I spent 4 days in Juneau, Alaska over July 4th visiting my friend Gwen. The 4th was her birthday. About once a year I take a trip without Jerry, usually to see one of my children. In a way this was the same kind of trip. Gwen is sort of a surrogate child. She was born in 1957, the same year as my second daughter. She’s like one of my kids, except that I can talk about sex with her.
I had never been to Juneau, but I had lots of expectations. I saw myself dining on luscious king crab that had never been frozen. Or hiking on scenic mountain trails overlooking glaciers. Maybe I’d see a bear. Perhaps go fishing. But I know that often things don‘t turn out the way one imagines, so I was not surprised when it was all quite different. It rained steadily the whole time I was there. I did not see a mountain, a glacier, or a bear. King crab was not on offer.
Gwen’s friend, Barb, together with her entire family had gathered in Juneau to celebrate the marriage of one of the huge Plotnik clan. The young people in question had been married since January, so this was just the party part.
On July 2 there was a picnic (under a shelter) with a good fire. Gwen and I were invited and Gwen’s husband, Shawn, provided a large king salmon that he had acquired while fishing. That is, he didn’t actually catch it himself, but in some barter exchange he became its owner and he donated it to the picnic. There were also hot dogs, hamburgers, a variety of salads and vodka spiked Jello cups in various colors and flavors. The latter were covered with a big sign that read, “NOT TO BE EATEN BY CHILDREN.” For the children there were s’mores.
Lots of children dashed about, playing in the chilly rain. There were dogs of all sizes, patrolling for dropped hot dogs or other dog delicacies. Shawn’s fishing pals, a group of jolly young men, joined the party.
I met Sandy, the matriarch. She is a little older than me, a small, energetic lady who had 2 of her daughters and six grandchildren staying with her in her small house. She has seven children in all, 4 daughters and 3 sons. There were innumerable grandchildren, including the newly married couple who were the object of the festivities. The logistics of moving groups of Sandy’s descendants around for excursions were formidable. And it continued to rain. While I was there we had 3 lunches out, visited the excellent little museum, shopped the multitude of tourist shops containing items like furs, gold, carved bone objects, and Russian toys. We visited the Alaska State Capitol Building where Barb was keen for us to see the special marble in one of the ladies rooms.
We didn’t get to see it, however, because it had been converted into a men’s room. All of these excursions included at least one, and usually several, Plotniks.
Gwen and I wondered whether we should go to the formal party on the 3rd, the “reception” which was to be held in the Armory. After all, our connection with the bride and groom was tenuous. When we heard that fresh oysters were to be flown in from Kake, Alaska we said YES. We thought it would be okay, since Shawn had provided the big fish for the picnic, and Barb is Gwen‘s best high school chum. Gwen and Barb had stayed in my guest apartment a few months ago when Gwen was in Bellingham for medical appointments.
I was honored to be included in this warm and joyful group. Of course there were some tensions. Gwen said that with Plotniks there is always drama. But the cousins had a grand time together, playing, dancing, eating and chattering. Ex-husbands and ex-wives mingled amiably. Barb’s reclusive sister, who declines to speak to some of the family, was persuaded to appear at the last minute for the family group pictures at the reception. There is solidarity within this family, young, old, tall, short, some richer than others, some brimming with good health, some less well. Rocky, Barb’s sister and mother of the groom is the picture of glowing health. She teaches fitness classes and has a figure that should be the envy of a 20 year old. David, Barb’s brother is married to Misha, a sweet round woman who has severe arthritis. David and Misha smiled and held hands throughout both parties.
The master of ceremonies and the proposer of toasts was a big girl with bushy stand-up hair, dressed in men’s clothes. She is one of Sandy’s grandchildren. Her partner was a fine looking young woman dressed in a form fitting black dress and 3 inch silver heels. Gwen says she looks just like Bristol Palin.
Ah, the oysters! They were piled high on a table with knives and towels. Guests opened their own. Kind young Plotniks opened some for me, but after a while I had eaten so many that I felt embarrassed and decided to learn how to open my own. I did learn, and I think it’s a fine skill to have acquired.
The other food was almost as good as the oysters. The Plotniks are Jewish, but there was plenty of shellfish. There were scallops with a lovely seaweed relish, shrimp in little cups of gazpacho, chopped smoked salmon on toasts and asparagus wrapped in filo pastry.
The band began to play. First Sandy stood up with one of her sons. Then the kids began to dance.
I am shy about dancing, as my children in their teen years used to hoot with laughter when I danced. But the band was good, the beat was enticing, and I thought, I don’t know these people and who will care if I look foolish. So I danced until I was out of breath.
For me it was an all time great party!
The next day was Gwen’s birthday. Of course it rained. But Alaskans enjoy themselves rain or shine. The Douglas parade took place as planned. The marchers wore boots, raincoats and carried umbrellas and Shriners protected their fezes from the elements with shower caps.
That night we had a birthday dinner with Gwen’s parents. The next day at the break of day I flew home to a heat wave.