Simply, water is life.
My mother and I have noticed that time seems to be whizzing by particularly fast this year. We are already into May. Mom informed us she is not fishing this summer. That is a daunting statement coming from her, as she had taught all of us that salmon is one of the most important components of our lives. Her reason? No time. She is in the final preparations for a show at the Anchorage Museum. When she announced that she would not be fishing, we were all a little stunned. Not that she actually “fishes” anymore, but she is still the catalyst that drives the process. She is an unrelenting stickler for perfection in her subsistence practices. From catch to filleted and prepped for final process is typically never more than 15 minutes or so, depending on the number of fish hitting the net. Usually we must twist her arm to let us do the filleting. She just loves the whole process. So, we shall all step up to the plate this year to see if we have learned well and have what it takes. I have the faith. It is unfortunate that one of the best fish cutters will be self-exiled for an intense language immersion opportunity this summer. This is an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Our language, Unangam Tunuu, has only fluent speakers who are over the age of 70. So, while we all have our own visions this spring and summer, we know in our heart of hearts that we will fill our freezers, our drying and smoking houses, and our salt buckets to the best of our abilities. Having had the best teacher in life, we will be successful.
My daddy loved kielbaska, sauerkraut, noodles, cabbage, and perogies, albeit the perogies definitely had a native flair to them. His love of nut rolls and pastries with poppyseeds had my mother making special loaves and twists for Christmas morning breakfast that her great grandchildren expect, still, to this day. My father was born in Chicago and did not know more than a few words of English when he went to school in first grade. How is that? He was raised in a Slovakian community in the Chicago area. He soon moved to a farm in Wisconsin and finished his formative years in a very rural, close knit Slovakian community. He received The Fraternal Herald until the day he passed away, and a small insurance policy was paid out to my mother from a Slovakian insurance company policy that his parents bought when my dad was small.
And, yet, his four daughters knew very little about his Slovakian heritage. He felt it was more important that we be raised in mom’s culture, Unangax, an indigenous group from the Aleutian Islands. Once a people numbering 20,000 prior to Russian contact, within 60 years of contact the population was a shocking 1,875. And besides, he fell in love with the islands.
As time began taking a visible toll on my dad, it became so important to make sure he was comfortable and happy; that he not worry about anything. That he know that he did not have to leave the home he loved. That we do everything we could to make this happen. One night, when I made haluska for dinner, my mother looked at me like – whaaat? Well, I said, this is a Slovakian dish and I thought dad would appreciate it. He did and it was delicious. It’s funny how as we see time slipping by, we bring out the things we think will bring memories and comfort.