“Look! Here he comes!”
She points to the sky and waves as we put our arms out like airplane wings and run hoping he will see us. In his Grummans Widgeon, he buzzes the one room schoolhouse, dipping his wings in acknowledgement of our welcome just before his landing on Lake Iliamna.
Our mother was the school teacher, our father the pilot.
We were ushered back into the building to finish up our math lesson. With ten school children, spanning grades K-12, planning lessons was a highly subjective and time-consuming process that I came to appreciate as an adult when I became a teacher myself.
Not too excited about math, I snuck off to the kitchen where the school cook picked me up and put me on the counter, singing to me in Dena’ina Athabascan as she prepped for the next day’s lunch hour. She patiently repeated the words to the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until I sang them with her, smiling ever so warmly, as I trained my mouth to make the beautiful, whispery sounds. Math would have to wait till tomorrow.
One of my favorite childhood chores was to rinse the sprout jars and check on their growth.
As a village kid, it struck me as amusing that you could put a packet of seeds in a glass Bell jar, cover the opening with a plastic cap, rinse them with water daily, and watch them grow. Perhaps it was the fact that at six years old I had yet to see an actual garden, or maybe because I thought vegetables came in cans, that struck me as amusing. Either way, these fresh little green sprouts were earthy, delicious, and fun to eat.
Picking up the jars, one by one, I noticed that each one had different sized holes on the caps, which intrigued me. The jars with large-holed caps had more sprouts in them, and the jars with small-holed caps had fewer sprouts in them. Each jar received the same amount of sunlight since they all sat on the window sill above the kitchen sink. As I rinsed the sprouts and drained the water, I noticed that the seeds that had already sprouted didn’t fall out of the holes as easily as the ones that hadn’t sprouted yet, making it easier to level them again before returning them to their sides on the sunny window sill. Exercising my going-on-seven brain, I switched the colorful caps from jar to jar, playing with the idea of sectioning off some of the holes to see what would happen to the sprouts. Sensing the mischievous air, mom reminded me to finish the task and pick out a bunch of mature sprouts for dinner to pair with our moose steaks and homemade garlic bread. Without knowing it, I was eating like a queen–that is if alfalfa sprouts can be considered posh enough to replace the iconic Caesar salad on steak night. It wasn’t until I went to college in Portland, Oregon that I realized they were generally offered as a garnish on sandwiches or in the occasional organic salad. Who knew my favorite little packets of wonder were so underappreciated.
Since the village of Pedro Bay didn’t have a co-op, we generally flew to Anchorage for our groceries, leaving on Friday after school and returning Sunday night.
Having a dad as a pilot definitely helped in that realm. Regardless of how short the grocery list was, sprout seeds always arrived at the bottom of the box, like little packets of fresh potential, waiting for their turn in the sun-bathed glass jars. The packets were often as colorful as the plastic caps for the jars, inspiring in me an imagination of the possibility of different colored sprouts as well. While those daydreams didn’t come true, the assurance of more “village salad” did. These days, I liken seeing those packets lined up next to the bag of flour on our kitchen shelf, to a sommelier admiring his new shipment of boutique wines from Mendoza, Argentina.
As my childhood in rural Alaska expanded over the years to include other villages, and a variety of Native cultures, my diet also expanded to include things like wild fiddleheads, and fresh grown vegetables from our garden. I, too, have changed over the years. However, whether I am eating a roma tomato, fresh basil, and olive oil salad in Argentina while practicing my Castellano with friends, or picking fresh kale from my garden in Wasilla, Alaska in preparation for dinner with my family, I will never forget my rural sprouts.
Jacquelyn (Ayagiaq) Crace-Murray is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Wasilla, Alaska with her husband Steve and their children Jakob and Jadelyn. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in applied linguistics from The University of Alaska-Fairbanks, as part of a cohort focusing on native language maintenance and revitalization. Having grown up in villages in southwestern Alaska, Jacquelyn is trilingual, to include Yugtun (an Indigenous language to Alaska). She is also an avid hunter, fisherman, and hiker, traversing Alaska’s landscapes with her family. To reach Jacquelyn, email: firstname.lastname@example.org