Happy Birthday to my Father
my dad and I
One of my earliest memories it’s sunny and hot in Naknek on the Western Coast of Alaska. It’s rarely hot in Alaska. We’re in the backyard on my great grandparents’ property just this side of the long grass before the lake and my parents are throwing a party. There are fishermen, cannery workers, and our extended family everywhere. Our house is full of Native food. My dad has never been happier, and I follow him everywhere.
One of my dad’s friends has brought back herring eggs from Spring harvest and dad wants to give me some. He picks me up and sets me down on a saw horse as a seat. There are several all around the yard for people to sit on. I balance there high off the ground as he shows me the yellow-gold mass in his hands. He explains, “These are herring eggs. You’re going to taste them.” I hear it as all one word, “herringeggs,” and have no sense of what kind of food it is but open my mouth to taste. He feeds me. As I bite, the food first crunches, then pops. It is sea fresh salty. The taste lights up the inside of my head as I chew.
The rest of the memory is gone.
my dad and I, Summer 2012
Until adulthood, that was the only time I’d ever eaten herringeggs, and it was over a decade before I realized what my dad had served me were herring eggs, not herringeggs. The experience had simply remained a sun-filled, crunch-pop memory of my father’s joy.
My childhood is filled with memories of my father and food. It was always Native food that lit that warm glow of joy I could feel from him. On rare school days I’d run up the stairs to discover a relative had given us muktuk and seal oil we’d then eat for lunch. He’d be quiet and happy showing me how to salt the oil just so, then chase it with a glass of orange juice, “to calm the stomach” he’d tell me.
My father grew up in a small village in Norton Sound, on the Western Coast of Alaska, his family eating Native foods hunted and gathered throughout the year then kept in cache. The barge with food from the outside came only in summer. He lived his childhood surrounded by extended family, and close to both his grandparents.
That joy I felt in him sparked by sharing Native foods I’ve always imagined as the glow triggered by the warmth of childhood meeting the warmth of life with his children. The foods we shared were first introduced to him by his mother and grandparents, then he continued the cycle sharing them later with my sisters, and me.
Today my dad celebrates his birthday. My parents are already preparing for the commercial fishing season back in Naknek where he first gave me herringeggs. He flies out later this week to ready his boat, work on the house, and lay the groundwork for the rest of my family to return next month to fish salmon as they do every season–my family’s summer harvest.
I give thanks for you. Happy Birthday.
You are my father. I am grateful. May your new year be filled with joy.