You’ve heard of long distance romances, courtships and even long distance proposals. But long distance marriages – lasting ones that is—are pretty rare.
That’s exactly what Etta Singleton and her late husband, Edward Singleton, shared for 20 years.
Married in 1945 at the end of World War II, Edward was transferred from his power plant job at the Seattle naval yard in 1948 to the Kodiak navy base.
Etta stayed behind because she was skittish of flying or taking a steamship to Alaska. Even if she drove the rugged Al-Can highway, which her husband did once or twice a year to see his family, Etta still would have to take the ferry or fly to Kodiak.
There was also a familial tug that kept Etta in Washington.
When her oldest brother, who was like a father to her, passed away, Etta decided it was time to overcome her fears so that she could join the man whom she vowed to spend the rest of her life with.
Etta is happy she made the decision to come to Kodiak. People have treated her well. She’s been active in numerous local organizations, including the American Legion Auxiliary. She’s made many friends here. But most have either relocated or died.
She lives alone in an apartment complex that is being renovated into cannery housing. It’s time for Etta to leave.
She plans to live in Seattle to be with family – children, grandchildren, in particular a four year old granddaughter who has cancer.
Although Etta looks forward to being with kin, she is hesitant to go.
“I don’t want to leave now, but it’s time,” she said.
When Etta stepped off the plane in Kodiak 46 years ago, the airport was full of people waiting to see what she looked like.
It didn’t take long for her to meld into the community.
“I’m so happy that I came,” she said. “I love everything about Kodiak. We’re just a rainbow of people. It looks like everybody love each other”
Her distinction as African American doesn’t make her feel different, Etta said.
She said she knew no racism or prejudice in Kodiak. In fact, she knew very little of it during her 86 years, which started in the state of Louisiana.
Etta was raised by her mother.
Her dad abandoned the family shortly before she was born. “He went to get a loaf of bread and never came back.”
When Etta’s father left, her mother was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, carrying Etta in her womb.
Her uncle, who worked for the railroad, had to come and get the family. They headed to Monroe, Louisiana, on a train.
Because it was railroad policy not to allow pregnant women to ride the train, Etta’s mother shielded her pregnancy by putting her little boy in front of her.
Etta’s mother worked as a nanny for a Caucasian lady who had two children. Because she didn’t have a babysitter, she often took Etta to work with her. The family was “wonderful,” Etta said. “I was raised with two white girls. I felt comfortable.”
Gradually, Etta’s family began moving from Monroe to Seattle. First her aunt moved. She sent for Etta’s oldest brother and he sent for Etta.
Eventually her brother sent for their mother.
When Etta felt that she was old enough to work, she “put her age up,” as she said, and got a job with Boeing.
Through her employment, she met her future husband, a fork lift operator. Etta worked as a riveter. “Can you believe that?” she smiles.
In Kodiak, Etta entered the culinary profession. Her career was launched with a visit from a lady who asked her if she would be interested in cooking for the dormitory, which housed rural and village students attending high school in town.
Etta told her that she wasn’t experienced in cooking for large groups of people. The lady insisted that Etta was up for the job. “I said, ‘I’ll try,’” recalled Etta. She was sent to cooking school in Anchorage.
Once she received a certificate, Etta got jobs all over town.
She cooked at the dorm until it was closed down. She also ruled the kitchens at the Mecca and the Golden Anchor and the Civilian Club on base. The Civilian Club, located by the Coast Guard gate, was the first eatery to provide pizzas in Kodiak, Etta said.
She also was a baker at the Senior Center.
Etta even attempted to work at the cannery, an experience that just about everybody in town had at one time or another, she said.
When she got the job, her husband made a bet with the kids that she wouldn’t last long.
Etta was working in the slime line, when a big fish fell on her shoulder, splashing water all over, she recalled.
Pointing to another part of the room, a lady next to Etta told her to “’stand back over there.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not standing over there, I’m walking out.’ So that was a big laugh. I lasted about three hours.”
After retirement, Etta had more time to contribute to the American Legion and other organizations. Etta served as unit president of the Legion five or six times, and was president of the State of Alaska Auxiliary one term, she said.
Obviously, Etta had gotten over flying fears, because her position required her to travel all over the country.
And now she’ll be traveling again. This time it’s not flight fear that is holding her back, but a strong attachment to the community.
“After you’re here for a while, you love it. I hate so bad that I’m leaving. I just can’t see myself leaving.
“I can’t say I haven’t been treated beautifully,” she reflects.
Sometimes the kindness of people moves her to tears. “It make me cry sometimes, they’re so nice to me.” And that’s why she sheds tears when she talks about leaving.
Somewhat like the first time Etta came to Kodiak, people will have a chance to gather in her honor. Friends and family are invited to a going-away reception for Etta at the American Legion, 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 16. Bring a handkerchief. Second thought, two of them. Etta will be crying with you.