School years of old

by Peter Twitchell

I want to write a little story about village of Akiak in 1962. When I was 11 years old in ‘61 dad David Adams Twitchell took me up to the village of Akiak, Alaska. Dad introduced me to a man of Scandinavian descent, Jens Kvamme.

Jens and his family had a gold mine in Canyon Creek in the Kilbuck Mountains. Jens was interested in selling one of his buildings to Dad for a few thousand dollars in cash. Dad gave Jens a wad of money and Mom Sarah and me moved up by kayak in August 1962.

The following month in September I enrolled into the BIA school in Akiak. There were 3-4 grades all in one classroom and after a month went by I was advanced from the third grade to the fifth grade. The schoolwork and curriculum was not as sophisticated as the Kilbuck school was in Bethel.

I loved the change and move to the village of Akiak, it’s where my view of the world changed dramatically. We lived across the river from the village and I walked to school every morning. It kind of reminds me of Abraham Lincoln!!

It was roughly about a 30 minute walk across the river each morning. We started each day singing Patriotic songs such as the “Caissons go rolling along”. We pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. We sang other songs too.

The singing part was unlike Bethel schools and I enjoyed the whole classroom of 3-4 different grades singing in unison. It was a beautiful experience for me. I grew up with music – my Dad played the guitar and sang, my mom played the keyboards, the pump organ, the accordion and mandolin and sang gospel and country and western songs. This was my environment as a young boy and I really look back and appreciate it.

It proved to be a little tough situation for me because I was picked on a lot by James Nikolai and Jackson Williams was no help. James was the boy who belly punched me every chance he got. That was my early training in becoming a man who stands on his 2 feet and learns to stand up for himself and what’s right.

I became good friends in the village with Albert Kvamme Jr. who lived about 200 feet from where we lived across the village. Albert and I became lifelong friends. I lost him about five years ago but will never forget our times hunting willow grouse in Akiak and riding his snowmachine.

I became good friends with Matthew Galila and worked at the radio station KYUK together in the 70s. I also became good friends with Peter Galila and his brother David. Adam Jeff was like an older brother to me, he played great guitar flamingo style. And Lillian Lliaban was like an older sister to me. Their mom Maggie Japhet was a wonderful woman who told old stories of growing up in the village.

Sarah Jackson and sisters Annie and Freda Japhet walked over to me took me by the hand and took me out on the dance floor and slow danced with me during record dances at the village dancehall. In 1962 I was 12 years old and dancing with these wonderful people who became lifelong friends.

I’ve never danced after that, I was always too busy playing my guitar or bass guitar on the stage beginning when I was 17 and still performing to this day at 72. These ladies helped me to learn appreciation.

Mom and I returned to Bethel the following year and I was held back one year in school because of the sophistication of education in Bethel compared to the villages where teachers were responsible for teaching three or four classes during a school day. I remember my teacher Mr. Kouchuck Rob the fisherman with the rod and reel on the Kuskokwim.

Adam Japhet Became like an older brother to me. Life in Akiak became a little tough for me, it was the first time in my life being bullied.

The love I was shown was more powerful than being picked on by a bully, like the Jackson girls dancing with me and my friends in school. Plus the Elders always told us when I was a kid, “pingraatgen akinauqaqsaunaki.”