Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Already, I am torn…

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Welcome to Oysterville! (The real-life one.)

Last night, I began reading Susan Wiggs’ hot-off-the-press novel, The Oysterville Sewing Circle, and though I’ve read only 14 of its 362 pages, I am already finding it hard to keep focused.  It’s not that the book is poorly written.  Not at all.  Wiggs is an accomplished wordsmith and, in fact, is almost overly adverbed and adjectived for my taste.  I’m sure her plot development is strong and the romantic content intriguing.  (In fact, the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket say so.)

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

No.  It’s not the technical aspects of the novel that are a turn-off to me.  It’s the content.  I’m really not one for “romances” or “women’s fiction stories” as Wiggs’ books are often described.  I’ve never read any of her books, though she’s written well over thirty.  Yet, the very title of this book compels my attention.  After all,  there really was an Oysterville sewing circle.  My grandmother, my mother, various aunts and cousins — to say nothing of my great-grandfather’s third wife, Aunt Kate — all belonged to it.

“So,” thought I when the book arrived, “I’ll give it a try.”  By page two my very strong can’t-continue gene was kicking in.    And then on page three my own family’s name popped out at me.  Mr. Espy, the owner of the shop, used to claim he was part vampire, manning the register every night for decades.  Every hackle I possess was suddenly on full alert.  It’s not that Espy is a particularly unusual name.  It’s just that Espy and Oysterville in real life — at least for the last 165 years — have been practically synonymous.  And here was my family name in a story involving a town with the same name as the one my Great-Grandfather Espy co-founded!

The Espy Plot – Oysterville Cemetery

In the very front of the book there is the usual disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I don’t think the names “Oysterville,” “Oysterville Sewing Circle.” and “Espy” used in the same novel are exactly “products of the author’s imagination” or are “entirely coincidental.” Though I’m tempted to put aside the book as another one of life’s wastes of money, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll meet a Sydney Stevens if I continue on.  Perhaps I’ll just wait and let one of my friends tell me ‘the rest of the story’ — someone who enjoys Susan Wiggs and her romance novels.  Meanwhile, I’m heading to the Oysterville Cemetery to see if there is any grave-spinning going on in the Espy plot.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle – The Reality

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

The Oysterville Sewing Bee, 1907

My phone messages and Facebook messages — even my email messages — have been full of the news of a brand new book by Susan Wiggs called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel.”  People want to know what I know about it (nothing), if I’ve read it (not yet), and if it’s based on our Oysterville (not that I know of.)

However, what I THINK I know is that there is no longer another Oysterville — at least not in the United States.  There is an Osterville ( ‘y’) in Massachusetts (on Cape Cod) and there used to be an Oysterville, Oregon until it fell in.  Now there’s just us, at least as far as I know.

As for the “Sewing Circle” part of the title — we did, indeed, have a sewing circle here.   The women of Oysterville, calling themselves “The Sewing Circle,” or sometimes “The Sewing Bee,” met on an irregular basis in one another’s homes to work on the mending, darning, or other needs of the hosting household.  Female visitors in the village were included at the get-togethers.  Each session concluded with refreshments provided by the hostess.

Oysterville Women’s Club, 1932

In the mid- 1920s, they organized themselves more formally, founding the Oysterville Women’s Club and electing Mrs. Stoner as the first president.  They continued to meet weekly or bi-weekly and, while they spent some of each meeting on sewing projects, their endeavors by then included fund-raising for school equipment and acting as guardians of community needs.  During both world wars they worked on many projects for the Red Cross including knitting socks for soldiers and gathering sphagnum moss for bandages.  Sometime in the 1940s, they regrouped, included the men of the village, and called themselves the Oysterville Improvement Club.  The present-day Oysterville Community Club which meets in the schoolhouse is the present-day configuration.

“The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel”

Two photographs of the Oysterville Sewing Circle are displayed at the schoolhouse — one taken in 1907 and one in 1932.  My grandmother is in each of them along with several other relatives as well as neighbors I remember from my childhood.  I wonder what they would think of the new book called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle — A Novel.”

And, as for that — the blurb on says, “Stitched together with love, this is a story just waiting for your favorite reading chair. With her signature style and skill, Susan Wiggs delivers an intricate patchwork of old wounds and new beginnings, romance and the healing power of friendship, wrapped in a lovely little community that’s hiding a few secrets of its own.”

Could it be our Oysterville?  I guess we’ll have to read the book to find out.





It was “Happy Birthday to Nyel!”

Monday, August 5th, 2019

Oysterville Regatta 2017 – Photo by Mark Petersen

One way or another, we salvaged most of Nyel’s birthday weekend.  We made it home from Portland in time for the second and third heats (races?) of the Regatta.  Afterwards, we got Nyel into his wheelchair and wheeled him down the middle of Territory Road with half of Oysterville and the Regatta Dinner guests walking along behind us.  “The only way to travel!” Nyel said.  In my mind  seventy six trombones led the big parade.  Only appropriate for his 76th birthday!

At Lena’s, we were greeted by Tucker and Carole’s son, Charlie, who managed to wheel Nyel over gravel and lawn and rough spots to seat him at the head of the nearest table.  Soon, the table filled with friends who filled us in on the first race and proceeded to treat us both like visiting royalty! People brought us food and beverages and there was even a surprise chocolate cake (a four-layer CostCo special, I think) and the whole crowd sang Happy Birthday to Nyel.

Regatta Pinata Grandkids 2018

A dinner highlight was Tucker singing three (count ’em! Three!) Regatta songs this year.  My favorite and the one I think should become THE official regatta song — was to the tune of “Where have all the flowers gone?”  Here is the truncated version which you can probably figure out:  Where have all the lasers gone… gone to summers every one; where summers… gone to memories;  where memories… gone to stories; where stories, gone to grandkids; where grandkids… gone to lasers every one.

On Sunday our long-time friend “Tricky” came down from Bainbridge and the three of us hooked up with Noel at the Bridgewater in Astoria for Nyel’s birthday dinner.  Lotsa sharing of “geriatric war stories” and even more reminiscing about the “olden days” of forty or fifty years ago.  It was lovely to catch up with one another  though we missed Noel’s wife, Patty, who was back east at a school reunion.

At home, there were presents — all food related, including a new slow cooker (his old one died) from son Charlie plus a hefty book called  Crock Pot – The Original Slow Cooker Recipe Collection.  Nyel’s comment:
“A great birthday and a real improvement over spending the day in the hospital.”  Amen to that!


Good! Better! Best!

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019

Day 33 — The day started out like gangbusters (for a hospital day).  The Occupational Therapist came in before Nyel had even begun his breakfast.  “What do you want to do today?” she asked.   “”I like to try standing up,” he said.

Not a new goal, to be sure, but given his weakened condition and loss of muscle mass — to say nothing of being able to reach the ground with only one leg — a most worthy desire.  His body seemed to say, “Your wish is my command!” and, with a great deal of physical effort and will power, he did it.  He stood up!  For more than a minute!!  He even was able to bend his right knee enough so that he could put his left foot flat on the floor for a few seconds.  OMG!  When I said to him, “You’ll be able to walk with the walker before you know it!” he responded:  “What do you mean?  I’ll be walking with a cane before you know it!”   (I tried not to let him see my tears… but then: “Cut it out or you’ll make me cry, too.)

The Shoe Fitting

Not very long later, here came the orthotics team to measure him for a built up shoe.  We showed them Nyel’s new pair from Freddie’s as well as his old (preferred) loafers and since they said the loafers would work just as well… guess who gets to return a pair of shoes on her next trip to the beach?  But Nyel is very pleased and, truthfully, so am I.  New Balance shoes just aren’t Nyel…

It looks like they will be adding about three inches to that left shoe — not quite enough to compensate for the loss of length as they want to leave enough room so he can swing the foot forward with each step and not have it catch on the ground and trip him up.  They expect to have the shoe ready this afternoon so that he can try it on and they can make further adjustments, if necessary, before he is discharged.

Nyel’s “new” shoes arrived at 4:30 — just five hours after his fitting!

Those discharge plans are still in a bit of flux.  It’s looking more like Saturday rather than Friday right now IF Seaside’s swing bed facility takes people in on the weekend.  (If not, it could be Monday.)  The only thing we know definitely is that he will not be going to the Ocean Beach swing bed facility.  Although they were approached again, Nyel is still “too complicated” for our little hospital in Ilwaco.  Dang!  We were told last week that Seaside has accepted him facility-wise; they are just waiting to see if his discharge coordinates with a free bed in a private room (which apparently is a requirement set by the team here.)

A Gift From Elizabeth

And, as if all that were not enough excitement for one day, here came one of the aides with a package addressed to Nyel, c/o St. Vincent’s Hospital via USPS Media Mail from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.  “Who do we know in Scottsdale?” we both asked in unison.  The package contained C.J. Box’s latest book, “The Wolf Pack” and the only clue to the sender’s identity is a bookmark with a two bright red words in felt tipped marker:  “From Elizabeth.”    That narrows it down some…

Oh.  And one other thing.  As of today, Nyel is now back on all the oral meds he was on BTF (Before The Fall.)   Yay!!!  Home gets closer and closer.


When Past, Present, and Future Collide

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Notre Dame Burns

What happened to me today could probably be called an epiphany of sorts.  But I think it was something much less grand.  Something like getting a dose of reality.  Or putting things in proper perspective.  Or just plain being bummed out.

It actually began yesterday afternoon with a picture of Notre Dame on fire.  Eight hundred years of art and culture going up in flames!  I might well have been in the path of the smoke right here in Oysterville.  My eyes burned and the tears coursed down my cheeks.  But it wasn’t just the objects, themselves – it was that tangible grasp of history that the cathedral had provided to all of us – all thirteen million of us – who paid homage to our past each year by visiting Our Lady of Paris.

I first went in 1958 and then many, many more times.  I’ve taken guided tours, climbed the 422 steps or, sometimes, have gone to simply sit and look.  I’ve been there with loved ones who are no longer with us; I’ve been there on my own on a snowy winter night long ago.  Notre Dame is part of my history, too.

Published 4/16/2019

Today, I listened to environmentalist Bill McKibben talk on the radio about his new (just out today) book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?  He pulls no punches when he talks about where we are here and now in the matter of climate change.  The book begins: “I think we’re uniquely ill prepared to cope with the emerging challenges. So far, we’re not coping with them. Still, there is one sense in which I am less grim than in my younger days. This book ends with the conviction that resistance to these dangers is at least possible.”

And I began to think – to seriously think – about living at sea level as the polar ice caps melt at ever increasing rates.  If, as I heard a “reliable source” say not long ago, the seas rise 30 feet in the next 80 years, that’s fewer years than I am old.  It is happening now!  In the present!

So… what of the future?  Perhaps my dream of making this place of ours into a small house museum so that future visitors might get a glimpse into our past… perhaps that is an unrealistic notion.  Perhaps we should sell while we still can and take the money for a whirlwind trip to see all the world’s historic landmarks while there is yet time?  But… to what end?  Change is inevitable and even memories fade…

Say what? Oysterville, Connecticut?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

First Cousin Craig Little

My cousin Craig called last night from his home in upstate New York. Craig Little, PhD; recently retired sociology/anthropology professor from SUNY (State University of New York) Cortland; the eldest of my father’s two nephews and, in one of those genetic anomalies, dad’s (almost) spitting image! I hadn’t heard his voice for ten or more years and haven’t seen him since our 2004 Oysterville Sesquicentennial.

He and his wife Elaine have been spending time in Hartford, Connecticut, settling the estate of Elaine’s mother.  It’s a long process, apparently, and has given them a chance to get to know the town.  Among other discoveries are a number of recently restored murals done under the auspices of FDR’s WPA projects.  But, the real reason Craig called is that, somewhere along the way, they ran across a small book called Oysterville: Poems edited by Laurel Peterson.

Oysterville: Poems

“Really?  Oysterville not Osterville?” I asked.  Osterville on New York’s Long Island has been known to be confused with ours.  But, no.  This was Oysterville: Poems and Craig was pretty sure there had never been an Oysterville, Connecticut.  (There is an Oysterville Vodka, however, distilled in Florida and distributed throughout the eastern U.S. Who knew?)    Craig had searched “Oysterville” on his computer and what came up was “Oysterville Daybook” by me.  And my most recent entry (yesterday’s!) had included mention of the WPA.  Wow!  That might be only one or two degrees of separation…

I’m eager to communicate with Laurel Peterson, an English Professor at Norwalk Community College.  I have a few questions for her.  But first I want to read the poems.  The book should be here tomorrow.

Another Missing Bit of Childhood

Friday, February 15th, 2019

On this very date, February 15th, in 1903, the first Teddy bear went on sale.  Little did toy store owner and inventor Morris Michtom realize that he was creating a childhood institution.  He had asked and received permission from President Theodore Roosevelt to use his nickname, Teddy, and had then sewn up a couple of stuffed bears and placed them in his store window.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t believe I ever had a toy bear and I’m not at all sure that my son Charlie did, either.  Certainly, there was never a bear that had a place in our lives like Christopher Robin’s Pooh Bear.  I think that “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” was about the extent of my early bear connection.

I do remember shopping for a little Steiff bear for Charlie when we were in Germany in 1958.  He was two and, somehow, I thought he needed a stuffed bear.  But, even then, they were way too expensive for our meager budget.  The stuffed animal that became his favorite was a dog that we got in Italy.

We had gone into a big department store in Rome, specifically to look for a cuddly stuffed animal.  The salesclerk showed us a big, floppy dog, larger than Charlie.  I kept saying (and motioning with my hands) “smaller” and by inches we were shown smaller and smaller versions of the same stuffed dog.  Each dog was accompanied by the word “piccolo” and by gestures which we soon understood to mean “small.”  And, so it was that Charlie acquired Piccolo Doggie who was, as Goldilocks would have said, “just right” size-wise, and was Charlie’s boon companion for years.

During those years, Charlie and I were also introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh in a book given to Charlie by his Great-Grandmother Little, as I recall.  Later, I enjoyed my own second childhood over and over again by reading those Milne books to my first graders.  Wise old Pooh helped many-a-child of my acquaintance over a rough spot – but he wasn’t technically a Teddy bear and he didn’t come along in time for me to enjoy him during my own childhood.

If I were to examine my character critically, I’d probably come up with a flaw or two that I could credit to the lack of childhood Teddy Bear bonding.  Right up there with that electric train I never got!  Oh well…

Books, Bookstores, and Travel Dreams

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores

Last week as Sue and Bill left our Friday Night Gathering, Sue said, “Don’t forget to open the box.  You’ll love it!   It might be the next trip you take!”  I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and as soon as the last guest had left…

Inside the box was a book.  A most unusual book, indeed.  Its cover opened the wrong way ’round, it was at once a book of paintings and of the written word, and all about a subject near and dear to our hearts – bookstores!  The title: Footnotes*from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein, Foreword by Garrison Keillor, *True Tales and Last Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers and Book Lovers.

You may ‘know’ Bob Eckstein as a New Yorker cartoonist or as author of The Illustrated History of the Snowman. You may even know this book which was published by Clarkson Potter in 2016 and landed immediately on the NYT best seller list.  Garrison Keillor needs no introduction.

Unusual Cover Arrangement

Nyel and I spent the next few afternoons sitting side-by-side on the couch, taking turns reading aloud each double-page spread on the 75 bookstores included in this delightful book.  We had not been to all that many – Powell’s in Portland and Elliott Bay in Seattle, of course.  Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, and (maybe) the Brattle Book Shop in Boston.

Moe’s in Berkeley and City Lights in San Francisco were old stomping grounds for me and since Nyel has never been to either, that might be our first trip.  How right Sue was!  Each page just calls out. “Come visit!  Come browse!”  And, too, it made me think of favorite bookstores not included – places I hadn’t thought of in years like Foyles in London and Blackwell’s in Oxford.  Time to re-visit those, too.

Plus, the “footnotes” were such fun.  For the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans (weren’t we there?):  “Anne Rice once arrived at a book signing at the shop by means of a jazz funeral procession in an antique hearse pulled by mules.  She emerged in the bookstore from inside the closed coffin.”

Powell’s – A familiar Favorite

Or in the footnotes about Richard Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. “Throughout Hay-on-Wye, there are honesty boxes to leave payment for books available on the al fresco bookcases.”  And Anthony Tao of The Bookworm in China:  “During his campaign, President Obama phoned in and fielded question over the speakers from a packed Bookworm bookstore.”

When we owned The Bookvendor in Long Beach we used to say that giving a book is giving a present that can be opened again and again.  This particular book, however, gives you the pleasure of planning journey after journey with entire bookstores to visit along the way there and back again!  What could be more pleasurable? Great idea, Sue!

Just in Case

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Adelaide’s at the Taylor Hotel by Jean Stamper

A note on my calendar for today says, “Adelaide’s 1:00 – 2:30” – a reminder to myself to grab some copies of my latest book and head for Ocean Park this afternoon.  When I was there for a caffè mocha the other day, Proprietor Colleen Kelly mentioned that they were having a little “do” this afternoon and I asked her if she’d like me to stop by to sign books… just in case.

Now, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not sure what kind of an event she has planned.  I think she said Bette Lu Krause would be there with her tee shirts and maybe there’s going to be live music but I’m not sure what else is going on. My impression is that local vendors who have products at Adelaide’s have been invited to be there to ‘meet and greet’ in honor of the season.  Whatever is happening, I’m taking my signing pen along… just in case.

Colleen Kelly with Hank Doodle

Colleen carries a good many of my books.  She’s all about representing local authors and artisans and, speaking for myself, I find she does a terrific job.  More than once, I’ve been in the shop having a coffee and she or one of her wonderful baristas has come over to me and quietly asked if I’d mind signing a book for someone.  I never get over that little puff of excitement I feel when I am introduced to an unsuspecting customer in really-o, truly-o “meet the author” fashion!  I should probably remember to take my pen with me to Adelaide’s all the time… just in case.

Whatever Colleen has planned for this afternoon, I’m sure it will feel warm and welcoming and all about community.  That’s the way Adelaide’s is.  That’s the way Colleen is.  Between the Full Circle at the Ocean Park approach and Adelaide’s at the Taylor Hotel, I think Colleen has served the community for more than forty years.  She knows everybody, never seems to forget a name, makes sure that folks who ‘need’ to know one another get an introduction, and makes even first-time visitors feel like they belong there.  As I say, I’m not sure what will be happening this afternoon, but you’d better come by… just in case!

The Fun Next Door

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Published in 1939 by Houghton Mifflin Company

When the equipment rolled into town the other day and stopped at the house next door, I couldn’t help wishing that the Oysterville School was still up and running.  The activity that the huge machinery promised would have been the best recess entertainment ever, and the view from the playground across the street would have been just about perfect.

As it is, there has been no regular school in session here since 1957.  That’s when our School District No. 1 consolidated with Ocean Park, Long Beach, and Ilwaco to become part of the Ocean Beach School District.  Gradually, the student population dwindled until there were no longer school-aged children in the village.  But… if there were, they’d love the activity at the Hampson House next door!

Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

The hub-bub immediately reminded me of a story I used to read to my son Charlie and, also, to the primary-aged children I taught – Mike Mulligan and his Steam Virginia Lee Burton.  Mike bragged that his steam shovel, his beloved Mary Anne, could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.  They get one last chance to prove it by digging a cellar for the new town hall.

They begin at sunrise, and first to come to watch is a little boy.  Work continues as the sun makes its inexorable way across the sky and the crowd gathers.  Gradually, the whole town is watching as Mary Anne and Mike complete the job just as the sun is setting.  Unhappily, though, Mike has not left a way for Mary Anne to exit the new basement.  It is the little boy who suggests the happily-ever-after solution to the problem.

Well… we don’t have a little boy in town to watch and we don’t have a crowd of villagers, either.  I think there could have been a dozen of us in town yesterday – all busy with our own lives and some of us not even clear about the reason for the activity.  “A new septic system?” one neighbor asked.  “No, I think it’s for the foundation of a new addition,” someone else said.  As for us, we are content to take a “time will tell” attitude.