1972 or ’73
Because clam tides are here for the next couple of weeks, I have one more clam digging story for you.
My other first friend in Alaska when I first got to Alaska was Leatha. She is the gal who shared everything she baked with me and the kids. I will never forget the homemade breads, cookies and cakes and once in a while a pie! She taught me a lot about sharing what little you have with someone else that had very little too. Her generosity was so much appreciated. We also sewed for our kids and made welding shirts and hats for our husbands.
A little background here – I was married to Richard in 1969 – he had three cute little girls and I had two cute little girls and a handsome son. He was sorta the king – as the girls relied on him to “fix” things, bikes mostly! So at times our family consisted of 5 girls and a boy. When we went anywhere we went as a “herd” to quote my Dad. We had a 4-wheel-drive pickup and we just piled in and never gave a thought to seat belts and chair seat. There were teeth marks on the padded dash from the little kids setting on our laps though!
When it came time for the clam tides and clam digging, we would load up our families and off we go to Clam Gulch. Most of the time during the clam tides it was sunny and warm but once in a while the cold wind blowing off the water and down the beach was bone chilling. We would dig clams until our fingers were frozen-cold inside our mittens. We would just clean off the sand and the mud and stick them in our pockets until they warmed up. Usually we worked in groups of twos, the digger with the shovel and the kid that lay down in the sand, mud and stuck their hands in the clam hole to pull out their prize. In the early 70s the clams were very large and very plentiful. Our limit of 60 per licensed clam digger usually took about two hours and we were ready to carry our buckets up the beach, up the long, long steep hill to our pickups and cars. That climb up the steep hill was the most dreaded of the day!
Then Leatha and her husband Gene bought a 4-wheel-drive pickup with the big cab-over camper, that they could drive down on the beach so the littlest of the kids could get warm inside the camper.
One warm early morning, Leatha and I, her four kids and our six kids went clam digging. We were tough, strong and thought we had the ability to do most anything. AND we did!
We accomplished our dreams most of the time. It took a lot of planning the night before making sure every kid had a warm coat, warm hat, two or three pair of warm mittens and rubber boots with two or three pair of spare socks. We also made cookies and packed peanut butter and jelly and loaves of bread.
We zinged down to Clam Gulch with 10 kids in the camper! Kids from 13 years down to 3 years were singing, playing or sleeping in the back in the camper. Leatha driving and me jabbering, catching up on the latest gossip. We were about as happy as we could be. We planned what we were going to do with the clams once we got them – and how our husbands would be so proud of us. Most of the time during clam tides the husbands were on the platforms or working many, many hours a day in the oil fields, so it was up to us if we wanted clams to can or freeze for the rest of the year. Some of the time the whole families would go to Clam Gulch on a Sunday morning and spend the day “catching clams.” That was fun too!
Leatha carefully drove down the steep hill onto the clam beach – the high tides the week before had left a “shelf.” She slowly dropped off the shelf onto the beach and drove to a spot and parked. Everyone got dressed in boots and coats, hats and gloves and piled out of the camper, bigger kids in charge of littler kids. Leatha, me and the older kids had clam shovels and off we marched down to the shore line to look for “dimples” in the sand. Forever etched in my mind is little kids of various sizes with there little butts stuck in the air looking for dimples! They were good at it!
This particular day we had our limit in about two hours and more than ready to get the cold, wet, muddy, sandy kids back in the camper. They too, were ready to get their sand caked coats and boots off, and we warned them to brush sand off before they got in the camper. Everyone in and settled, we pushed the clam filled buckets in the aisle, I got in to make peanut butter and “jolly” sandwiches. Leatha, before she closed the camper door and started the pickup, told everyone to hold on “cause she might have to hit the shelf a little hard’ to get up and over that and up the steep sand covered trail to the top.
I opened the bread wrapper and had two or three sandwiches made and handed out, when Leatha “wound-up” the pickup to get over the shelf – she hit the shelf straight on – bounced up over the shelf and roared up the hill in 4-wheel-drive like a pro at a NASCAR race track. The problem with that was all the kids and me in the camper were bouncing around in and out of the beds, hanging onto anything they could hang onto including their peanut butter and jolly sandwiches. The clams bounced and jumped out of the bucket, a bucket turned over, the peanut butter and jelly and the open loaf of bread ended up on the floor in the sandy muck. The clams and I ended up catty-whompus wedged up against the door and the floor. Clams, muddy inlet water, sand and gray mud splattered everywhere … in our hair, on the ceiling, on the beds and on every piece of clothing in the camper! It happened so fast that we were still setting in a shocked position when Leatha pulled the truck up to the top of the hill, stopped and got out to get her a peanut butter sandwich and let me get in the front seat with her.
When she opened the door to the camper, clams and muddy water went pouring out and kids were either screaming, crying or laughing! (Mostly because their sandwich had sand in it!) I uncurled from my wedged position, crawled out of the camper-looked at Leatha, who had an extremely shocked look on her face and we started to laugh! We laughed and laughed – the kids laughed – then demanded another sandwich without sand in it.
We got clams back in the bucket, kids back in the beds after scraping off sand and mud from the blankets, hair and ceiling. Straightened the clam buckets and hung up the coats and pushed the boots back under the beds. “Everyone ready?” asked Leatha, “Sure – can I have another sandwich?” Good thing we brought three loaves of bread!
I am sure that camper bore the marks of clam juice, inlet mud, silty gray water and peanut butter and jolly for a long time!
I love this story and have told it many times. Kids were so resilient and so forgiving and besides that, it was fun!