Here's a lovely little report that I wrote about my mom.
When my mother was 18, she and some friends flew to Nushygak, Alaska, to work in a Salmon cannery. The nearest phone was 40 minutes away by boat, or 20 minutes away by plane. At first, she worked not many hours, and she would scrounge for the old job. Cleaning the shower stalls was one such job. Mom tells us it was the most disgusting job that she had ever done, and she cleaned them by mixing ammonia and bleach together, (which can kill you,) and dumping them all over the bathroom. Fortunately, she survived the experience. However, mom was not stuck scrubbing toilets for long, because the harder you worked, the better the job you got, and mom was a hard worker. Soon, she was promoted to being an egg princess. An egg princess’ job is to slit open the fish and take out all the eggs. This job was called egg “princess” because it was considered one of the better jobs. Even so, mom worked 16 hours a day on average. At the peak of the season, everybody worked 23 hours a day. The entire work force wore yellow slickers to protect their clothes from being coated in salmon guts. Mom remembers once, a man was showing some new comers how to chop fish heads off on a machine that had a vertical blade that chomped up and down. While the machine was running, he told the workers, “One thing you must never do is stick your hand in the machine, like this:” He stuck his hand in the machine and chopped his hand off. Many of the workers were Japanese and often they would invite mom and her friends over to dinner. Mom describes it as a pleasant experience, always with delicious authentic Japanese food, except once, when it was not so delicious. “One time,” she recalls, “we stayed over there to have special meso soup. Now, meso soup is quite good, but this was special meso soup. I wanted to see what special meso soup looked like, so I peered into the pot- Do you know what chum eggs are? They are huge marble sized salmon eggs. Well, I looked into the pot, and floating around in it were huge, slimy chum eggs, and FINS! Smelly, underbelly fins.” But mom tells me that they had a baker who made absolutely divine pastries. The particular cannery mom worked at could not sell fish to the US because the quality was too poor. Mom told me that one time, the fisherman left huge bins of fish on the docks for four days. If you touched the fish, they were so incredibly old that your thumb would easily go through them. But they processed and packaged it anyway. Mom worked at the cannery for 5 weeks and she earned $4000 dollars. She tells me that when she received her pay check, she was thinking, “This is it?” Now, my mother, the former egg princess has resolved never to eat canned fish again.
P.S. Mom is not nearly old enough to have these pictures be her personal ones. I simply googled Nushagak Alaska cannery.