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THE ICEBOX

A LEGACY OF LOVE

THE ICE BOX - ERICA MILLER

Ross Miller felt the crunch of snow under his boots as he trudged through the nearly deserted streets of Seward, Alaska. It was 1942, and the once bustling town had transformed into a military outpost. His breath fogged in the frigid air, mingling with the wisps of steam rising from his morning coffee. He stopped to sip from his tin cup, feeling the warmth spread through his body, a temporary solace against the biting cold.

 

The decision to move his family to Seward had been driven by necessity. With the world embroiled in the chaos of war, Ross had taken a job at the naval base, ensuring the steady flow of supplies critical for the war effort. Initially, the move promised stability and security. However, the looming threat of Japanese attacks soon forced a painful separation. Due to the imminent danger, his wife, Alma, and their two children, Lewie and Erma, were evacuated to the Lower 48, leaving Ross to navigate this new and harsh reality alone.

 

Ross threw himself into his work as a maintenance man, finding solace in the routines and demands of his duties. The base was a hive of activity, with soldiers and workers bustling about, preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. His days were filled with unloading cargo ships, maintaining equipment, and ensuring every soldier had what they needed to defend this crucial outpost.

 

Evenings, however, were a different matter. The quiet of the Alaskan wilderness pressed in on him, amplifying his loneliness. The threat of Japanese attacks loomed large, and every shadow and every distant noise seemed to carry the menace of an unseen enemy. Ross wrote letters to his wife and the children, pouring his heart onto the pages. His words were a mix of mundane updates and heartfelt reassurances, a lifeline that connected him to the world he left behind.

 

“Dearest Alma,” he wrote one night, his hand trembling slightly from the cold, “I miss you and the children more than words can express. This place is not the same without your laughter, without the sound of Lewie’s curious questions or Erma’s infectous giggles. I keep busy, but the thought of you all returning keeps me going. Please stay safe and know I am doing my best to secure this place so we can be together again soon.”

 

The months dragged on, each day blurring into the next. The threat of attack never materialized, but the tension was a constant undercurrent. Ross found comfort in the camaraderie of his fellow workers and soldiers. They formed a tight-knit community, bound by their shared purpose and the hardships they endured together.

 

Ross’s nights were filled with vivid nightmares of bombings and invasions. He often woke in a cold sweat, the fear gripping his heart. He wondered if he would ever see his family again or if the war would tear them apart forever. The radio broadcasts, filled with news of battles won and lost, only added to his anxiety.

 

One crisp morning, as the first hints of spring began to tease the frozen landscape, a letter arrived from Alma. Ross tore it open with eager hands, his heart pounding in anticipation.

 

“Ross,” it began, “we received word that we may be able to return soon. The children are well, and we all miss you terribly. Lewie has been asking about the stars, and I told him how you would point them out to him in the Alaskan sky. Erma is growing so fast; you wouldn’t believe how much she’s changed. I can’t wait for us to be reunited and for you to see them again. Stay strong, my love. We will be home soon.”

 

Tears welled in Ross’s eyes as he read the letter, a mixture of relief and longing flooding his heart. The end of their separation was in sight, a beacon of hope in the endless winter.

 

As the weeks passed, the thawing ice and snow heralded the arrival of spring. The town of Seward began to stir with new life, with the promise of warmer days lifting everyone’s spirits. Finally, the day came when Ross stood at the dock, watching the ship that carried his family home approach. His heart raced as he scanned the deck, searching for the familiar faces he had missed so dearly.

 

There they were. Alma, Lewie, and Erma waved and called out to him. Ross’s breath caught in his throat as he ran to meet them, his arms opening wide to embrace the family he had longed.

 

The reunion was a blur of tears, laughter, and tight embraces. Ross held his children close, marveling at how much they had grown. He kissed Alma, their shared relief and joy palpable in the crisp spring air.

 

That night, as they sat together by the fire, Ross recounted their months apart. He spoke of the work, the solitude, and the constant fear that had hung over him like a dark cloud. He shared the stories of quiet heroism he had witnessed, of the friendships forged in the crucible of war.

 

Ross looked around at his family, safe and together again, and felt deeply grateful. They had weathered the storm and a world at war, and in the end, they had found a small island of peace in each other.

*

 

Eighty years later, Ross’s granddaughter, and Lewie's daughter, Erica Miller, would paint an image capturing this tumultuous period of his life with heartrending accuracy. The image of a man bent over his work, meticulously preparing the icebox, stands out against the abstract chaos surrounding him. Yet, amid the turmoil, there is an undeniable sense of purpose and resilience. This artwork is a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit, a poignant reminder that even in the darkest times, hope can be found, and family remains a source of unyielding strength.

 

Born and raised in the rugged beauty of Alaska, Erica traveled to New York to study art, earning her BFA from SUNY Purchase in 1991. After a dynamic career in the construction trades, she recently retired, allowing her to dedicate herself fully to her passion for painting. Erica’s vibrant works are celebrated nationwide and featured in collections from the Anchorage Museum of History and Art to Ellis Island in New York. Her portraits also grace the covers of Neil Perry Gordon’s trilogy – Hope City, Cape Nome, and Denali. She now lives and paints in the inspiring landscape of Hope, Alaska.

 

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