Pioneer Potluck: A reflection of the memories of the Hunger Hut Bar

Year — 1967

All the men I knew got their jobs going to Hunger Hut and all the bosses knew where to find hungry, anxious workers looking for a job in the oil patch. The bosses walked in and hired them right from the bar.

The kids — and there were many — played in the parking lot in the fine volcanic dirt, with make-believe trucks, backhoes, cars. The customers’ cars/pickups were parked in rows behind the “play area” in front of the door of the Hunger Hut. (This is how Kiddies Days were spawned: adults watching kids without toys or bikes playing in the dirt with sticks, rocks and, once in a while, a little plastic toy. This story will follow later.)

We always left the Hunger Hut “newsroom” with full tummies because of Elsie’s good meals, and because women in the community brought potluck to share while they garnered information.

Their loneliness was pushed to the background while they visited. Many mommas with little children, who were left in trailers for weeks and weeks while the dad worked on the platforms, did not make it through the tough winters the first three or four years. I felt so very sorry for the women from the warm and hot states who had NEVER seen snow, let alone who had never taken care of kids who had to go to school with the required snow boots, heavy coat, hats and gloves. The only source of warm clothes at that time was Army-Navy Store in Kenai. They were a lifesaver for those poor moms and me. My mom sent big, big boxes of warm clothes to me for my kids, and lots more that I gave out to my neighbor moms.

Then the other obstacle was learning to drive in the snow with a big pickup that pulled their camp trailers up the Alcan. Oh — the nightmares! It caused uncontrollable crying and frustration from the young women with younger children who had NEVER seen or driven or tried to keep warm in the cold climate of snowy Alaska.

I had an old, green, loud, noisy Willis Jeep that was stuck in four-wheel drive. I took as many kids in our trailer park to school, much to great relief of some of the poor haggard warm-weather housewives left to fend for themselves. That winter of 1967 was one that snowed record amounts of wet snow that piled 12-feet high in places. Keeping warm in the camp trailers was a definite challenge. Having to shovel your way out the door every morning, and keeping the snow off the roof, was another problem. Once in a while, a man in a snow plow would plow the one-street lane so kids could get to school.

Men came home from the platform with money in their pocket and that was the year of the “snowmachine craze.” Everyone had at least one. Coming from Colorado — and from a cold climate for about four months out of the year — I “needed” one of those machines!! Took me two more years, by then I had remarried and BOY!! did we all have fun with snowmachines. Kids with small machines, men with the biggest they could buy, and one for women to just putz around.

Well, except for me and a few of my friends! We would get on a lake and become idiots — going as fast as we could and turning around and flying back to the house. It was so much fun. In later years, when we moved to Eagle River, the whole family raced at Big Lake and brought home trophies every week end, especially son David. I was still an idiot on a fast snowmachine!

We somehow survived that winter and winters after that. It was always hard to say goodbye to a poor, unhappy, frightened lady with young children, who could not wait until she could get back home to a warm climate and her family. That left the men/dads/husbands. When they came in off the three-week hitch on the platform they became “orphans” — so most of the women that were here to stay invited them for meals to fill the empty spot in their hardworking lives. A lot of men flew back home on their days off.

The kids and I lived in a little silver trailer for the first six months and moved into a big double wide, very nice trailer. I did not know it was built in California until we had a bunch of snow, then it turned off cold at 10 to 20 below for weeks and weeks. The aluminum window frames frosted over. The frame on the door to the outside froze every morning, and I spent 10 minutes every morning chipping off the frost so we could get the door open to go to school and work. I learned to put four or five table knives between the door and the frame so we could get out easier. The kids slept in small bedrooms, with thin walls, and if the beds were pushed up against the outside walls, the blankets froze to the wall.

I cranked up the forced-air furnace in the morning while the kids were getting ready for school, and each one huddled over the heater vent to stay warm. AND if you forgot to plug in the heater for the car, well, you just had to wait until it warmed up, about noon!! I only did that once!!

Somehow we all survived those cold, cold winters and now all my kids are grown with kids of their own. The days of getting to school are so much different and easier — in my eyes at least. Every day was a challenge. I know some adults of today would disagree with me.

Now back to the eggless-milkless-butterless cake. I lost track of my story!! Those were happy, exciting days for me. I was so happy to have that empty gallon jar; finally my kids would have real milk. We all piled into the Willis Jeeps and I made our way to Unkies to get milk. The road as we know it now was a dirt trail, and dirt leaked into every crack and loose door and window in that Jeep.

Thanking Unkies for the wonderful gallon of milk, I paid them and off we went to put it in the little refrigerator in the Silver Trailer that I had rented from Helen McGahan — AND that is another story!!

The next morning I could hardly wait for the kids to have real milk on their cereal in place of Milkman dry milk that you had to mix up every night and add the cream to it, then place it in the fridge so it was at least cold to drink. I could not stand the stuff.

I fixed four bowls of cereal, and poured real cow’s milk over the top, sprinkled with sugar and waited for the “oohs” and “auhhs” and the wonders of real cow’s milk.

The kids took on spoon full and looked at me like I had poisoned them. “This tastes-tess awful, Mom! We don’t like this stuff!” I was crushed!

In six months they had gotten used to the terrible taste of Milkman! I was dumbfounded! “What DO YOU mean, this is the REAL stuff!” “We don’t care,” they replied. “We don’t like it. Can we have the Milkman on our cereal please?” Oh— I was burning mad! “YOU eat that!!!!” I ordered. They ate their cereal, but they did not like the milk or me!

The next morning: “We don’t want cereal for breffast.” Can we have bread (homemade) with cinnamon and sugar please?” I did not have a toaster; they did not care. I fixed myself cereal and poured myself a big glass of real milk; I thought it was so good! I had to drink that whole gallon jug of milk!!

That was the last trip to Unkies for real milk! I gave the jug away too! Which brings me back to this recipe that follows; it is attached to a blank recipe card, with Scotch Tape, all yellowed, old and worn out, because I have made tons of this in the past 50 years in Alaska. Thanks to Mom! She baked this for her holiday cookie baking at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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