More than 800 Alaskans have died of COVID-19 since early 2020. We asked readers and listeners to tell us about the lives of some of those Alaskans, and they responded.
Gina Pope lost her mother, Teresa Maria Pope, on Feb. 27, 2021. Teresa Maria was 77. She was born in Pastolik in Southwest Alaska and sent to a Catholic boarding school as a child. She spent much of her adult life in Anchorage and later lived at an assisted-living home in Fairbanks. That’s where Gina believes her mom contracted COVID-19.
Gina says she remembers her mom for her warmth and her laugh. She remembers so many of the little things too: Her mom reading “Archie” comics to her, her mom’s smile as she watched her kids ride their bikes and her love of riding in the car.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Gina Pope: One of her favorite things to do pre-COVID was to jump in the vehicle with me or us, whoever I was with, and ride around Fairbanks. We would just ride around and look at, like, Second Avenue had a really nice Christmas tree. And we’d stop at a coffee bar where they sold ice cream cones.
When we would be in the car, she would sometimes say something kind of offhand, real serious and complainy. And then she would just give this most joyous laughter. It was like I had two moms sitting in the car with me: one was the happy-go-lucky mom. And one was the mom that was a bit concerned about something that she didn’t think was right.
Here in Fairbanks, she had kind of a pretty set routine and a nice place to stay and food that was served three times a day. But when she lived in Anchorage, she was basically homeless. She had places that she could stay and, you know, family there that she could stay with. But she really was her own person. She had her own rules, and she didn’t want anyone else’s rules to rule her rules, rule what she does. And she loved to go to Bean’s Cafe and help out and she also ate there. But she would help them cook too. And she knew a lot of people at the shelter. Like she knew people all over Anchorage. And I’m sure that many of them may not have even known that she passed. But she was close to so many people.
And even here in Fairbanks, she would make friends and I wasn’t aware of it until after she passed how much of an impression she would make on people. Because I would go to this one place and pick up food and I would bring mom, and mom would take those little square boxes or rice. That was all she wanted was rice and soy sauce. And when I told the lady that worked there that my mom had passed, the lady said, “Oh, your mom? I loved her.” And I thought, “Wow, this lady only knew my mom for less than a year and she already loved her.” And it was like that with so many people. Mom would take the time to talk to each person she met.
I was also going to kind of remark on: My mom had lots and lots of children that she called her children and her grandchildren. And they called her Chida-mom. And the way that came about was my late sister, Roberta, her oldest boy, Irvin, when he was just starting to talk and put two and two together — who was related to who — he would hear someone call mom ‘chida’ which means grandmother in Dena’ina and then he would hear us call her mom. So he was wondering, ‘OK, is she chida? Or is she mom?’ So he called her Chida-mom. And that just stuck with everybody for years. It just stuck.