Alta Colberg was interviewed on August 20, 2014 by Jan Yaeger at the Seldovia Museum in Seldovia, Alaska. In this interview, Alta talks about moving to Seldovia as a child and what it was like growing up in Seldovia. She also talks about raising her own family in Seldovia, about Seldovia's Fourth of July celebrations, and about the changes that she has witnessed in the community during her lifetime.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Seldovia Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Aug 20, 2014
Narrator(s): Alta Colberg
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Michael Opheim
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Living in Seldovia as a child
Moving to Seldovia in the late 1930's
Seldovia's holiday celebrations
Raising children in Seldovia
Running a business in Seldovia
More childhood memories
Seldovia's swimming pool
Positive changes in Seldovia
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JAN YAEGER: Okay. I am just going to start with the fact that it is August 20, 2014. It's 9:25 in the morning and we are interviewing Alta Colberg of Seldovia and my name is Jan Yaeger and this is a recording for Seldovia Project Jukebox. And Alta, thank you for talking with us today.
ALTA COLBERG: You welcome. Where to start?
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Well, how did you come to Seldovia?
ALTA COLBERG: My dad was -- worked on big ships Merchant Marine and he used to come in and out of Seldovia and started out his -- when he first started he would go from Shanghai and Cuba and back to Seattle.
And then they switched his route and he would go from Seattle to Kodiak to Seldovia and back the other direction. I suppose they stopped in a lot of other little places along the way, but Kodiak and Seldovia was his main interest.
I think he vacillated back and forth where he wanted to stay. Anyway, once he got here that was the end of it. He quit looking for other places. But when -- when I was a kid, we had a sandy beach that run from one end of town all the way to the next and there was a few big rocks on it, but that was our -- that was our playground was on the beach in front of the town.
And there was a boardwalk up on piling -- pretty high up on the piling cause we have high tides and it was up so the tide wouldn’t -- wouldn’t disturb it. You could go downtown at high tide. Before that people would walk or they would take a skiff or go at high tide so they didn’t have to go up the beach too far.
But anyway we played on the boardwalk and under the boardwalk and on the sand. The town was busy during the summer. We had three -- three general stores.
They were the size of the SNA store down there and they carried everything from building supplies to clothing, food, you name it, they carried it. Not much clothing, but you could get jeans and shirts and shoe pacs and that kind of stuff.
And then we had canneries. There was one, two, three big canneries and then a small one and during the -- during the fishing season the town was just flooded with people. But we didn’t -- we didn’t have airplanes. We didn’t have electricity. We didn’t need them.
At least we didn’t think we did. Once in a while a plane on pontoons would come in and then everybody was down the beach to see what was going on. But it -- it was such a different life because we didn’t have telephones.
When the -- when the big steamer come in with the groceries, it brought the mail and that was only from spring through fall and then we didn’t get any more steamers until spring again. The only reason they came up here was to -- to pick up the canned salmon and take them out and it was incidental they -- they picked up groceries and whatnot for the villages.
Brought it up and then they loaded up on the salmon and went back. So all summer long every time the -- every time the big boat came in it was like Christmas. We had mail. We had fresh fruit. We had everything.
But -- you know we didn’t have any sickness back then. All winter long there nobody got sick. Spring when the first freighter came in, then -- then everybody had the sniffles is what they called it. Sometimes it was measles. Sometimes it was something else.
But, I don’t know everything has speeded up so much now that you don’t -- most everything goes over my head. You don’t have time to stop and think about something like you used to. And the buildings are different. We had small buildings, except for the grocery stores and mercantile stores. They were big.
There was only two big homes in Seldovia. One belonged to the people that owned the Standard Oil dock and the other one belonged to the Morrises. They owned one of the big stores. So everything else was pretty small by comparison.
And when I went to school there was two grades in one class or one classroom had two grades in it. And it was first grade through twelve, but I don’t think any -- not too many people graduated. They got old enough to go fishing they quit.
They couldn’t see sitting there in the classroom when they could be making money. I guess that was the main draw. I know I quit. I had twelve weeks to go to graduate and I quit. Then I went back later so my kids wouldn’t quit and say well, you didn’t go to school. You didn’t graduate why should I? So I went back and got my GED and said that’s the end of that. I got my diploma now you get yours.
But, you know, the town is good now, except for the lack of industry. You just -- we almost died after the earthquake cause the land all subsided up to six feet in places from four to six feet and the tide came up. Every time the tide came in we had wall-to-wall water.
And then the tide would go out and it would all drain out and everything was getting pretty dirty and smelly. So we had to -- we had a big project and -- and even that there was hard -- hard feelings and hard times. People just wanted strangers to go away and leave us alone and let us fix it ourself which we couldn’t have.
Maybe we could have, I don’t know, but we didn’t have to so it got fixed. But we’re still not over it and this is what thirty, forty years later. We still don’t have any industry. For a while we had a crab cannery and we had logging and now that is done.
My son-in-law is working on a -- oh it's Puppy Love dog food, but he has a name for it. I can’t remember what he calls it. Value Added. And they put it -- they use everything. They use the fish. They use the whole -- the whole fish and he's got a bunch of recipes that he uses.
He can make jerky that you wouldn’t think was fish. And the dogs love his dog food. He calls it Puppy Love and he's - he's just getting that off the ground and the city is building a building for him to put his plant in.
And if that gets finished so he can buy -- buy fish, that'll be a real shot in the arm because the fishermen can sell their humpies. Again and right now they can’t sell their humpies. So as soon as the humpies hit the setnetters have to quit.
They can’t fish and throw them away so it's kind of a bummer. But I don’t know. That’s about all I remember about it. Probably by tomorrow I’ll think of a lot of stuff.
JAN YAEGER: So you mentioned that the steamers only came in the summertime. So what did you do in the winter -- wintertime for supplies?
ALTA COLBERG: Everybody they got their grubstake in is what they called it. Went down and they -- we lived off the country as far as meat went. We didn’t have electricity, consequently, no refrigeration. Had a little box nailed to the outside of the house -- a coal oil box and put a door on it and used leather cut from a shoe pac for a hinge and they just had a wooden -- wooden knob that they would turn to keep the door shut.
And nobody ever bothered anybody else’s food, but stuff you didn’t want in the warmth you would in the winter you’d put out in the -- out in the cooler box. But my dad hunted.
He was a good hunter. We had a big variety of food. He was a fisherman also. He liked the water.
So we had clams and fish and shrimp and crabs and then he would go hunting and he hunted bear and moose and sheep and goat, just whatever. In the summertime we ate little game like rabbits and porcupine. And we ate a lot of porcupines.
JAN YAEGER: Now how do you clean a porcupine?
ALTA COLBERG: Very carefully. I don’t know. I never cleaned one. My mom did. My mom had chickens and a porcupine got in the chicken coop she’d -- she’d shoot it and skin it out and pot roast it.
JAN YAEGER: Huh. So will porcupines go after chickens?
ALTA COLBERG: Evidently because the chickens would squawk and mom would say stay in the house and she’d go out with her -- with her rifle and she’d -- she’d kill it and skin it out. And dinner was ready for the table. Ready for the stove.
I think food wise we lived better back then because everybody had a kitchen garden and we had rhubarb and strawberries and raspberries, salmonberries and blueberries.
But we also had potatoes and carrots and cabbage and turnips and rutabagas and radishes -- any of the root crops grow well here. I don’t remember celery or -- we had peas. I don’t remember having any beans, but --
JAN YAEGER: Would you start plants inside in the spring and then move them out? ALTA COLBERG: No. JAN YAEGER: Or could you plant them outside?
ALTA COLBERG: No, my dad would go down the beach at an extreme minus tide and get big starfish and then he'd take them up about -- above the high water mark and just throw them on the beach and let them dry out and then they would pulverize real easy.
So he’d -- he’d dig a hole and put a starfish in it and put a little dirt on top of that and then he’d plant his carrots and potatoes and whatever he was going to plant.
He couldn’t pull -- you couldn’t pull a carrot out of his -- they were so big and crisp the top would come right off. You had to dig them like you would a potato. They were huge and he made a -- he made a carrot pie you’d swear you were eating pumpkin pie.
He’d boil them up and mash them. He’d just treat it like it was pumpkin. He made a wonderful pumpkin pie.
JAN YAEGER: Huh. And did he continue to work for the Merchant Marine after he was here or did he --
ALTA COLBERG: No, he went to commercial fishing and then we had a reduction plant here. They made fertilizer out of all the leftovers from the fish. And that was a -- that was a miserable thing to have in town cause it was really ripe. But he worked there because he knew it was run with steam.
And his job on the big ships he was what they -- he worked on the Black Gang which was stoking the furnace and he knew how to -- how to do that so he was first in line for that job.
Let’s see. He was getting ready to retire and he went down there and worked and it worked out that he just -- he got Social Security from working there for however many years it was. And they quit just -- just before the earthquake so funny how things work out.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Do you remember what year your family moved up here?
ALTA COLBERG: Thirty-six. Something like that -- ’36. My youngest sister was a baby. She is two years younger than me so. Between ’36 and ’37.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. And you moved up from where?
ALTA COLBERG: Seattle. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: We stayed -- before that we lived pretty much in Washington State from the north part of the state down as far as Shelton, Washington down by Olympia. One sister was born in Falls City and I was born in Seattle.
One was born -- where’s the water fall down there? Snoqualmie Falls. My youngest sister was born here in Seldovia.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. And then you lived in Seldovia all your life since then?
ALTA COLBERG: It’s -- it’s home. I’ve -- I moved to Anchorage for a while. My husband was sick. We went to Anchorage so he’d be close to his doctor. And, so when he was gone, I came home. Anchorage wasn’t for me. I don’t -- I don’t drive anymore so.
At least if I really had to get some place, I can do it from here and start walking. Somebody'd pick me up. That doesn’t happen in the big city.
JAN YAEGER: No. Your husband’s family they’ve been in Seldovia a long time too, right?
ALTA COLBERG: Very long time. His mother was born in -- in Tyonek and his dad was in -- come from Norway. He was 17 years old. He left home on a pair of skis and he ended up in Seldovia.
JAN YAEGER: Really.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. Just one day he just up and left. So they kind of lived over in Kodiak and around about -- Seward and then they ended up in Seldovia and he stayed here. He came here during the herring.
JAN YAEGER: And didn’t he have a -- he did some trapping I think or was a fox farmer or --
ALTA COLBERG: No, he didn’t -- he didn’t farm fox. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: But he was -- he hunted and trapped every winter. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: He had a lot of fox. Fox and coyote and whatever. Wolf -- whatever they could sell. Otter was the prime.
There's nothing like an otter skin. For warmth. So, but, you know, one -- one thing that amazes me about our Fish & Game and our whole government the way it works when I was a kid my dad had chickens and if an eagle come close, he’d sit there with Old Betsey, his rifle, and that eagle got in range it was gone.
And he’d keep the feet and he'd sell them to the government. There was a -- there was a tariff on them. And he’d make a few -- I think he got a dollar for -- you had to have both feet.
Tie them together and when he turned them in he’d get a buck a set. And now if you even pick up an eagle feather, you can go to jail and get fined thousands of dollars. It’s ridiculous.
And the same thing with seals. They would hunt seals and just save the nose and turn the noses in. They could keep the hide. The government didn’t care about the hide.
A lot of the young people from around here and they were fishing and it got to the point where instead of fishing they would go out and hunt seal and make a good living at it. And they put them on the endangered list and if you even look at it too long, they’ll come and tap you on the shoulder and take you away, you know, and it’s -- my way of thinking you should take some and leave some.
But they -- they hunt them to almost extinction and then -- and then they put a moratorium on hunting and it goes from one species to the next and there is no rhyme nor reason to it. I don’t -- I think that’s what is wrong with our ecosystem is the government stuck their nose in it. Man in his infinite wisdom kills everything off.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. So when you were young here, what were some of the big fisheries that were still active?
ALTA COLBERG: It was basically salmon. The herring -- herring fishery was done. And then it was salmon. And that was getting pretty skimpy because a lot of the boats from outside and foreign countries started coming over here and fishing so it was hard to get your share. They put a -- you had to get a license for an area and if you signed up for Seldovia, you couldn’t fish any place else.
When I was young, my dad went to Cordova. He went to Kodiak. He went to Chignik. He went to Bristol Bay. He come back here. Our run didn’t hit until the fourth of July. So I guess they started out up the inlet drifting for kings.
And that ended with the area licensing and then the earthquake we lost our canneries. So there was no fishing here, but there was one building that they kept for quite a while and they fished king crab. Lots of king crab here. And then the big -- the big draggers came in and then that kind of went to hell. So they put a -- they wouldn’t let the big draggers in, but the damage was done.
So I don’t know. You can’t -- you can’t fish crab in this area anymore. I don’t know if you can even fish them for -- for your own use. I don’t know.
Shrimp is gone. Same reason it's over -- overdone. Our clams are gone. People come you got to bring your own rack -- rock to stand on.
They come from all over. As soon as they found out we had clams. And then the sea otters get their share too, but that doesn’t irk me. That’s their food. But it is just -- it is the whole management that’s haywire. So I don’t know what’s going to be next.
JAN YAEGER: So kind of a different topic. So you were in Seldovia when Alaska became a state?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh. JAN YAEGER: What was that like?
ALTA COLBERG: Lots of conversations going on. Some for and some against and some didn’t give a darn. You know, and it -- they almost made it and then it fizzled and then they rewrote it and then it -- it passed. But I don’t know I think we were better off before -- before statehood.
Cause the federal government is taking 60 -- at least 60 percent of the land made parks out of it and I was under the impression that they could legally only take 10 percent for state parks. So I don’t know how they managed that.
Or why the people don’t -- don’t go up in arms and take it back really. We don’t -- we don’t have any way to make a living when the feds get done with this. So.
JAN YAEGER: Was there any kind of celebration or commemoration when statehood happened in Seldovia that you remember?
ALTA COLBERG: Well, I was in Anchorage. JAN YAEGER: Okay. ALTA COLBERG: In the hospital and they had -- JAN YAEGER: Oh, no.
ALTA COLBERG: And they had a big bonfire in Anchorage to celebrate it. I don’t know what they did in Seldovia cause I wasn’t here. I don’t even remember. Well, I didn’t come home till -- till first of June.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. ALTA COLBERG: So I don’t know. It was old news by then.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. How about Fourth of July celebrations? It seems like that’s something that's been part of Seldovia for a long time.
ALTA COLBERG: For as far back as I can remember. Even the cannery would take a day off. And part of them would work and part of them -- part of them had the celebration.
Christmas and Fourth of July was the two big celebrations. And that fellow that owned one of the canneries we called him Squeaky and his cannery was Squeaky’s Cannery.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. Is that Squeaky Anderson’s? ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: And he furnished -- it was kind of a mesh -- orange mesh stocking and it had nuts and apple and an orange and some kind of a -- I don’t think it had any hard candy in it. I think it was just nuts and an apple and an orange, but there was one for every kid in town.
They always give them -- they had a play at the school and then Santa Claus came and we all got our stockings and the oranges were the best. Cause we didn’t -- we didn’t see apples and oranges all winter till Christmas.
And then there was none till spring. So and then the Fourth of July it was same -- the same then as it is now only a little more so. There’s more -- more people around.
JAN YAEGER: More people now than there were?
ALTA COLBERG: On the fourth. There is a lot of people come from Homer and around. We seem to have gotten a good name for the Fourth of July. They don’t have to worry about driving and where they’re gonna -- where they’re gonna go.
They just go out the beach and have fun.
JAN YAEGER: Are a lot of the events similar or has there been a change?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. I don’t -- I don’t see them pounding nails, but they had a pie eating contest and a balloon blowing contest and a three legged race, who could pound the most nails the fastest and just -- it’s kind of -- well, now they have a canoe jousting and -- I don’t know what all they do now.
I haven’t been downtown on the fourth in a long time, but they’re busy and a lot of people show up. So I don’t think that 's changed a whole lot. But this is a very -- as far as I am concerned this is a very good place to live. You could go out -- a woman could go out any time of the day or night and take a walk and nobody's going to molest her and nobody's going to molest any kids.
In fact, if the kids are doing something they shouldn’t be doing dangerous, somebody will stop them and say you either go home and tell your mom what you’ve been up to or I’m going to tell her. What’s your choice?
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I was actually just going to ask you what it was like raising kids in Seldovia.
ALTA COLBERG: Well, that old saw about takes a village to raise a kid was made for the villages around Alaska I think because everybody looks out for everybody else’s kids. And they’re doing something that could -- they could get hurt they’ll put an end to it.
My second eldest son told me he was forty years old and he was working in Hawaii drilling and he come home and he started laughing and I said what’s so funny? He said, you know, I just figured it out.
He said you don’t really have eyes in the back of your head. I said what are you talking about? He said you always knew what we were doing and where we were at and you never left your house. We just knew you had eyes in the back of your head and he said I figured it out.
You just had good neighbors. And he was right. They never got away with anything. Got good neighbors. It's nice to have good neighbors.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. So you mentioned that there weren’t phones for a long time. Before that would people just kind of word of mouth or --
ALTA COLBERG: They visited. JAN YAEGER: Yeah.
ALTA COLBERG: Visited in homes and played cards. My mother didn’t like cold weather. She never left the house all winter long and you know, if you go to visit somebody and you -- no phone or anything, you just put on your coat and went to visit. If they weren’t home, what do you do trudge home, especially if it is cold out?
But they all knew my mom was home so they would just become the habit they come to our house and they’d have coffee and something to go with the coffee and then they’d play cards or sit and visit.
So we always had a house full. Mom always knew what was happening.
JAN YAEGER: So she probably never left the house, but she was the best informed person in town?
ALTA COLBERG: Probably. She was -- she would go for a reason, but she didn’t -- she didn’t leave the house in the wintertime. In the summertime she worked in the cannery. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: And she was on the city council and they had a woman’s club where they’d all get together and visit and play cards and they usually had some kind of a project going, so.
JAN YAEGER: What kind of projects did they do?
ALTA COLBERG: I don’t know. They -- I remember once they made -- they made a quilt in various -- if somebody was in need, they’d gather up a bunch of stuff. They’d just -- just to keep busy. People took care of each other then.
And they did it in such a way that it wasn’t embarrassing. You know, when I was growing up the thought of welfare oh my God. I was gonna go on welfare you’d die first. And now it's oh, well. Just sign up. They’ll give you everything you need. There’s no pride left.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. I’ve heard a lot about the Hospital Guild. Was that similar to the women’s club or is that --
ALTA COLBERG: I think it morphed into -- into the Hospital Guild. Most of the ladies from the women’s club were probably my age by the time -- by the time we started the guild.
We had the hospital building and it was getting kind of decrepit -- needed --needed a lot of equipment. The first project we started on was an X-ray machine. It cost us $10,000.
In less than a year we -- we gathered up $10,000 and bought the doctor an X-ray machine. JAN YAEGER: Wow.
ALTA COLBERG: Then he needed an incubator. I don’t remember what that cost, but we worked year round. We had regular fundraisers.
JAN YAEGER: What type of fundraisers did you do?
ALTA COLBERG: We had bingo games at the school and bake sales and just I don’t know, we always had something going. Nothing big, but we were steady.
JAN YAEGER: You must have been to raise $10,000 in a year.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. And then Elsa Pedersen was working here, a bookkeeper at the cannery, and she wasn’t shy.
She (inaudible) all the cannery owners and people that she run into in her line of business she hit them all up. She was -- she was a good guild member.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. If she was a bookkeeper, she maybe knew how much she could ask for?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. Not many of them turned her down so. Some gave more than others. And I think she -- I think she kept track of the politicians too.
There was some of them come down here once in a while and she’d loop her arms through theirs and say oh and did you know. She’d take them up and visit her hospital and this is what we need and put them on the spot.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Was there pretty much always a doctor in town?
ALTA COLBERG: No, it turned out the doctor was gone more than they were here. Cause I remember taking care of my kids no doctor and you just took care of whatever happened.
So I remember Danny would cut the end of his finger off and my friend and I taped it back on and it grew on and I was cleaning house one day and he said mom, let me help you and he was going to sweep the floor and he hit the edge of the refrigerator and he was hollering it came off -- it came off -- it came off.
And I thought oh, my God, I run in there. Sure enough his finger came off and I -- first time we glued it back -- we taped it back on. It was just perfect, straight.
Next time I didn’t have my friend to help me and I taped it back on and it grew back on, but it had a little bit of a twist. The nail didn’t quite line up and he said I should have -- he said mom you should have throwed it away because I can’t feel anything in it and I’m always banging it.
But I don’t know I’d probably just keel over dead now if something like that happened, but what do you do when you ain’t got nobody to go to.
My first mother-in-law was a -- delivered babies. She wouldn’t have if she could get out of it. If there was a doctor here she wouldn’t, but she took care of everybody that was sick. She would cook us -- and she had a big family.
JAN YAEGER: What was her name?
ALTA COLBERG: Peterson. Alex Peterson. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: And then she moved to Kodiak from here after the -- after the earthquake she moved to Kodiak and I guess she passed away over there. And she was a wonderful person.
JAN YAEGER: Did she have training to deliver babies or did she just acquire the skill?
ALTA COLBERG: On-the-job training. There was another lady here that delivered babies. Her name was Mrs. Hammelbacher and then Grandma Peterson kind of took over from her and Mrs. Hammelbacher died of old age and then Grandma Peterson took over and then we got a doctor and she said thank God and that wasn’t my favorite job to do.
She always worried about something going wrong. There's just the way it was. It was always somebody stepped up to the plate and Mr. Ollestad and Fred Elysaas used to build coffins and Grandma Peterson would -- would take care of a body.
Get it washed and dressed and put them in the -- line the coffin and put him in, but Fred didn’t and -- they would build the coffin.
We never shipped anybody away from here and then shipped them back. Everything was done at home so.
JAN YAEGER: So were your children born here?
ALTA COLBERG: All except one. The doctor left when I had Danny I had to go to Kodiak.
JAN YAEGER: That's a long way?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. Well, I went early. I spent the summer over there. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: And then came home.
JAN YAEGER: Was that because you had family over there or was that just the closest hospital or the easiest one to get to?
ALTA COLBERG: Just the closest. My husband was fishing over there, but he wasn’t in town. I stayed with his sister-in-law.
Then I came back. I came back on the boat when he came back. But times were different then.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah. How about when the -- the ferry started running to Seldovia? How did that change things?
ALTA COLBERG: That was a good change. I remember my friend Betty and I used to go -- for three dollars we could go to Homer and back and have lunch. We’d go over there and people watch -- just get on the ferry and have lunch and stay on the -- stay on the ferry. They’d unload and load up and we’d come back.
Just a good afternoon. Something to do. Every once in a while you run into somebody you knew or made a new friend, but. And there was -- there was lots of traffic then because the crab cannery was going and they had the big -- the big trailers that were full of crab. Sometime they’d be stacked in there like cord wood.
JAN YAEGER: In the ferry? Ferry dock or the car dock?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. My husband and I, couple times put our truck on with the Linwood Bar and we had a truckload of supplies and there was no room for us, but they put us on the -- stayed on the elevator.
JAN YAEGER: Oh, really.
ALTA COLBERG: And I think that’s definitely against the rules, but it was calm weather and we made it just fine.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. How many years did you have the Linwood?
ALTA COLBERG: Probably twenty. My husband worked for the fellow that owned it and then we bought it. He passed away and his wife -- we leased it for a year and then we bought it. His wife wasn’t interested.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. And who was that?
ALTA COLBERG: I can’t even remember. Shorty Bailey owned it, but John worked for Clinton L. Bailey. I don’t remember his wife’s name. I’ll think about it about three o’clock in the morning.
And she was a neat lady, but she just didn’t -- didn’t have any interest in running a bar. So John and I bought it and I worked mornings and he worked evenings.
JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: It was good for us. Raised all our kids and put them through school. All six of them.
JAN YAEGER: So you served meals as well as sandwiches? ALTA COLBERG: We had sandwiches. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: People would come in and Sparky Grudof (phonetic). They’d go to the restaurant and they couldn’t order and get their food and eat it and get back to the cannery in the hour they had for lunch. They’d all come down to the bar and have a gut bomb as they called it.
We had about four different sandwiches. And one of those they called it a radar range. You put it in there and heat it up and have a beer and he said, heck, we can sit here and eat our sandwich and drink a beer and relax and still get to work on time so it worked out good.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. It made a pretty busy hour for you I bet?
ALTA COLBERG: It was. You get so -- same customers -- you know what they want. So it wasn’t any problem. There was three bars in town at that time.
And they all had their favorite haunts or they’d migrate from one to the other. Which was good.
JAN YAEGER: The Linwood has been called the Linwood for a long time, hasn’t it?
ALTA COLBERG: From the beginning. It was named after my uncle Carl Lindstedt. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: They took the Lin from Lindstedt and Eric Nordensen’s (phonetic) aunt. Her last name was Wood. Can’t think of her first name now. His mom’s name was Grace. Laura -- Laura Wood and Carl Lindstedt -- they took.
And it was -- there was a big room in the back that they had a theater in. They had movies and then there was a restaurant in the front called The Coffee Cup.
It was just a little hole in the wall greasy spoon type, although you could get -- you could get any kind of a meal and I don’t know what became the Linwood Bar. It was a pretty good -- pretty good sized room.
But I don’t know what -- how that came about, but it was Carl and Grace Nordensen that -- that put a bar in there. They were the first. There was other bars in town.
There was a fellow named Joe Wood had -- had a bar. It -- it burnt down.
JAN YAEGER: Now which one was that?
ALTA COLBERG: I don’t know what he called it, but it was down where Dancing Eagles is now. And it was a big building. He had rooms upstairs and he gave haircuts and had -- you could always get a bowl of clam chowder.
People would come in they could get a room. And he was a Negro.
JAN YAEGER: Oh, was that Joe Hill? Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah, then they used to say he was the only white man in town. Only white man in Alaska. I think he was the only the Negro in Alaska at that time.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. And he had movies there, right?
ALTA COLBERG: I don’t remember. I remember when the building was on fire because we were living just about the same spot and it was over here where Dancing Eagles is and you couldn’t get any closer. And (inaudible) for years after that we’d go down and sift the sand. And find coins.
And then that boardwalk would -- we discovered you could run your hand along the -- they had big wooden it must have been 6 x 6’s. Maybe bigger for the foundation for the boardwalk. And there was cracks in the walk so the water could drain off and whatnot, but people would drop their change and it would go down.
Well, they weren’t going to go down the beach and find their change. Every once in a while us kids would find a coin and then for some reason my friend and I looked up and there was coins on that and I had a dress on. I had like a -- you see pictures of old farm women with the eggs in the apron. I went home like that and my mom thought I robbed the stores.
JAN YAEGER: Oh, really.
ALTA COLBERG: I said no. She said where’d you get it? I said down the beach. Where’d you get it? I said come on and I’ll show you.
Well, she wasn’t going to go down there. But for years every time we wanted money we’d walk the boardwalk underneath and skim the -- skim the -- the top of the -- the boards that held it up. Or we could get way up under where the buildings were. They would have like a big deck in the front.
And it would drop through and we’d go under there we could find all kind of money. Where’d you get that?
JAN YAEGER: And so once you had your stash, what was -- what was the thing that as a kid in Seldovia you wanted to go spend money on?
ALTA COLBERG: Usually candy. I left home and went to work when I was 11. First time. Went down to Portlock for the whole summer -- ninety days a dollar -- a dollar a day room and board. Bought my own -- bought my own school clothes.
Had a little buddy -- little money left over for spending. By then we had a movie theater.
So we could go to a show, but I always babysat and I worked and always had my own money. I didn’t have to -- I didn’t have to go under the boardwalk and find change any more. But that was a -- that was a silver mine.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. And what kind of work were you doing in Portlock?
ALTA COLBERG: Taking care of kids -- just helping -- helping the lady whether she was cooking or washing clothes. Keep an eye on the kids.
She would serve the cookies and whatnot for coffee time. And that’s what she wanted when I first went down was to keep track of the kids while she was doing the coffee time and it ended up that I was just a house helper.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Someone in your family knew?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. Yeah, it was a good job. I spent two summers down there and then I branched out. I worked in the hotel and -- cleaning rooms.
JAN YAEGER: Was that here in Seldovia? ALTA COLBERG: Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: Which hotel was that?
ALTA COLBERG: A (inaudible) to start with. And then when I worked there was a lady owned it. I can’t even remember her name and she was good to work for. She was a good teacher.
And I babysat and was always -- always something to do. That’s about all I remember.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. You mentioned your dad hunting moose. I don’t see a lot of moose around here any more. Were there --
ALTA COLBERG: No, they had -- JAN YAEGER: Back then or did he have to go somewhere else?
ALTA COLBERG: He had to go across -- across the Homer side. And they would go moose hunting and I don’t think they hunted anything much on this side of the bay -- ducks.
But ducks and clams and we had lots of seafood available. We lived on Hesketh Island for a while.
JAN YAEGER: Or really.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah, that was -- was about the nicest house I lived in as a kid. Had running water. Furnace in the basement. My dad would go down and throw some wood and coal in it and nice and toasty warm.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah. How old were you when you lived there?
ALTA COLBERG: I wasn’t old enough to go to school. I must have been five, four going on five when they moved out there and my oldest sister turned six in January so we had to move to town so she could start school.
So the next year after that I started school. We were both in the same -- both in the same room. We never had teachers very long in them days.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. So you went to the school that was over kind of close to where the fuel tanks are?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah, that was I think the year my -- my oldest sister started school was the first year of school in the -- in the new building and since then we've got another new school. Which isn’t that new anymore.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah. So your kids went to school in maybe some in each building or?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. JAN YAEGER: Okay. ALTA COLBERG: Some of them started in the old school.
And they all -- they all used the new school. Well, I don’t think Knute did. My oldest one. I think he was out of school, but my second -- second son was part of the planning committee cause the teachers would get the kids together and ask them where -- what do you think the new school should be?
We had a lot of town meetings and everybody had some input. Had devil’s own time getting that swimming pool put in, but we finally got it.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Didn’t you have to get the whole borough to vote to let Seldovia have a swimming pool?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh.
JAN YAEGER: So that was quite a project?
ALTA COLBERG: Oh, it was. We’d get them over here and it only makes good sense when you make your living on the water that you should -- should learn to swim. At least so you could float for a few minutes they could come back and scoop you up if you fell overboard.
(Sneezed) Excuse me. They still use the school a lot. I go up there twice a week and exercise in the pool -- water aerobics and they have -- they have all kind of programs going on up there. It is nice.
They use the building just about year round.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. So did they have swimming lessons as a regular part of the school curriculum? All the kids took lessons?
ALTA COLBERG: They start -- well, they have the babies swimming class now. Parents can take their -- take them in from almost newborn on.
By the time they’re old enough to go to school they're like fish in the water. Which is a good thing. I didn’t -- I went up and took swimming lessons when I was 40 years old and learned to swim, so.
JAN YAEGER: Did a lot of people do that?
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. They ended up they started out with adult swimming and it was open to male and female. And you know Eddie Boone -- I didn’t care for the male and female. I wanted just the women and Eddie and I were pretty good friends and he said, Patty, do you like having boys in the pool with you? And I said no, why?
He said I don’t like it either. He said let’s go talk to them. So we went and told them why don’t you make it two different classes so they made it two different classes. I think it was easier on everybody.
And then they got the little kids out cause they were like fish jumping off the edges and a bunch of old -- old people in there trying to learn to swim with all these kids raising hell all around you wasn’t -- wasn’t working.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. So who taught the swimming lessons?
ALTA COLBERG: One of the teachers. I don’t remember what her name was. It's been too many years ago. But I really think that pool is one of the best things that ever happened to Seldovia.
JAN YAEGER: I think it was the first school in the borough to have a swimming pool, wasn’t it?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh. Yeah. I think the only reason that we got it really was because Mattie -- Matthewsson and he was the janitor and he went up and he and Betty were both at all the meetings that we were having and I don’t remember if he was on the -- on the school board or the city council, but he was -- he was pretty active with everything and he informed them he said, you know, I’ve done some research.
He said we are the only school in this borough that is paid for. We want a pool. And they said, um, um. He said check it out. Everybody else is paying for their school. Ours is bought and paid for a long time ago. We want a -- we want a pool.
And that’s the only reason we got it I think. Cause they couldn’t say no. He backed them in a corner.
JAN YAEGER: So how was the school bought and paid for by the Seldovia taxpayers or?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh. And the fishing tax. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: They had -- they had a raw fish tax. Every fish that was delivered to the cannery and the crabs and the rest of it too -- shrimp. They had a tax and that all went to the school. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: And then the state probably kicked in some for schools. I don’t know. But I know everybody was happy every time a boatload of salmon came in.
JAN YAEGER: Was that the city that decided the money would go to the schools?
ALTA COLBERG: I’m not sure. I’m not sure how that came about. But it -- it was a good thing.
JAN YAEGER: Now, have you been on city council also? ALTA COLBERG: Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: That is what I was thinking. What years were you on the council? ALTA COLBERG: I don’t remember.
JAN YAEGER: approximately? ALTA COLBERG: It was during the urban renewal. JAN YAEGER: Oh, really.
ALTA COLBERG: There were so many bad rumors going around and hurt feelings I decided I’d go to the council meetings and hear it from the horse’s mouth. Then I’d know for myself what was going on instead of repeating what somebody else said.
And so I -- I don’t know I went to council meetings, sat in the audience for quite a long while and then people left and went to Kodiak. And so they appointed me to fill a vacant seat.
And then after I run that course and then I ran for council seat, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I just -- I don’t get any kicks out of politics. But it's a good education. I think everybody should -- should be on their city council.
For at least one term and then you find out why things happen the way they happen. You know, you got kind of ideas going in. Then you find out about bonds that are outstanding and got to pay them off before you can re-bond for something -- something else and it’s a good education.
I was on the school board. I liked being on the school board cause I had six kids in school and I was interested in the school. I should have been more interested in the city, but it wasn’t my first priority at that stage in my life.
It seems like more young people are interested in school -- in a -- well we don’t have a school board any more. The borough took over. And they don’t do our school any good at all.
You know, we have a set curriculum, no extras and the kids want to go away on a basketball tournament or there's no football or baseball, but there is swimming and there's basketball and they have to pay for all their own.
They don’t get any help and yet all the other schools are funded for that. Yeah. It doesn’t seem quite right to me.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Was that different in earlier years?
ALTA COLBERG: Well before the borough -- before statehood and the borough is being set up we took care of our own. So if we wanted something, we went after it and made it happen.
So. There's good and bad I guess. There's two sides to every coin, but I think we’re treated pretty shabby on this end of the pond.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. How long has -- Seldovia's always had sports teams or has that been something that developed later?
ALTA COLBERG: We didn’t -- we didn’t travel to go to games. Homer didn’t even have any schools. When I was a kid, Homer was seven homesteads. There was -- there was a store down on the beach -- down in the old town and there was a doctor’s office or dentist’s office and that was Homer.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. That’s pretty small.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah. We were bigger than them. But after the road went in they were -- they had ways of getting in and out. Well, then everything boomed.
Which is good for them. I don’t -- I’m not sorry about it because we got our airport. We can get in and out too.
But we used to go by boat or stay home. You know and if we went some place, my dad had groceries for at least the week. We never just got in the boat and went and assumed you were going to get there the same day. He was always -- he was always prepared for anything that could happen.
There’s a difference between then and now. We live -- we live in the now. We don’t -- we even had to stock up our food for the whole winter so. You know, you go down to the -- go down to the store and if there's not something in there you want you grumble about it.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. And would you ever go like big mail orders --
ALTA COLBERG: Well did all -- JAN YAEGER: To get your food in? ALTA COLBERG: No. JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Okay.
ALTA COLBERG: There was no way to order food, but we had catalogs we could order clothing and furniture. But everything -- everything else came by steamship.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. So everything came to the stores and you had to buy it from there or -- you couldn’t just place an order somewhere and bring it in on the ship?
ALTA COLBERG: Well, you could order big stuff from the catalogs like Sears Roebuck was a -- was a main supply. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.
Were the -- the two and I think Sears was the most popular, but you could order furniture and it would come on the steamship.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. I think there are a couple houses in town that came from Sears and Montgomery Ward aren’t there?
ALTA COLBERG: Uh-huh.
JAN YAEGER: That would be quite a project.
ALTA COLBERG: Yeah, it would, and they -- but you could go down to -- down to the -- any of the three stores and buy lumber and nails and screws and wiring, whatever you needed. So, and we never -- we never missed out on anything really.
It was just different. I kind of like that old boardwalk, but with the -- we don’t burn wood and coal any more so when they got the oil truck, it was kind of hard to -- for the oil truck to get past the people on the street.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, that probably pretty well filled the boardwalk I bet.
ALTA COLBERG: It did. So, no, you -- youhave to make progress. You can’t stand still. You’re either going to move forward or you’re going to go backwards. We can’t afford to go backwards.
So, it doesn’t do any good to grumble. Just take it in stride and count it as a blessing when something happens good. Or make it good.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Are there any changes that you have seen in the last say twenty years or so that you think are positive for Seldovia?
ALTA COLBERG: I think it is all positive. Sometime I think we could make -- we could make faster progress, but then people wouldn’t keep up with it anyway, so. It's probably just about right the way it is.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.
ALTA COLBERG: You welcome.
JAN YAEGER: We really appreciate it and if you think of more things you wish you told us, we’d love to speak with you again. ALTA COLBERG: Okay.
JAN YAEGER: We have another interview with someone else at 11 o’clock. So we need -- and we want to make sure we get you home. ALTA COLBERG: Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: And it is hard to sit and talk for an hour. It’s tiring so.
ALTA COLBERG: Well, I didn’t think about it before hand either. JAN YAEGER: Yeah.
ALTA COLBERG: I figured it would come to me if it did and if it didn’t, well.
JAN YAEGER: All right. Like I said, we definitely appreciate it.
ALTA COLBERG: Well all and all it is just I guess the best way to say it, it's my town. I’ve been here for pretty close to 80 years and I’m not going any place so.
It's good or I wouldn’t have stuck around. I'm the only one in my family that's still here. Even I’ve got two kids here and the rest -- the other ones are gone. Four. One's -- one passed away. So.
JAN YAEGER: So I know John John. Who is your other?
ALTA COLBERG: John John is my youngest. And Liza owns the Tidepool.
JAN YAEGER: Oh, of course, yes.
ALTA COLBERG: So that’s my -- my two that are here. Knute’s in Anchorage and Arlise is in California, Modesto and Alexis is in Anchorage.
She works for Southcentral Foundation. Been with them for quite a while so. It's all good.
JAN YAEGER: Uh-huh. Thank you very much.