1741 Russian navigators, Chirikov and Bering, discover Alaska
1784 First settlement on Kodiak Island
1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000
1848- 1914 Gold strikes and rushes
1959 Statehood, January 3
(Setting: 1959, Tanana, village of 300 people along the Yukon River in Interior Alaska.
Main Character and speaker: Anna Bortel, head schoolteacher.
Adapted from “’A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory,” by Naomi Gaede Penner.)
“Let’s have a party!” I announced to Harriet and Herman, my two co-teachers.
With our tensions of trying to live and teach in Quonset huts that had no windows, round walls, insulation floating down and making students itch, no running water, floors that bounced when we walked across them, and heating oil that froze when the temperatures went below minus 40 degrees, we needed laughter – in large doses.
They agreed and I went to spread the good news to the Gaedes, Wally the Public Health lab technician, and our friend, Ethel.
Earlier in the day, I had reviewed with my students the history of Alaska and the story behind our state flag. Together we stood and sang the Alaska State Song. I was proud to be a part of this state and of history-in-the-making.
That evening, my friends and I celebrated in the old schoolhouse. When Herman had returned from the Christmas holidays, he had brought smoked salmon strips, and mentioned that sometime I should try putting salmon on pizza. When I pulled outsalmonpizza from the oven, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Along with this uniquely Alaskan pizza, I combined crushed blueberries and cranberries and made a statehood beverage.
Later, after viewing some slides several of us had taken, we turned to view the dirty dishes. Wally volunteered to carry the washable items back to his duplex, which was the other half of the Gaede’s building; therefore, practically next door. The following day, when Harriet and I went to reclaim our dishes, we found clean pots, pans, dishes, and water glasses stacked toward the ceiling in his kitchen – a balancing act and a work of art!
That was the grand finale of our Statehood celebration. It made us laugh. It warmed our hearts. Alas, it did not warm our Quonsets and we continued to set our alarms to take turns going outdoors and beating on the oil pipes to keep the oil flowing to our cookstove-heaters.