“Finish your food….”
by George Pletnikoff
July 23, 2007
I am sure many, if not all of us, have heard those words spoken by mommie at lunch or supper time. For me and my brothers and sisters, both times at home on St. George Island were special. Mom was a wonderful cook, especially when prepairing our traditional foods of seal, ducks, geese, kittiwakes, murres and halibut and cod. She knew what she was doing, cause, hey, she is mom. And Dad, he as you know already was a real man’s man. Now I understand him as a true person, a real icon to be emulated and admired.
Lunchtime was always our main meal at home. For supper, we would have leftovers, and even then, it was delicious. Dad would go to work as a carpenter for the Federal Government, mom would be home and we, my two brothers, one older and the other, almost like a twin cept he was and is cuter en me, would be at school. Later two other brothers and two sisters were added to the bunch. The more, the better. My Deedah, Grandpa, would always come over, from two houses down on the same row of wooden building structures, for lunch. He walked with a limp. Sometimes our uncles would accompany him. Anyway, the table was always full. Come to think of it, we had two tables almost everyday. One for the grown ups, and the other, us. It was warm, the coal stove burning hot, mom rushing about, and the men, sitting and talking in Unangan about important matters, at least as far as we were concerned. And we were told to be quiet. And most times we were. Respecct, you understand, is very important in close knit families. In everything for that matter. And we had to learn it quick and at a very young age. No Dr. Spock ideas here. Learn or, well, you get the picture.
Deedah would be at the head of the table. He always said the Lord’s prayer in slavonic. He was always served first, then Dad, uncles and the rest until it got down to us. And when it got down to us, sometimes we got the not so best parts of whatever was being served. No mind. It was good. Mom’s fry bread (ah la dicks) or home made bread was the best. Only one hour to eat, or 30 minutes was more like it. Then do the dishes, clean up and run back to school down the hill. Laughing and teasing one another as do children all over. Then, back to work. But, I remember very clearly that after we all ate, a cloth, like a napkin, we did not have paper napkins, was passed around to wipe the face and hands, first of course to Deedah. Then the rest in order of respect.
As kids do, we wanted the ah la dicks cause, well, butter and jam was spread over them, and oh, they were and are to this day, so good. Hot. Warm. Tasty. Because we wanted to fill up on this, its our meal and dessert at the same time, often we did not want to finish our main meal, more often than not, some wild and traditional food. Seal, cormorant, or fish. And, as always, we would hear: "Finish your food, because some day you might be hungry." Mom, what a woman. Did not know it then, but I am so thankful now. As a side, Mom was so beautiful, internally and physically. Well, anyway, little did I know how important those words would play out today in the whole scheme of things. I don’t know if the meaning was this, but so what. They are so prophetic. "Finish your food, because someday you might be hungry." To me, I think what Mom said was: "Finish your food because someday you might be hungry for it." I wondered as a young boy how we could ever go hungry because it seemed like there was a bunch of food, especially our food. And there was. Sure, there were lean months, but also, when the animals that took care of us were home, they made sure we could not miss them. They showed up in the millions. All of them. Millions.
Now, in real time, I am fifty something years old. My memory of these days had to go back as far as when I was ten, twelve, or there abouts. As rich as we were, we did not know how poor we really were. Anyway, those words of Mom haunts me today. How did she know? Where did she learn this? Was she taught? Who taught her? Or maybe, in my mind, I just want to think that she just knew, for afterall, she is Mom. And smart? Wise? She is Mom. What do you think I think?
And now, fourty some years later, a very short time from those days, I am hungry. I simply cannot believe it ! No Deedah any more, or Dad, or Mom or uncles. And no food. Like I have been talking to the people in the villages, if we no longer can eat and survive at home, we will have to move to the city. Anchorage. What a mess. And now, I am living there. I cannot fish. I cannot hunt. I cannot, only once or twice a year, eat my food. Its hard to find. Its hard to find for our people who are still living at home. And what they catch they have just enough for others in the village. Son of a …… I am so angry about that. Who said the fishermen on the TV program Deadliest Catch have a right to their way of life at the cost of ours? Who said, its ok for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to dole out millions of metric tons of bycatch and destroy and make desserts out of the Bering Sea at our expense? Who is playing god here? Why are their ways of living more critical, more important, more better than ours in the villages? Why? Someone, please tell me. And then, when they catch all the fish, crab and kill all the food we depend upon, our compassionate, conservative United States’s "pursuit of happiness bull" buys their boats from them cause, well, they cannot catch enough to buy a christmas tree. Where is the honor? Give me more fish. I have to follow the fish further north cause, they are moving. My gosh! Who are these people? And who gives them the rights? Someone, please tell me.
The elder in Mekoryuk said: "My ancestors said we are not supposed to play with our food." Well, lets create councils, scientific committees, advisory panels and play manopoly with our food. Lets wall street it. Lets trade and have a drink to our success! Lets become TV stars over our boo hoo, we cannot catch nuff crab! And lets let the cameras zoom in on a cute dockside homecoming in Seattle, tears and hugs, cause, well, we raped the Bering Sea, but this time, rather than the big million dollar pay checks we used to get, now its a measily hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why? Please, someone tell me. Why? Why destroy and kill? Tell me.
Finish your food, cause someday you will be hungry, on this beautiful planet we call Earth.
Until next time.