"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hawaiian Luau in Alaska

I should have known.   When I received the invitation, I should have realized the party theme would be Hawaiian, because the occasion was the 80th birthday of the guest of honor, Auntie Jean, who came from Hawaii many decades ago.

Honestly.   Can you say oblivious?

Auntie Jean, 80 years old

Auntie Jean has lived in Girdwood, a small former gold mining town and now a popular ski resort, ever since I met her, which was back in the 1960s.

I didn't even catch on when I read the invitation.   Enclosed in the envelope was a small tag with a pin, designed to be worn by the invited guests.

I saw one lady wearing two as earrings.

Anyway, when I arrived at the destination, a young lady welcomed me with a shell lei.   Another clue that went right over my head.   Even the guests showing up in Hawaiian print shirts didn't give me a light bulb moment.   The day was very nice and warm, so why not?  Why do so many Alaskans have Aloha shirts?   Alaskans LOVE Hawaii.   We frequently escape to there during our long winters.

I had to stop and admire the evolution of a log home in which I spent many happy hours as a guest of the original builder-owners and their good friend Hermann the German.   At that time, the upstairs was not yet finished, so we assembled downstairs before a massive rock fireplace built by Hermann.

While I stood there looking for anyone I knew, it was not my eyes that found a friend, but my ears.  The lovely sounds of a zither drew me towards none other than said Hermann.

Imagine those hands that worked with wood and concrete and rock all his life playing such a delicate instrument.

Then I spotted the original owner of that log house, Polka Dan.   We chatted for a while and when it occurred to both of us that something momentous was occurring on the other side of the dining tent, we realized we had been invited to a real luau.

Polka Dan

I had to wait a long time for a hug from Hermann because he was still playing the zither, so I wandered off to see the "momentous activity."   And there it was--the underground imu (pit) where a fire had been built, lined with rock to retain the heat, and covered with banana leaves.   The pig was placed onto the leaves, covered with more leaves and wet burlap, then covered with soil.   Six or seven hours later, voila!, kālua pig.

The uncovered imu in the foreground.

The previous resident of the imu.

Pupus were being served and it would be a while before dinner was ready, so I roamed around the party scene spread between two homes.   Here's the second one:

This home had a lovely little greenhouse and deck where I sat and talked with another long-time Girdwood resident, and took this photo looking towards Turnagain Arm.

Huge rhubarb leaves with fireweed and pushki (Cow Parsnip) front a view of the mountains across Turnagain Arm, with dead trees in the foreground.  This land sank four to six feet during the March 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake,  and the trees died when saltwater from high autumn tides flooded that area.  

I've mentioned Turnagain Arm on this blog many times, but I'll do it again.  It's one of two arms of Cook Inlet, named after renowned British explored Capt. James Cook.  And who did Cook send up Turnagain Arm to see if it might be the elusive Northwest Passage?

None other than his boat captain, William Bligh, who would later be on the losing end of a set-to with Christian Fletcher and be summarily bounced from the HMS Bounty.   Bligh had to maneuver his small boat through the channels and bends of the arm many times, hence the name Turn-again Arm.

Along one portion of the 50-mile long arm.

Back to the party.   I ran into my former landlord, who charged me $60 a month to live here:

One room with an unheated room and Arctic entry, or porch.   I loved this cabin.
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Now, doesn't he look like a landlord?  He built a nice home behind my cabin.   Polka Dan and the Usual Suspects named the whole thing Hooperville.

At the time, my cabin was the oldest inhabited cabin in the valley.   Inside the kitchen cabinets, someone had noted his financial status in cash, gold, and gold dust, dated circa 1920.   Gravity-fed running water in the sink with a bucket underneath the drain.  An outhouse completed the facilities.   It was a deal!  The cabin is often in my dreams

All this time, Polka Dan was playing his concertina, Hermann was accompanying him on a guitar, and their bud John was playing the gut bucket  (washtub bass).  Oh, boy.   Memories, memories. Memories of dancing the night away to Polka Dan's concertina and Hermann's zither at the Double Musky (up the valley on Crow Creek Mine Road) before the Musky became a world-renowned Cajun restaurant.

My former landlord hadn't brought his spoons, so he didn't join the trio.

More party people:

This pretty and very gracious lady is Hermann's wife.  They now live in southern Aridzona    (oops, sorry)  Arizona and she was freezing while we Alaskans were glorying in the nice day.  In her defense, the sun HAD slipped behind the mountains.
Auntie Jean's daughter.

My first ski instructor.

And speaking of skiing, here's the man who for many years guy managed Alyeska Ski Resort up the valley, along with his wife, who is the published author of romantic novels and travel stories.   She also makes the very best German potato salad.   I know because I've had lunch with them in their second home in Austria.


And some party decorations, all of which I'm sure came direct from Hawaii:

The guy with his back to us, in the white Aloha shirt?   It's from him I get my supplies of litter bags and grab sticks!

These petunias didn't come from Hawaii, though.  They were in front of the log home.

Petunias love Alaskan weather.

Another band took over and the dance floor was crowded.  Except while we were eating dinner:

This young lady's dancing style was a combination of freestyle infused with gymnastics.

Oh, dinner!    Zowie!!!

In addition to the kālua pig, this site produced more goodies:

Resulting in my plate:

Bottom, clockwise from bottom:  chicken longrice, teriyaki beef, potato salad, pineapple, coconut pudding. shrimp-pepper salad, kalua pig, and
  noodles with sautéed veggies..   Wish I'd taken a plateful home.

Can't tell you what wonderful memories this whole affair evoked.   Even the location, once known at Polish Circle (because Polka Dan and two other Polish men lived there), though it's now called Toadstool Road and none of the Polish friends live there anymore.

Many changes have come to Girdwood in the decades  since Polka Dan and Hermann the German entertained us at the Double Musky.  It was an era that many of us now consider very, very special. 

While I was collecting and giving dozens of hugs, it occurred to me that while much has changed, including our hair color, one of those changes is by far for the better: Hugs.   Back then, friends didn't hug.   Now we do, and I hope that never changes.

Happy Birthday Auntie Jean.  You really know how to throw a party.


  1. Having lived there 40 some years ago Jeannie was always a gracious hostess. This brings back many memorable memories of the people and their party's. Happy Birthday Jeannie. B & B

  2. Boy was this ever a trip down memory lane for me...it was wonderful to see the log house that I designed and helped to build and which still holds precious memories for me...it's nice to know it is still part of the social scene and the site of so many people enjoying themselves on the birthday of this remarkable, still beautiful lady, Auntie Jean. Thank you ever so much Jeanne for the report which brought happy tears to my eyes and a glow to my heart. Patti

  3. What a wonderful gathering!! What fun you had!!!

  4. Nice. So very nice. Cap and Patti in Yuma Aridzona March 31st 2018