1937 to 1955 North of Fort Collins, Colorado
North Kenai (Nikiski) 1967 to 2015
My family and I have celebrated the Fourth of July in many places.
In the past 48 years in Alaska, times have changed and so has celebrating the Fourth of July.
In 1967 to 1976 in North Kenai, now Nikiski, our new friends would get together at a lake where most of us resided, built giant bonfires, and multitude of kids and parents would gather to have fun!
Food on saw horses and ply wood for tables was plentiful, usually consisting of roast moose, moose ribs, baked fish, batter fried fish pickled fish and tons of salads and desserts.
The big kids (parents) would have just as much fun, if not more, than the little kids would. Most kids were ages 2 to 14, jumped in and out of the lake water, roasted wieners and marshmallows, played until they fell in a big heap in a warm spot, grubby, dirty and very happy!
Fireworks if we had any, came at midnight when it was just dusk, shot out over the lake. Some of us went home at 3 and 4 in the morning in the Alaska sunny morning. The rest of us just stayed for another day of fun and eat left overs around the ever glowing bon fire.
Our first Fourth of July in Alaska was in 1967 on a fishing site, south of Arness dock. That is where I learned all about beer battered, deep fried salmon and in the warm embers of the bonfire, baked salmon, Alaska cabbage slaw and rhubarb pies. Our hosts were Gene and Betty Coulter on their fishing sites. My husband at the time, Richard and I had just bought fishing sites to the south of them – not knowing a thing about beach net fishing. We soon learned from hard working, task makers, Gene and Betty!
A big bonfire built out of driftwood burned continually, high on the beach, as we told stories of our past and kids played until they dropped. We put sleeping bags beside the fire for them to be toasty warm and sleep soundly! We saw the sun come across the sky and settle just above the mountains on the other side of Cook Inlet, only to just slightly settle and then peek back up for another day of sunshine. That was when I knew I probably would NEVER leave the state of Alaska. I am still here after 48 years! Memories are golden like the never setting sun!
While I was growing up in northern Colorado, in the early years, Dad and Mom would take us to the park in Fort Collins to sit on the grassy knolls and benches and chairs that some people would bring along, to watch the beautiful fireworks display.
Some years there would be a picnic planned with Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle’s Les and Marvin. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Norman would be present some years, depending on the wheat season. Grandma’s Sister, Our Aunt Toots and Uncle Leon with their daughter Shirley would come from their little white house in Fort Collins. Dad would welcome the little vacation from his irrigating and farm chores
Mom made sure she would pack a quilted blanket for Dad to lay on and nap after consuming large amounts of Mom’s and Grandma’s fried chicken, Grandma’s potato salad, Mom’s dill pickles right from the jar, home made bread and butter. Other dishes were provided, such as baked beans and Jell-o salads. For dessert, loads of cookies Mom would bake, and Grandma’s cherry and apple pies.
‘A few times Dad (and Mom) would go to a lot of work and bring the old crank ice cream maker, buying a big sack of block ice from the “ice plant.” Mom would make up her “very best in the whole world,” according to Dad, French vanilla ice cream mix, that consisted of 6 eggs, cream, vanilla and whole milk, heated slowly on the stove at home, to make a custard. It was kept cold until time to “make ice cream.” What a treat!! It was so good on Grandma’s pies!
After the picnic we could, with permission from our parents and strict instructions where to go and how long to stay and report back at a certain time, get to go watch the “city folks and kids” swimming in the big huge city pool. I never owned a bathing suit and often dreamed of swimming with a pretty swimming suit. Mom just simply said she was not buying us swimming suits to wear once a year on the Fourth! I think she had ulterior motives, which Mom did sometimes! She knew we could not swim and besides if you swim in a public pool you might get a terrible disease! So end of story! But we could go watch! (After the large polio scare in the early 50’s, we stopped going to the park and public places.)
We also played on all the playground equipment and rode the little train that went around the park every so often. Dad loved riding with us!! He WAS the biggest kid with grins, smiles and all kinds of statements and sounds.
A roller skating rink was built next to the park. We would watch the roller skaters for hours. I could not roller skate either and never occurred to me to try and learn! I just watched and dreamed.
In the early evening people started migrating to their favorite places to watch the fireworks. We never moved very far from the picnic area and Mom had more blankets for us to sit on. We sat together and enjoyed all the comments and ooohss and ahwws of the beautiful display of fireworks. Not one kid ran around and misbehaved EVER!
Some years we got to go see the parade with all the glamour of a fabulous big city display. Usually if we went to see the parade, Dad was busy but he took time to take us in to town. We all paid strict attention to the marching bands, flags and the fire trucks. Clowns and bicycle tricks were scattered here and there. No candy throwing, no large group of unruly kids, just families enjoying the patriotic service men in the old out grown uniforms of WWI and WWII, doing the thing they were most proud of – displaying the Flag of the United State of America. We went home serenaded by Dads rendition of the “Stars and Strips Forever,” :God Bless America” and of course, “Star Spangled Banner”. Closer to home he would sing, “OH Purple Mountains Majesty, … shinning from sea to shining sea!” I can still hear him!
The tradition of fried chicken and potato salad has stuck with me all these years. Oh yes, and cherry and apple pie with ice cream! We will celebrate the Fourth around here quietly this year. The fireworks have been stored until New Years Eve when it’s dark out. In some years we have had bon-fires and friends come by, but not this year. The fire danger is to high and most of the people we know have there own families to celebrate our INDEPENDENCE DAY!
The Grannie Annie series is written by a 47 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 self taught 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 anninalaska@gci. net
The “Grannie Annie” Cook Book Series includes: “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ on the Woodstove”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ at the Homestead”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters”; and “Grannie Annie’s Eat Dessert First.” They are available at M & M Market in Nikiski.