Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Another favorite gathering place—and the only restaurant in town opened year round back then—was Al’s Eskimo Cafe. There was a place called Brower’s Cafe, but it only opened in the summer for the tourists. It was tradition to go there at least once a season and eat a bowl of reindeer soup while listening to the tour guides’ latest spiels about Barrow.


Al’s Eskimo Cafe, owned and operated by Al Hopson Sr., was the really special place. It was the original highway greasy spoon translated into tundra ambiance. I wouldn’t have been surprised if, after downing one of those wonderful grease soaked burgers with fries—this was before they invented cholesterol, when you were still allowed to savor the flavor that fried fat brings to food—I went out to find Route 66 going by the front door.
Since Al had some real strong affection for the hospital staff, we were often treated to an extra special meal in the back room. Al would call Ose and ask if he knew any hungry doctors or nurses. Needless to say there were always lots of volunteers. We’d all troop over to Al’s back room where a feast fit for a king was laid before us. There’d be shrimp cocktail followed by shee fish, caribou and fresh salad, topped off with strawberry shortcake for dessert. Al’s wife cooked while Al supervised the proceedings. The whole time you ate, Al would sip from his coffee cup—which did not necessarily contain coffee—and we’d listen to a master storyteller weave his magic as he told tales of a time when life on the North Slope was both simpler and harsher.
Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:40 PM •

I left for Alaska on October 1, 1972. I was accompanied to the airport by a large contingent of relatives who seemed unduly concerned that this move would somehow lead to my permanent removal from their circle. Although in hindsight that proved more true than not, at the time I found myself wondering if my grandparents had had to endure this when they departed for America. Of course, at that point I wasn’t too sure the move was as bright an idea as it had seemed when first conceived. Some things are much cloudier in the light of stark reality than they are in the much dimmer glow cast by parallel logic.
My most vivid memory of that day occurred when I checked my beloved parrot Adeline into cargo. She was stuffed into what she considered a very small carrying cage considering the more gracious accommodations she’d grown so use to. She was clearly unhappy at the prospect of being the first tropical bird in the arctic. And she’d unfortunately picked up some language in her time with me though I have absolutely no idea who could have taught it to her that was very expressive of these feelings. I don’t think even death will wipe out the picture I have of her carrying cage flowing on the conveyor belt back to the cargo area while she let loose with some of her more scatological expressions in a voice that could be heard in Chicago. Airline staff and customers were popping out of every nook and cranny imaginable to see exactly who was creating this cacophony of four letter words. I was beating a hasty retreat up the escalator trying to pretend I had no connection with the scene. Every time I surreptitiously glanced down at the counter area, I’d find three or four hands pointing to me.

Sonya Senkowsky • 03:06 PM •

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