Appreciating Willard Some More!

Willard’s “Bound” Copies

I may not have thought so at the time, but one of the enduring gifts that my uncle Willard Espy gave me was a sense of stewardship of “the family papers.”  That’s what we all called those boxes and boxes (about 100 of them eventually) of documents, letters, junk mail etc. that were stored in the “woodshed” as Willard called it.  He had been working with those papers since the 1930s.  They were the basis for his family genealogical work and ultimately for his 1977 book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Truth to tell, by the late 1970s, those papers were stored in the woodshed, as well as in the attic, the barn across the street and in the house just south of town that had served as home to my grandfather’s ranch foreman.  When my folks retired to the H.A. Espy home in Oysterville (where my mother and Willard and the rest of their siblings had grown up), they gathered all of those papers into one place for “safekeeping.”

One of Willard’s Labels

Shortly after I moved here full-time in 1978, Willard hired a student from Evergreen College to sort and catalogue them.  He asked me if I would help her out and for a year and a half Barbara Hedges (now Canney) and I forged a forever-friendship and learned more than we could ever have imagined about the Espy family, the pioneer days in Oysterville and the Peninsula, the trek across the Oregon Trail, the Civil War, the voyage around Cape Horn and on and on.

When we were “finished” the material was contained in twelve four-drawer, ‘fireproof,’ file cabinets in the storage area between our house and garage.  Willard still called it the “woodshed” as it was in the general area that had, indeed, been the woodshed of his childhood.  My folks called that area “the workroom” because my dad continued working there for a few years after they moved here, manufacturing plastic gift items.   Nyel and I now call it the “back forty” and it serves as a catch-all place for everything we have no room for elsewhere – the picnic items, card tables, chairs, Christmas ornaments – you name it.

A few years before he died, Willard made arrangements to gift all of those family papers to the Washington State Historical Society.  They would be transferred up to Tacoma to the Washington State Historical Research facility “at my discretion.”  That happened in the early 2000s, although we continue to find and deliver bits and pieces.

A New Project Begins

Meanwhile… I still have at my fingertips the typewritten (on a manual typewriter, no less!) copies of hundreds of letters that Willard transcribed back in the 1930s.  He felt the originals should stay here, undisturbed, but he wanted them in New York where he was living for reference.  So, each time he was here in Oysterville, he made copies – a laborious task in those days before copy machines and electric typewriters and the computers, printers and scanners we take for granted now.

And, once again, Willard has me involved!  I am transferring all those letters – from my great-grandparents and beyond – into archival sleeves and accessible binders.  The old spring-closed albums they have been in are beginning to deteriorate and… thanks again, Willard, for another “project” but, mostly, thanks for the hours and hours and hours you spent transcribing for posterity!  I hope I gave you enough hugs when you were still with us!

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