Growing Up Alaska: And Why I Don’t Like Grape Nuts

When I was 16, I spent a summer in Kodiak with a survey team with the Bureau of Land Management. Needlessly to say, that summer had so many issues, but those are all stories on their own.

We’d been sent to Olga Bay to do a land survey for some new native allotments. Our assignment had changed several times by the time we finally left for Kodiak, that there had been a mistake in the paperwork and everyone thought we were someplace else.

We arrived with about a week and a half of food and a week of military back up meals in case the weather turned bad and the supply planes couldn’t make it in. We’d never dreamed that the whole eight weeks we were there that they would never show up!

Again, another story.

On our third week and out of food, we all became creative. We ate a lot of fish, mostly salmon, and berries or whatever we could forage; but it was mostly salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

One thing that we did have left was a big box of Grape Nuts cereal, but no milk. Our boss suggested we have some for breakfast to break up the monotony of fish and I was eager to comply.

We rotated duties and it was my day to get the boat ready, so I was up early to begin my list of chores before the others got up. I fetched the water and got some boiling and pulled out the box of Grape Nuts.

Since there was no milk for the cereal, I poured myself a big bowl and carried it with me, eating it dry while I worked on the boat. It was a bit bland, but at least it wasn’t fish.

I finished my chores and walked back to the bunkhouse to make myself a cup of hot chocolate and greet the others. It was then that I realized I could have poured the hot chocolate over the Grape Nuts and made them taste better. I would try that tomorrow.

The others were all sitting down, munching on their dry cereal. My boss spotted me carrying my bowl, which was a large soup bowl and not a cereal bowl.

“How much did you eat?” he asked.

I suddenly felt very aware that they were all staring at me. Was there some special rationing that I was unaware of? Had I taken more than our boss had allowed the others to take.

I showed him the bowl and said a bit sheepishly, “I filled my bowl up.”

My boss groaned and shook his head. “Your staying in camp today.”

I thought this was a weird punishment. We were all hungry and they all had out their big bowls too! I was about to protest when our boss held up his hand.

“You’ve got dogs, right?” he asked. I nodded and he continued. “Do you feed your dogs wet or dry food?”

“For my dog team, I soak dry food.” I replied.

“And what happens when you do that?”

“The food absorbs the water and helps hydrate them,” I replied again, still not comprehending.

Our boss took out a couple of Grape Nuts and poured a little coffee over them. “Just like your dog food, these Grape Nuts are going to expand. Only, in your stomach. And you ate so many that there won’t be any room for them.”

It dawned on me what that meant, but I was sure that I would be okay.

“No you won’t. I want you to drink a lot of water today,” our boss said as he cleaned up his mess and the others got ready.

I watched them go and was kind of relieved that I had a day off. Normally on down days, we had a list of chores. The only command he gave me was to drink, lots of water, so I did.

My stomach began to hurt about an hour and a half later. I could see the bump forming and could feel things stretching. Nausea rolled over me, but I couldn’t vomit. The only thing that seemed to help was water, though I could only take it in sips.

The sun seemed to help too. The warmth on my skin seemed to make things settle and my muscles around my stomach seemed to relax, so I sat out in the grass and tried to absorb as much sun as the mosquitos would let me.

I had to lay on my back. When I tried to roll over, I could feel the water slowly slosh around in my stomach and if I was face down, the pressure on my stomach was too great.

I wanted to vomit. I gagged a few times, but nothing. So I drank some more water as often as I could and laid there.

The pressure started to ease about eight hours later, shortly before the crew returned. It still hurt, but at least I could move about and I no longer felt like throwing up.

I hadn’t eaten lunch that day and couldn’t stand the thought of dinner. The next morning my stomach still ached and it would for a few days more. I passed on breakfast again and nibbled on lunch (fish…again) but had no appetite.

It took a few days for me to feel normal again, though my sides still hurt if I sucked in or leaned the wrong way.

And I never ate Grape Nuts again.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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