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.
In amidst other treasures of my childhood that I found filed in an old beach-combed dairy crate were some handwritten, hand-stapled school newspapers. Our school had seven rooms, but it was conducted in the spirit of a one room school. It had two teachers, and a teacher's aid--who happened to be my grandmother. She had so many grandchildren in school that even the kids unrelated to her, and the teachers, wound up calling her "Grandma." (Actually, we called her "Grambo," but that's another story....) The school catered to all grades with kids ranging in age from five to eighteen.
The "Big Kids" had their classes mostly upstairs, while the "Little Kids" did their schooling downstairs. We even had a Big Kids' upper play deck and the Little Kids' lower play deck. There were frequent rumblings of rebellion from the Lower Deck, accusing the Upper Deck of teacher favoritism, but in the end we all pulled together: after all, we all went to school together and wrote the newspaper together.
I found two charming news articles by my little brothers Robin and Chris (grades 3 and 1 respectively) and here they are.
Robin's news report:
Robin showed the musicians around the chuck. --I showed the musicians around the chuck. We went to the Back chuck. Pete told me to show the musicians around. We went by the store. I was going to show them around the whole chuck. They bought me some gum. Fritz did not git to go because he got sick. they took a spike out of the chuck. thank you.
by Robin Neilson
THE END by Robin Neilson
"The Musicians" in this concise exclusive were two artists, among others, that the State arranged to visit outlying bush schools to make sure the kids were exposed to culture through what was called The Artist In Residence Program. "The chuck" is the local nickname for the village, and the "Back chuck" is a tidal lagoon behind the main harbor. "The store" had only one room, with at least one of its freezer's in a shed outside, right behind the enormous fuel drum that my Uncle Lance had been commissioned to paint as a giant beer can."Pete" was the teacher, and Fritz was the schoolmate closest in age to Robin. I have absolutely no idea what the "spike" was that they took out of the chuck, but I'm intrigued.
Chris' news report:
Gary helped make the playdeck and he cut the red cedar for the play deck. and Gary brought the lumber in the skiff. Steve Peavey and Dean Carmine hauled the lumber up to the deck. Chris
Gary is my dad's name and he was the foremost carpenter/electrician/handyman around; plus he had the only sawmill in the area, a one-man mobile sawmill that provided for the entire community and outlying area's lumber needs. The lumber he milled built our house (and the floathouse I built that I'm currently living in) and pretty much every new house around, in addition to any repairs that needed doing. Steve Peavey is one of the most well-known fishermen in SE Alaska and a witty raconteur of stories about old and new Alaska. Dean Carmine is the father of the "Fritz" in Robin's story.
My brothers, Robin (upper left) and Chris, playing in the burned out, rusting ruins of the old cannery where we grew up. Our cat, Creosote Bill (upper right), is overseeing their play. We skiffed to the nearby village to go to school and write articles for the only newspaper in the area.
I just came across a treasure trove of early writings by me, my brothers and sister, and our village bush school in a dusty old dairy crate. (The crates are frequently beachcombed around here and are handy for storage, and the perfect dimensions for files.) I thought I'd put a new category on my blog: "From the Dairy Crate," and every now and then I'll put up a short blog post featuring one of the finds in it.
This time it's a true adventure I wrote up when I was probably twelve, accompanied by illustrations in pen. Here's what I wrote, misspellings, bad grammar, missing punctuation, and excessive exclamation marks included:
I remember that day very good. All five of us kids went up in the woods in late fall to play with our wooden swords. We set out to climb the biggest hill (mountain to us) in the woods. And there it was.
We climbed and we climbed turning to fight our companions once in a while when we needed to catch our breath.
Up that mountain of moss we climbed and believe you me that little hill surely put up a good fight. By this time we reached what we thought was the top we were tired. But wait! There in front of us was this other little part of the mountain! We hadn't reach the top yet! It was a green mossy mound with three trees growing out of it. We moved tiredly forward until we saw them.
Until we saw the green eyes of something big and dark hiding under that mound of dirt and moss.
We ran back down the mountain and to the house so fast you'd think our britches had caught fire.
We told our parents who then had one heck of a time getting any of us out there to show them what we were talking about. But Jamie finally went. With a gun. But when they got back we found out that what we saw were just some bright green rocks!