Today is Monday, August 21st, 2017

News of new bishop fuels memories of Alaskan trek

Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska, walks outside of the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau in this 2014 photo. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska, walks outside of the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau in this 2014 photo. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

By Father Timothy Gollob
Special to The Texas Catholic

After a not too long wait, our diocese has been informed that our next leader will be coming down to these parts from the state of Alaska.

This announcement has stirred up some powerful memories from my past. These flashbacks start in 1954 when I arrived at North American College in Rome, Italy. None of my classmate were Texans. They all delighted in a certain genre of jokes: e.g. “If you Texans don’t stop bragging so much, we will cut Alaska in two and then Texas will be the third largest state!”

With the ominous shadow of Alaska in my past, I enlisted my classmate, Jerry Boudreaux of New Orleans, to come with me on a trip north to find out just what frozen goodness might exist there. This was in 1962, and we set out from Dallas in my new Falcon. On the way, we took in the sights of the west, the grasslands of Nebraska, and the badlands of the Dakotas.

We entered the province of Alberta and headed for the Alaskan Highway. At the town at Mile One, we were warned to put plastic covers over the headlights of the car. At Mile 83, we quickly realized the utility of those covers. The road went from a paved surface to a gravel road.

For the next 1,200 miles we managed to travel only 300 miles a day. Pebbles thrown up from passing vehicles pelted us. Dust from 18-wheelers obscured our visibility. We had started the trip with new tires and we had to buy fresh ones as the gravel wore the treads down smooth.

In the middle of the day, we would pull over to the side of the highway by a stream to do some fishing. The Arctic Graylings seemed to like our yellow bass lures, and we hauled in food for supper on several occasions. But we did not fish long as the mosquitoes, recently hatched from the melting snow puddles, would almost eat us alive as we ate our chips and sandwiches.

Finally, we arrived at an Alaskan town where we had heard rumors of giant strawberries that grew in the land of almost 24 hours of summer sunshine. We knocked on the door of a farm and said that we were from Texas and we wanted to see those great berries. The owner replied that the souls in Hell want water, but they don’t get it.

We pleaded our case as cynical Texans, and we were given a strawberry the size of a grapefruit. It was impressive to see, but like paper to eat. You can’t judge a book by its cover, they say.

At the end of our journey we had reached the Denali National Park. The highway disappeared into a river and we turned around and headed back to Texas. We had been gone for 24 days. All the sweetness of being back where we belonged was a joy that filled up our souls.

In this year of 2017, my prayer is that Bishop Edward J. Burns will be filled with that same spirit of Texas joy from the top of his 10-gallon zuchetta to the bottom of his boots.

Father Timothy Gollob is the pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.


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