We lived for about ten years in a small village in Alaska called Cooper Landing. If you haven’t read this, or if it’s been awhile, go do so. It will keep me from being repetitious.
It’s true that Alaska has a, well, different kind of population.
Anchorage is sort of like any city. The locals there sometimes refer to it as “Los Anchorage” and will talk about how you can drive out of Anchorage for about thirty minutes in either direction (there are only two roads in and out) and find real Alaska.
But the small towns and villages are, well, different.
Most people just don’t want to live in rural Alaska. The weather can be brutal. Winter lasts almost forever. The cost of living is sky high. Cabin fever and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are real things.
But Cooper Landing is a unique little Alaska community. It’s a resort town. Lots of residents (including the people who bought our house when we left) are weekenders from Anchorage. They’re typically wealthy people with second homes who come down to fish and boat the river and lake. The entire Kenai Peninsula is considered Alaska’s playground.
A large part of Cooper Landing’s history centers around Cecil and Helen Rhode.
You can read about them here. Scroll down to the second article on the page. At least skim it a little, because it will help you understand the rest of this story. And here’s another article, from my time there (and mentioning both me and Dave) about the mountain. Unfortunately, the photos appear to be missing.
Cecil and Helen had both died by the time Dave and I arrived in Cooper Landing, but we came to understand the very large footprints (large indeed, as in two mountains and a park) they left behind.
We also counted their son, David, as a good friend.
As an aside, this is my favorite David Rhode story. One winter evening, we planned to have a few people over (a total of ten including us) for dinner. I decided to serve do-it-yourself stir fry. We had a Jenn-Air griddle embedded in our kitchen counter and it was a very convenient place for guests to make their own stir fry. I chopped up lots of stuff, set it out in bowls, and cooked a large pot of rice.
David Rhode was one of those guests. On his way to our house, he stopped off at a local grill/pub and in the course of conversation, mentioned that he was on his way to our house for dinner. And ears perked up. Somebody said, “The Davises are having a party?” And David said, “Oh, yeah. Come on over.”
And 35 people showed up at our house for dinner, when I had been expecting eight. Considering that there are only 300 people in the whole town, that was a significant segment of the population.
I spent the entire evening chopping up veggies. I used every bowl in the house. And some girl came through my kitchen asking where the bathroom was. I pointed. I had never seen her before in my life.
David Rhode is a free spirit indeed. He’s also one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He’s the guy in the yellow ball cap looking askance at us wimmins. (By the way, the quilt on the table is now in my living room awaiting hanging on the wall. I was describing how it’s made, totally by hand.)
His parents helped put Cooper Landing on the map.
After they died, there were two mountains named for them. The most prominent is Cecil Rhode Mountain which stands right on the south side of the village. We had a beautiful view of it from our dining room.
There it is. (Not my photo.)
Here is a photo (taken by Cecil on the mountain that bears his name) of Helen Rhode looking down on Cooper Landing. If you draw a line straight down from her right foot, when you reach land, you’ll be pretty close to the roof of our house.
Notice the bridge going over the Kenai River? See the white bare land on the far side of the river, on the left side of the road? That area, that land, is now a park. It’s small, just about the size of that white area. It’s called the Helen Rhode Memorial Park, and it is filled with native Alaskan plants only. Town residents volunteer to keep it maintained.
But Cecil and Helen and their son David were not the only long-time residents of Cooper Landing. Another one was Red Smith.
Red was a relatively tall, older man with red hair (I assume that’s where he got the name). He’d lived in Cooper Landing for a long, long time, and knew both Helen and Cecil, and he, of course, had watched David grow up there.
Red had an interesting hobby.
He wrote all sorts of treatises on government. He filled them with lots of stuff about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and lectures on US history and the flag and you name it. He wrote letters to the editor that nobody wanted to read.
And he filed lawsuits.
He filed lawsuits a lot. It seemed like he filed one every month or two.
It was kind of a joke. Nobody paid him much attention. He was just this argumentative, eccentric old guy who filed lawsuits and would tell you all about his rights and your rights and how nobody was respecting his rights. He used to come in the library when I was there and I would manage to find something that was really pressing that I needed to do and look very busy indeed. If I didn’t, he would bend my ear for an hour.
It was all just a bit of a joke.
One day, David Rhode showed me a lawsuit that Red had filed. When I saw the look on David’s face, I realized that Red’s bullshit was no longer a joke.
This screed was long. I can’t remember how many pages, but there were lots of them. It was all written in Red’s usual legalese shit, with “whereas” and “therefore” strewn all over the place, and cited all sorts of Miller v United States stuff, complete with numbers.
He was suing everyone on earth. I cannot remember who all was named, but it included legislators and borough representatives, and it included David Rhode.
Red was mad because the park was named for Helen Rhode, and the mountains were named for Cecil and Helen.
He was royally pissed off and he wanted his day in court. He had evidence, you see. He listed it all. He also listed all the Amendments that he felt had been violated, and all his “rights” that nobody was addressing, and all the various parts of the Constitution that were being ignored.
I looked at that mess, and tried to tell David that it didn’t matter, that Red was crazy, that nobody would listen to him for two seconds, but I knew it wasn’t helping much. David grew up knowing Red. He knew Red was nuts.
It hurt him anyway.
It was his parents’ legacy that was being attacked by a spiteful, jealous old man who believed every conspiracy theory you can imagine and thought he was an expert on the US Constitution and smarter than any lawyer anywhere.
I do not remember anything coming from that lawsuit, or anything else Red ever did, but Red hurt my friend, a good, decent, kind, gentle man who didn’t have a bad thought about anyone. I never forgave Red Smith. It was a nasty, hateful thing to do, and he did it for no other reason that he liked to pontificate about his view of the law and the government and he was royally pissed that nobody thought enough of him to name anything at all after him.
Every town has a Red Smith. Some towns have several of them. I bet a big city has hundreds.
Breckinridge County, Kentucky has at least two.