1971, Homer, Alaska
In my “Other Life.”
My friend Ben was like a funny big brother…only he was exactly a year younger than me! In my “other life” my second husband and I owned a motor home and Ben and his wife owned a old yellow bus. We spanned the coast of Alaska in our wheels. We lived up in Eagle River Valley and one morning the phone rang ….
“Hey ya’ all. This here’s Ben. You guys wanna’ go clam diggin’ in Homer tomorrow?”
“Sure,” we said. “We will meet you in Eagle River.”
We piled our clam digging stuff in the motor home and met Ben and Nadene. They were pulling Ben’s flat bottom river boat with the big old-old yellow school bus, equipped with the necessary comforts of living away from home. Ben made aluminum flat bottom river boats and sold them. They were wonderful and roomy with inboard jet motors.
We made several stops on our way to Homer, just goofing off. It was late when we got to Homer and we parked, as you could do in those days, on the beach across from the Salty Dog Saloon on the Homer Spit. We made plans that night for clam digging across the bay, around a big campfire, telling stories until the wee hours.
Next morning, not so early, we launched the river boat in the launching area of the marina on the other side of the Salty Dog. It was a glorious warm day, glassy water, not a breeze. We reached the area we had planned to dig clams. We dug and we dug. We stopped and had a picnic.
Ben and Nadene were from Texas, Lubbock, I think. Ben’s idea of a picnic was “what-bread,” two pieces of “blonee” and big thick slice of onion with lots of “man-naze.”
Tummies full, we dug and dug some more. We had only three buckets with us, and in those days we were allowed 60 razor clams each. I think there was no limit on the butter clams or any type of other clams or mussels. We hit the jackpot and each got our limit of razor clams, plus a big variety of other clams. We did not have a place to put all the clams, so Ben turned the cover of the inboard motor over and made a big holding area for all the clams. One side of the cover was open. We piled them in, heaping clams of every sort, in the back side of the cover behind the two back seats. Time came to head home.
We were tired and sunburnt and hungry for a big clam feed around another big campfire on the beach next to the water where the yellow bus was parked. We made our way across the beautiful glassy water, singing songs and enjoying every bit of what was left of the sunny Homer day.
Coming across the water, Ben in all his wisdom spotted his old yellow bus. He decided he can beach the boat on the beach close to the bus, instead of at the marina, and then we would not have to carry all those clams up the steep steps of the marina and across the parking lots, across the Spit road, to the old yellow bus. He pushed the throttle into full forward and we took off faster and faster. He thinks he can land the boat in the sand, right down from the yellow bus.
My husband, Richard, in all his wisdom, sees what Ben is about to do, puts his arm across me and tells me, “Brace yourself and hang on!” Nadene in the front next to Ben was saying “Whee-Whee!” She loved to go fast in anything!
We hit the beach at full throttle and we stopped! No sliding, no gliding. We stopped like a huge suction cup was attached to the bottom of the boat.
We were forced forward, and ended up hanging over the tops of the front seat. My husband had his arms over Ben’s shoulders and my hands were in the seat where Nadene was. She had been shoved under the dashboard in the bow of the boat and was sitting cross legged and stooped over, peeking out, wondering what in the world happened.
Just as fast as we hit the beach, we started getting pelted with clams, gunk from the inlet water, mud and sand that was in the bottom of the motor cover. It was raining clams! We pushed ourselves back into our seats. Nadene crawled out from under her little home under the dash board.
Ben, with the steering wheel in his hand, turned, steering wheel still in his hands — it had broken off — yelled, “Is anyone hurt? Is anyone hurt?”
He did not fully comprehend that he was turning around and looking to see if anyone was hurt with the steering wheel still held in a driving position.
Nadene had gotten back up on the seat full of clam gunk, muddy water and bits and pieces of clam shells hanging off her. She turned and attacked Ben with her open hand, screaming in her Texas accent. “Lookee! LOOKee wat ya’ don’ Ben! Lookee lookee!” She kept beating on him. We all looked at each other, Ben still with his broken steering wheel in his hands, gunk dripping off everyone, and we started to laugh. We laughed uncontrollably! We laughed so hard that Nadene stopped beating on Ben and seeing the humor, pointing at us, not knowing that she looked the worst and started laughing. Ben was still in total shock still had a death grip on the steering wheel.
To be continued next week.
The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a selftaught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.