Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Caroline Reader
Caroline Reader
Caroline Reader talks about her childhood memories, about ordering supplies in Nome, and about the importance of boat transportation.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2007-03-02 & 03

Project: Nome Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Feb 3, 1996
Narrator(s): Caroline Reader
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Sections

What the family used for toilet paper when she was a child and they were poor

The expense of ordering toilet paper in the mail

Eskimo response to White newcomers and giving people nicknames

Boats bringing supplies to Nome

The excitement of waiting for a boat to arrive and greeting arriving passengers

Importance of boat transportation to early Nome

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Transcript

I call this little story the "tissue issue." My father was a beach miner who made his living up on this west beach on that end of town.

And of course it was a job that was good for maybe four months of the year, so the income for our family wasn't all that great, in fact by today's standards we'd probably be down pretty close to the bottom of the scale.

So my mother had to learn to conserve anyway she could, and with anything she could. With four children in the family and two adults to think about.

One item to conserve was toilet paper-especially when you don't have it. So, my parents used to get a case of apples, and maybe oranges, pears on the boat, and in those times the fruits were all wrapped in little squares of tissue-like.

An apple... So that was one of our jobs as children to take those papers and smooth them all out nice and they were used as toilet paper.

Then another thing my mother used to do, she had some old patterns. And that was one of our jobs too, we'd have to cut those up.

And that served as toilet paper, too. And I don't know what else we used.

At that time Sears Roebuck catalog sold toilet tissue. You could order it from their catalog. And it didn't come in great big cases like it does now in the stores.

It seems, the one I can remember was in just a case maybe one deep. It might have had 24 rolls or such in it. And my mother had ordered a case of this.

Well, all hell broke loose when this box of tissue arrived via plane, mail, which in those days was very scarce. So the postage bill on it was horrendous.

Mom and Daddy never argued very much. The only thing I really remember them arguing about was money. My mother was just so upset with this toilet tissue that had arrived at a terrible expense.

But with communications with Sears they got that straightened out and they reimbursed her for the cost of that paper. Well, as a result of it all my father nicknamed this expensive toilet tissue as the "gilt edged tissue"- because of the expense!

Ok, one more little item about toilet paper. My mother said that when she went to Teller to teach school in the early '20's, the Native peoples were often curious about the whites and their features.

For instance, they noticed my mother had big feet, so they gave her an Eskimo name that meant big feet. "Itiaguk," something like that.

But they noticed one white woman who was very thin, so they said, "Him, thin like toilet paper." And what really blew the Native's minds, I guess, was to see a trader up there one summer with a toupee.

And the next summer he came back without it. And it was hard to figure out what he did with it, what happened to his hair. Well, that was all I was going to say about toilet paper. I remember that incident, and it had to happen before 1940, because that was the year our father died, so it was in the '30's some time when that took place.

And it was enough of an upsetting incident that my mother just practically had a nervous breakdown over it. All that expenditure for toilet tissue.

Then I was going to tell you a little about transportation to Nome, that I remember. To get to Nome, you didn't come in a jet in those years.

You came on a boat. And that was only between the months of say June through September, maybe into October if it was a mild fall.

Those boats used to bring fresh fruits, fresh frozen meat, along with food supply for the city of Nome; all kinds of coal and horse feed and things of that nature.

Now I don't know how excited children today get over a fresh orange or a fresh apple or a yellow banana. We always thought bananas were black, because that's the only kind mom ever bought.

So, the word would come that that boat was due in any time. So we'd watch the horizon, and pretty soon we'd see a little tiny smoke plume in the air.

And we'd wait and we'd think, "Oh boy, oranges. Oh boy, apples. Oh boy, bananas. Oh boy, funny papers!" Our grandpa Stipek in Tacoma, Washington would save the Sunday funnies for us for the whole year and mail them up to us and those would come on the boat.

And my mother would deal out one week at a time. We could read one week, and then the next week we got another one. And she hid the other ones, so we couldn't peek ahead.

Also coming on the boats in those years were people. And when the boat was due, I never saw such a swarm of people that would gather down at the dock, at the jetty, to wait for the barge to come in with the people.

The ship would anchor off about a mile or two, then people were transferred to a barge. And at that time the Lomen Commercial Company was still in the barge business. I think you heard Joe Kokochurak mention Lomens with the reindeer; well, they had their hand in the transportation business, too.

And so folks would just cram down there on the jetty area, watching for that barge with people to come in to see friends they hadn't seen all winter. And I remember being down there one time, and I swear I would have ended up in the jetty, but there was a wooden post standing in front of me that I was leaning against, and all these people behind, you know, just pushing and waving and hollering.

So, it probably took about 45 minutes maybe for the people to come in from the boat to the jetty on this barge.

And I suppose there were some chairs for some of the elderly people to sit on, on the barge. But we'd wave and we'd wait and holler; it was quite a tumultuous time.

One woman I heard about had found out that paper was a good insulation, so she had two sons who came with her on the boat, and she had paper wrapped all around their legs under their pants, so when the boys walked up the gangplank-"crinkle, crinkle, crackle, crackle"-with the paper in their pants.

Those boats were really important; there was no other way to get here at the time. Until maybe in the late '30's there might have been a plane or two, but I really don't recall too much air traffic in those years.

Hm, let's see. Well, often bachelors in Nome here would keep their eyes open for the new teachers or new nurses coming into town on the barge. And it's amazing how many of them did get married, after the men and the women meet up here, and get married.

And then of course it was always kind of sad in September, October to see the last boat go, and see people on the barge leaving Nome this time and heading Outside again.

So that's all I have to say about transportation, at this time. That concludes my little bit. I may tell more. I may be able to tell more at a different session.