Archive for the ‘Christmas in Oysterville’ Category

Dear Santa,

Monday, December 25th, 2017

As I crept through the house toward that first cup of coffee on this early morning, I spied the lumps and tell-tale ribbons peeking out of our Christmas stockings.  And, the tears did come…  Not that I ever doubted you, you dear old elf.  But there were moments this year when I wondered if our little family would ever again spend a Christmas together in my beloved Oysterville.  In this old house with all its echoes from holidays of long ago.

Santa, in all your many guises this year – as family members or neighbors or friends or even people we’ve never met – thanks for being there and for never giving up on us.  All year long! Those are the thoughts that came surging forth and manifested themselves, unbidden, in streaming eyes and that shaky, need-to-sit-down feeling that sometimes overtakes us.  Or, at least it does me.  It’s probably an old lady reaction, Santa, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It’s the equivalent of the little-girl ‘tummy-wiggles’ I remember from Christmas mornings long ago!

So, dear Santa, Happy Christmas from our little corner!  As long as you are with us, there is hope.  And, truth to tell, the whole world needs a lot of that right now!

When ‘Sometimes’ Becomes ‘Now’

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Jim Henson and I were contemporaries so it stands to reason that it was my children’s generation who grew up with his Muppets – though, truth to tell, we didn’t have television during most of their early years. Kermit and Miss Piggy and the Cookie Monster were probably not as influential to them as book characters such as Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things or Tomi Ungerer’s Three Robbers.

Nevertheless, Henson’s characters have crept into our lives one way or another, and this Christmas it seems to be the Cookie Monster who has come to visit.  We haven’t seen him, mind you.  But then, neither have we ever seen Mrs. Crouch, our resident ghost, and she’s been here since 1893.  She hangs around, according to family lore, because she was happiest here in Oysterville when her husband was preacher for the church across the street and she lived in this house that was then the parsonage.  Or so the story goes…

Why the Cookie Monster has taken up residence is far easier to determine.  Cookies!  Dozens of them!  Our house, which year in and year out seldom sees sweets of any kind, has become some sort of giant magnet for cookies.  Boxes of cookies!  Tins of cookies!  Fancy Christmas Bags of cookies!  There has been a parade of friends dropping off the most amazing (and delicious!) assortment of Christmas cookies imaginable.

I think the most unusual came from our neighbor, Celtic Harp player/teacher extraordinaire, Kathleen – shortbread cookies with the Celtic Harp or the Celtic Knot ’embossed’ on each!  Stephanie dropped off a small hatbox full of brownies with just a hint of mint and Fred delivered a variety of yummies from Vicki, some with cream cheese icing, even!  A labor of love, for sure!  And there was a special box of Jayne’s Christmas Cookies, arranged for by Martie and Steve who couldn’t be here for the holidays.  And our own Marta’s oatmeal cookies with nuts and raisins.  (I’m not counting Kitt’s banana bread or Marta’s pumpkin bread or even her pumpkin pies.  Though I do suspect that the Cookie Monster doesn’t stand on ceremony when it comes to which sorts of sweets to sample!)

About ten years ago, the Cookie Monster became sensitized to the problem of obesity in children here in the United States, so his tune changed a little.  In an appearance in a 2007 Martha Stewart TV program, Cookie Monster explained his new philosophy that “Cookies are a sometimes food.”  Thank goodness for that!  Otherwise, we could have a problem on our hands. We are assuming that once the holiday is over and the cookies magically disappear, the monster among us will disappear, too.  Meanwhile… we sure are glad that ‘sometimes’ is now!

With Fingers Crossed and Breath Held

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

A year ago on this day, Nyel was taken to Portland by ambulance.  That proved to be the beginning of a roller-coaster year involving five hospitals, countless doctors, fifteen (or was it sixteen?) hospital stays and more than 100 nights away from the comforts of home.  Whether we’ve wanted to or not, we’ve learned a lot about congestive heart failure and, more importantly, about the particular complicated physiognomy of Nyel’s big heart.

Even more importantly, all the things we thought we ‘knew’ about the value of friendship have been reinforced many-fold.  From long-time friends and forever relatives, to new-found acquaintances and even strangers, people have reached out to help in many unexpected ways!  They’ve brought meals and reading material.  They’ve sung us songs and played live music for us.  They have tended our chickens and hosted pre-scheduled gatherings here at the house.  Most of all, they have not given up on us, even though we’ve been unable to hold up our end on so many, many occasions.

Last night, some of our local friends came over for our ‘usual’ Friday Night Gathering.  It was fabulous.  Fred brought his guitar and, after we had caught up (sort of) on recent happenings, we all sang familiar old Christmas songs and carols.  And for me, hearing Charlie’s and Marta’s voices among the others was the most precious gift of the season – something that hasn’t happened in many, many years!   This year — twice!  At Sunday’s Christmas Vesper service and last night right here in our own library!

Today marks the twentieth day in a row that Nyel has been home from his latest hospitalization.  If it’s not a record, it must be close to one. I wish I could say that everything is going perfectly – but as we all know, it’s not a perfect world.  Not even in Oysterville.  We are holding our collective breaths and have fingers and toes crossed that there will be no ambulances called to our doorstep in the next few days!  That would, indeed, make this the merriest of Christmases.  Ever!

Our Very Own 12 Days and Heavenly Host!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

The ‘Days of Christmas’ here in Oysterville – whether or not they be twelve – always seem to gallop by at an alarming rate.  Usually we have only four or five days together before someone has to return to life in one of the California fast lanes. This year, however, Marta will be here for a full two-and-a-half weeks and Charlie for the traditional dozen.  Wow!!  I can hear my own personal angels singing in exultation!!

It’s hard to believe that three of those precious days have already gone by in jam-packed fashion!  We’ve been decorating, trimming, wrapping, and readying… all the while talking and laughing and even shedding a sentimental tear or two.  Nyel, feeling better than he has in more than a year, is back to being Chief Chef –  though Marta has declared that today the kitchen is hers.  “Baking Day!” she says.  I think a pumpkin pie, some loaves of pumpkin bread and, maybe, oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies are in her plans.

Tomorrow, all things being equal, our new stove (back-ordered since October) arrives – a Christmas present for the house!  Since it is a gas stove and needs converting and hooking up by the propane folks, we aren’t quite sure when it will be operable.  Marta decided to count on our cranky old Jenn-Air for her baked delights.   Fingers crossed that it will be up to this last hurrah!

Meanwhile, today is “Lesson #2 Day” in this household.  Yesterday, my planned hour of instruction on “all things house” turned into three hours! Time rushed by with about a gazillion ‘birdwalks’ as Charlie’s and Marta’s questions came spewing forth!  Such great ‘students’ – Marta even took notes!!!  Mostly they wanted to know about all the most recent forebears – my grandparents who lived in this house and their parents, the pioneers.  Even with the many photos and written material and reminders of familiar stories, they wanted clarification – “Was Helen Harry’s mother?  Or his wife?”

Bottom line: we all felt “very much accomplished” when we called it a day, instruction-wise.  I hope the next four ‘lessons’ go as well, each one quicker than the last as familiarity with the ancestors increases.  After all, those old and absent forebears are the ones who are hovering around, just out of sight, singing the Hallelujah chorus — our very own Heavenly Host here to celebrate the season with us!

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:  http://sydneyofoysterville.com/books2/ 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.