Ruth Johns Recalls Her Very First Christmas In 1931 When Copper Center Lodge Baked Goodies For The Kids

"Red Cross Had Little Boxes... Like A Gift Box" Harry & Ruth Johns of Copper Center. (Journal file photo)  Ruth Johns was moth...

"Red Cross Had Little Boxes... Like A Gift Box"

Harry & Ruth Johns of Copper Center. (Journal file photo) 

Ruth Johns was motherly, nurturing and a fiercely honest proponent of Ahtna culture. Friendly and open, she enjoyed sharing stories of her days as a child. 

Her life spanned years of enormous change. She was born into a traditional culture. In Ruth Johns' childhood, Ahtna families still walked the Copper Valley trails with their pack dogs. Things changed greatly over the years, which included World War II and the turmoil of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. But Ruth's core values stayed the same.

Ruth Johns' Christmas childhood memories were highly detailed. Like a number of elders of the late 20th century, she could clearly remember the first time she experienced Christmas – in her case, in 1931. In those distant and very different days, Copper Valley lodges often served as town centers. The people who ran the lodges (for example "Mrs. Barnes" in Copper Center) often took on the Christmas social responsibilities for the surrounding region, including running Christmas events and making sure that children received small treats during the holidays.

Ruth Johns valued education. As Ruth's story shows, schools were not an everyday occurrence back then. When a teacher finally arrived in Copper Center, going to school was a memorable and interesting experience, which Ruth remembered her entire life.  This story, told by Ruth in 1996 to the Copper River Country Journal, reveals the remoteness and constant changes of the Copper Valley. The year 1931, mentioned by Ruth here, was only 33 years after the 1898 Valdez-Copper Valley Gold Rush. 

This is Ruth's story about her very first Christmas.

"When I was a little girl, I remember there was not too many non-Natives around. Just the storekeeper. When people stayed on the trapline, they remembered to come back and celebrate Christmas. The only place it could be done was down at the Lodge, where Mrs. Barnes was. She was the owner of the Lodge. I remember she used to have a lot of goodies baked up, and she used to give us some.

"The first Christmas we had was 1931 at Copper Center. I remember as a little girl at the school, we didn't have a teacher for a long time. Then a teacher came up that year. She talked about 'programs' and stuff like that to us. We didn't understand. She gave me a part. We rehearsed every day. The people around the village – we'd tell them, We're going to have a program!

"She ordered stuff from Outside somewhere. I got a doll. Red Cross had little boxes, all full of pencils, crayons, writing tablets - just like a gift box. A comb, and ribbons. They had one box for the boys, different from the girls..."


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