Archive for the ‘“Dear Medora”’ Category

January in Oysterville…

Sunday, January 10th, 2021

Medora Espy, c. 1908

On January 11, 1908, nine-year-old Medora Espy wrote to her mother:
Mama, I wish you could see me.  My cheeks are as red as my sweater.  Skating yesterday, snowballing and sliding today.  It has snowed all day long exsepting [sic[ a little this evening.      The weather here gets worse and worse all the time.  Papa says it will soon be too cold to snow.

The following year, on January 15, 1909, she wrote:
    Dearest Mama,  There was a ship [the French sailing ship Alice] come in last night at three o’clock.  The crew consists of 27 men.  They can’t speak English.  Bradford, Dorothy and I went to see the ship.  The ship is about a mile from Ocean Park.  There was quite a number going from town. We didn’t have any school after (12) twelve o’clock because we wanted to go see the ship.

On Friday, January 29, 1915, Mama wrote to Medora:
Dear Medora,   Some news today, tho maybe you have heard that Nahcotta burned to the ground day before yesterday.  Everything gone.  It started in the old Petit Hotel, spread to Morehead’s store, thence to other hotel across taking depot, post office and Duggans.  Duggans stock insurance had run out on the 16th of this month.  Isn’t it too bad….  

From Medora’s Diary, January 3, 1916:
My seventeenth birthday.  Why I am really becoming a young lady!  I shall live this year cheerfully without any sentimental attachment awaiting my prince, and preparing for him.  If in all the long years he never comes, I have lots to do for others.

Medora’s Diary, August 1914

On January 11, 1916, Medora wrote: Portland, Dearest Mama –  Just a hasty line to let you know I am perfectly safe.  It seems good to be back in a way tho’ I wish you were all here.  The snow is several inches deep and it is bitterly cold, far more so than at the beach.  I wish I had a winter coat.
Exams are near and I have enough to keep me awake nights but last night I retired at seven sleeping twelve hours straight.  Why do I need so much sleep?

From Mama in Oysterville on January 15, 1916:
My dear Medora:  We had not had any weather before you left, compared with this week – It has been fierce!  Papa and I have been worried about your health and comfort.  We were quite relieved to hear that Ruth had let you have scarf and sweater. 

Gravestone – Medor and Albert

From the South Bend Journal, January 21, 1916:
Miss Medora Espy, the 17 year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Espy, of Oysterville, died suddenly on Tuesday, January 18, in Portland, Oregon.  She had retired in apparently the best of health the night before, but could not be aroused from what appeared to be a deep sleep the following morning.  A physician was summoned, but despite all medical aid, she died before noon without having regained consciousness.  The cause of death as diagnosed by physicians was cerebral hemorrhage.  Her parents were immediately notified of her illness and rushed to Portland, but unbeknown to them, on account of the delicate condition of the mother, who for the past few years has been practically an invalid, their errand was only for the purpose of burying their first-born.





A Century And More Ago

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Medora’s Locket

Every once in a while, it seems important to go back in time for a little reality check.  My “go-back-to” place is often family correspondence.  It’s sort of my own, personal “On This Date In History” experience.  So, I wondered this morning what was happening on the last day of June in my Aunt Medora’s life?  She was my mother’s oldest sister — born January 3, 1899 and died unexpectedly in her sleep of a Cerebral Hemorrhage on January 16, 1916 — just two weeks after her seventeenth birthday.

DIARY            WEDNESDAY,  JUNE 30, 1915            DIARY
 3125 Claremont Ave. Berkeley, Calif.

Do you realize Diary that I am in California, the land of our dreams?  Those two weeks at home intervening between the eleventh and the twenty-sixth were very busy days.  We packed, cleaned house, and did general overhauling…We left Saturday morning on the early train…arrived in Astoria about eleven; then followed a weary wait till three when the Rose City left.  We had two large staterooms opening on deck.  Only Sue was sick crossing the bar.  Sunday morning was delightful, so calm and sunny.  Just before lunch I got acquainted with…Clarence Hickock from Portland. We sat up on deck all afternoon and talked…

The Espy Children in 1913 – Dale, 2; Willard, 3; Edwin, 5; Mona 9; Sue, 10; Medora, 14.

Monday morning we arrived.  Grandpa, Eva, Ruth, Buelah, Uncle Sid and Uncle Bert met us.  Clarence asked to call.  Ha ha!  San Francisco is the thriving bustling metropolis of old; the bay, the fog and wind are all the same.  But as we rode through Oakland I could see the difference.  Out here in Berkeley are many beautiful homes. Aunt Maud’s is very attractive, every little detail is so perfect, and the whole house is very artistic…

What a difference a century makes!  I wonder if any fifteen-year-old girl anyplace in the world could write of their day today with such quiet innocence and pleasure.  I also wonder if someone looking back one hundred and five years from now would feel that ours is a time of calm in comparison to what might be going on then.  A horrible thought, indeed!




One Month (and 18 years) Too Late

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

“1912 Middy Blouse”

Yesterday I had the great urge to clean out my closet and to inventory my sartorial needs for the coming of fall.  I made a good start on filling the Goodwill bag with clothing that has been (literally) gathering dust for uncounted years.  You know – the blue jeans that were perfect when you were a few inches slimmer around the middle.  Or the bolero jacket that doesn’t quite go with anything but, surely, just the right skirt or blouse will come along soon.

I was ruthless. And, I felt “very much accomplished” as my Aunt Medora used to say.  But the bottom line is that I left myself exceedingly limited in clothing choices beyond my usual at-home-uniform – jeans and a sweatshirt.  I had the sudden urge to go “back-to-school shopping.”  Never mind that it is seventeen years since I stopped teaching and, even then, any additions to my wardrobe were usually acquired at the last minute – probably in August before the school year got under way.

As I thought about the situation, I remembered something my grandmother had written to Medora (the one and same, just mentioned) regarding her wardrobe.  The letter, which hints at my grandmother’s struggle with the transition from homemade to store-bought clothing, was dated September 4, 1912:

Elizabeth Ayer, Marie Strock, Medora Espy – 1912

The express has come at last and I am greatly pleased with the things.  All of the dresses were substitutes, as what we ordered were out but anyway the choice is fine.  There is one bad thing tho, your dress is too long and I do not see how it can be shortened.  I would not wear it if I were you unless there is some very special occasion.  Then when I come up we can take it to a dressmaker and see how it can be shortened.  It may not look too long with low shoes in the evening but with high shoes will reach the tops…

The white skirt to your middy was too short and I sent it back for a longer one…  Go into Harris and see if you can get a separate white skirt to wear with your middy – something plain and suitable for school…  I should not think it would or should cost more than two dollars for your whole middy suit only cost $2.25…At the same time get yourself three union suits part wool – you know the ribbed kind.  Do not pay more than $1.75 or $2.00 a suit.

I decided to use my own judgement about your coat and dress so as to save time, so ordered them delivered direct to you and I surely hope you will be pleased.  The coat was the best shown – cost $14.00 – a black silk plush lined with tan satin.  The hat a black beaver turned up in front.  Then a brown corduroy soft hat to go with your storm coat.  Your dress is a good quality brown corduroy trimmed with brown messaline and a large, lace collar. Do these sound all right?  I sent for best of everything in your clothes.

Bon-Ton Catalog, June 1913

The girls’ dresses look very nicely on them.  Sue’s is much coarser than Mona’s but very effective and at a distance does not show the difference in quality.  Mrs. Parant has Sue’s dress to work on.  I have ordered satine for new bloomers for you and goods to match the girls’ school dresses for bloomers.

Well, at least I don’t need to worry about putting union suits or bloomers on my shopping list.  But I do think that shopping by catalog (or, in today’s world, online) is the way to go from Oysterville.  Some things don’t change.

Times Change… or do they?

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

DIARY            WEDNESDAY,  JUNE 30, 1915            DIARY

Rose City Steamship

 3125 Claremont Ave. Berkeley, Calif.

Do you realize Diary that I am in California, the land of our dreams?  Those two weeks at home intervening between the eleventh and the twenty-sixth were very busy days.  We packed, cleaned house, and did general overhauling…We left Saturday morning on the early train…arrived in Astoria about eleven; then followed a weary wait till three when the Rose City left.  We had two large staterooms opening on deck.  Only Sue was sick crossing the bar.  Sunday morning was delightful, so calm and sunny.  Just before lunch I got acquainted with…Clarence Hickock from Portland. We sat up on deck all afternoon and talked…

1912 – The Espy Children (Dale, Willard, Edwin, Mona, Suzita, Medora)

Monday morning we arrived.  Grandpa, Eva, Ruth, Beulah, Uncle Sid and Uncle Bert met us.  Clarence asked to call.  Ha ha!  San Francisco is the thriving bustling metropolis of old; the bay, the fog and wind are all the same.  But as we rode through Oakland I could see the difference.  Out here in Berkeley are many beautiful homes. Aunt Maud’s is very attractive, every little detail is so perfect, and the whole house is very artistic.

That 1915 summer vacation in California, long planned by the Espy family, was a coming-of-age trip for young Medora, my mother’s oldest sister.  It was also to be her final visit to  California.  Little did she (or anyone) know that she would live only six months more, dying in her sleep of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 18, 1916, just two weeks after her seventeenth birthday.  On June 30th 1915, though, and for the next two months, she and her five brothers and sisters would have the most memorable time of their young lives.

Pan American Esposition, San Francisco 1915 (“The Fair”)

According to Medora’s diary, the most notable aspects of the trip for her were… boys!    Although, the family was ostensibly there to visit relatives and Mama’s girlhood friends and to take in “The Fair,” Medora had her first experience of being sought-after by the opposite sex.  And she developed her first serious crush! (July 21, 1915 – I simply couldn’t be so silly about a man eleven years older than myself but the members of the opposite sex when attractive surely do stir up strange feelings in me.)

Although Medora had been born in the Bay Area, the family had moved to Oysterville when she was three and she had been back only once five years later, in 1908.  I find it interesting that despite all and, even with her limited experience, she noticed the changes that had taken place since her last visit – as did I only a few days ago.  I wonder what she would make of dear old San Francisco now…

High Praise for “Dear Medora”!

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman

If you’ve seen me within the last few days, you’ve probably noted that something has happened to my head.  It is way larger than it should be and I’m probably smiling like an idiot.  In fact, I probably look a lot like a female version of Alfred E. Neuman.  And, I’m absolutely non-apologetic about it… but I do feel the urge to explain.

Last week at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Barb Kubick. A well-respected historian.  Her topic had to do with the meaning of history and historical research.  She has spoken to the group in years past but, for whatever reason, I’ve never been among those present.  I loved what she had to say and approached her afterwards to tell her so.

Imagine my surprise when she called out to me by name!  And did my mouth drop open when she praised me for my book Dear Medora?  “I loved it,” she said.  “But I especially liked the way you changed nothing – even the words in diaries and letters that put your family in an unflattering light.  You included everything.  We can see the warts and all!”

I must have looked as amazed as I felt.  “Not everyone does that, you know,” she went on.  “But we can’t understand our history if well-intentioned people clean it up along the way.”  I don’t think she actually said that Dear Medora was exemplary, but I could feel myself puffing right up anyway.

Not that it ever occurred to me to change Medora’s words or those of my Grandmother or any of the other people whose lives I tapped into.  Why would I?  They all were there!  And they wrote more eloquently than anything I could paraphrase.

What Barb Kubik didn’t realize, of course, was that with those few words, she lifted a burden that I’ve carried with me for almost eleven years.  Shortly after Dear Medora was published, the prestigious Oregon Historical Quarterly (published since 1900 by the Oregon Historical Society) ran a rather damning review of the book.  The review was written by a well-know historian and professor at an Oregon institution of higher learning.  He said, basically, that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that Medora had died differently from how it was presented in the book.

He based his “knowledge” on a discussion with my Uncle Willard Espy, Medora’s brother who was four when she died.  Willard’s memory about incidents in his early childhood were undoubtedly as good as those of most people.  However, there were some things he mixed up or misremembered.  One involved the circumstances of his older brother’s broken leg.  Another involved the speculations about Medora’s somewhat mysterious death.

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2008

Had the professor bothered to read the book, he could easily have seen from the letters and news clippings that what Willard told him was wrong – a fuzzy childhood memory from a painful family time that was seldom spoken of.  Or he could have called me and I might have told him that throughout the twenty-year process of researching the book, I shared and discussed every bit of information with my mother and Willard.  About Medora’s death, Willard was very surprised but, curiously, my mother was not, even though she was eleven months younger than he.

Thanks, Barb Kubik!  I know I am smiling like an idiot.  But I feel like a million bucks!

Convoluted Connections

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Willard and Dale, 1914

I’ve been thinking of Willard lately.  Willard Richardson Espy, my mother’s “twin” – well, they were 11 months apart but for all of his 89 years, Willard would write mom on her November 13th birthday and remind her that they were now identical in age until December 10th when he would become a year older than she.

Willard was not only my uncle, but was also my Godfather.  When I once challenged him about having fulfilled his duties in that regard, he archly asked, “Are you not a moral, upstanding woman of good character?’  When I answered in the affirmative, he said firmly, “Then I have done my job.”  I never questioned him on the matter again, though I did occasionally wonder how he thought he had accomplished that triumph of my development, especially considering that we lived on opposite sides of the continent for all of my formative years.

Willard and Sydney – 1938 in Oysterville

As I approached middle age, though, and Willard edged closer to his golden years, we had opportunities to spend more time together.  I had moved to Oysterville and Willard was spending about half of each year in his little red cottage here.  He had always been my role model with regard to his career.  I, too, had visions of working for a newspaper and of spending my life writing and hobnobbing with the literati and the sophisticates of the world. And, once we began spending more time together, he also became my mentor, encouraging me to complete my book about his oldest sister, Medora, and offering to write the foreword, though he would not live to see its publication.

Red Cottage 1984

So, fast forward to my here and now at Emanuel Hospital, eighteen and a half years after Willard’s death.  I think of him almost daily here – not for reasons you might think.  I think of his all-consuming interest in words – in their derivations, their meanings their misinterpretations, in the way they look and all the weird and wonderful things about language – ours and others.  He was called “The Wordsmith” and, though those of us who are aficionados of Oysterville, love his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, out in the greater world he is known far better for his fifteen books on words.

Willard, 1981

Yesterday, the discussion between patient, cardiologist and surgeon concerned a blood clot that has formed in the left ventricle appendage.  That’s a new situation and before surgery to correct his mitral valve can take place, they are trying to dissolve that clot.  It isn’t yet “organized” we were told.  Which means, it seems, that the blood has gathered and has coagulated to a gelatinous-like consistency but has not yet clotted – not fully organized.  That’s a good thing, apparently.  Willard would have been so intrigued…

Like it or not — it’s fall!

Thursday, September 1st, 2016
Apples Ready To Harvest

Apples Ready To Harvest

The calendar notwithstanding, it’s fall in Oysterville!  The days are growing short, pears and apples are asking to be picked, the leaves are breaking free of their moorings.  Seems too early.  Labor Day is yet to arrive and here on the Peninsula, at least, school won’t open for another week.

But… spring and summer came early, too, this year.  From those April-blooming rhododendrons, a full three weeks ahead of themselves, right through an earlier-than-usual Kite Festival, our yearly timetable has seemed askew.

Fall Blow-down Begins

Fall Blow-down Begins

I’m so sorry that summer is over.  I don’t think I’m done with it yet.  There are still places to go and people to see and picnics to enjoy out in the garden.  Speaking of which… yikes!  I wonder if I can really put off fall cleanup for a little while yet.

Once again, I am reminded of the description my fourteen-year-old aunt wrote to a friend at just this time of year.  It was September 3, 1913:

We are having a regular winter storm. Do you know what a storm is? Not an Oysterville one.  You see, we get it from both the ocean and the bay.  The wind has already knocked the remainder of our cherry tree down; the cupboard of dishes in Sue’s playhouse toppled over and consequently she will have to abandon her house till next summer; a great piece of the trimmings of our house blew off; apples and pears litter the ground.  It is a real storm.  The bay is covered with white caps, the water has covered our lower meadow; and you could almost go down the lane leading from our house to the bay in a dinghy.  To cap it all, it has rained night and day since Monday evening in regular torrents.  It is not an unusual storm.  The natives merely remark, ‘Sort of wet today.’

Well, it hasn’t come to that yet – not this year anyway.  But still we have a few days to go…

Playing Second Fiddle

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Willard Espy, circa 1980

I’ve begun to take a better look in the Crosscut file box – the work of Ilwaco High School journalism students in late 1970s. The notes and tapes from twenty interviews of local residents are a treasure trove of recent Peninsula history and, I hope, will make for an interesting Observer series.

The subject of one of the interviews (done by Paul Yunker, April Williams, and Lisa LeClaire) was ‘Sydney LaRue’. That, of course, was me-before-Nyel, and probably took place in 1979 or 1980 just a few years after I moved full-time back to Oysterville. Unfortunately, none of the interviews are dated, and I have absolutely no memory of the experience at all.

I had to smile as I read the first couple of questions: “How are you related to Willard Espy?” and “What is he working on now?” I wonder, in retrospect, why they didn’t just interview Willard, himself. He was living here six months of each year and was famously accessible. Even now, people love to tell me how they knocked on his door one afternoon to have him sign a book and he invited them in for a drink and a chat.

img388The interview eventually became more about me but the way it began – in fact the entire tone would be repeated many years later when David Campiche interviewed me for Coast Weekend. My Dear Medora book had just come out so it must have been 2007 and the resulting story that David wrote turned out to be almost entirely about Willard. Years later he and I laughed about that, he a bit apologetically as I remember.

The truth is, if it’s a matter of playing second fiddle to someone, I can’t think of any better company to be in than Willard’s. I adored him and vice-versa. He was my uncle, my Godfather, my friend and my mentor. How lucky I was to have him in my life!

Thoughts of Medora

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016
Medora, 1914

Medora, 1914

DATELINE January 1, 2016. One hundred years ago today, my mother’s oldest sister, Medora, wrote this in her diary:

The first day of the New Year – May 1916 accomplish more than 1915 did in building my character! Though I feel far better satisfied with the past year than the one before, and thus may the years continue, each one more perfect than the last until I find everlasting peace. A complication of affairs is keeping me at home this next week from school and in those extra seven days I want to help my dear family as much as possible. There is so much to do in a household of eight which my little frail mother can not manage.  

"Dear Medora"

“Dear Medora”

Two days later she wrote:

My seventeenth birthday. Why I am really becoming a young lady! I shall live this year cheerfully without any sentimental attachment awaiting my prince, and preparing for him. If in all the long years he never comes, I have lots to do for others.

Unfortunately, Medora would never have the opportunity to fulfill her dreams. Just two weeks later, she died in her sleep. But unbeknownst to her, she did, indeed, manage “to do lots for others” – not the least of which was to inspire me to write her story and see it into publication. I think of her this day with a mixture of deep regret and eternal gratitude.

Sensory Overload in San Francisco

Monday, December 21st, 2015

jewel_city-home_3Past and present collided yesterday as Marta, Nyel and I wandered and wondered through the DeYoung Museum’s “Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition.” My mother had seen these very paintings a century ago – as had her brothers and sisters and her mother and father! If time travel and déjà vu can be combined with an out-of-body experience, that’s what I experienced.

H. A. Espy Children, 1913

H. A. Espy Children, 1913

My earliest memories include stories of that once-in-a-lifetime trip from Oysterville to San Francisco to “visit the fair” in the summer of 1915. My mother, the youngest was 3; Willard, 4; Edwin, 6; Mona, 11; Sue, 13; and Medora was 16. They journeyed by ship, spending the summer with the California relatives and my grandmother’s girlhood friends. Papa, who stayed behind to run the dairy farm, joined them late in August.

Later, Willard would write about Edwin on the voyage south: Looking enviously at the bustle on the lower decks when we took a boat from Astoria to San Francisco for the 1915 World’s Fair, he asked wistfully, “Can’t we pay extra and go steerage?” Also, according to Willard:  At the fair, itself, he proved to be a seven-year-old artistic reactionary: “That picture,” he said, examining ‘Nude Descending a Staircase,’ “must have been taken before they had Kodaks.”


‘Nude Descending A Staircase’ by Marcel Duchamp

“That picture” was not included in the present exhibition. However, many that had never been exhibited before or since were among the treasures on display. For whatever reason, it came as a revelation to me that many of the European masterpieces had originally been included in the ‘Fair’ as a means of getting them away from the threat of loss in the World War.

I loved seeing a photograph of the Palace of Fine Arts, taken by thirteen-year-old Ansel Adams! I knew Ansel in the sixties and seventies, but it was only yesterday that I realized he would have been Medora’s contemporary. Maybe they were at the Fair at the same time!

My mother was too young to remember much about their trip, but she did speak wryly of the fact that a “perambulator” had been rented for Willard because he was considered “delicate” (had been born with a rheumatic heart) while she, who was eleven months younger, had to walk. And, in a letter home to her father, Medora wrote:

Marta in the Rain at the DeYoung

Marta in the Rain at the DeYoung

At last our dreams are realized and we really are here! Yesterday we … attempted to see a little corner of the Fair, but we only went through five buildings and did not see one thoroughly. It is immense compared to the northern expositions, a regular fairyland of beauty. During the entire day we only went through Canadian Pacific, Mines, Agriculture, Horticulture, Californian building, Liberal Arts and Transportation. Every minute I missed you, as I did so want to linger at different places where you would have been interested. Of course, yesterday we looked at everything with the children in view, forgetting the important educational value for grownups…

The “Jewel City” exhibition was only a fraction of what Medora saw but, even so, it was immensely educational and I sure did wish I could have had one of those perambulators.