Archive for the ‘Christmas in Oysterville’ Category

Wind-ups and Lesson Plans in Oysterville

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sydney Winding Down After Winding Up

Yesterday, it was ‘get out the wind-up toys’ night, and I was fearful.  In my mind (as I planned our holiday activities) it would be a time of play and laughter and reminiscing.  We’ve given wind-up toys to one another as stocking-stuffers for years, but this is the first time in forever that we’ve had the leisure to get them out and put them on display for ‘the season.’  Usually, Nyel and I do it hurriedly to have everything at-the-ready and the family blows in at more-or-less the last minute.

This year I asked that things be different – that everyone gather ten days ahead so that we could talk about the house, its generational contents, and its future disposition.  Hard topics, in a way, but, joyful, too.  There are few subjects as close to my heart as Oysterville and this old family house – the house we’ve all taken for granted for our entire lives.

‘The Kids’ – Christmas 2017

I was lucky enough to be living on the Peninsula for twenty years before my mother died – a whole generation of time to hear her stories of times past and to learn the history of the beloved objects I had never even been curious about.  Much of that information has found its way into one or another of my books and, probably, much has crept into the family-memories of Charlie and Marta.  But, with only short ‘special occasion’ sorts of visits, I am not confident how much has stuck with them.  It’s partly the historian in me but mostly the family DNA in me that wants to convey whatever I can before it’s too late.

So… here we are.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured decorating the house, cooking festive meals, and talking about this and that with the historic information just coming in willy-nilly the way it had for me.  But twenty days doesn’t equal twenty years of incidental ‘indoctrination’ (which sounds severe but I can’t think of another word that fits.)

Who is this guy? Is he flipping us off? Or picking my teeth?

Unpacking and playing with the wind-up toys went perfectly!  Just as planned!  And, right on cue, Charlie asked, “When are you going to talk with us about the house?  Isn’t that why you wanted us up here early?  Don’t you want to show us about things in each room or something?”  Gulp!  Suddenly, I realized that the way I learned my Family/House/Oysterville history lessons isn’t quite the way it will work this time around.  And, just as suddenly, the teacher in me kicked in.

I awoke this morning with my ‘lesson plans’ completed. I fully expect our ‘classes’ and ‘field trips’ to be as much fun as last night’s wind-up experience was.  How did I get to be so lucky as to have two such wonderful ‘kids’ home for Christmas, indulging me in my desire to give them Lessons for Posterity?  I hope I’m up to the task.

Let the lessons begin!

Getting Over Ourselves… Again!

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

If we had grandchildren (which we don’t) they might be part of Generation Y, more commonly referred to as Millennials.  Our ‘kids,’ born in the mid-fifties, qualify as Baby Boomers, and it is conceivable (ahem) that they could have had children in the early ’80s which are considered the beginning birth years for the Millennials.

As things stand, however, we need to depend on Charlie’s and Marta’s perennial agelessness to help keep us abreast of life in the jet stream.  So far, they have never failed to instruct, cajole, guffaw, and all those other appropriate reactions when we get stuck in our advancing old age.  Last night’s announcement by Charlie was no exception:  “I have an early Stocking Stuffer for the family.” And he lugged in a huge, unmarked cardboard box from his car.

Inside were two shiny black boxes with white lettering which said, “Millennial Nativity Stable” and “Modern Nativity.”  Marta, immediately went into gales of giggles, apparently having seen this whatever-it-was on FaceBook.  Nyel and I were perplexed and… well, silent.  After all, according to some methods of reckoning, we belong to the “Silent Generation.”

One by one, the parts and pieces (Joseph’s arm required some super-glue repair) were unpacked – Charlie and Marta became ever more amused while Nyel and I tried to get into the spirit, as they say.  In the hand (on his good arm), Joseph held a cell phone, extended to take a selfie with Mary (flashing peace sign and bra and holding a cuppa Starbucks coffee) and Baby Jesus (the only relatively ‘normal’ figure besides the U.S. Prime stamped cow and the sheep and the manger.)  The stable, of course, featured solar panels on the roof

We cleared off the entry table in the living room to make way.  “It just needs a bit of greenery,” says Marta.  I’m not sure if that will do the trick or not.  It’s a long way from my childhood memories of acting out the nativity scene.  In those days, the wise men were neighborhood kids in their dad’s bathrobes.  Joseph (always the tallest boy) and Mary (always the prettiest girl) and the Baby Jesus (usually a life-sized doll) were  the stars.  The rest of us were shepherds, or maybe sheep, and I remember thinking the entire thing was a little forced and hokey.

On reflection… it would be a whole lot more fun to re-enact this version, even though it does seem just a tad sacrilegious (she said silently).

Whys, Wherefores, and What the F***s!

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Chinook Observer Publication, 2006

As most (but, surprisingly, not all) of my readers know, I am a writer.  I have seventeen books in print, several now out of print, and several ‘in the works’ and not yet published.  I write about the history of our little corner of the world – southwest Washington.  It’s a subject of limited interest (silly ‘them’!) but near and dear to the hearts of a chosen few. Publishers aren’t likely to do a heavy-duty marketing campaign when books about the Peninsula or Pacific County come out, so sales aren’t necessarily brisk unless the author, herself, beats the drums.

Some years (seven!) back, I began this blog with that very fact in mind. I wanted to raise my profile in order to sell books.  Pure and simple.  I’m not sure of a way to make a direct correlation in that regard.  Probably I’ve sold more books than I would have otherwise.  But many more things – mostly positive – have happened because of the blog and, though I think of stopping now and then, I doubt that I will anytime soon.  Writing each morning has become a daily habit right up there with breathing… or so it seems when, for some reason, I am forced to post late in the day.  Or, god forbid as happened once, the next day!

My writing has improved because of my blog.  My fan base has expanded.  I’ve made new friends and have been able to assist many people (actually, folks from all over the world!) in answering questions about their ancestors or relatives or people and places from the past. Who’d a thunk that our tiny spot on the map would garner such interest?

Not all responses to my blog are positive, of course.  I’ve had my share of hate-mail (or, more accurately, hate-comments), most of which I leave posted on my blogsite in the belief that they say more about the writer than they do about me.  One of the strangest responses was not too long ago, when I blogged about an experience at a local service facility – a somewhat humorous blog (thought I) – and received not one but two letters (to my P.O. Box!) from the PR person of that facility calling me to task and explaining why they did what they did.  The letters addressed “my recent complaint.”  Say what???

Introducing Mrs. Crouch

Don’t get me wrong.  I love responses to my blog.  There is a place for comments directly below each day’s entry, though I’m the first to say that the WordPress publishing platform does not make that an easy option to utilize.  Many people comment through FaceBook or email me directly.  Often, I write back.  Once in a rare while, I get a request for a book.  Yay!!!  If that idea intrigues you (Christmas is coming!), I commend you to this link for a list of my books: Click on any of the books listed for details about content, price, where available.  And… Merry Christmas!

The Many Faces of Santa

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

“Oh Boy!  Oh Boy!  Oh Boy!  Santa is coming!  Santa is coming!”  It’s a mantra I’ve been saying for eight decades and it holds as much promise and excitement now as ever.  But… though the sentiment is the same, the face of Santa has changed over the years.

I’m sure my first visualization of Santa Claus was based on the kindly-looking old gentleman in Clement Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”– perhaps even the original illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith.  After all, in those early years of shopping trips and visits to the city to see the wonderfully decorated store windows, there was his picture-come-to-life over and over again.  A Santa Claus on every corner!

When I became wise enough to ask the why of that phenomena, I was told that those were merely “Santa’s helpers.”  It wasn’t until I was seven or eight that I began to pay attention to phrases like “the spirit of Christmas” and “a feeling in your heart” and realized that Santa Claus wasn’t exactly real.

I struggled with that concept for a good many years, I think, but gradually I was ready to perpetuate the myth and the magic to my own children and to the first/second/third graders in my classroom – at least to the ones who still ‘believed.’  And I never ceased being amazed that those little ones who ‘knew’ readily became complicit in the secret.  It was one of the rites of passage, whether they knew it or not.

Those were the years when Santa wore our own faces, though I never thought about it at the time.  ‘His’ face might belong to the neighbor who arrived unexpectedly with a plate of Christmas cookies.  Or perhaps to the stranger in the crowd who caught your eye and said, “Merry Christmas.”  Finally, I truly ‘got’ the ‘spirit of Christmas’ part.

And now… I think of Santa with the face of a loved one, or two or three!  I have my fingers crossed that Santa Nyel will be home and not in the hospital this Christmas.  I’m looking forward to a week from now when Santa Charlie and Santa Marta will be here helping to decorate our tree.  And I feel thrice blessed that the spirit of Christmas is right here among us.  I wish it were so for everyone, everywhere!

A modicum of dignity? At our house?

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Wreath from the Christmas Elf

We heard a little bit of noise on the front porch yesterday afternoon – just a quiet pitter-patter—and when I went to look, there was Martie-the-Christmas-Elf hanging the last of three gorgeous wreaths by our door.  They are beautiful and hand-made by the Elf, herself.  And, they absolutely exude Dignity with a capital D.

Imagine!  A stately approach into our house at Christmas!  For as long as I can remember (almost), the Christmas décor outside this house has consisted of swags put together each year (in the ’70s and ’80s) by my father and, since then, by Nyel.  They were also gorgeous – but not very formal.  Not quite zany, but not exactly dignified, either.

On Our Porch, 2013

This year, I enlisted Martie’s help, knowing that the swags would be a little bit beyond what Nyel could do.   First of all, when it comes to swags, is the gathering of the greens – no mean feat now that my grandfather’s woods are all gone.  As it turned out, he might have salvaged enough from the Monterey Cypress that came down in front of the Kepners’ place, but then there’s the laying out, the arranging of sprigs of holly, big sugar pine cones, and fancy red bows.  And some years, a few bells, as well. Then wire together the parts for each of the five (three for us, two for the church) and affix them to their assigned hooks.  An all-day job under the best of circumstances…

The results were somewhat different every year – each swag with its own personality, its own inimitable panache.  I loved them but, although he never said so, I think Nyel inwardly groaned when the time came.  This year, it was Martie to the rescue!  I’ve seen her wonderful handiwork at Christmases past – at her place, at the church, even at her relatives’.  And we’ve been the recipient of gorgeous wreaths from her before – the most recent being a Spring circlet of pussy willows – seasonal, whimsical, imaginative.

Christmas-ready Porch, 2017

And now – our entrance is Dignified for the season.  Sophisticated, even! Three perfect wreaths lined up in welcome.  I’m thinking it’s time to spruce up the house in a befitting manner!  Martie has set the bar high for Christmas 2017 at the old Tom Crellin House in Oysterville!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like…

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Oysterville, Christmas 2012

On Sunday, December 10, 1911, eleven-year-old Medora Espy wrote, I never was more at my wits end about Christmas.  She was writing from Oysterville to her mother (my grandmother) who was still in Olympia, recovering from complications following the birth of my mother a few weeks previously.  Medora, as the eldest of the seven children, felt very much responsible for the household’s Christmas plans.

All these years later, and with far fewer holiday responsibilities, I can empathize – both with Medora’s sentiment and with my grandmother’s plight at being far from home right when she was very much needed.  Not that I am ‘needed’ anywhere but here at Nyel’s hospital bedside.  But I am getting impatient to get home and get into those Christmas boxes…  It’s time to deck the halls!

Our Christmas Tree, 2008

In other respects, though, we’ve cleared the decks.  No Christmas cards, no Christmas party, only online shopping and, instead of the usual ten-foot tree, we’ll be looking at one half that size.  Charlie called last night and argued long and hard for an artificial, pre-decorated tree.  “I can pick one up here, throw it in the back of the car, and take it up with me!” he offered.  “It will be so much less work for you.”

While we appreciate the sentiment – and even the practicality – of his suggestion, both Nyel and I feel that that’s a line.  A real tree or no Christmas… at least not at the old family house in Oysterville.  In my eighty years of memories about Christmas there, we have always had a real tree – even in years like the one my grandmother anticipated in one of her last letters to Medora in 1915:  Only a few days now before you are home.  We must make the best of things as they are this Christmas and enjoy the spirit of the day, overlooking the lack of material things.

Sydney with Cry-Baby, Christmas 1939

Even in my growing-up years in California when we couldn’t get to Oysterville for Christmas, Papa (my grandfather) always went to the woods and cut a tree for us and shipped it, carefully wrapped in burlap and tied with a rope.  I remember how my mother’s eyes sparkled (were they tears?) each December that the tree arrived.

Fingers crossed that we’ll be outta here tomorrow or the next day!  We have things to do and people to see and Christmas to plan for!  I’m all a-jingle with anticipation.

I was just about to get mad when…

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

December 23, 2016

Kids!  You gotta love them.  Even when they’re old and balding (Or wait!  Maybe that’s me!) they can get away with a lot due to the Doting Parent Syndrome.  I’m not naming names here, though I do have just one kid who fits the above description.

This morning – take note, it’s the 21st of February – I received this email message from the kid in question:  “The packages are all wrapped up and ready to send.  Wasn’t that quick?”  If I’d had any thoughts about what had happened to those promised Christmas presents, they evaporated in a flurry of laughter.  “Quick” indeed!

December 24, 2016

The back-story started thirty years or so ago when the kid in question flew up from California at Christmas with a very special gift for my folks – a new set of stainless dinnerware, service for twelve.  He had carefully wrapped each individual place setting separately – twelve gift- wrapped packages plus several serving pieces, also carefully packaged and wrapped. All were in a special carry-on suitcase.

This was before 9/11, mind you, but even so, the airport security made him unwrap every single package right down to the tissue paper around each knife, fork and spoon.  That was the last time this particular kid ever flew up at Christmas.  He now drives up from L.A. bringing wrapping paper and ribbon and naked gifts in his trunk.  He spends his time right up until the zero hour wrapping and taping and tying and gets the gifts under the tree just in the nick (Saint Nick?) of time.

By Noel Thomas

This last Christmas was no exception but the zero hour came a day early when we all rushed after the ambulance carrying Nyel to Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland on December 24th.  Those packages had yet to be wrapped and, as it turned out, returned to L.A. in that same car with the California plates.

I had about given up on them and was just ready to express Parental Annoyance when that email came.  Yay!!!

Of course, I haven’t received the packages yet…

Under ordinary circumstances…

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Charlie, Marta, Sydney, Nyel and the Tree – December 23, 2026

So… here it is, three days into the New Year and our house is almost back to ‘normal’ – the tree stripped of ornaments and lights, the greenery and holly in the burn pile, festive decorations put away.  Under ordinary circumstances I’d be pleased to have life resume its usual rhythms – beginning with the Skamokawa Swamp Opera scheduled for this coming weekend!  And, in many ways I am.  But it was so strange to put away a Christmas that never really happened.

As we sorted gifts – this pile for Marta, that pile for Charlie, these for me, these for you – on New Year’s Eve – it all felt a bit surreal.  Christmas was over but… although we had prepared for it with our usual Tender Loving Care, it simply hadn’t happened.  It was as if we had entered a time warp – all the right cues and clues and then… a missing week.

So… we boxed up Charlie’s and Marta’s gifts – left under the tree when we made the mad dash to Portland to get help for Nyel.  Today I mailed those boxes from the Oysterville Post Office as we headed out to Portland once more – this time to see Nyel’s main cardiologist.  We call him the “General Contractor.”

Kenny Tam Helps Undecorate the High Spots – January 2, 2017

During that week at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, Nyel saw two electrophysiologists from the Legacy Medical Cardiologist team – we call them “the Electricians” – and two other cardiologists – “the plumbers,” perhaps, – plus several nurse specialists.  We felt in good hands, but we need our General Contractor to tell give us the long-term picture and the what-to-expects and the what-we-can-and-can’t-do’s. We suspect he may have been out of town for the holiday.  We’ll be very glad to see him tomorrow.

So here we are, back in Portland just a few days after we left.  We are in the same motel that the kids and I were in – and, by request, in the same room Marta and I shared.  At home we left only a naked tree as witness that Christmas had come and gone in Oysterville. Under ordinary circumstances, I would feel bereft.  Instead… just a bit disoriented and full of hope that the days will get better for Nyel.  How ironic that he, with his big, kind heart, is suffering from heart failure.

Would that our circumstances could, indeed, become ordinary once again.

Heart Healthy Soup and Turkey Sandwiches

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Visitors bearing gifts of food and a personalized show-and-tell performance from Oysterville’s very own Peter Pan – what could be a better beginning to a New Year!   Plus, Nyel was out of bed most of the day!  In his bathrobe and slippers, to be sure, but “up and taking nourishment” and being happily distracted from his very much unwanted ‘invalid’ state.

First, Cousin Abby Hook Ronco bopped over from the Red House.  She brought some decaffeinated tea with her (“I love it.  I always carry it in my purse!” she said) and I made Nyel a cup on the spot.  For a lifelong double espresso aficionado, decaffeinated anything will take a bit of getting used to, but… one step at a time.

On Our Piano — A Few of Tucker’s Cards and Ornaments

Then came Sandy Stonebreaker with a big container of homemade “heart healthy” soup – almost looked like a hearty (no pun intended) beef stew – plus a loaf of bread still warm from the oven!  We enjoyed both for dinner and there is even soup left for lunch today, plus plenty of bread for sandwiches.

And speaking of sandwiches… last in our parade of food-bearing visitors came Tucker and Carol with turkey slices and hunks, vacuum packed and frozen!  Tomorrow’s lunch on the road back to Portland for fine-tuning Nyel’s heart – turkey sandwiches!  (That turkey sort of came full circle.  It was to be our Christmas dinner but we left it, uncooked, with Carol as we made the dash to Portland on the 24th!)

Tucker also brought several boxes of his hand-made wooden ornaments to show us.  A few years ago, I blogged ( about Tucker’s yearly Christmas gift to friends and relatives – his hand-made Christmas Cards.  I might also have mentioned that, in addition to those cards, Tucker makes wooden ornaments for each of the people in attendance at Carol’s annual Christmas Dinner.

Some of Tucker’s Many Hand-made Wooden Ornaments

This year, the plan was for Carol and Tucker to come here for dinner on Christmas and so Tucker made an ornament/place card for each of us, too. He gave them to us on our rush out of town—personalized Christmas reindeer that graced our trays of hospital food in Nyel’s room on the 25th!

Yesterday, he showed us all of the ornaments he has made over the years – Carol’s and his from Christmas dinners going back to the first one of their marriage forty-plus ago.  It was the most diverting and entertaining way I can imagine to spend a winter afternoon.  Not once but several times afterwards Nyel spoke of one or another of the ornaments and said, “That man is wasting his talents!”

But maybe not.  Tucker’s show-and-tell went a long way to cheering us up.  That’s not a waste of anything by my reckoning!  Not by a long shot.

But… did I have a good time?

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Fred Carter

In times of crisis it’s amazing what you remember and what you don’t.  For me – and maybe for us all – the things that reality etches to a fine point are weird. At 5:00 a.m. in the ER Christmas Eve it was the Doctor-on-Duty’s earring.  A strange focal point when everyone was hustling to get Nyel stabilized!  Days later in the Critical Care wing of Good Samaritan, it was the long, long hallway leading to Room 372 and back to the maze-like parking garage.

All the while, of course, I was totally focused on the numbers flashing on monitors, on Nyel’s breathing, on what the doctors were saying, on what the nurses were doing.  I know I was – but none of that stands out.  It’s all a blur.

Sydney and Nanci Main

Also a blur are all the days leading up to our rush to Portland.  That Marta and Charlie arrived in time to put the finishing touches on tree and house; that we scurried around to get ready for our bi-annual Christmas party; that guests came in their finery – I remember very little of any of it.  All fuzzy and all raising the questions, “Who came?” “Did they enjoy themselves?”  “Did I have a good time?”

Cyndy Hayward and Kenny Tam

Interestingly, it’s Nyel who provided some of the answers.  Nyel being Nyel, he refused to give up the party or even to take to his bed.  He wanted to be there.  Period.  He dressed (with difficulty and a buttonhook – don’t ask!) and sat in the same spot all evening, not eating or drinking for the full three or four hours – visiting with people and, important in the aftermath, taking pictures!  So far, they are the only evidence (except a bit of necessary cleanup) that we even had a party.  Well, maybe not quite.  But close.

(Sister) Sue Grennan and (Brother) Bill Grennan

Since his view was limited, he only got a bit of what was happening and hardly any of me.  But, evidence is evidence, and it looks like a party I would have enjoyed!  In fact, I probably did.