My sister, Megan Duncanson, a successful artist, recently moved herself and her entire studio to Miami to begin a new chapter in her life. See her inspiring blog post on the subject here: http://www.madartdesigns.com/blog/irma-and-life-lessons-live-your-best-life
As anyone in touch with the news is aware, Irma, the record breaking Category 5 hurricane, is taking direct aim at Miami after decimating various islands. (Wendy, I've been thinking about you and hoping and praying that you and your loved ones are safe. If you are, please comment and let me know!) Megan had to evacuate, leaving almost everything she possesses behind. She'll be coming up to Alaska to be with us as we wait to see what happens. Foruntately, or unfortunately, she is no stranger to hurricane force winds as this latest post From the Dairy Crate of old school newspapers and items from our childhood shows.
Our youngest brother Christopher did this drawing of the old pilings from the burned out cannery where we lived, showing the storm surge and wind from a particularly memorable winter storm that my brothers called "Hurricane Union Bay." (We lived on the shores of Union Bay in a very exposed location.) In Chris' words:
"Hurricane Union Bay/blew us away/and we began to fly/away with the wind/and then we began to cry/as we went up very high."
In the far right corner you can see family members being blown away by the winds, metaphorically if not literally.
Here's my coverage of the same storm (I was apparently addicted to exclamation points, big words, and broad irony at the time) for the Meyers Chuck School Gazette circa 1984:
"The storm that struck Meyers Chuck and surrounding areas was a screamer all right! It didn't raise any roofs but it did raise a lot of hair.
"Meyers Chuck seems to have come through okay, what with only gusts up to 70 or more and a 19 ft tide! It seems that quite a few people were afraid their houses were going to float--houses that aren't supposed to float.
"I feel pretty sorry for anyone who stayed at their boats that night! Lots of people had an enjoyable time concerning docks and other floating objects (and some that weren't supposed to float) during the rather high tides and gusty winds.
"Unfortunately one of the out-lying areas that can easily be reached by a skiff, known as Union Bay (or unofficially as "Fools Paradise") has had a few problems.
"During the night there was a loud snap and the Neilson's floathouse was floating free of its imprisoning bonds. It seems as if their sawmill deck finally rebelled and it, too, has caused some vexation to the inhabitants of Union Bay.
"Otherwise our local storm was quite tame compared to the rest of the state. You'll have to find out about that on the News."
Another reporter, in first grade by the name of Josh, also contributed to the storm coverage with the following article:
"Steve Peavy lost his skiff. They looked for it during the night. It was stormy and rainy."
While we have never suffered the kinds of winds that people suffered from Harvey, or now Irma, I feel for all who have suffered through a high wind storm. Hold fast and don't give up.
Clockwise: Clarence Strait with the mountains of Prince of Wales Island towering above it; my brother Robin's floating cabin; my first floathouse, formerly our childhood homeschool before it was winched off land and onto a float.
NOTE: Since my sister will be staying with me in the coming days, and it's through her stable signal in Florida that my blog is normally posted, it may be a while before I can put up another blog post.
If you need more Alaska For Real in the interim, my column appears at www.capitalcityweekly.com every other Wednesday. My next column is titled "Floathouse Living" and comes out September 13, 2017.
For all of my columns Google: Tara Neilson Juneau Empire.
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.