Cordova Chronicles: Christmas in June?

Grandkids Liesl, Ellie and Huck are all smiles under a welcome sign and Santa’s surprise appearance in June 2021. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

“Surely two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be being a grandchild and or a grandparent,” wrote philosopher Donald Norber.

Alas, due to the COVID pandemic, countless young and old have been missing that special pleasure.

While Sue and I were lucky to have our granddaughter Ellie right here in Cordova, our other grandkids, Huckleberry and Liesl, remained out of reach in Austin, Texas.

So finally, when COVID protocols and travel restrictions were eased somewhat, our daughter Heidi and her 8 and 6-year-old kids were able to come up for their traditional summer visit.

It had been two years since we had seen them in person.

There is a saying that Grandmas never run out of hugs or cookies. The pent-up desire to make up for lost time proved that one, and much more.

Grandma, along with our daughters Heidi and Gretchen, came up with the idea of having several missed holidays celebrated during their five-week stay here in Cordova.

Christmas, Easter and Halloween, and birthdays were the events selected, and each was honored in traditional fashion.

Naturally, birthdays came first, and Grandma had a three-layer cake, one layer of each grandchild’s favorite flavor, awaiting upon their arrival — with presents wrapped and also in place, of course.

For the June Christmas, Grandma made new stockings to be hung over the fireplace, Gretchen brought down her Christmas tree and Grandpa pulled out the 62-year-old Santa Claus helicopter. After reading The Night Before Christmas and opening presents containing not-so-secret pajamas on Christmas Eve, late that night old Saint Nick filled those stockings and the hearth with gifts to be opened the next morning, followed by Swedish pancakes and special Xmas cheer.

Halloween was also another big hit, complete with costumes, bobbing for apples, seeing who could eat donuts hung from a string, with some serious Trick-or-Treating launching the festivities.

Easter featured dyeing eggs, plus egg hunts both inside and outside, in rather balmy conditions, a rarity on the true April date for this celebration. And yes, the Easter bunny did bring surprise baskets.

Many other traditional activities took place during the five-week visit, including two nights at the Pete Dahl duck cabin, hiking various trails, beach combing, picnics, and fishing at several locations. (Huck caught his first cutthroat trout). Nature provided surprises, such as the vanishing Sheridan Glacier, and sledding in late June on snow packs at Mile 27.

The Texas kids had never been on the ferry, so a five-day excursion to the Kenai Peninsula was included. Visits to the Alaska Conservation Wildlife Center near Portage and the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward were highlights.

A true showstopper near Seward was the Seavey “Ididaride” Dog Sled Tours. The Texans missed their four dogs back in Austin, but it was an absolute thrill for all of us to be pulled on a meandering trail by a team of dogs including several that actually ran the famous Iditarod race. And getting to hold little puppies that might someday make a future run to Nome was a special delight.

However, during the whole visit, ripe salmonberries were a rarity, and despite countless black bear reports all over town, not once did we see a bear in the Cordova area.

What we did see was a lot of birdies flying back and forth.

Grandma had provided the grandkids with a badminton set, and Grandpa woke up many a morning with a stiff back after chasing these fine-feathered friends lofted by the Texans across a volleyball net down on the beach in front of our home on Odiak Slough.

Now back home in Austin, Huck and Liesl are readjusting to 90-degree temperatures. Much to our delight, both claim to be at least 50% Alaskans, and amazed us with their disregard for rain and chilly weather during much of their visit.

Ah, it was so great to be grandparents on a personal level again.

Somehow, Thanksgiving didn’t make the unique summer holiday list.

But we are so thankful for those who have followed the protocols and all means available to battle this pandemic, and demonstrate true Christmas spirit through good will and concern for all.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 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 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at