The Legend of Mama
In the pristine wilderness of Alaska, there is a legend of a frontier woman, a reclusive widow who embodies the spirit of Alaska. She is known as Mama because of her generosity and hearty home cooked meals. Mama arrived in Alaska in the late 1800’s as a dance hall girl hoping to meet a successful miner, begin a family and find land on which to homestead. She traveled Alaska providing entertainment to weary and thirsty Chechakos looking for their fortune in gold. She was known from Haines, to Fairbanks and Nome as a rustic beauty with a large heart. The summer of 1897, she found herself dancing on a Chena River paddlewheel, where after many years on the circuit she met her love and soon to be husband. He was a swarthy riverboat captain and part time miner who was rough around the edges. One of his luxuries in the Arctic and on the river, as a captain, was the comfort of his imported pipe tobacco. One chilly fall night on the river after the crowd had settled Mama walked on to the deck looking at the unpolluted star scape for peace. A musty smell enveloped her, turning she noticed the captain behind her quietly taking in the silence smoking his pipe. He offered it to her and unexpectedly she obliged. Taken back by her brazen independence, an independence only the frozen winters of the Yukon can inspire, he realized a woman such as this was more valuable than any gold. They began a courtship and were inseparable. Shortly after their courting, he asked for her hand in marriage. With determined spirit, they reached a decision to move south, away from the tundra, to begin a family and to try their luck at a homestead and mining. Nearly 500 miles south they traveled on rugged trails to the Moose River where they began their new adventure. The small cabin they built did not last long as their family grew with children. Hearing rumors of gold in Hope with hope to provide, Papa with sadness left the family to strike it rich, leaving Mama to tend to the homestead and children. In her loneliness, waiting for Papa to return with his pockets gold lined, Mama occupied her time on the homestead and in the community in the most loving manner that she could display. She cooked. Anytime she heard of a community gathering or heard whispers of families in need, whether during the warmth of summer or in the bleak solitude of winter she would lace up her boots and stoke her fires in preparation for smoking her meats. At dawn, on the convergence of the Kenai and Moose River, the fog swirled with the smoke from Mama’s grill and lingered until midday when she fed the community of settlers with her meticulously prepared meals. Every now and then, she would receive tidings and support from Papa with news of his adventures and his promises to return. For years until her children were grown and on their own, she continued cooking, slowly perfecting her methods. Later in life, she heard a rumor that Papa had been lost to the wilderness. Some even spoke that a wild animal had him. In reflection, she quietly retreated into solitude on her hidden homestead. Late in the evenings, as she had with Papa the day they met,she would stoke up her pipe tobacco and look back in remembrance of that night on the Chena. It is said that some nights and early mornings with the dimming of the stars and the rise of the midnight sun the ghostly scent of her BBQ still drifts down the Moose River mingling with the early morning mist. We honor her generosity, sense of community, and culinary dedication here today and hope you will too. Let’s eat!