North Kenai, now Nikiski, Alaska July 1967
I arrived in Alaska in 1967 with three little kids and three suit cases and a $100 in my pocket. It was my first ride on an airplane and my first time out of the State of Colorado, except for two trips to Rawlins, Wyo. and in my teen years to the rodeo’s in Cheyenne.
Never in my 29 years had I ever seen a large body of water or the ocean or big river, until I came to Alaska. I thought Cook Inlet, with its muddy glacier silt and strong rip-tides, was absolutely beautiful. I still do. I never tire of going down to Arness dock, now Nikiski Dock or OSK and look out over the water and marvel at the ever changing beauty.
The sunken Liberty Ship for a dock in the 60’s and 70’s, has now, a wonderful large dock in its place. The oil rigs in the Inlet have multiplied, produced oil and some are shut down now. I still get great joy in taking newcomers and our visitors to OSK and a view that is so breathe taking.
I jokingly tell people I was born in Colorado on a mountain top and the biggest body of water was a rain puddle. Only half true. I was born and raised on a irrigation farm in Northern Colorado and the biggest body of water was mud puddles we played in and the largest stream of water was the irrigation ditch. Black Hollow Lake held irrigation water.
If a family picnic was planned beside the swift waters of the Poudre Canyon river and Big Thompson Canyon, it required days of planning and a few chickens to kill, pluck and fry so we could enjoy a picnic in the fresh air of the mountains. So when I saw all the ponds, lakes, streams, Kenai River, Cook Inlet and later, the ocean out of Homer, I was both fascinated and terrified. I cannot swim a lick! Do not like water in my face and I am not terribly found of boats. I do not particularly like to fish, but love to watch other people fish. Alaskan fish of any kind is my preferred choice of protein.
One very sunny Alaskan day shortly after we arrived in Alaska, I had to find a job in a hurry and was offered a receptionist-bookkeeping position at Offshore Fabricators, located at (at the time) Arness Dock. After the interview, I went back to get my kids being baby sat by my new friend Helen McGahan. I wanted them to see how beautiful Cook Inlet was. Beside, said my new boss, “The Beluga’s are in.” “What are they?” I asked. “Big white whales,” he said, “Go down to the dock and walk out on the ship (a sunken liberty ship poured full of concrete to make a dock) and you can see them jump out of the water.” Wanting my kids to see everything, I hurried drove up the hill in my old Willis Jeep, put the kids in the jeep and thanked Helen for taking care of them.
I drove back to the dock and parked where the sign said No Parking and walked with my kids in tow, onto the big WWII Liberty Ship. That was my first time I had ever been on a boat, sunk with cement or other wise. We walked the long expanse of the deck sticking high out of the water, up the middle of the boat to the bow. We leaned over the railing along with the other on-lookers and started looking for Beluga’s.
ALL OF THE SUDDEN this BIG WHITE creature leaped high out of the water!! My heart jumped out of my throat and I TOOK OFF RUNNING!. I stopped when I got to the edge of the dock, realizing then, I had left my kids standing out there!! The kids shouted MOM-MOM, their eyes wide with shock. I hollered what was that???? A bystander, who later became my good friend said, that’s a Beluga.
I had to walk all the way back out to the bow of the boat, while everyone was giving me side ways glances and giggling at my fast retreat, to retrieve my kids. The brave kids wanted to stay and watch for more Belugas and I had to act like I was brave enough to stay and watch.
My new boss and all the welders in Offshore Fabricators shop were looking out the big wide doors and saw my swift get-away. They were impressed at how fast I could run. They eventually became my very good friends and I was always teased about the first time I saw a Belugas and my running abilities.
NOTE: My kids reminded me when I went to get them in the old green Jeep, that I parked very close to the No Parking sign, just in case we had to leave in a hurry. They think I thought Beluga’s were as big as Jonah’s Whale. The kids knew how scared I was of water, boats and a ship in this case. They also knew that I wanted them to see everything in the great State of Alaska. They tell me that I made them hold hands and walk down the middle of the sunken ship with its concrete deck, so we would not fall off or be thrown overboard.
When we got to the bow of the ship. I instructed them to hang on tight to the railing, don’t climb on it, don’t move around, just very stand still and watch. The next thing they remember is the Beluga jumping out of the water, me screaming and taking off down the middle of the ship without them. In their utter disbelief, their Mom was running away from them and leaving them stranded. After all I had told them NOT to move. My oldest daughter says that when I walked back to retrieve them, down the middle of the ship (of course) I was shaking like a leaf and barely could talk. I must have been quite a site. The guys on the tug boat, tied to the dock and all those guys in the fabrication shop saw this young land lubber, who had lost her mind, running down the middle of the deck screaming as a Beluga jumped out of the water. And that is how I made my mark and my beginning in Alaska. I made many true and wonderful friends that day.
My friends, Leatha and Gene Earll, had just moved out of a trailer court and they bought some land on Lamplight Road. They cleared off a place for her to plant a big garden for her growing family. She planted her garden and worked hard at keeping it growing. Scooting her youngest out the door to “go play and don’t go very far from the door!” She got out her ironing board, glanced out the window and saw her little 4 year old son playing in the garden and a black bear stalking him about 10 yards away.
She grabbed the loaded gun her husband had left for her beside the door, screamed at her little boy, “lay down!” She honed in on the bear with her loaded rife and shot him dead!!
I got a phone call from her, in full hysteria….”Ann-Ann can you come over quick….I-I just shot a bear.” I said is he dead? She said yes, yes, dead-dead. And then she started to cry. By the time I got over to her place, her husband and all the friends in the neighborhood were there “taking care of the bear!”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.