1985 TO 2018 North Nikiski, Alaska
A visit this Sunday from our friend John Turnbull triggered some memories about the cabins, bonfires and old friends who no longer live on earth but in our hearts.
When John comes to visit it seems to always end with memories and stories of the good times we have had and good times to come! John lived beside us at the cabins.
Bob started the tradition in our family many years ago,1985, the year we moved into the cabins, by clearing brush trash and garbage that persons before us threw down the hill. He had big grand fires about 15 feet from the lake. When neighbors saw the smoke and the glow, they would stop to say Hi. They ended up sitting around the fire for the night, because of the wonderful bonfire and the great fun getting to know new neighbors. We also would ask old friends to come by for a pot luck and an evening of relaxing by the fire.
In 1986 as soon as the ice and mounds of snow melted Bob was rebuilding the fire pit and expanding the area to sit. John came out of his cabin next door one day and I told him I could not stand the two sewer pipes sticking up in our front yard. John in his always ingenuity, took hollowed-out logs and placed them over the pipes. Next came a long piece of lumber that served as a bench. He placed that on top of the hollowed logs. This was our pondering bench! We drank many a cup of coffee sitting on the bench.
Next Bob built steps to the fire pit that was located over the bank from the cabins. Digging and scrounging up pieces of flat boards, he concocted a pretty nice set of steps. It sure made it easier for me to tote down the food I had prepared for the “orphan guys” who stopped after work to have a good chat with the rest of the neighbors. “Orphans” were young guys who were up from the Lower 48 without their families working in the oil field. Most were bachelors who appreciated a slab of homemade sourdough bread and a hunk of moose for a supper meal. Oh, yes — I always baked cookies and had them on hand. I loved cooking for the bonfire crowd, as it was so appreciated.
On the weekends the bonfires lasted into the wee hours during the summer and fall and sometimes winter. We would sit around in our various chairs, stumps and rocks singing to the sun just going behind the trees in the west and the moon coming up in the east. We also serenaded moose and once in a while and we had a hooty owl join in. Bob is the only one I know who can talk to owls and birds and they will talk back. It is fascinating!
Moose wandered close by on their way to the lake for a drink of cold water. They kept their distance but I am sure they enjoyed our musical talents! Sometimes guitars were in the orchestra for the night as the choir sang along in various tones, singing made up words from a long forgotten song.
One of the biggest problems I had was watching Bob taking things to the fire pit. In his cleanup mode he grabbed a chair off John’s porch that had one last leg to stand on and carting it off to the fire. I saved John’s inside chairs several times! Bob protested telling me that John needed new ones! The garden hose did not fare so well — it sure made lots of smoke.
The smoke from that fire brought all kinds of people from the neighborhood, down to see what was going on. A party ensued through the night and into the morning light. I went to bed late and Bob came to bed a little later.
Getting up to make cups of coffee – I looked out and there was John (JT) sitting on his stool by the last glowing embers of the bonfire. It was 7 a.m. Saturday morning! Bob took him a cup of coffee and threw some more old dead wood on the red embers and the bonfire party started all over again! Friday night melted into all day Saturday and that night and all day Sunday. By Sunday evening everyone slowly vanished into the woods to go home and rest up for the week of oil field welding or platform work. This happened very often on the weekends!
We made wonderful lasting friends. Our reminiscing included those who are no longer here, who have left this earth. It also included the funny things like John’s burnt pizza frisbee. He tossed a pizza in the oven and waiting for it to cook and laid down on the couch to nap. Much later, he woke up to smoke and the charred pizza in the oven. He opened up the door of his cabin just in time for me to be looking out of ours and all I saw was a black smoking object like a frisbee fly across the yard, landing in a smoking heap on the edge of the grass, then the distinct sound of a door slamming!
I so enjoyed cooking, making bread and cookies for the vagabond troop of bonfire worshippers. The various contributions of meat were neverending. I worked at M & M and filled in the detail of a simple meal. Moose and salmon was the most common, but once in a while son David would come up from Homer, where he fished on a boat for Brad Dickey. He brought us a huge amount of crab, shrimp, halibut and salmon. We ate that over a big fire in our front yard with boiling tub of water setting on top of some hot rocks, to cook the crab and shrimp. We shared with visitors who stopped by.
Those days are gone – some of the people are gone – but what we do have is wonderful memories of the things that made us most happy at the time.
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 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 email@example.com.