I spent my first two years in Alaska teaching in the tiny Aleut village of Nelson Lagoon on the edge of the Bering Sea. With no store in the village, our first Thanksgiving meal proved difficult. If school superintendent Tom Ryan had not put a surprise turkey on the bush plane for us, no turkey would have sat on our table that year. Here is what I had to say about our first Alaska Thanksgiving in 1995:
“We had a simple Thanksgiving dinner that year. Canned food made up most of our diet, and the holidays were no exception. Canned beans. Potato flakes with boxed milk. Our daily homemade bread baked in the bread machine, which we no longer consider to be a special treat. But thanks to Tom Ryan, we had a turkey, which he sent to us by mail plane. The fall harvest passed with no fanfare. No pie. No extended family. But we had each other.
To pass the time, we played games on our new $2,600 Macintosh LC580 computer, a luxury beyond our means in Wyoming. With nowhere to go and limited television to watch, reading became a new hobby for each of us. Before we knew it, we entered the short stretch of school days between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. I broke out the mail-order catalogs to shop.”
I soon learned to shop for Christmas in early October if I wanted the gifts to arrive in time. Shopping catalogs during Thanksgiving break did not cut it in bush Alaska then. Today, remote residents shop on Amazon, which will probably come in time if purchased during Thanksgiving weekend.
Now, for the rest of the Alaska story.
In the years after Nelson Lagoon, we always had access to small grocery stores on the island. These stores do not compare in size or selection to those found in most cities across the United States.
Ketchikan had a normal-size Carrs grocery store which eventually became Safeway. However, shopping at Safeway was not feasible. The 15-hour roundtrip day to Ketchikan by way of the three-hour ferry from Hollis cost hundreds of dollars in fares and provided only
three hours in town to shop. Alternatively, we paid hundreds of dollars for a single roundtrip flight with a luggage weight limit of forty pounds. Needless to say, we did not grocery shop in Ketchikan.
Learn more about our Alaska experiences at www.MelissaCook.us.