On reflection…

The Original St. Vincent’s, 1909

Now that Nyel and I are safely in home territory, I have had a chance to think about our St. Vincent’s Experience more fully – to put it into some sort of context beyond Nyel’s very difficult fifteen days there.  The reality is that my relationship with that institution is very nearly ancestral.  In some ways, that hospital has been “part of our family” since it was dedicated on July 19, 1875.

By then, my great-grandfather R.H. Espy – who had co-founded Oysterville in 1854 – was 49 years old and he and my great-grandmother Julia (20 years his junior) were well into raising their family of eight children.  The up-and-coming city of Portland was the nearest go-to center for serious business like banking and lawyering and yearly shopping.   Like all pioneer families on the North Beach Peninsula, the Espys had a close relationship with Portland, and it stood to reason that the hospital would eventually take a place in their lives.

Aunt Veron Espy c. 1900

As far as I know, it wasn’t until their youngest child, Laura Ida Verona (by my time, always referred to as “Aunt Verona”) was born in 1885, did the family’s journeys upriver to Portland ever include doctoring.  But, by the time she was ten, it became apparent that “something was wrong” and the family’s association with St. Vincent’s Hospital began.  Aunt Verona apparently suffered from an ailment similar to multiple sclerosis, although it was never diagnosed as such, and she lived what was called “a sheltered life) until her death in 1925.  She spent time in and out of St. Vincent’s hospital and, by the time my mother and her siblings remembered, Aunt Verona always was accompanied by a nurse.  St. Vincent’s was credited with helping her live a fairly normal existence.

Fast forward to Oysterville in 1981.  Aunt Verona’s next oldest sibling, “Uncle Cecil” was then 94 years old, a retired banker from Portland, and living in Oysterville in the house where he had been born.  A widower, he lived alone, still mowed his lawn with an old-fashioned hand-mower, and conceded to “old age” only in his gruff acceptance to dinner invitations by my folks who lived two houses to the south.  One weekend when his daughter Barbara come to check on him, she found that he had his bags packed and was ready to return to Portland with her.

Albert Espy (Aug 1900 – Jan 1905)

“I believe I’m ready to die,” he told her, “and I want you to take me to St. Vincent’s.”  He was much surprised when Barbara told him that you couldn’t do that anymore.  He remembered that “back in the day,” that’s what old people did when they could no longer take care of themselves.  They moved into St. Vincent’s where nurses took care of them until they left this mortal coil.  The upshot was, Uncle Cecil put his suitcases into Barbara’s car and went home with her (not exactly what either of them had planned!) where he stayed until his death in June 1982.

My favorite family story about St. Vincent’s, though, has to do with my mother’s older brother Albert who had died of stomach cancer in January 1905.  He was not yet five years old.  During his final illness, my grandmother sat with him in his hospital room at St. Vincent’s and they watched some little boys playing outside in the snow.  “Maybe next year you can play outdoors with the children,” she said.

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

“Will they have snow in heaven?”” was Albert’s response.

All of these associations with St. Vincent’s – right up to my beloved uncle Willard’s new heart valve in the 1980s – were in my own heart and mind during our stay there these past weeks.  I’m so sorry that my feelings about that particular institution have been forever changed.  Thankfully, it is no longer the only option to us Oystervillians!

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