Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Reunion brings old Homer to life
by Joel Gay
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News
Rowan Watson tells a story as his wife Ellen listens Tuesday during a party at the Beachcomber Restaurant.  
Rowan Watson lived in Homer from 1940 to 1954, but he still remembers his telephone ring: short, long, short.

That was when the town had a hand-cranked party telephone line and a couple hundred residents sharing it.

"Nothing happened in Homer without everybody knowing it," he laughed.

This week word of Watson's arrival came by e-mail, drawing nearly a dozen old friends and relatives from that bygone era to share lunch and stories at the Beachcomber Restaurant. The fete was put together by Wilma Williams, a Pratt Museum board member whose family arrived shortly after the Watsons. Also at the table were 90-year-old Thelma Gordon, her son and daughter-in-law Galen and Arlene Gordon, daughter and son-in-law Joan and Brantley Edens, plus Tepa Rogers, who is 70 and was born here, and the youngster of the group, Marie Walli.

For two hours they recalled stories from 50, 60, even 70 years ago as if they were yesterday. When Watson announced his phone's ring, three or four others chimed in with theirs. They knew who fished with whom, who lived in whose homestead cabin, and who used to ride on the home-made school bus <> a pickup with boards in the bed and a canvas top.

But much of the talk revolved around Watson's family. His father was Hugh Watson, a Louisville, Ky., bookkeeper, furniture maker and hardwood floor installer who came home one Wednesday night and announced to his wife and 9-year-old son, "'I quit my job today and I'm going to Alaska.' The following Friday he was on his way," the younger Watson said. "I remember that day as if it just happened."

Homer wasn't much to look at in July 1940 when they arrived, Watson said, and his mother never came to like Alaska. But his father was happy, and soon went into business with Henry Chamberlain. They bought out Berry's, a general store on Bunnell Avenue that eventually became Inlet Trading Post, and then ran a store known as Chamberlain and Watson.

The older Watson eventually bought a seine boat, and Rowan used to help crew back in the days of hand-hauled nets. He said he'd like to write a book about the humor of commercial fishing, such as the time he and his father dragged their anchor for miles after they thought it was lifted.

Watson graduated Homer High in the late 1940s, entered the military, and returned in 1953, he said, "But there was no work to be had." So he asked the principal if he could attend high school for another year. "I'm probably the only person to have two diplomas from that school," he said.

He and his peers from Homer's pre-statehood days remembered that the town had few cars, but all they names, such as Rosie, Lena and Bluebird.

Watson left Homer in 1954 to attend electronics school in Indiana, he said. There he married his wife, Ellen. They returned to Alaska for six years, but have been in Puyallup, Wash., the last 20, raising two girls. Now they have a pair of grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Williams planned to interview Watson for the Pratt Museum on Wednesday, and hopes he might shed light on faces and places in unidentified photos.