Thanksgiving in Alaska

Anybody who’s gone through a dark night of the soul in Alaska knows that it can be especially long and dark this time of year. Alaska’s always a harsh place, and it begins to feel intensely that way come mid-November, when the sky’s mostly gun metal grey, the sun only a brief tease.

But people help. Remembering what we’re grateful for helps too. Sen. Lisa Murkowski understands this. She recently put out a call to Alaskans to tweet about what they’re thankful for. One person wrote that she’s grateful that she lives in such a beautiful place, another that she’s thankful for her good husband, her twin babies, and Sitka. A teacher with Redoubt Elementary school sent out a video of her and her students, who are thankful for all the educational opportunities in Alaska.

I’m writing this from the Triple A Chevron on the corner of Airport Heights and Debarr, waiting for my tires to get changed. Right now, I’m thankful for Fred Heinzelmann ,who has owned this place forever. It’s the only place in Anchorage that I know, where if you can’t pump your own gas, you can pull up to the pump and honk your horn for service.

“Here’s Sam,” one of the workers says as a customer pulls up and honks.

Sam, who looks like he’s seen a lot of Alaska Thanksgivings, smiles at the attendant.

One of the workers here is from Samoa. She’s been here for ten years. The darkness doesn’t bother her anymore. She likes it here a lot more than her home country. Her family is here, and the food’s better here.

“It’s always coconut over there,” she says. “Coconut and pig.”

Yes. It always could be worse.

The other day, I sent some questions to politicians who are running for federal and statewide office, about what they were doing for Thanksgiving, what their favorite Thanksgiving food is, family traditions, any holiday memories they want to share, and what they were grateful for this year.

Some of them answered. Some didn’t. Nobody mentioned coconut or pig. Nearly all wrote about pie. Gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, who is an Alaska Native from Yakutat, also likes smoked salmon and herring egg salad. Senate candidate Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell likes sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, while his Republican challenger “Afghan” Dan Sullivan likes smoked salmon from the family’s fish camp. Mayor Dan Sullivan, who’s running for lieutenant governor, likes turnips with lots of butter. State Sen. Lesil McGuire, who is running for lieutenant governor, sent along a recipe for her famous apple pie.

U.S. Rep. Don Young likes turkey tail. Turkey tail? “For those of you who haven’t heard of Turkey Tail, it’s exactly what it sounds like,” he said.

Some of their answers allowed a little glimpse beyond the public face.

Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy have spent Thanksgivings volunteering with the Salvation Army helping to feed the hungry. “Serving in that way takes me back to a grandfather I never knew who died on the streets of Seattle and is my way of giving thanks for the strangers who fed and clothed him,” he said.

What’s Parnell most grateful for?  “A wonderfully understanding and loving wife in Sandy for over 26 years of marriage.”

One of Afghan Dan’s holiday memories was when, “I literally surprised my wife and three daughters and came home to Anchorage unexpectedly for 4 days over Christmas while I was deployed on active duty with the Marines in 2005-2006.”

One of Mayor Dan’s favorite traditions is cooking with his mother and “serving as her official gravy and dressing taster.”

Sen. Mark Begich is most grateful this year that his mother celebrated her 75th birthday. “And of course, Jacob and Deborah surviving my schedule.”

Mayor Dan is particular grateful for his daughter’s “wonderful” wedding this year.

The upcoming year is going to be brutal on us. The balance of the Senate will likely rest on our shoulders. The governor’s race will be competitive. The ballot initiatives, particularly the oil tax initiative, will pit neighbor against neighbor.

Lesil McGuire has a lot of things going for her. Following a script is not one of those things. Heart, however is:

“My parents are older and our children are older and alas I am older too. Life is way too short and I am so happy for these moments around a table with my family and making memories. Alaska is the very best place on the earth, but too many Alaskans are living without enough food and clothing and warm shelter. This is a time for all of us to reflect on how fortunate we are to have these things and to remember that we have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate among us.”

I’m thankful that I live in a place that still has the ability to take my breath away, and that we have so many good politicians looking after us. Seriously. I am.

Here’s McGuire’s apple pie recipe:

You need 2 c chopped and peeled Granny Smith apples, 2/3 c sugar, 2 T if flour, 1 egg beaten with whisk, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup of sour cream, 1/4 tsp salt. Chop apples set aside. Beat egg with whisk and add flour and flavoring, add in sugar the stir in sour cream and salt. Pour in apples and mix well. Pour into unbaked pie crust and bake at 375 for glass or 400 for metal for 20-25 minutes or till set. Remove from oven and drop temp to 350 degrees. Mix 1/2 stick of butter, with 1/3 c flour and 1/3 c brown sugar to get crumble topping. Sprinkle with cinnamon and cardamom or use ground nutmeg if none, cardamom! Sprinkle evenly over top of pie and put back into oven for 20 minutes!

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2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in Alaska

  1. Ryan S.

    Great color. Continue to do more that shows the personal side of our elected officials and candidates. It helps cut thru the bs campaign brochures and tv ads.

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