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Bea Kristovich
Bea Kristovich
Bea Kristovich talks about life in Bethel, the places people went to dance and the diverse population in the town. She talks about some of her personal experiences with school teachers, make-up, and sweet treats. She also explains some of the racial divide in the town when she was young and places that have long since closed, like the Tundra Shack and Datu's showhall.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-01

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 25, 1996
Narrator(s): Bea Kristovich
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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Going to school

Bethel racially divided

Datu's showhall

Nat Brown's wife from Outside

Places long gone in Bethel

Graveyard was moved

Responsibilities in school

The Tundra Shack

Customs created by outsiders

First time she had ice cream or candy

Make-up in Bethel

Bad school teachers

Story about Yugoslavian neighbors

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Let me go back, I was sort of thinking I'd be glad if people would like to know how a long time ago was...well, I'm not that old. I'm 57 or 56.

But, I remember we used to live, I used to live across the slough in a place right outside of Louse Town. Bethel, in those days, was way down. It's all cut up now in front of where Lucy Crow's house is and where our house used to be.

But it used to be way down, and where it's cutting in right now, that used to be the old graveyard. A long time ago we used to have a log house.

I never did find out how they built that school with logs. Where they got the logs or anything. And there was this -- we had one principal. His name was Mr. Skein. The teachers always were strict with us girls - with us kids.

They'd check our ears and make sure we took a bath. For some reason, I guess, they didn't want to get lousy or something. I don't know.

But in my grown up years there used to be a old Nat Brown who used to have a sawmill and I know Jerry Dahl, remember Jerry Dahl?

We all lived across the slough then. It was really funny. The whites lived on this side of the river and across (Yup'ik word) where we lived, it was sort of split; Eskimos, breeds, that's what I am, and then it was whites.

And they never really used to seem to mingle. But I know that when the breeds were like the Hoffman’s and Venes’s, when they moved down from Nyac.

But there used to be, when I was growing up, there used to be a bridge. It was a swinging bridge. You know, I don't know how it was made but for some reason or other the air has warmed up and it used to get what, 80 below.

Diane, remember how it used to be so cold? They had, Datu had the first show hall. Or the AC [Alaska Commercial] used to have the first show hall.

And then it burnt down, I think, or something. Then Datu had an old show hall located down by the bridge. And that used to flood every year.

But every -- I think he had shows every, maybe I don't know how many times a week, but we'd go over there and one of our duties -- we never saw ice cream, you know, we didn't know what ice cream was.

So Datu, he had Jerry Dahl and me and Anita Geerdts and all of us. We had to make ice cream. We didn't even know what to do.

But we made ice cream. 80 below, there was no heat in that show hall but there was Gene Autry. We loved Gene Autry. Roy Rogers.

And we'd sell ice cream and dog gone, see our breath and everybody would be eating their ice cream.

But anyway, going back to old Nat Brown. He used to have a sawmill across the slough and we never saw ice cubes in our lives. You know, we didn't know what ice cubes were.

But we'd go in there and we'd dig around and never get caught. But if we did, he was an old gussuk man. Old Nat Brown.

And then right across where United has -- Crowley’s that used to be all swamp. It was a big swamp. Remember Diane? And on the other side of this slough Charlie Guinn used to own a house there and we used to have to walk on boardwalks.

Right? And, on this side of the swamp was Nat Brown and I remember he first married my aunt and then they got a divorced.

And he went “outside”, came back and brought this beautiful woman. We never saw a woman like that in our lives.

All of us girls were just eyeing her as she came dressed in white. This must be in the what,'40's and this lovely lady, we didn't even know that people dressed like that.

She came out dressed all in white and she had high-heeled shoes. And we didn't even know that people wore such things as high-heeled shoes.

But she would -- and she didn't know what to do but all of us kids were all around her. You know, I think we…but she didn't last very long up here.

And of course there was Nerby’s Store and the house I now live in, that was built by Elias Venes' dad in the '20's, and that used to be a store and underneath used to be a liquor store or a bar.

But that was way before my time. But I remember going into Muncher’s it was called. There were not very many places to eat.

But there was a pool hall down by the river and what's his name, he's dead now, had a house down there and the Moravians had the old church.

It's right where Donna Chris has her place now. That used - around there used to be a church [the first Moravian Church].

And the graveyard used to be around here and the old log cabin. I mean, the graveyard used to be, it's all went into the river.

And I remember there was a community affair when they had to move those -- those dead people from -- they're falling in the river. Nowadays, when I say gee whiz, we're eating the fish, don't eat the fish.

But Billy Hately’s, they used to have the fox farm out here remember. Billy Hately, we all grew up together and we all went to school in the log house and we didn't have, they didn't have no janitors in those days.

Us kids had to clean after school, we had to clean the school ourselves and wash the bulletin board. There was only one I guess but in my mind it was huge, huge place.

And everything centered around the school. But Billy Hately and Charlie Laraux and those boys they'd be scared to walk past the old graveyard, especially Billy Hately.

If we had dances or something, you know, you had to pass the graves to go to the fox farm where his dad and them [the Hately’s] used to have a place.

So we'd walk Billy Hately, there was no such things as cabs. We didn't even know what cabs were. So us kids, there was my sisters and Jerry Dahl, us, we all lived across the slough.

And then we'd walk Billy Hately as far as the graves and, of course, we all got scared. So Billy Hately, we'd watch him, he'd run past the graveyard and then we'd watch him and he get towards the trees, by Standard Oil and then we'd run back -- we'd all run back.

We weren't allowed to stay out past 10:00 PM. What else was there?

Diane Carpenter: When was Tundra Shack built… Bea Kristovich: Oh, that famous Tundra Shack. Boy, we had good time at Tundra Shack. Diane Carpenter: I can't remember what year that was.

Bea Kristovich: I came back; I went out to the lower 48 and went to school and then I came back. It was on a DC3. I remember that, -- cold and we had to stop, when I came back from lower 48 we stopped at, you had to make all the hot spots and Fairbanks was the main town in those days.

But we went like Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Yakutat, Anchorage, Fairbanks, McGrath and we came to Bethel.

And in those days the airport used to be across the river. Because a long time ago before I went “outside”, they used to have an Air Force base across there.

And that's another story altogether. But I came home, I think I was 18 then or 17, 18; I just got out of high school and I thought to myself, what am I doing back here?

But they had to lug us across and then there was the Tundra Shack, and the old pool hall that was behind my place.

But the Tundra Shack was the gathering place and we never used to drink. You know, we never drank; we'd have like coffee, tea and pop.

But all we did was go down to the Tundra Shack to dance and we all loved to dance. And, of course the Air Force was here so that made it more exciting.

More men. Because everybody was related, you know, we didn't have nobody to run around with.

Barry Toelken: What did you use for music for dancing? Was it recording? Bea Kristovich: Jukebox. Barry Toelken: Jukebox. Bea Kristovich: I can't remember the songs they used to play.

But it was a jukebox. A lot of western. We were really good cowboys.

Phyllis Morrow: Bea, when did it become a kind of a custom for Datu to catch the first King Salmon. Do you know how that happened?

Bea Kristovich: I think a lot of, a lot of things happened around Bethel when I think back is, for some reason or other the white people would pick out, they still do I notice, pick out a certain person and they sort of build up their little image.

Do you ever notice that Wally? And then even with, like whose Yup’ik folklore or who’s this and who’s that. I've noticed over the years that for some reason they'll pick out a dancer.

Like a Yup’ik dancer. And it -- I think it all started with the white people. Because in my day we never thought about those kind of stuff, you know.

But it was all built up by the educators; I guess you'd say. Say what, Dr. Cuties white fish...

Wally Wallace: Nothing was competitive. Bea Kristovich: Huh? Wally Wallace: There was nothing competitive.

Bea Kristovich: Yeah. We didn't believe in that kind of stuff, you know, who is the most important. When you came in you were just a person.

George Hohman: Who owned the Tundra Shack? Bea Kristovich: Max Lieb. First of all it was started out by teachers named Mr. & Mrs. Borden.

And I just know the tail end of those days, but I remember that's where I had my first ice cream.

Because we never knew what ice cream was. The same way, I remember when I had my first candy bar maybe, I don't remember how old I was but it was during the war and I remember it was during...

I'm not originally from Bethel. I'm from the Nupaimute, that's where all the Hoffman’s came from.

And it was during the war and they had these runaways. What are -- deserters. They stole boats along the Kuskokwim River and my mom used to be a postmaster at the Nupaimute, which were about 100 people I guess you'd say.

These, well in those days we didn't know they were GI's, these gussuk. They stopped and they told us kids, “do you want candy?” Of course we didn't know what candy was.

My mom took us down because she didn't trust these guys. They opened up their boat and we saw all this beautiful stuff and they told us “This is candy, do you want some?”

So, I remember my first candy bar was O'Henry. My sister took out Babe Ruth and you know now, I always tell my grand kids this.

That candy bar lasted us for a good two months. Every night or we'd do it every other night, we'd take little slivers, just a little taste then we'd put it away.

But I always liked those GI's, even if they were stealing along the river. That was my first candy.

And I'll think to my -- I tell my grandchildren now that they are so ungrateful. You know, we give our kids too much.

Everything is centered around our children. And because I think we have a guilty complex that we didn't have this so we give the kids more.

I think that's the wrong concept. Like, everything is children. Our children don't have this, our children don't have that.

But I think our kids are too, too; we give them too much. Unknown Voice: That's true.

Bea Kristovich: Yeah, it's really too much. Oh, I gotta tell you. This is a funny one.

When I first came up from the lower 48, you know, a long time ago girls weren't allowed to cut their hair.

We all had long hair. But I went out to the lower 48 and I turned stateside, right?

And I had, I came back and I carried my purse. I had my haircut because we used to swim down in Lower California, right?

And I brought, and I had lipstick and the whole outfit, what women wear. I came back from the lower 48 and pretty soon I went to AC. They started having make-up.

And then, of course, a lot of our native girls, we didn't [wear make-up]-- we wanted to be like you guys, you know. We wanted - in those days it was an insult to be brown because, I hate to say this, but because you guys stressed it.

So, there was this one girl. I won't put any names in. But she was from the coast. She came to Bethel and she worked at the Tundra Shack. Of course, there were a lot of GI's then.

So she put on her make-up and her face was so white and I don't know if it was powder, Diane, or what.

Remember, and dark red lipstick. She reminded me of those, when I think back, about those Chinese or somebody… Voices: Geisha girls. Bea Kristovich: Geisha girls.

So this, there was this one guy. His name was Thurston. I'll never forget that and he gave her a pet name. I won't say who it is.

But that was when the first time the girls up here had make-up. You know, I remember us girls, when we were growing up my mom a lot of times would have to clean people’s lice.

And in those days there was no hospital things to clean lice with because girls had long hair and we'd go into the back in the shed or something and we'd have to clean our, the people's lice, the girls’ lice.

And you'd see them crawling around. Diane, you must have remembered this.

Diane Carpenter: Oh, I certainly do.

Bea Kristovich: And we'd cover our things. [cover their body head to toe] But like I said, there was no such thing like what they use at the hospital now when people have lice.

Something. But I remember we sat and washed the girls hair in kerosene in those days.

Diane Carpenter: Everybody had those little combs. Bea Kristovich: Little louse combs.

But our teachers were very bad. You know, and I always talk about this because I still have problems with it.

The meanness of the teachers and I was so thrilled when they came up with this about kids not getting spanked in school and stuff like this.

Because I remember the teachers used to be so mean to us. You couldn't talk Yup’ik.

And I remember this one, Elia. We were always trying to protect him because we know how to talk English but Elia, he'd slip back and forth into his native tongue and every time he did he'd get beat up.

And they'd treat us really bad. This one teacher, her name was Mrs. Morelander, I'll never forget her cause I hated her.

She'd take us girls in and she'd inspect us. And you know, in those days we never had fancy clothes. We didn't have jeans. Everything was homemade.

But she'd make sure that we didn't have lice and she'd check our ears. I was thinking about that when Glady was talking.

And she, for some reason she had things about us girls with elbows, you know, dirty elbows.

And I always remember this one time she took this one girl, whose parents were predominant in those days, you know, they were good people.

And she made all of us girls, because of that one girl's elbows was dirty, she made us, she made all of us wash our elbows with chore girl.

You know, those. No, no, those silver - scrubbing brush. Those scrubbing things.

I could tell you a lot of stories about how they used to treat us. And to this day, you know, I still talk about it because I'm still; I still have problems with it.

You know, it's really, I can't explain it but it's interesting.

But I think everybody should. I'm glad everybody comes to Bethel. Aren't you, Diane?

And I like this, this kind of a gathering and I love the Kusko 300 and I love TV.

But not ARC so much. I think Bethel has come a long way.

I mean, no matter, I think no matter, like I always tell the people, no matter where you live there's some good parts to it and some bad parts.

And there's people that will fit in and that they won't. The people that don't fit in, they usually leave. That's the best part. You know.

I have a funny story. Well, remember one year there was a lot of Yugoslavians, those bad guys.

And I lived out on Front Street and right next to me there were some shacks. Who owned those shacks?

Faulkner I think. Harry Faulkner owned those shacks. And then right across was Carpenter's old dental and they rented out to some of those guys, too.

And I had a garden, see? And I worked very hard on my garden. And one day I was out there trying, I was gonna take out some potatoes. It was Mother’s Day, I was planting or something and I found lots of worms.

And I looked over my fence and these guys had just thrown their garbage right on the side of my fence.

So it was Mother's Day I'll never forget it. It was Mother's Day and, of course, I went in my house ranting and raving. My boys were saying, “ Mama, do something about it, do something about it”. So I said, “I will”.

So I marched myself over to these Yugoslavians; there was one, two maybe four houses.

Bunch of garbage all the way round and there was a Quonset hut full of garbage and it had fermented or something, and there were some worms in my garden. I was saying, how am I going to get rid of these worms?

So, I was surrounded by Yugoslavians and so, I ranted-raving, like I said, then I said well, “I'm gonna go over there”. I put on my coat and I walked over and I was knocking on the doors.

I said, “You boys, what you doing”? They looked at me. I said, “Do you know who I am”?

And they said, yeah, you know, in their, their, they didn't talk very good English and I said, "I want this mess cleaned up right now, today," I said. And I went on about them getting worms out of my garden.

And then I knew there were some guys next door in Carpenter's old dental office, so I knocked on their door. I was knocking on everybody's door.

And I said, "It's Mother's Day today and I want this whole place cleaned up."

So this guy, he said, "Yea, yea, yea, yea." So they went out and cleaned and they dumped all that trash.

And they even hauled in sand but I know that some of them were bootleggers and they were into drugs I think, too.

And so, I was feeling so guilty. So I told those, my kids you know I have six kids and I said I think I'm going to cook for them.

They said, "Mama, what you gonna cook?" I said "We'll have a barbecue," you know.

And one boy was named Milan. I remember his name was Milan and they came over and knocked on my door and said, "Ms. B, we cleaned up our yard" and I said, "Well, I'm going to go and inspect."

So I went and I inspected. Sure enough they cleaned, they cleaned all the trash. Don't ask me where they put it but as long as it was not in my garden, around my garden.

So I decided to -- I had just ordered a bunch of steaks from Anchorage and so I made potato salad.

And I went back and knocked on all those doors and I said, "You guys gave me the best Mother's Day present on earth." I said, "I want you guys to come over and eat."

I said, "We're going to have barbecue in my yard." So I had hamburgers and steaks and stuff like that.

And of course, we couldn't communicate but I was just praising them to no end. I said, if you guys sell anything, I'm going to knock on my window and I'm going to tell you that you're not supposed to sell cocaine and booze in Bethel.

So this one guy, he's in jail now, he still in jail in fact, I think.

Every time, you know, you's hear taxi’s would come up like, you know when people are bootlegging. I'd pound on my window and I'd go like this [shakes finger].

But they never did quit. At least I got my garden cleaned, at least I didn't have no bugs in my garden.