My boyhood was spent in two cultures: Polish on my mother’s side, German-speaking Alsatian on my father’s. I used to tell my blue-collar father I longed to see Europe, a continent he saw through three vision blocks as a Sherman tank driver all of World War II. He saw action from North Africa to Normandy to the Ardennes, and he harbored more bad memories of Europe than good. “What do you got lost there?” he always replied.

My father taught me the world was a fierce, dangerous place and you were safer if you stayed between your own fence posts.Grandpa Henry, my dad’s dad, crippled his back in a farm accident and never again walked unaided. Uncle Norman, my dad’s kid brother, died a gruesome death trying to get the stalled family car off of train tracks. My dad’s young sister Rose fell from a barn loft and perished in front of him as he mucked out our horse stalls.

I, however, as a boy envisioned the world as a miraculous place to explore, reminded always that Dad and millions like him secured that freedom with their sacrifices. On weekends and summers, I accompanied my parents to the two family dairy and pig farms, places of refuge where the street thugs of Buffalo, New York, dare not enter. My grandfather’s dog Rover, mostly collie but like me a mixed-breed, sniffed the tracks of deer in Grandpa Josef’s back woods. Now and then he surprised a red fox and ran panting as if he had a chance of catching it.

While Rover barked in worry, I shinnied up apple, plum, and cherry trees, certain that the tastiest fruit was found in the treetops. I came back to the farmhouse from the fields with jars of butterflies, wild strawberries and, often. clothing torn by barbed wire. Rover accompanied me with sticky cockleburs buried in his coat, causing Grandfather to grumble Polish words of reproach as I brushed him clean. On long hikes I loved spooking game that abounded in the back woods of this pastoral paradise. Dinner staples on Grandma Stella’s table were squab, quail, venison, wild duck, and ring-necked pheasant harvested by my uncles on our back woods and in the corn fields. Everything was over-salted, and it seemed Grandma put her homemade horseradish on everything except our churned ice cream.

You had to eat gingerly. Buckshot went deep into the breasts of game birds. You risked shattering a baby tooth if you grew careless while eating. For entertainment I read Jim Kjelgaard books about hunting, fishing and adventurous heroes. In the city I read them sitting in our unfinished attic. In the country all summer and fall I read in the barn, the smell of plowhorses in my nostrils, and Rover’s white-and-gold head asleep on my Keds.

To me, Rover was as magnificent as Kjelgaard’s Chiri, the valiant staghound-Husky mix who saves his master in “Snow Dog.” Rover used to grab my shorts with his teeth if I ventured too near a road that split Grandfather Josef’s farmland into two sides.

I lived in the imaginative world of books when I wasn’t running outdoors. From Kjelgaard I learned that coming-of-age books can show (not teach) lessons about outdoor survival, fair play, and individual responsibility. Kjelgaard heroes invariably made the right moral choice instead of choosing compromise. The author showed his readers that the way to a peaceful heart is to act decently.

He also had a nice and easy pen while creating novels for kids with animal protagonists such as a polar bear, red fox, a beaver, and a fawn.

Kjelgaard’s books showed young readers like me that clever children and heroic dogs endured life’s hardships and celebrated its joys, mysteries and sacred placed like deep woods and riverbanks. The optimism in Kjelgaard’s novels convinced me that the world was far less a dangerous place than I had been taught from birth.

Apparently, the world Kjelgaard created on a page was far brighter and cheerier than the life he lived. While he found joy in dogs and outdoor adventures, his beat-up body caused him relentless pain from which physicians found him no escape. He died a suicide before his 50th birthday on July 12, 1959.

My dog Rover lived a fine old life until his eyes grew rheumy, and his steps grew uncertain. Even as I write these words, I wonder why I haven’t tried to write a novel for kids with Rover as a Kjelgaardian canine hero. Perhaps this column may inspire me to start that manuscript, and the local library to put a few Kjelgaard books on the shelves, for a check showed a scarcity in his titles.

I still reread those old Jim Kjelgaard books that enchanted me as a boy. I own 24 Kjelgaard hardcover first editions stashed behind glass in an antique bookshelf.

Another round of Winners & Sinners.

Winner: Kudos to two volunteers connected with the Fairbanks office of the American Red Cross who are assisting residents after weather-related disasters. Judy Martin is in Maui helping those attempting to recover from the tragic fires of August. Jeanne Laurencelle is in Florida doing her best to aid victims of Hurricane Idalia.

Sinner: The Fairbanks North Star Borough Clerk’s office sent postcards to all Fairbanks registered voters in Precinct One noting a polling place location change from Noel Wein Library to the Carlson Center for the municipal election of Oct. 3. Unfortunately, the postcard notice for many voters on Aug. 25 contained incorrect last names due to a mail-merge sorting error. That error amounted to double printing costs plus 63 cents postage times two for every misaddressed postcard.

Winner: Conspiracy theorists may turn off their engines now. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Clerk’s office quickly acknowledged and apologized for its errors on the postcard mailing and took swift corrective measures in a new mailing of postcards stamped Aug. 28. Applause for Borough clerk April Trickey’s transparency under pressure to solve the snafu.

Winner: A tip of the fedora to Director of Development Tammy Tragis-McCook with the UAF College of Business and Security Management who was named Outstanding Professional in Philanthropy by the Alaska Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Any time your peers select you for an award, it is an honor to be cherished.

Sinner: Gov. Duneavy’s veto on a bill banning firefighting departments from dumping foam that is polluting Alaska waters has me stumped, respectfully. Where’s the line between “polluting” the waters and “poisoning” them with PFAS compounds? Gosh, any governor who would keep forever chemicals around might also cut out $87,500.00 earmarked to benefit K-12 education. Oh, you say he did do that? Methinks some of our Alaska elected officials set their watches back 25 years when their planes touch down in Juneau.