A lifestyle blog about life and living in Southeast, Alaska.
THE BEST ONE YET
October 28, 2016
The night before Uncle Lawrence passed, I went to a "Favorite Things" party that my friend Melissa was hosting. It was our 4th annual party that happens every fall and for the "ladies night" you bring three of the same items that are your favorite thing. You draw numbers, go in order and pick out gifts that are others favorite things. One of the gifts that I received that night was a cute canvas that now sits in my kitchen window between the toothbrushes and Loralai's play water cups. It says "Start each day with a grateful heart." And if you look just passed the sign out the window, you will see the beautiful Tlingit smokehouse that my husbands Aunt Shannon and her husband Lawrence built for our families. I had full intention on writing a blog post about all the efforts that went into the construction and building of the smokehouse, but I wasn't sure how to start it. But now, I have a reason to share how grateful my heart is that it adorns our property and was built by Uncle Lawrence.
When my husband told me that Shannon and Lawrence were going to build a smokehouse on our property, I was so excited! I've been curious about how the whole process works. Especially the traditional process of smoking salmon. Shannon and Lawrence had recently moved into the Veteran's Village and sold their house that Lawrence owned for years. Lawrence had a smoke house at the house they had sold and the Veteran's Village condos don't have land to build a structure on. They started in early August, just after the Southeast State Fair. They had to put it up quick for the fact, the sockeye run was in full force up the Chilkat River and it needed to get built so that fresh batches of sockeye could cycle through the 3 day process.
Shannon and Lawrence were at our house for a good five days until early in the morning until mid-afternoon building. They usually left about 3pm so they could go home take their siesta and have a relaxing dinner. I tried to help pound nails once but I kept getting them in crooked so I told Shannon and Lawrence I would stain it and make it pretty once it was finished. I am better at that sort of thing anyways. Plus when the batches were going to be smoking, Shannon and Lawrence were going to be traveling a bit. So it was going to be up to me to tend to the fire, flip the fish for dry fish, and make sure to let them know if I thought the fish was done. Lawrence had his special way of telling when the fish was ready to be cut, jarred, and pressure cooked but I don't know if I'm allowed to share that with you.
Lawrence also had a special brine that you soaked the fish in for a half an hour but I know I can't share that with you either. In fact, one day when our first batch of fish was in the brine, our neighbor Jerry wandered over and asked what brine Lawrence used, he replied back with a "Uh huh." But then Jerry asked how much salt? sugar? etc. do you put in? And every time Lawrence would reply with a "Uh huh." At some point, Jerry figured he wouldn't ever get the recipe out of him. And all of the family just chuckled lightly, because we knew that those special recipes, just have to stay in the family.
So when the first batch was in the smoke house I was in charge of the fire for a couple days. Lawrence and Shannon had medical appointments out of town and Lawrence carefully showed me how to place the cottonwood logs in the fire so they would create the most even and efficient smoke to the fish. This had to be checked on every 3-4 hours during the day and right away in the morning when you woke up. And after day three of careful attentiveness and Lawrence and Shannon returning from their appointments, Lawrence checked the fish and said "it's ready to cut." So then came in the propane pressure cookers and canning of the fish. As Lawrence was cutting the fish to put into the jars. I walked up to him and asked him "So Lawrence, how does this batch look?" he replied, "Looks like the best one yet." chuckling under great big grin. My heart fluttered. I was so honored to have a native elder tell me, that the fish that I had attended for the past three days was the best he has seen yet.
But for those of you who know Lawrence, the kind and mellow Tlingit always had a pun or funny story to tell. So for the next batch, this one I didn't attend to as much because they came over to check on it too. But I asked him again "So Lawrence, what about this batch?" he replied "Looks like the best one yet." I thought to my self..."Wait a minute? What about the last batch?" and then I caught on. And on our last batch of smoke fish for that year, I walked up to Lawrence and asked, "So Lawrence, how about this batch?" and with a big grin he said "Looks like the best one yet." I smiled and and knew that every batch that goes into that smoker is always going to be the "best one yet". And because of Uncle Lawrence, my Tlingit children will learn his recipes and continue their traditions. So they can teach their children, and their children's children. The "summer we built the smokehouse" will always be memorable one for me. For this, my heart is forever grateful.
Lawrence passed away on October 23rd at his winter home in Arizona. The community of Haines will miss him greatly. Lawrence leaves behind a very large family but we are happy to be a small part of it. Gunałchéesh Uncle!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!