We called him “A Tall Whiskey a Day”, he worked at the weather station, I think he had been an actor back in Denmark. A good man with a lot of humor who could drink a whole bottle of whiskey a day and still do a good job at the weather station.
I was in Greenland back then, in the early 80’s working as a carpenter. On the day where Tall Whiskey was supposed to be traveling back home to Denmark. Martin and I had been cleaning after a painting job, and we were driving the trash to “dumpen” – the junkyard. It was basically just a big hole filled with trash, they would set it on fire or simply cover it with dirt. It was early morning, still night and about 30° below zero (celsius).
When we were driving back towards the barracks – it was the last barracks before the icecape, the thin winter daylight was starting to break through the night. We had been back and forth to dumpen a couple of times this morning, but it was first now, with the grey morning light, that we could see a car with an open door at the bottom of the children’s skiing slope. The slope stretched from the top where Tall Whiskey lived, and down to the bottom where the americans had their barracks.
It was the Martin who saw the car first, “Someone’s had a car accident down the ski slope” he said, and then we hurried to help.
When we arrived at the car, the door to the driver’s seat was open, a glove was lying on the ground and we could see a man lying on his stomach a few meters up the ski slope.
The slope was all hardened and slippery from the kids playing. He had tried walking up the slope, even though the American barracks was only about 100 meters from his car.
I walked towards the man lying in the frozen snow. He was wearing; jeans, thin shoes, a nylon jacket and a shirt. Nylon freezes to the skin when it’s something like -30. He was not dressed as a person who lived in Greenland, but as someone would dress on a spring day in Denmark.
I put a hand on his shoulder to turn him around. He was stuck at first, but with a firm pull I got him turned around – or most of him. His shirt had been open and his chest skin was frozen to the skiing slope. His eyes were frozen, and his mouth was open, where his front teeth would normally have been there was instead two icicles of blood, he looked a bit like dracula.
You could smell the alcohol on him, even through the cold frozen air.
Martin and I called the Baltic Sea Baber, he was the doctor. His first reaction was that we should have tried first aid, checked if there was a pulse or if his hips could move. I told the Baltic Sea Barber that the man was deep frozen and dead for sure. Also I did not really want to check one more time as a the man looked quite terrifying.
It was on the day where A Tall Whiskey a Day was supposed to leave and go home to his wife in Denmark, instead Martin and I would spend the afternoon building him a chest, for his last journey. It would take a couple of months before he would be back in Denmark, as dead people traveled by boat and not plane. It was still winter and a couple of months before the first ship from Copenhagen would arrive.
It was a different life there, we have all done stupid things drunk, biking home or similar. But accidents like this can take such a quick turn for the worst when it’s 30° below zero outside. Had it happened back home in Denmark he would just have left the car and walked the last 500 meters home.
The men living at the american barracks just next to where Tall Whiskey’s car had ended up, later told me that they had heard the car struggling in the snow, but when it went silent they had assumed the car got loose and all was fine. Maybe they could have saved him – maybe not, the doctor told me that a drunk and heavy person like him would only last about 15 minutes in the cold night.