Clara Moonin was interviewed on September 16, 2016 by Jan Yaeger at the Seldovia Museum in Seldovia, Alaska. Clara's daughter, Margaret Moonin, was also present during the interview and asked a few questions, although sometimes she can be hard to hear because she did not have a microphone. In this interview, Clara talks about growing up in English Bay (Nanwalek), Port Graham, and Seldovia, Alaska and the Russian Orthodox traditions which were strong during that period. She talks about celebrating Christmas and Easter, including dying Easter eggs, baking and decorating Easter bread, making paper flower decorations, and giving things up for Lent for forty days, such as meat, chewing gum, and playing. She also talks about the history of the church buildings, traditional medicine remedies, and collecting and eating clams, cockles and snails.
Digital Asset Information
Date of Interview: Sep 16, 2016
Narrator(s): Clara Moonin
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Varpu Lotvonen
People Present: Margaret Moonin
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Family background and living in Seldovia, English Bay and Port Graham
Russian Orthodox Church in Nanwalek, and Christmas and Easter traditions, including Lent
Old churches in Seldovia, Nanwalek (English Bay), Ninilchik, and Port Graham
Decorating Easter eggs and making Easter bread
Dying Easter eggs
Giving up things for forty days and celebrating end of Lent
Sunday services, and proper clothing to be worn to church
Communion and confession
Language of the services
Saunas and seal oil lamps
Family background and burial
Easter service schedule and activities, and people coming together from all the villages
New church at Port Graham, missionaries, and differences between Catholic and Russian Orthodox
St. Nicholas church in Seldovia
Processing and sharing of fish
Travel between Nanwalek and Port Graham
Russian Orthodox traditions when someone dies
Easter and Good Friday practices, including a feast and making paper flowers
Father working in Seldovia, being a fisherman, and his fishing boats
Working in the canneries
Canneries burning down, and end of canning industry
Collecting clams, cockles and snails, and eating them
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
JAN YAEGER: So it is Friday, September 16th (2016) and this is Jan Yaeger in the Seldovia Museum. I am talking with Clara Moonin and her daughter Margaret Moonin. And this is an interview for Seldovia Village Tribe’s “In Our Own Words” program.
Clara, you have lived in this area your whole life, right? CLARA MOONIN: Correct.
JAN YAEGER: Can you -- can you talk a little bit about that?
CLARA MOONIN: I moved -- I moved here -- been through back and forth in Seldovia with my parents after the earthquake.
I remember when we were young kids we went to school. I can’t exactly remember how many months.
But they worked in the cannery af -- in the boardwalk days and -- Because the canneries used to go -- they ran cannery all year round -- well, which was Wakefield.
It was called Wakefield where my mom and dad worked. And I can’t exactly remember how many months, but after we had moved back to English Bay, which is -- their name is now Nanwalek, but it was English Bay when I was born there.
They took us back to English Bay and about 1966 -- because my dad -- we didn’t come back to Seldovia, but we had relatives here: Dimitri Moonin.
When my dad worked at Wakefield, his brother lived in the upstairs of Wakefield and -- with his family and he had a big family.
And there’s six of us in our family. And now I’m getting -- forgetting something.
But we moved back to Na -- English Bay and my dad started working and fishing. Before, he started walking back from English Bay to Port Graham every morning to go to work.
When work was over, he’d walk back from Port Graham to Nanwalek, English Bay.
And after about -- I think in 1966 was when he moved us to Port Graham because it was getting a little tough for him to walk back and forth.
Of course, his family, his mom and dad, lived in English Bay and most his relatives.
And my mom, actually she was born in Portlock. My dad was born in English Bay.
And then we lived in Port Graham. I lived there until about 1976, and I moved to Homer, and then back to Port Graham, and then I moved back to Anchorage.
And after Anchorage, I moved back home to Port Graham. By that time, I was too old. You know, I didn’t wanna live with my parents anymore so I left -- even if I was gonna be homeless.
I came here to Seldovia to work in a cannery and I had moved out of here again in 1981, moved back to Anchorage.
Then one -- and then I left Anchorage and moved back to Port Graham again for a f -- about three months, four months to work in the cannery and a housing project and --
And I moved here to Seldovia in 1985 and I’ve been here since.
And -- and then what, Margaret?
And our church. Actually, I remember our Russian Orthodox church in Nanwalek for -- we -- we had the church was always full of kids and our elders. And my parents took us to church.
We were baptized in Russian Orthodox, all of us. And they did not have no -- no stoves, so it was kinda cold sometimes, but it didn’t seem to matter. We were used to it. But, of course, we had tights I -- I gue -- I believe.
And -- and we lived really close to the church in Nanwalek. And it was either starring for Christmas and for Easter.
I remember when I was a young girl, they had church start about 11:30 at night and I -- you'd get all dressed up with a nice, big -- I remember I had a nice, pretty, fluffy dress. But I would fall asleep and missed out on the Easter service, but I made it to the airport in Nanwalek to play -- to play -- we called it Aleut baseball.
And we had played other games that I cannot remember right now.
But we were not allowed to chew gum for forty days. We were not allowed to eat meat, eggs, until Easter. Like I said, we were really not allowed to chew gum.
We were not allowed to play until after Easter, which was a forty day -- how do you call that -- kinda len -- len -- len -- JAN YAEGER: Lent? CLARA MOONIN: Yes, Lent.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. So it was no meat, and no eggs. What did your -- what were your meals like?
CLARA MOONIN: We had rice, your homemade bread without eggs, our -- our bread was pretty simple. It was like oil, yeast, you know, water, flour. I think that’s about it. It was Crisco, not oil. Actually, lard. Forgive me. Lard. Was called lard in them days.
We had -- and we used lard as butter on our toast when we ran out of butter. And we had -- I remember we h -- the butter we had there in yellow cans, they had them in cans, which was really cool. But nowadays we have them in cubes or paper form.
And -- and we did have a church here. The three churches to me are fam -- similar, like Seldovia, Nanwalek, and Ninilchik. They’re -- they all looked pretty much alike inside and out, which was pretty unbelievable.
But our Nanwalek church got old and pretty well rotted, so they built a new church. And they’re always pretty full ‘cause they’re all Russian Orthodox there.
And we kinda floated away from the Russian Orthodox when we moved to Port Graham, because at the time they did not have a church.
They did have an old church, I guess, way back when my dad was a young man, a teenager. And -- but that was also kind of a old, black, and probably mold. They quit using it.
And my dad’s family, his grandparents, were buried in that area where the old church was. And I -- I believe it’s still standing there.
JAN YAEGER: The old church?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah. Very old church. And they do have a church now. They do have services and they don’t have as many people except for holidays now. A lot of people -- like for Good Friday -- did not like it because they called it starvation.
For Good Friday, we weren’t allowed to eat until after services from 10:00 until 2:00 in the afternoon, until you had your communion. And two o’clock everybody -- you know -- my parents -- they did all that nice cooking. We had Easter bread and colored -- they were mostly red dye for our Easter eggs.
If you remember that, Margaret, we had frosted our Easter bread and we had jelly beans in them days. Jelly Bellies, whatever they called them.
We’d cut 'em in half and we had fun decorating. And you had like toothpicks maybe and you grew flowers on the Easter bread and you put the --
Easter bread, it was always round and you used coffee cans that were tin. And they’d have them about -- I don’t know how long that is, honey. MARGARET MOONIN: A foot, maybe.
CLARA MOONIN: A foot long, maybe? I mean it’s roun -- it was rounded from a coffee can. I believe it was a three pound can.
And we'd decorate that. Easter bread had your raisins, your walnuts, some kind of dried fruit. I never was really specially liked, but there was raisins in it.
But when you decorated Easter bread, you lined it sometimes with your painted eggs, frosted.
And then you took a dozen or two, maybe two dozen, to church where after church -- I guess it’s called forgiving -- forgiveness, you traded your egg.
You went and crossed yourself, I believe, and gave the egg to the other person. You kissed them like Russians (shows the Russian kiss) -- like this -- and you traded your egg for the whole church with everyone.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. So it was the two dozen eggs you’d take to church, not the two dozen Easter bread?
CLARA MOONIN: You didn’t -- maybe took two. Anywhere from two to four to give to your -- to families like your -- their mother-in-law, or their mom and dad, and another relative, maybe the priest.
JAN YAEGER: The Easter bread? CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, and --
JAN YAEGER: Is it kulich?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, kulich is what it’s called. I’m sorry. And what am I forgetting. I’m forgetting something.
MARGARET MOONIN: So why were the eggs red?
CLARA MOONIN: That’s ‘cause we had that paper dye. It’s now -- I see they use it for gift wraps.
We used vinegar to bring the dye out to the eggs. Boiling water.
JAN YAEGER: Like a tissue paper or something?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, it’s kinda like a -- what do you call them? They used to come in -- I -- I remember they had to have 'em and I believe maybe we bought 'em from here from Seldovia or Homer.
I’m mostly think Seldovia. When they had a store here.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. So you’d used the vinegar to get the dye out of the paper and then used it to dye the egg? CLARA MOONIN: To get on the eggs. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: It’s pretty cool the way it worked. And now -- nowadays they have newer type stuff. But I’ve -- I still use that if I have.
Also you could use food coloring in red, and you use vinegar to make the dye work on the eggs, which is kinda cool. Old days.
JAN YAEGER: And you mentioned playing games at the airport, so would that be on Easter day?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes. After the long service from -- JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: I think -- seem like we were there -- must have been after church, which would be over about three or four in the morning ‘cause everybody would have -- it’s called Passover.
See, some of all that I’m really forgetting ‘cause I’m -- and we do the -- with the church.
Before the church was over you would take the cross, the big icon, around -- three times around the church on the outside. And then they rang the bell real fast, or slow, and then it would get faster and faster as you’re coming to the third.
And everybody -- the -- the icon first used to walk into the church, everybody else followed behind.
And -- and also after it was over, they rang the church for -- seem like it was maybe three days or something like that. Just the celebration type that we’re all glad to eat our seal meat and -- and moose and eggs. Bacon.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, it would probably have been a long -- a long month without any of that, huh?
CLARA MOONIN: Oh yeah, forty days. JAN YAEGER: Yeah. Or, yeah, more than a month.
CLARA MOONIN: Forty days, yeah. I believe it was a forty day.
They -- a lot of people still somewhat follow that tradition in Port Graham and Nanwalek. Not as many as they used to be.
They sneak a lot of their meat, but I think that’s a good time to lose weight, too, with less -- not much bacon. We had our salted fish, of course.
JAN YAEGER: Could you eat that or was that considered meat also?
CLARA MOONIN: You know, we did eat fish. I remember that. But we weren’t allowed to eat the meat mainly -- probably because it had a lot of blood on it. Somethings to do with blood of Christ, I believe. I’m not quite sure. But we did -- we would eat --
I know some days my cousin in Port Graham would tell me we’re not supposed to eat meat, but we had meat last night. You know, stuff like that.
For Easter and Russian Christmas also was kind of a -- I’m not quite sure how long the Russian Christmas len -- lent -- lent was -- is, really, but I know -- I know the priests might wanna --
My cousins would do dinners for them, because we were -- they weren’t allowed to eat certain foods, meats and stuff for Russian Christmas and Easter. Before Easter.
And then they’d have what you call Easter egg hunts for kids after services. Either that would be that Sunday afternoon or whatever day -- I think especially Sunday after -- afternoons.
They would do it, because we still had services. Even though the Easter service was over, we’d have service. I believe it was we’d go back like 10:00 in the morning until about 12:00. JAN YAEGER: Okay, so you were --
CLARA MOONIN: They did not have no chairs for one, for you to sit on. We didn’t have stove like they do nowadays. You know, nobody wants to go to church and be all cold.
But I remember we didn’t have nothing like that and women were supposed to wear a -- a scarf. Married women.
But nowadays, they say just all women, regardless of if they’re married or not, would have to wear a -- what is it called besides a scarf?
Something over their head like a little, like a -- like you use on a table. Looks like -- you just pin it on your --
MARGARET MOONIN: A bandanna, maybe?
CLARA MOONIN: No, not a bandanna. That’s like those flowery looking round things they put on their hair, like -- it’s considered -- you’re supposed to always --
You were always supposed to wear a dress, and my dad was always complaining about us going to church with pants on. As you're not a man, you're a woman -- you gotta wear a dress to go to church.
And like I said, after we moved from Nanwalek, we kinda lost that tradition so --
I used to wear dresses all the time until I became a teenager and kinda was -- how do you call? A little defiant, I guess.
And did not wanna wear dresses every time. But if you didn’t, you got in trouble and you got a little punished.
JAN YAEGER: By your family, you mean?
CLARA MOONIN: Family, yes. They had to -- and lot of place -- a lot of times when you were maybe sinned and everybody knew it in the village, you had to kneel at the church. -- Do -- What was it? Anywhere from 50 to 100, like a Hail Mary type. Cross yourself and kneel 50 times.
JAN YAEGER: Was that outside the church? CLARA MOONIN: Inside. JAN YAEGER: During a service?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, before you had your communion I believe that was what it was. Because what the -- it was called the confession before having communion. And I believe before you had your confession you had to kneel your -- cross yourself 50 times and kneel before you had your communion. Or something like that.
That was pretty strict church in them old days. And they tried -- when we had a new bishop, he tried to bring that back. He tried to get rid of all the chairs in the church because it was true that we did not have no chairs whatsoever in the church.
But nowadays, it’s a little bit more -- because of people with illnesses and emphysema or bronchitis, bronchiectasis or asthma because of the -- that stuff they -- the priest would use to burn and bless the icons.
And on, let's see, one like you cross yourself, four corners.
JAN YAEGER: The incense?
CLARA MOONIN: Incense is what it’s called. And for people that have asthma that’s a little rough. Like my mother was one of them.
And we’d have to have her sit by a window, which nowadays they have a sliding window, and she had to sit pretty close to the window.
She -- she wouldn’t. She -- it didn’t bother her so much because she was a strong believer in Orthodox ways. So was my dad.
Both my mom and dad were really Orthodox, really into the church. And teachings of the church was pretty strict. JAN YAEGER: Mm-hm.
CLARA MOONIN: And for people that were not married, were not -- still to this day are not allowed to have communion.
You could have confession if you wanted, and you get your blessing but you couldn’t have communion because you’re not married. And then what?
MARGARET MOONIN: I’m curious how the services were. What languages you spoke? What was the mus -- the songs?
CLARA MOONIN: Oh, it was a s -- s -- it was Slavonic. It was a little bit Russian, but it wasn’t -- they never sang it in our language. Nowadays, I believe, they do.
JAN YAEGER: In Sugtestun?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, in Sugtestun or Sugpiaq, whatever they call it. Alutiiq, Sugpiaq, it’s all pretty much the same.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I’ve -- I’ve heard a lot of different terms for -- for it so -- And spellings.
CLARA MOONIN: Yes. I do not know how to read the language they wrote in books, but I was pretty fluent with my parents in Sugtestun.
Because they were -- in the old days they had no -- not really no doctors and they had a lot of home remedies. Vinegar was one of them. I did not like that because I remember I had a real bad cold and coughing, couching and this -- I had a little shot of that -- about a tablespoon of vinegar and it was so gross. And -- but it helped.
I believe cleared your throat a little so I could fall asleep. We did not have no cough syrups or anything. We had, what they call, what do you have that tea?
MARGARET MOONIN: Yarrow.
CLARA MOONIN: Yarrow is what we used for cold remedies. And tree sap was used -- was gum. You chew that for a sore throat and a cold.
JAN YAEGER: What kind of a tree?
CLARA MOONIN: Spruce. Off of the spruce tree. And thing of it is from the spruce tree also they occasionally have -- before they turn into pine, they used to use those -- you could eat the --
When they were little babies growing you could pick them and eat them with -- put sugar and milk.
JAN YAEGER: The -- the small needles? MARGARET MOONIN: Spruce tips?
CLARA MOONIN: No, the spruce tips. I think when they turned kinda reddish.
MARGARET MOONIN: Before they -- is it before they turn reddish?
CLARA MOONIN: I think when they start turning. When they’re soft, before they turn into pinecones. I remember eating that, too.
And they also had some other plant. I can’t think of, which was used so -- for something like that.
And kelp. You know, they -- they have all -- and I see they have kelp.
My dad said he -- when he was a young man, he had a problem with arthritis and he said he used kelp to cure himself. And he wasn’t able to move his -- he used to say his elbows very good, his arms, and he --
They had saunas and they used the kelp and alder leaves as hot as you can handle. They had kelp and you just kinda patted yourself with it in the sauna with the leaves from -- in a basin of hot water. As -- as hot as you can handle.
Of course, the saunas were pretty hot. I would say anywhere from 80 to 100 because -- And in them old days, the saunas were very short where you had to crawl in on your hands and legs.
JAN YAEGER: Did you call them saunas or did you have another -- ? CLARA MOONIN: Banya. JAN YAEGER: Banya.
CLARA MOONIN: It’s called a banya in them days. It’s -- that’s what we call them, banya. And they made them real short I believe because of the heat.
And in them days also, they had like a -- a seal lamp is what we used and we had gas lanterns and lamps. Kerosene lamps. And -- okay, it’s your turn.
JAN YAEGER: So when you -- when you say the seal lamps, are you talking like the stone lamps or what were they like?
CLARA MOONIN: I think the stone lamps. By the time I was about eight, ten years old, we used glass plates and some sort of oil besides seal oil.
JAN YAEGER: Okay, so the same -- same design, but just the plates instead of a stone?
CLARA MOONIN: Same design, probably a more pleasant smell.
But there was no smell to it, believe it or not, ‘cause you soaked your cotton type -- you soaked it in oil and you put a rock on the -- kinda close to the end of the plate so it would burn.
‘Cause a lot of -- there’s big families and like my -- I said my parents had six kids and my -- we lived in Nanwalek.
If you’ve been to Nanwalek, the upper side where the church is was just my -- my -- my dad’s family. His sister and her husband, his brother, my grandparents and my dad and us kids.
We’re the only ones that lived up the hill, pretty close to the graveyards, too, by the church.
And on my -- my mom and my grandma and grandpa’s property, where most the families were buried.
JAN YAEGER: And what was your -- your father’s name, and both of your parents, actually?
CLARA MOONIN: My dad’s name was Alexander Moonin and my mom was Margaret P. -- her maiden name was Ukatish. She married my dad, Moonin. She’s a Moonin.
JAN YAEGER: So Margaret, are you named after your grandmother? MARGARET MOONIN: Yes.
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, that’s her namesake, yes. And my mom was born in Portlock and my dad was born in English Bay.
MARGARET MOONIN: And you were born --
CLARA MOONIN: I was born in English Bay also, but my grandma -- his mother was Jessie Kamluck was her last name.
JAN YAEGER: What was the last name?
CLARA MOONIN: Kamluck. K-A-M-L-U-C-K. But she -- he told me that she was from Seldovia. My grandpa married her and moved her to English Bay.
And her parents -- after the earthquake she -- when they moved the graves to where they are at the cemetery now, she brought her dad back to rebury him in English Bay. But she never made it back to pick -- bring her mother home.
‘Course in them days, you had to take them to church before you bury them, because you weren’t really allowed to dig out your remains of your parents.
But after the earthquake everything kinda went down under so they did have to move -- JAN YAEGER: Right. CLARA MOONIN: -- the graves higher.
JAN YAEGER: ‘Cause the graveyard was -- was real low, right? CLARA MOONIN: Yeah. JAN YAEGER: It was basically on the beach, I think, or close -- close to it.
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, yes it was. I think -- I believe it was even before the boardwalk days.
JAN YAEGER: And so your grandmother is buried in the cemetery here, now?
CLARA MOONIN: No, it would be great -- JAN YAEGER: Great-grandmother.
CLARA MOONIN: Great-grandma. That would be my mom -- my dad’s grandma.
Grandma and grandpa was buried here in Seldovia is what he used to tell me. And that’s pretty much all I know, I guess.
JAN YAEGER: So I -- I have a question. I still -- it’s back about Easter service -- with the services ending at three in the morning and then you said you had another regular service at 10 o’clock or so. So in between, did everyone go back and sleep or did you have -- ?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, we did after we had our -- our dinner -- our -- our breakfast, which was kinda like a dinner.
JAN YAEGER: And so that would have been three or four in the morning?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes. And by the time it was getting daylight, about 5:00 or 6:00, us kids would go down to the beach and play, because we were not allowed to play for quite some time, like 40 days, like I said, ‘til after the Easter service.
MARGARET MOONIN: When did that whole holiday start? Was it like Sunday morning you’d go to church? CLARA MOONIN: Yes.
MARGARET MOONIN: And then it’d be an all-day thing almost?
CLARA MOONIN: No. No, it used to be from 10:00 till 12:00.
MARGARET MOONIN: Then you’d take a break and then come back that night?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, because people -- a lot of people also came from Port Graham and sometimes relatives maybe from Seldovia. And most of them stayed with my grandparents and sometimes with my parents, too. And may -- possibly my uncle and my aunt.
A lot of people stayed with my grandparents mostly, ‘cause they had a bigger house. But we had cousins, too.
And my mom’s side -- she had people stay with her, at her house, too, but some of our cousins stayed with us, coming from Port Graham for Easter services or Christmas service.
JAN YAEGER: So they’d mostly skiff over? CLARA MOONIN: Walk. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: They had a good trail and some of ‘em maybe skiffed. Got -- they didn’t really have motors. They rowed themself from Port Graham.
They called it a ladder where my grandpa, the Father Moonin, and other young people, they would knock big, nice, trees down to a ladder -- or down at the cliff, and they’d build ladders. And they kept the road open for people to come down to have services. And sometimes they walked.
But when we had -- when it was easier to fly, some of them did fly that back and forth from Port Graham to Nanwalek, English Bay.
And most services were held in English Bay. That I remember.
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember what period of time it was that Port Graham didn’t have a church? Approximately?
CLARA MOONIN: I believe -- sometime in the '60s, I believe.
JAN YAEGER: Was when they stopped using the old one?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, and then my uncle -- my mom’s uncle Sergus used to hold services at his house because we did not have a church.
And then they finally -- they had a -- called a community center where we could have dances and games or get-togethers. They finally they turned that to a church at the apron. It’s called the apron in Port Graham.
And -- and then that’s pretty much it, I think. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: Port Graham was not -- they had what we called missionaries, mostly in Port Graham, and we loved going to ‘em.
We were really not allowed to because you were Russian Orthodox, but we did like their juice and their graham crackers. That was like a treat.
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember what -- what church they were with?
CLARA MOONIN: We just called ‘em missionary. There were -- they were good people. They taught you a little bit about the Bible.
I believe a lot of churches are a lot alike when it comes to the Bible. They’re stricter -- Orthodox is much more stricter than any church I’ve known.
Catholic and Russian Orthodox they're kinda similar, except they cross a different way.
We cross -- they cross kinda backwards. We do this -- this way, from right -- top to the head to your belly to the right and left, and Catholics did it from top down, left and right, which is kinda still pretty cool.
Bill, he’s a -- he’s a Catholic. And we go to my church and I watch him cross himself and everybody would get a little kick out of it because he’d cross himself as a Catholic but we -- we took that to --
We didn’t bother him about it. But yeah.
At some days, it would make you sad because you’re like, you go have confession and they say you couldn't have communion and I was really upset.
In the late '80s, I went to service and I was really upset because I was not allowed to have communion.
I was allowed to have a confession. And it was Father Oskolkoff. I should have known better, but he spotted me right out. And a --
JAN YAEGER: Father Osk -- now that sounds like a Ninilchik name.
CLARA MOONIN: It is. He -- he died a while ago. Simon -- Simeon Oskolkoff.
He had -- he held services here in Seldovia, in Port Graham, and Nanwalek, Ninilchik, and Kenai, and Anchorage.
The church we have in Anchorage was built -- it was -- I remember when I was a little girl, it was like a basement type. A square-looking thing. And he built the nice, big church now you see in Anchorage. It’s off Turb -- Turbine?
MARGARET MOONIN: Turpin. CLARA MOONIN: Turpin. Father Harris was his name that built that church.
And he moved I believe it’s either Seattle or New York. He moved out states. But he’s the one that built that ch -- Russian Orthodox church.
JAN YAEGER: What about the church here in Seldovia? Did you ever attend services at St. Nicholas?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, yes, I have. There would be only one or two of us with the priest sometimes -- most times because there’s hardly any Orthodox anymore in Seldovia.
Most of the time it was with Elaine Giles, Lillian Elvsaas, myself, sometimes my kids and her kids.
Most of the time it ended up with just -- sometimes two of us like Elaine and myself, and the priest in the evenings.
Saturday evening and then Sunday morning. I mostly went Saturday evenings when I started working at the Main Street Market, the st -- the store here, because I had to work in the mornings at -- on Sunday.
So, yeah, it slowly kinda died off, the church. I would say about -- I wanna say -- let’s see when was the last time? Last time would have probably been 2011 if I remember correctly.
JAN YAEGER: The last time there was a service here? CLARA MOONIN: Yes, yes.
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember how long it’s been since there were regular services?
CLARA MOONIN: I wanna say about -- regular would have been about ‘94 until about -- I wanna say 2004.
It wasn’t really regular. It was when he was done -- the priest was done with services in Port Graham and Nanwalek, they’d come over to give us services and have communion -- and confession and communion, and bless our homes once a year.
And there was only like maybe a half-a-dozen houses possibly. Helen Nagy was one, Lillian Elvsaas, Aggie, myself, and, I believe sometimes -- I believe Darlene Crawford invited them to her chur -- her house.
This was for like Russian Christmas, I believe, when they starred. You’re invited to certain places.
We don’t have very many people going to church here anymore. It’s pretty much our church is getting pretty well rotted. Wood’s getting rotted.
So right now we’re little worried about our icons getting damaged. And it -- it did get work done about -- I wanna say about ‘90 -- somewhere about ‘98-‘99.
But the whole church does need to be re-renovated I should say, ‘cause the windows are real old from back in the day and you could kinda see where they’re starting to -- maybe so much pressure from the roof and the snow through the years. They’re kinda starting to rot.
And they had -- they used to have a stove -- a Toyo stove, I think, to keep the moisture out. Alright, but we’ve been kinda -- Susie Gruber helps with the -- having the key for the church.
And at -- at -- to me -- I tell her myself it’s not really safe anymore.
And when they were working on the church last summer, I believe, they called to see if I could come in and help, and I told them “I can’t even walk, I’m sorry. I would if I could.”
But then at the time I was telling Susie, “Please don’t let nobody go up the -- up the stairs where the bells are." Because I -- I myself know how the wood rots.
It’s so soft you could -- you could actually probably go right through. And it’s getting worse.
And I’m not sure what we’re gonna do or what’s gonna be done because it’s been around quite a -- quite a few years. I’m not exactly sure. 1950s maybe was that? I believe, 1940s maybe. JAN YAEGER: Well, the -- the --
CLARA MOONIN: 1950s, maybe.
JAN YAEGER: The church -- the first part of it, the main part of it was built about 1891.
CLARA MOONIN: On the bluff?
JAN YAEGER: Right. And then the front part of it, I think, was added about 1906. So it’s all pretty old.
CLARA MOONIN: It is very old. I -- You can tell just by looking at it. It’s been painted over, but you can also kinda smell the mildew a little bit and the wood rot.
I think because of the -- like I said, through the winters with no stove and the weather -- weather is bad on it. We get, you know, salt spray from the cold winters, or wind blowing, and even in the summer, y’know. You can tell.
It gets a little greenish looking from the ocean, salt water. I think is more damage -- does more damage than anything.
So we really haven’t had any services, I believe, like I said, since 2011 is what I remember last.
Because my dad was having communion at my house because he couldn’t come in for services.
I’m trying to remember though, he want to go to the service when we buried one of my -- his niece, and some other elder. Nick El -- Nick Elxnit was his name. He was a Orthodox, too. He was from Ninilchik. He would have been a real good storyteller, that guy. He knew a lot.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about him. I wish had gotten to meet him.
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, he was a nice -- nice. He called -- I used to clean for him and he would call me: “Don’t get too particular, mom.” He -- he meant to say ma’am, but he said mom. He called you mom.
And he was a very smart guy that knew a lot -- lot of history way back when. Even my dad talked about his mother.
My dad was a long time fisherman, also. And he said, when they came to his -- Nick’s mom, she would bring him -- bring her a king salmon and within an hour or two, he said, they’d be eating a fish pie, pirok. Pirok is what they called it.
And he said, it was -- he was amazed how fast she would get it together for them. She was so thankful that he brought her fish.
And in them days -- in the old days, like my dad said, too, they didn’t leave anybody out when it was time to put fish up.
He said, everybody -- I don’t know how many people -- I guess a lot of people they fished and they brought fish for everyone. Everybody had fish in their smokers or salted barrels.
They didn’t have buckets like we do now. They had barrels and then you put -- you put weight on the top of the lid of the barrel. That supposedly made the fish firmer and you use salt -- rock salt, to preserve your fish, or your seal meat, or your cabbage.
Because we had no refrigerators, no water, no bathrooms until the early ‘70s back home.
JAN YAEGER: Did -- how did you process the meat before you salted it, or the fish?
CLARA MOONIN: Soaked it out in water. We had to carry our water like -- like across the airport -- across from the apron.
And in Nanwalek, my grandpa had a -- he -- they built a wooden -- kinda like a big pipe, wooden pipe, and they wired it all the way around and it was pretty long, probably into the ground. And that’s where you got clean water in Nanwalek, in English Bay.
I remember that ‘cause we used to carry water for my grandparents and our house, too.
So, they did a lot of work and they -- like I said, they also took care of the trail for our -- our people to come from Port Graham to fish.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, ‘cause that’s -- CLARA MOONIN: For I mean not to fish, for services.
JAN YAEGER: That’s probably maybe four miles, or so? I’m just guessing.
CLARA MOONIN: Close to four miles, I believe. Three and a half, almost four miles, yeah.
‘Cause we used to -- when we were teenagers, we’d tried to make time and we’d do it in 40-45 minutes, which a lot of times it took hour and a half, maybe hour, hour and a half for older people.
But we wouldn’t wait for anybody, we would just (sound that indicates speed). The trails were nice. Nowadays they don’t -- they’re pretty well rotted, the wood.
But the older people, see, they kept it -- kept up with it all. With whatever tools they had.
They had hand saws. I don’t remember ever having chainsaws at the time.
But after they passed, nobody took care of the roads as well as they did. They all caved in. You could see.
And then they built a new road, which they don’t even really take care of either now. Because most everybody will skiff -- use their skiffs, their boats, or fly from Port Graham to Nanwalek now to go back and forth to the store or see family, or for their funerals, also, if somebody passes in the villages.
Both places they go show their -- say their byes to the -- whoever passes in English Bay or Port Graham. So, in that way they’re good Orthodox, especially they’re really respectful for the dead or the family. Stuff like that.
MARGARET MOONIN: Remember, you used to put sugar out. I think -- I don’t know if that was a religious thing or if that was superstition when someone passed.
CLARA MOONIN: Because I wanted to see if there was gonna be in -- in -- indentation of -- I just heard it from someone and I wanted to try it.
MARGARET MOONIN: Was that a Russian Orthodox?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, I believe so.
JAN YAEGER: Put sugar out and they’d --
CLARA MOONIN: Maybe leave a handprint or something.
MARGARET MOONIN: So you’d wait so many days after someone died?
CLARA MOONIN: Third -- three days and you put a candle up for them and -- and lit a candle on the icon and if you see it flicker, we used to think the spirits came to say their byes.
And for the -- for the people we bury, we’d have their good -- goodbye dinner.
I was thinking of something else. And their -- I’m trying to remember.
After 30 days, I believe, in the old days, you got rid of everything that belonged to them. You gave it to the families or you had to burn it and that’s not practiced anymore.
Like I said, we’re losing -- losing our tradition pretty much.
I’m probably one of the last -- probably our age group is about the last.
I know Josie always complained about “They starved you,” he said, “They starved the hell out of you when you are on Easter services. You couldn’t eat for two or three days.”
And I said, no, that’s not true. They did eat, but it was Good Friday was the day where you couldn’t eat like I said. Probably after midnight.
And you went to church at 10:00 until 2:00. After 2:00 is when you had your feast -- people at my grandparents or my folks.
Both grandparents actually fed -- you know, you fed everybody that came from Port Graham or wherever. From the villages.
JAN YAEGER: So you’d have a feast on Good Friday and then would you have another big dinner on Sunday then?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes. Yes, we made -- made sure people was fed. And --
JAN YAEGER: What was the Good Friday service like? Was there anything special?
CLARA MOONIN: It was -- it was black. We had a big -- you had steps to climb on to kiss the icon and then on Easter it was nice and bright and white and flowery on Easter Sunday. There wa -- there is a difference.
Good Friday is kinda like Black Friday, I guess you could call it, but Easter Sunday was bright, flowers and stuff.
And -- and we had a -- where we used to have flowers on a like a -- kinda like a -- almost like a Christmas tree where you put your flowers for -- I cannot remember if it was Good Friday or before Good Friday. After Good Friday. One of those two.
JAN YAEGER: So flowers in, you know, March-April in Alaska are kind of hard to come by. Were they real flowers or did you have paper flowers?
CLARA MOONIN: No, we made -- we made our flowers from the stuff we used to dye our eggs. We used to help.
We used to help -- we -- I knew how to do all that. I cannot remember, but I remember we used to curl the flowers -- petals, I guess, is what you call.
You cut the shape like a teardrop. Big on top, round, and narrow to the bottom a little bit and you curled it over with a scissors.
And you put it together and either use a -- some sort of wire to make flowers and stems for family members and sometimes for the whole village. A few households would make ‘em.
JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: I know one of -- one of them was us. I remember making them when I was a little girl. Enjoyed doing it, too.
JAN YAEGER: And so all new flowers every year? CLARA MOONIN: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
JAN YAEGER: So it sounds like there’s a lot of preparation that goes into Easter.
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, it was. It was enjoyable though at the time, because it was something to do.
JAN YAEGER: Maybe helped you take your mind off not being able to play?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, or chew your gum, you know, or have candy and stuff like that.
But -- and then in the old days they had those cream looking candies. You know, Easter egg cream. Not cream inside of it, but they're pink, white, whatever color Easter egg candies.
JAN YAEGER: Okay, yeah. I think I know which -- They were bigger than jelly beans, they were about like this big. I remember those.
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah. And they were -- they were good at f -- when you first had a couple and then you'd, "blah." Okay, that’s enough sugar, you know.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, they were really sweet. And they were kinda -- the outside was sort of a waxy consistency. Yeah, like one or two were good and then that was enough. CLARA MOONIN: Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: Tasted kinda strange after that.
CLARA MOONIN: Well, I think that’s all I know unless you have any more questions.
JAN YAEGER: Can I ask you just a little bit about you -- at the very beginning you mentioned the time of the earthquake and I couldn’t quite tell. Were you in Seldovia?
CLARA MOONIN: No, I was in English Bay.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. Do you remember that day?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, I was wondering why I was dressed up to go. They had us dressed up and I was sitting at the bed wondering what was going on.
And like our Russian Orthodox belief, our priest told us, “Don’t be scared. We’re not gonna go up the mountains,” because the tidal wave.
And I’ll tell you what, it passed us right by. All we did was -- he had the service on the shore and everybody did their praying in the house kneeling.
We have icons in our house, and it’s usually the east side they have the icons. And we did a lot of praying and it passed us by.
JAN YAEGER: So you knew that there was a wave coming, or probably?
CLARA MOONIN: Probably. Was -- ‘cause my dad, he was down either picking bidarkies and there was another guy that was a relation, told him to -- we better get away from the beach because he said the tide -- he was wondering why the tide was coming in and going back out.
And Joe Tanape, that’s Nick Tanape, his dad, told him to better get away from the beach.
After the earth shake -- earthquake. And they didn’t realize that’s what it was, tidal wave coming.
JAN YAEGER: But they knew something was not right?
CLARA MOONIN: Right. After that big earth shake.
JAN YAEGER: Hm-mm. What do you remember about the quake itself?
CLARA MOONIN: I don’t remember. I just was remembering -- I was wondering how come they have us so dressed up.
You know, we were probably playing and not paying attention, but everybody looked a little tense.
And, yeah, we were at our old house in English Bay, right above our grandparents. That’s all I remember.
JAN YAEGER: And then you moved over here after that, to Seldovia? Is that right?
CLARA MOONIN: Mainly for work for -- My parents came over. They worked at what was called Wakefield, in the cannery. And king crab -- with king crab.
JAN YAEGER: So that would have been kinda about the time that Seldovia was being kinda taken apart and rebuilt? Do you have any memories of that?
CLARA MOONIN: I believe s -- No, I don’t.
I can’t totally remember when we -- how long we were here in Seldovia. I believe it probably was enough to make enough money to go back home.
And then my dad bought property from his brother. To me it -- it seemed like it was a good acre, like maybe two.
My nephew says maybe acre and a half, but I told him that it was a big property there. JAN YAEGER: That was in --
CLARA MOONIN: He bought it for 500 in Port Graham. I believe after he worked here in Seldovia. And he was a fisherman, too.
JAN YAEGER: Fishing on boats, or set nets?
CLARA MOONIN: Commercial fishing. Commercial fish. Seine -- seining. That’s called seining.
And they call these boats -- when he first had a boat -- he fished with other people and then they -- Whitney-Fidalgo had boats.
They were called flounder boats. He had one of those boats and he seined. And then he ended up buying his own boat, a wooden boat.
And he actually owned three of them. One of them was named Mitsy, and Carol and Jay. The last one was Jay, and it’s beached still in Port Graham.
JAN YAEGER: Oh, really?
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, at the end of the airport. If you ever land in Port Graham, you’ll see it on the east end, down the beach. It’s -- it's got bad profanity on it from young kids.
JAN YAEGER: How long has it been beached there?
CLARA MOONIN: I wanna say since 1988, I believe. After ‘88. Yeah, 1988 was when my dad fished last. And after that --
JAN YAEGER: It must not be a wooden boat, ‘cause I don’t think it would still be sitting there if it were.
CLARA MOONIN: No. Fiberglass, fiberglass. So it’s still sitting there.
Hopefully, some day we could get it across to his 160 acres across the bay. Yeah, it’s still there.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. And then you mentioned you worked in the canneries over here. CLARA MOONIN: Yes.
JAN YAEGER: Do you remember approximately what years that -- that was? I -- I’ve heard --
CLARA MOONIN: I’ve worked here actually from ‘85 ‘til 1990 in the canneries when it -- it went bankrupt. And they -- 1990.
JAN YAEGER: And which cannery was that?
CLARA MOONIN: Dang it. I’m trying to think.
JAN YAEGER: ‘Cause Wakefield was gone by then, right?
CLARA MOONIN: No, it was gone. It had a different name. It started with a P, I believe. And I cannot think of that --
JAN YAEGER: And was that salmon or shrimp or --
CLARA MOONIN: It was all crab, halibut, salmon. That’s all I remember. Cod. Codfish.
JAN YAEGER: I’ve heard so many different dates for when Wakefield closed down here and I’ve never been able to figure it out so I’m always looking for someone that can tell me when Wakefield finished.
CLARA MOONIN: I believe after the earthquake pretty much.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah. They -- they came back and ran for a while after that.
CLARA MOONIN: For a little bit, I think, and then -- then they might have sold out or they just moved on because most of the companies, I believe, were owned from out of state, like Seattle. I think.
Because in Port Graham, also. Ours was called Whitney-Fidalgo and the guy used to come up from Seattle to run the fishery -- cannery.
Which was really cool, because they’d work ‘til 2:00 in the morning and then have to go back at 5:00 in the morning and work all the way around ‘til they -- they used all the fish.
There was a lot of fish in them days. They canned fish was what it was.
JAN YAEGER: And that was mostly salmon?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes. And they sold roe -- eggs, fish eggs.
Which that was my first job, I think, packing eggs. And I learned how to grade ‘em, too. Grade fish eggs.
I was really good at it. I got bored of packing eggs so the Japanese would do the grading so I’d go and have them show me how to grade.
They graded from, I think, one to four, possibly three. The first ones were no tears on the roe. Second, if there’s holes it would be number two and number three.
I think there might have been only three. Four was real bad, but still they -- they were real spendy for a -- they ha -- they used to pack them in a wooden box, plastic and salt.
That was a very cool job. I think I lied about my age at the time. You weren’t -- I was 14 when I started work there.
JAN YAEGER: There were never canneries in Nanwalek, I don’t think, were there? CLARA MOONIN: No. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: My dad talked about a cannery in A. C. Point it’s called. It’s between Nanwalek and Port Graham. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: Supposedly burnt down. And the one in Port Graham also burnt down. And my dad remembered it as a big fire.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I’ve heard stories about that fire.
CLARA MOONIN: And that one was sold by one of his relatives. He -- he did not buy -- I wish my dad was here to tell the story. He was a good storyteller, too.
He told me somebody kinda cheated this old guy and bought that whole cannery property for five dollars.
JAN YAEGER: After the fire?
CLARA MOONIN: Yes, or before. Before the fire.
So he always called it a bad omen. That’s why they always burnt. It caught fire more than once, twice.
Once when I was there in Port Graham it did burn down, and they rebuilt it.
And because they’d -- they used it as a hatchery after the cannery closed down, too. And now they do not have such a thing. They do not have cannery working at all anymore.
They have a school job, store job, Port Graham Corps, housing, North Pacific Rim Housing. Mainly now everybody just puts up their fish without cannery. No canneries.
I don’t think anywhere. Not even in Seldovia now either. So it’s pretty much fading away. Just like our language, I guess, which is kinda sad.
And all the traditions, are all -- Our foods like clams, and cockles -- they used to have cockles. It’s kind of a form of a clam but it’s a -- they were good eating, too.
And we have snails. Your bidarkies. Eggs off the rocks, you -- mussels. What all else did we pick off the -- ? Seaweed. All our foods. I still like all that stuff.
But we -- we’ve never been able to find any cockles ever after the earthquake, especially. ‘Cause I remember in Port Graham with my aunt -- I used to live with my aunt off and on through the years when I was a little girl.
And we used to go and pick cockles and clams and we walked through the muddy -- it was low tide and we had to time it just right to cross in Port Graham and then come back.
And you’d -- you'd be sinking just like in Turnagain Arm. I think that’s about all.
JAN YAEGER: So, you mentioned having to cross. So were you crossing to another higher place? To -- to gather? I mean, I know it’s in an intertidal, but was the -- CLARA MOONIN: It's like a beach. It's like a beach.
JAN YAEGER: So you’d have to go out and collect and get back all before the tide came back in?
CLARA MOONIN: Right. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: You knew how to time that. Because as soon as that clock turned, if the tide is coming in about 9:00 that night, or 10:00, we’d leave about 9:00 and the low tide would be maybe about 7:00 so we’d start walking before 7:00.
And you pick -- you -- you got a good amount for dinner and couple, few days. And you shared with other peop -- your family members, too.
JAN YAEGER: And I know some of the -- like, you know, seaweeds and so on are more seasonal, but some of the snails and bidarkies and so on, would you get those year-round?
CLARA MOONIN: Bidarkies you can get year round. Snails are seasonal, also. JAN YAEGER: Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: And you gotta get ‘em -- you have to pick them before the sun.
My mom told me if the sun starts coming out it’s not a good time to eat 'em because it gives you a tummy ache. JAN YAEGER: Hm. Okay.
CLARA MOONIN: Ain’t that something?
JAN YAEGER: Yeah. So one thing I’ve always been curious about --
CLARA MOONIN: Sun-baked snails are no good. Not very good.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. Some of the snails are so small. I’ve always been curious about how to prepare them.
CLARA MOONIN: Same way you do the bigger snails. They’re black -- you know those little black snails. Those are -- were our favorite.
My dad used to bring us a big pot full and they’d cook it until the bubbly green disappeared. And they’d cool it off for us and here we’d get a toothpick or a safety pin and all of us kids would be around eating out of the pot.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. That’s what I always wondered, is how do you get them out of those tiny, little shells.
CLARA MOONIN: With either a bobby pin, safety pin or a -- whatever works -- toothpick? Yeah.
And before we had toothpicks, we used wood shavings for toothpick. Picking food out of your teeth. And we had for to -- toothpaste, it was powder. Yucky powder.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, my mother used to use baking soda and salt mixed together.
CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, yes, that worked, too. That wasn’t my favorite so I never went there. JAN YAEGER: Mine either.
CLARA MOONIN: That was very yucky. But it’s good to clean your mouth with that stuff.
Salt is also good for a sore throat. Gargling. That was a old remedy also. Salt water. Table salt.
And I remember my -- one of my cousins, if he had a cut in his -- on his finger or whatever. On his hand. He’d used the salt water ocean to wash his hands to make it heal.
Well, I was told by my grandma -- my mom told me my grandma said that’s why she did dishes a lot. The faster healing for your cuts from knives when you’re cooking, or whatever.
Do dishes all the time. Good way to heal your hands.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, I suppose it would get them nice and clean. With the soap and -- CLARA MOONIN: Mm-hm. Okay.
JAN YAEGER: All right. Well, I’ve been keeping you talking a long time. I think I told Margaret, “Oh, just an hour.”
But you -- you’ve got so many interesting things to say I keep wanting to ask you questions, but I don’t wanna tire you out.
CLARA MOONIN: Oh, we could do it another time if there’s another time to do it.
JAN YAEGER: Yeah, if you’d be willing to come in and talk again sometime that would be great. CLARA MOONIN: Oh sure. Yes.
JAN YAEGER: But for today we probably better let you rest a little bit. CLARA MOONIN: Yeah, it was fun.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. Well, thank you so much.