cabin: a 1966 Oregon State Rose Bowl pennant.

I was a senior at OSU that year, and rode a chartered bus packed with college students all the way from Corvallis to Pasadena, to watch our mighty Beavers get clobbered by Michigan 34-7. I still remember their quarterback, Bob Timberlake, was bigger than almost any player on the OSU team; and it was the Wolverines that were making timber out of the Beaver defensive line.

Little did I know at the time that it would be the last time Oregon State would play in a Rose Bowl.  Hmm. How many years ago was that?

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun.

The bottom line is that two weeks of rain does not create enough time to clean out an attic; but it turned out to be 14 days of surprising fun.

Yes, there are still decisions to be made.

But no amount of time or rain can erase countless memories of a very fortunate life, indeed.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.