Finding a pizza order form in our old school newspaper lurking in the old dairy crate made me think about how if there is one luxury bush dwellers envy city dwellers for, it's pizza delivery. When I was a kid every teacher of the bush school I attended decided this was an exploitable situation and used it in order to help finance school field trips.
Along with other fundraising activities, our school's pizza delivery gambit (and the school district generously matching every dollar we earned) allowed us to go on trips along the Inside Passage to visit Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines. We also managed some international travel to Prince Rupert and Smithers, Canada. Later, Hawaii was not beyond the school's reach, thanks in large part to wilderness residents' hunger for delivered pizza.
How it worked was that the school would buy the ingredients (or accept donated ingredients) and would make the pizza dough ahead of time, storing it in freezers of locals living in and outside the village. In the school newspaper, delivered to every resident, was a pizza order form with a list of ingredient choices to be checked for up to two pizzas.
Then, on the designated pizza night, the dough was gathered and the kids, with teacher supervision, would have an overnighter at the school, using the school's and the attached teacherage's ovens to cook the pizzas.
Every school kid from the oldest to the youngest had assigned duties, from grating mounds of cheese (watch those fingers!--the less said about that the better), to crying over diced onions, to compiling the pizzas, to delivering them.
Delivery was my favorite job: Carrying our warm boxes of pizza into the cool night, smelling the cheese, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and pepperoni mixing with the gasoline fumes from the outboard and the musk of low tide as we skiffed from one village home to the next. We'd walk up private docks or beaches to a door, shining our flashlights, hearing a private generator purring. The door would open, revealing an electric light lit scene of anticipatory faces gathered around a table.
Because my family lived so far out in the bush, my parents agreed to have their pizza delivered to my grandparents' home in the village, and they'd stay the night and make a party of it. I could tell they were enjoying not only the luxury of delivered pizza, but a night away from the kids.
We didn't hold it against them. We were having a blast away from the adults. After the last pizzas were delivered and clean-up had concluded, the teachers faded to the sidelines and even fell asleep. The kids had the run of the school all night long and we made the most of it.
Some of our inspired ideas included piling bean bags below the upper story loft, climbing onto the half-wall and leaping into space, landing (hopefully) on the bean bags. We played a version of volleyball on the play deck that we fondly called "kill ball" with a complete disregard for anything approaching rules, or concern for life and limb. Lights were often casualities.
When we tired of that we played flashlight tag, ghosting through the dark playfield, through the forest surrounding the school, or darting from one foundation piling under the school to the next. Each of us had a flashlight clutched in a sweaty hand, breathing fast as we peered into the blackness, ready to stab our fellow with a spear of light at the slightest movement, but terrified of giving away our position and being speared in turn.
The entire school, plus chaperons, about to board the ferry on a fieldtrip. Back row left to right: Bret, Jamie (my brother), Marion (my aunt) Tara (me), Romi (my mom), Megan (my sister) with Lulu on her shoulders, Sue. Front row: Robin (my brother), Sarah, Eve, LeAnn (my cousin), Josh, Molly, Chris (my brother), Traci.
One year my sister, a schoolmate, and I cleverly climbed into the large ball box to hide and accidentally locked ourselves in. It was a long time before anyone found us, despite our yells and pounding, and during that time we discovered that our schoolmate had a gaseous reaction to eating pizza. In the entire history of tag, never have kids wanted to be "tagged" so desperately as we did that night. To this day my sister has claustrophobia issues stemming from that incident.
We played "The Oregon Trail" and "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" on the computer. Highly non-educational movies were put on the school's educational TV and VCR and we'd lie around on gym mats watching and munching popcorn and guzzling homemade root beer that a schoolmate's parents had donated. The things we did with the school's copier are best left unrecorded.
I remember wandering around the school in the early morning when things had wound down, and gazing upon an apocalyptic scene of desks and chairs piled hapahazardly, burst bean bags oozing their pebbly entrails, and students lying about in various attitudes of post-debauchery exhaustion.
I came across my little brother Robin perched precariously on a stool just outside the kitchen. He was surrounded by empty root beer bottles, had one clutched in his hand, and was slumped over, snoring.
Pizza night was officially a success.
One Person Gluten-Free Stove Top Skillet Pizza Recipe:
I'm gluten-free these days and have created an easy recipe for those times when pizza is immediately required.
Crack 1 large egg into a small bowl. Crush 1/2 cup Rice Chex cereal. Mix cereal with the egg to form a stiff dough. Film the bottom of a 3.5 inch cast iron skillet with olive oil. Press the dough into the skillet until it reaches all sides. Cook on one side under medium low heat (on the stove top) for five minutes and flip, turning the heat down to low. Spread pizza sauce on the cooked side, arranged grated cheese on it, and add what toppings you desire. Cook until cheese is melted. Enjoy!
NOTE: A version of this story first appeared in Capital City Weekly, May 10, 2017.
"Tell me about the time you sat on a pitchfork."
My three-year-old charge, Hadley Pack, is always fascinated by the adventures I and my four siblings had on the very property she calls home, that used to be my grandparents' house. It's a small, story-and-a-half house that my father helped build, with a view of the state dock and most of the thirty or so houses that make up Meyers Chuck, Alaska.
I show Hadley and her year-and-a-half sister Emma the infamous spot where, at the tender age of seven, I sat on a pitchfork.
"How could you sit on a pitchfork?" Hadley asks, big gray eyes full of curiosity, mischief, and skepticism.
"It was easier than you might think," I recall. "My uncle Lance, who was a teenager at the time, found a nasty, rusty pitchfork head. My grandma told him to get rid of it immediately. He buried it behind the house and somehow the tines--the points--wound up sticking straight up. While we were tilling the dirt for a garden the pitchfork head was exposed but no one noticed because it was the same color as the dirt."
Hadley hangs on my words, gripped by the coming horror. Emma, perched on my hip, is more interested in stuffing the end of my braid in my mouth, with a look of scientific curiosity, than in hearing the story.
"Then what happened?" Hadley presses.
"I was pretty tired from gardening. Hauling salal brush and salmon berry bushes away and finding all the rocks and stacking them in a corner. So I decided..." I draw it out. "To...sit...down."
Hadley doesn't speak, her eyes fixed on my face.
"I looked around for a good spot." I push the braid out of my mouth. "Should I sit on that tree root over there? No. That would be too uncomfortable."
Hadley giggles under her breath.
"That nice patch of dirt looks soft and inviting. I think I'll sit...right...OUCH!"
Hadley jumps, then explodes into infectious convulsions of mirth. For a moment Emma is fascinated by Hadley's borderline control of her laughter. She smiles, then turns back to her scientific studies involving my hair and mouth.
Hadley insists on the rest of it. The sorry account of a little blonde girl like herself, dragging herself into the house, pitchfork protruding, sobbing for her mommy. How the next door neighbor Cassie (who used to give me cookies and now gives them Hadley and her sister), volunteered to take me on a floatplane to Ketchikan to see the doctor, since she already had a flight scheduled.
Hadley's satisfaction with the conclusion of the story, I suspect, has as much to do with her relief that someone had disposed of the submerged threat before she came along, as in her pleasure at her favorite story being told again.
We decide to adventure farther afield and traipse down the wooden walkway that leads to the new post office. Beyond that is the beach where I used to play as a child, where my parents' floathouse used to be, before it was towed to several different locations.
We scamper over the rocks, Hadley insisting that she is Sleeping Beauty to my Prince Charming (regardless of her sister still on my hip).
I breathe in the pungent tidal scents of seaweed and mud, the angle of the light bringing back a childhood full of sunshine and a village that was at one time full to capacity with fishing boats; when the laughter and shrieks of children floated across the water.
I remember climbing over these very rocks, immersed in the wonders of Alaska, knowing, at the age of six, that I had found where I wanted to live for the rest of my life.
I try to imagine that little girl picturing herself grown up, sharing her first discoveries with two other little girls. I often get this feeling, ever since I was hired to be a wilderness nanny for Dan and Kerri Pack two years ago, when Kerri was pregnant with Emma and she and Dan were operating a kayak lodge out of their home.
The cabin Hadley and I shared, away from the kayak guests, had no in-door plumbing, wasn't wired for electricity, and was, in short, exactly the environment I'd grown up in.
Kerri had warned me that Hadley didn't like brushing her teeth, which I found to be true. So I took her to the front door of the cabin and sat her on the top step. I put bubblegum flavored pink toothpaste on her tiny brush and poured water from a thermos on it.
It was dusk, with late rays of sunshine fingering its way through the thick, dark trees. We could hear generators rumbling across the bay, and a seiner dropping its anchor. Night birds crooned in the evening and squirrels chattered.
"Did you see that baby squirrel?" I asked Hadley. "It's come to find out how to brush its teeth. Now, if you show it how it's done, it can go back and show its mother how good it is at brushing its teeth."
Hadley eagerly peered into the woods to catch a glimpse of the squirrel. She heard one chatter and excitedly applied the brush to her teeth, working up a mouth full of pink foam.
The squirrels, as it turned out, also needed to learn how to brush their hair, eat all their food, and go to bed right after their bedtime story.
Now, with an older and wiser Hadley and a tag-along little sister, we have more exciting adventures, leaving the squirrels far behind. These days we pack a lunch and head into the rain forest that covers the island Hadley's home is on. We head past the wooden sign branded "Hadley's Pathway" and emerge onto a beach that gives us a panoramic view of a white-capping Clarence Strait, the only access, besides air, to Meyers Chuck. Waves explode against the protective arm of rocks that shields the Chuck, and salt spindrift is flung a dozen feet into the air.
Every step I cover is full of memories, of a childhood I'd thought forever gone in the past, but which is brought closer every day I spend exploring Alaska anew through the eyes of Hadley and Emma. Every time Hadley asks me to recall my childhood, I feel as if she is giving me a gift, something precious I once had but had somehow allowed to drift away from me without knowing it.
We duck into a gravel alcove, sheltering near a pile of weathered drift logs. To our right is an eagle tree, with a nest in it. For a moment we are hypnotised by the gray and white fury of the pounding surf. Even Emma remains still and silent, awed by the elements. Hadley huddles close to me, shivering at the bite of the wind.
Almost immeditately, though, she recalls our purpose in braving this exposed shore.
"We were in a boat, remember," she says.
"That's right," I duly remember. "We were in a terrible shipwreck and just barely managed to make it ashore before the boat broke up. All we have left is this bag of food."
"We better eat it," Hadley says practically.
We settle on the beach and spread out the meal. Emma stays on my lap, trying to be fair about how much she eats and how much she smears onto me. Hadley chews on a sandwich, her eyes going far away.
It is just the three of us left in the world, everything and everyone forgotten. We could be living in any time, castaways from what is happening elsewhere on the planet. I have been granted this break away from the usual concerns and involvements of an adult in today's world. For a moment I feel the presence of a little girl in blonde pig-tails soaking in the rawness and freshness of Alaska. Almost, I am her again.
Hadley stirs, turning her eyes away from the water to look at me, searching my face. "Tell me about when you were a little girl," she says.
Note: A version of this story was originally published in ALASKA Magazine, May/June 2004.
"Message in a bottle." That was the subject tag on the email I received on March 27, 2017.
I've always been fascinated by messages in bottles. One story that sticks in mind is about a steamer named Saxilby that left Ireland in November 1933. It disappeared, but two and half years later a message in a bottle washed ashore at Aberayon, Wales. It said: "S.S. Saxilby sinking off Irish coast. Love to sisters, brothers, and Dina. Joe Okane."
What's Twilight Zone eerie about this particular message in a bottle is that it washed ashore less than a mile from the people to whom Joe Okane sent his last message.
An even more remarkable story is the one about Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman who, along with forty-three companions, went searching for buried treasure on a Pacific Island in the year 1784.
They were caught in a terrific storm and the ship was wrecked on a coral reef. Matsuyama and the other crew members made it ashore, only to find that the island had little to offer in the way of food or drinking water. Matsuyama was the last survivor. In the wreckage from the ship he found a bottle and carved a message about what had happened into thinly sliced bark from a storm-downed coconut tree. He put it in the bottle and flung it into the ocean.
In 1935 the bottle, with the coconut bark message inside it, washed ashore on the beach below Hiraturemura, Japan, where Chunosuke Matsuyama had been born more than a century and a half before. Hmm. Is that The Twilight Zone's theme I'm hearing?
My brother Robin, when he was a teenager, found a message in a bottle while he was hunting on the islands across from where we live. It turned out to be part of a meteorological experiment, but it was still an exciting find. I wrote about it in this blog last year. (Click on "Communication" under Categories.)
As I wrote it and thought about the stories of shipwrecked sailors sending out messages in bottles, I started thinking about being on unpredictable Clarence Strait at a time when there wasn't much boat or plane traffic. What if we were in a boating accident with no way to communicate except by a message in a bottle? How long would it take before someone found it, and where would it end up?
On April 21, 2016, during a happily uneventful trip crossing Clarence Strait, returning from a grocery and fuel trip to Thorne Bay, I put a message in a bottle, tied a red buoy to it for greater visibility, and dropped it overboard at the halfway mark.
Nearly a year later, I received an email with a subject line that read: "Message in a Bottle."
The email was brief: "I found your message you set adrift on 4-21-16. Found it on Saturday. It stayed in Clarence Strait as I found it on Bushy Island next to Zarembo Island."
I responded right away, asking for more details, and the finder wrote:
"Well, that morning was a pretty decent morning so my friend and I decided to go out on the boat. The water was calm for a while until we got farther north. It was at that point it began raining and hailing. We were getting pelted pretty good so we decided to stop on the closest beach to make a fire and have lunch.
"By the time we finished lunch the weather went back to being okay. We figured that since we were already on the beach we might as well do some beachcombing. While I was moving around some logs, I spotted a plastic bottle that had a rope tied around it. Normally, I would never think twice about picking up something like that, but curiosity got the best of me.
"I gave the bottle a good yank and out from under the log it came along with the buoy. It was then that I saw a Ziploc bag inside which made me realize it was a message in a bottle! I had always wanted to find one of those so that was definitely the highlight of my day."
I had my answer: If I was in a boating accident in the middle of Clarence Strait, it would take nearly a year before anyone knew about it from a message in a bottle. (It traveled at least forty miles, not counting possible side trips, from where I dropped it to where it was found.)
Interestingly, the bottle that I put the message in was from a soft drink that I'd purchased in Thorne Bay. The man who found it, twenty-eight-year-old Brandon Robinson, works in the very store in Thorne Bay where I bought the bottle.
Do I hear music from The Twilight Zone?
NOTE: A version of this blog post was first published in Capital City Weekly, April 15, 2017.
A special thank you to Terry for the Twilight Zone DVDs!