Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

This was always my mama’s day… Still is.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Dale, Bill, Sydney – 1940

My mother, Helen-Dale Espy Little, was born 108 years ago today.  From the time of my birth in 1936 until her death in June 2009, we celebrated those days together — Mama and I — and for all but the last 17 years of her life, the celebration included my dad.

Granted, they weren’t always “in person” celebrations.  In 1958, I remember calling her from Europe — Madrid, I think.  And,  there was at least one year that we had to postpone the Happy Birthday Party until a day or two later, but the reason escapes me now.  Nevertheless, November 13th was a most important day in our family.

One of the things that always happened on Mama’s birthday was a telegram or telephone call from her brother Willard.  Willard (or “Wede” as we called him in the family) was eleven months older than my mother — almost exactly.  He was born on December 10, 1910 which meant that each year from Mama’s birthday until his, they were the same age.  They often called themselves “twins.”

Willard, Edwin, Dale – 1916

Some years ago when I was cataloging Willard’s personal papers and unpublished manuscripts for his archive at the Washington State History Research Center, I ran across this delightful description he had written of my mother:

Dale, the youngest of us three [the three youngest of the seven Espy children — Dale, Willard and Edwin who was born in 1908] Dale and a girl at that, suffered inevitable frustrations.  In fact, she was the only little girl in town, while there were thirteen of us little boys, every one of us feeling it beneath his dignity to play with a member of the opposite sex. One of our principal diversions was to try to hide where Dale could not find us; to escape her we even created a private club room in the empty heart of an enormous gorse bush.  But she always found us out.

Dale at 16, 1927

I remember her as a sometimes-but-not-always little girl.  She sometimes picked up her room, but not always.  She was sometimes gentle, but not always: once she dropped a score of those tiny bay crabs into a can of cold water and boiled them with gusto.  She was brave sometimes, but not always: if Lambert lifted his taurine head and looked in her direction, she promptly climbed a tree, even if the bull was a quarter of a mile away.  (It seems to me that she spent a considerable part of each day up those trees.)  She avoided accidents sometimes, but not always:  once she fell head-first into a rain barrel.

 I connect her with the number 13, for no reason I can think of except that she was born on the 13th of November and once received 13 dolls for Christmas.

Happy Birthday, Mama!  In my heart, this day will always be yours.


For whatever it’s worth…

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Nancy Lloyd – Photo by Andy Dolan c. 2003

There is something compelling about trying to set the record straight even though it is seldom a completely satisfactory endeavor.  Historians encounter the problem continuously.  There are always new facts being uncovered — additional information that changes or illuminates what we have “known” before.  Getting the word out about new data and then convincing the populace that it is true (or at least truer) is the difficult part.

Nonetheless, I feel obliged to continue my commentary on  Nancy Lloyd’s astonishing article that appeared in last week’s paper — an article headlined “Ah, Oysterville: Small skirmishes in a coastal village.”  In yesterday’s blog, I wrote of my own part in the matter of the Johnson Homesite marker and sign — a totally different story from the one our once-upon-a-time-neighbor Nancy described.  Since Emmett Oliver and I were the only ones involved at that point (and Emmett is now deceased) I have no witnesses to my version.  Suffice it to say, I know what I know.

Polly and Elmo – Photo by Spike Mafford c. 2003

Today, I want to correct some other errors of fact in the article — in particular the comments made about Polly Friedlander (or, as Nancy called her “Polly with the famous last name.”  Polly was controversial, to be sure, but she was, indeed, a force.  She came to the village in the mid-1980s, rented the Stoner house on the SE corner of Territory and Oysterville Roads and, in 1994, with Bob Thurston, built a home on the old Bardheim Dairy property at the north end of town.

During the mid-nineties, Polly became active in the Oysterville Restoration Foundation and was serving as its president about the time that Emmett Oliver was lobbying for recognition of the Johnson family and their homesite.  It was the place where Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock) — called “the last princess of Oysterville” — had been born and was a location important to both the Quinault and Chinook tribes as well as to the National Historic District.  Or so Emmett Oliver, a Johnson descendant pointed out to ORF.  To no avail.

In 1998 — some years after the Johnson signs had finally been installed — Polly turned her attention to the arts and established the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation.  In her article, Nancy attributes Polly-the-WRE Literary-Foundation-CEO with some responsibility for the Johnson sign.  The timing says that was not possible.  Nor would it have made any sense.

Myrtle Johnson (Woodcock)

Nancy also says of the “Last Princess”:  The lady had lived in a house now gone, right next door, south of the Church.  She might have been spoken of as the last Indian born in the village.  No, Nancy.  Myrtle, the ninth child of Cecile “Jane” and James Johnson, was born in that house in 1889, several months after her father had drowned in the bay.  She lived there for a few years until the family moved to South Bend.  Myrtle was then still a child — not yet a lady grown.  She was descended from chiefs — both Quinaults and Chinooks — and it was not because she was “the last Indian born in the village” (which is doubtful) that she was notable.  It was her distinguished heritage that gave her the title.

Oysterville by Willard Espy

And… one other thing.  It’s about the use of the word “prevailed” in relationship to Rose Glynn’s donation of that ten foot strip of property adjacent to the church.  The intimation is that ORF leaned on Rose for the donation.  Not so!  Rose had “discovered” Oysterville through my Uncle  Willard Espy’s  1977 book, “Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village” and made the trip west from Illinois to meet her newly-discovered cousins. (Her maiden name was Espy.)  When she found that the house next door to Willard’s cottage was for sale, she bought it, fixed it up, and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation.  “Prevail” was not the operable word concerning Rose’s generous gift.

So… there you have it.  Another account by a “regional historian” as  I have been called and as the Observer identified Nancy in in her recent article.  Like most other facts these days, readers have a choice of which to believe… as will the historians of the future, no doubt!

Cousins & Chickens & Swallows , Oh My!

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

My Cousin Gin

Two Red House Cousins came calling yesterday.  Actually, they are my second cousins once removed and first cousins to each other.  Gin Ronco and Kahrs Bemis.  I think they are ten and Kahrs told me that even though he is a bit older, Gin is a bit bigger.

We didn’t measure this time, but I think she is pushing my five-foot-two mark and when I asked about her shoe size — (she had nicely removed them when she came inside and they looked… well, big) — she told me “Eight and a half.”  Is that a woman’s size?” Kahrs asked.  “Yep,” she said.  I got a pitying look from them both when I admitted that I only wore a seven-and-a-half.

Barn Swallow Nest, Church Porch

Before they came calling on us, they had checked out the chickens.  “We’ve named them,” they announced.  “The red one is Rosemary.  The white one is Ella.  And that fluffy one in the nest box is…”  I have to confess that I’ve forgotten what they said.  I was too taken with their descriptions of Svetlana (alias Slutvana, though I didn’t tell them so).

“She’s the nicest one,” they told me.  “She let us pet her.  For a long time.”  I didn’t explain about her being broody and not knowing about it.  I wasn’t sure if they were up on their chicken reproduction facts and really didn’t feel in a teaching mode…

Oysterville Church, South Side

Instead, we went over to the church to look at the swallow nests.  There are not only more of them this year, but for the first time in my memory we have two kinds of swallows and two kinds of nests.  On the porch and, also, up on the eaves on the north side are several barn swallow nests — rather traditional-looking cup-shaped nests built of mud and carefully lines with moss or down.  Barn swallows are the ones with forked tails.  Swallow-tailed coats are named for them.

Cliff swallows have short, square-tipped tails and, though their nests are also made of mud, they are gourd shaped with a small, round entrance hole.  Like their cousins, the barn swallows, they often build their nests near one another, though some might say that the cliff swallows carry neighborliness to extremes.  In the top eave of the church there are five — count ’em, five! — nests snuggled one against the other!

Cliff Swall Nests — Five!
Photo by Tucker Wachsmuth

Both Kahrs and Gin were full of swallow stories — babies rescued, nests found in unexpected places, and…  But all of a sudden, it seemed it was time to go!  “We’ll try to come back!” they promised.  Wow!  I hope so.

Where does this stuff come from?

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

At The Entrance to Oysterville

At the halfway mark in the article, “Oysterville, A Simply Lovely, Living Ghost Town,” paragraph #7 states:  On Aug. 5, 1854, community leaders decided that Oysterville was a better name than Oyster Beach or Shell Beach to represent their town.  It grew to a population of about 800.

Again… bits and pieces of information cobbled together to make some sort of story.   As far as I can remember, the 1860 census reflected the all-time population highpoint for Oysterville:  231!  Ten years later, according to the federal census, there were 738 people living in all of Pacific County.  By then, of course, there were several other settlements in the County, but even assuming that every resident of Pacific County was living in Oysterville, it’s still doesn’t make the 800 people mentioned in paragraph #7.

H.A. Espy and Charlie Nelson, Oysterville Centennial 1954

And, as far as the “community leaders” naming the town…  Probably true.  In a way.  According to native son Charlie Nelson (1883-1978), “Oysterville” suggested by I.A. C;ark was only one of several names proposed and the men left it to Mother Stevens to make the final choice.  “…And a fitting one, too,”was Charlie’s comment.

I have yet to find anything definitive about the names Oyster Beach or Shell Beach — not where it was, not who lived there, not whether it had any connection whatsoever to the Peninsula or to Oysterville.  With so much written about Oysterville and its founding, it is curious to me why people continue to latch onto  undocumented “facts” (fake history?) to tell the story.  I sometimes feel it’s a deliberate slap at me and my family…  but why?    Nyel says, “Just another one of life’s little mysteries…”



Sounds like a… Looks like a… Is a…

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Hampson House Under Reconstruction, 2019

… construction zone!  The noise begins each weekday morning at 8:00 sharp.  You could set your watch by the work crew next door.  In our quiet little village, the sound of hammers and saws is at once startling and welcome.  Activity — even if it’s tearing-down activity — is a sign of life here.  Sometimes it’s hard to know in Oysterville.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, whether they be visitors or residents,  that the property to the north of us is a construction zone.  Big time.  The signs (as in signs and portents, not notices on a board — except for a few “No Trespassing” ones) have been evident for some time.  First, probably a year ago, most of the trees and large plantings went  away.  Those of us who remember the care and pride original owner John Hampson took in his landscaping projects were saddened to see them go.  Lots of “life goes on” comments were muttered while we waited for the next steps.

The Construction Fence Next Door

Then, just recently, came the construction fence which was soon followed by trucks and men with tool belts and hard hats.  And now… the fun has begun.  The top story of the Hampson House is no more,  It took far longer to build it back in 1986/87 than it has taken to demolish it.  I think that most of the first floor will remain intact — at least its bones. It looks as though the inside has been gutted.  My knowledge of what is to come is severely limited as Nyel and I were out of town at the time of the new owners’ hearing when the plans were on display.  It will all be a great and unfolding surprise to us.

My memories of the property go back to my childhood (and my children’s’ childhoods, as well) when it was just a meadow where my grandfather sometimes kept Countess, his one remaining workhorse from the days of his dairy farm.  It was where we played hide and seek in the tall summer grass and put buttercups underneath one another’s chins to see if we really liked butter.

My mother and her siblings remembered that, in their childhood,  the Stevens Hotel stood on that property.  I don’t know when Papa acquired that north half of the block but fast forward to the 1980s when  the Espy Family short-platted the property and John and Joan Hampson built the house next door — the house that is now being demolished.

September 13, 1987

The new owners sent out a nice letter to the neighbors apologizing for their delay (two years, I think) in getting started.  They are predicting completion in October.  I think it was in October thirty-two years ago that the Hampsons completed their place.  I remember that it was being painted at the time Nyel and I were married out in the garden here — September 13, 1987.  Perhaps they’ll be painting the new place this September when we are celebrating the 150th birthday of this house!

Isn’t it amazing how many memories a hammer blow evokes!




Home for A Day and Back Again

Sunday, May 26th, 2019


Days 29 & 30 —  Yesterday I left at dawn’s crack and had the road to Oysterville almost entirely to myself. Not so much mid-afternoon when I returned to St. Vincent’s — the Memorial Day traffic had, by then, clotted up the highway in both directions, but still, my round trip was without incident.

I arrived home in plenty of time for our Annual Oysterville Restoration Foundation meeting which, this year, proceeded in an orderly fashion thanks, in part, to the presence of a deputy Sheriff who had been hired to “keep the peace.”  It’s sad that things have come to that in “quiet” little Oysterville. But as ORF president David Williams noted during the course of the meeting, when some members attempt to “do business” through threats from attorneys rather than through civil and neighborly discussion, it is necessary to take appropriate measures.

I wish our new-neighbors-to-the-north had been there.  During my absence, a long construction-style chain link fence has gone up on the front of their property from our corner fence post to the newly installed driveway on their north property line.  Perhaps the  contractors for their upcoming construction project are from the big city and perhaps this is standard procedure… but in Oysterville it seems not only unsightly but insulting.  Like who in the world — residents or visitors — can’t see that the property is completely open on the east side?  Or maybe the cyclone fence comes under the heading “to be continued.”   I’m only glad that the previous three or four generations are no longer here to see what has become of their peaceful, friendly village.

Cousin Anwyn and The Cannon

Speaking of the generations — Uncle Cecil’s great-great grandchildren were in town with moms and dads and grandpa.  They came down to visit the chickens and informed me that they have given each of the ladies a name.  When I arrived, the kids were busy with hoes and rakes from our toolshed trying to get the girls out of the rhododendron bushes where they were hiding.

When I pointed out that the chickens hide from predators in those bushes which is a good thing, the tools went back in the toolshed and their focus turned to Nyel — “How’s he doing?” asked Gin.  “Will he be here on Monday to fire the cannon? asked Kahrs.  “Give him hugs from me,” Silas said.  Twice.  Even (sometimes  known-to-be-grumpy) Uncle Cecil would have been impressed.

Danielle, Me, Gabi, Amy

Later, I visited with Amy Wachsmuth and her girls, Gabi and Danielle.  Sue Holway came by and snapped our picture to show posterity that Danielle is now two inches (at least) taller than I am!  Wow!  How did that happen?

All the way back here to St. Vincent’s, I thought about the “old time” neighbors and the kids and how much I love Oysterville.    Now,  if we can only get Nyel back home soon, it promises to be a good summer, cynclone fences notwithstanding!

Cousins Come Calling

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Anna, Walker, Anwyn – 4/9/19

There was a knock at the door and almost before I could greet cousins Anna, Walker and Anwyn, six shoes and two bike helmets had been discarded and there were hugs and laughter and more energy in our living room that in a month of Sundays.  Or Friday Nights, for” that matter.

Most of the lively animation that had bounced through the door belonged to Walker and Anwyn who are on Spring Break from Kindergarten and Pre-school, respectively.  Anna was, as always, laid back and languid, her sparkling eyes not missing a thing and her mom radar working on overtime – just in case!  “Be careful!” she cautioned once or twice.  “Everything is fragile here!”

Both kids looked right at me when she said that “fragile” word and I wondered briefly if they had been forewarned that Nyel and I were “really, really old.”  They were on their best behavior for at least five minutes and then there was a little running (carefully) and a little galloping (very carefully) and some horseplay with Walker on all fours and Anwyn trying to decide whether she was equine or equestrienne.

Rob (alias Dad) was in Seattle at work and Anna had taken a couple of days off from her job to come to Oysterville which, if you are part of her branch of our family, is The Red House.  “If I mention that someone lives in Oysterville,” Anna said, “the kids think they live in The Red House.  Those words are synonymous, of course!  They were for my sisters and me, too.”

Beeg with Daughters Lexie, Anna, Abby – 2014

Anna’s sisters are Abbie and Lexie and the three spent many-a-summer-vacation with their mother BG (or sometimes Beeg – both short for Brongwyn) here in Oysterville (read: The Red House) when they were growing up.  “Doesn’t Anwyn remind you of Mom?” Anna asked me.  And, indeed she does. Not only her liveliness and inventiveness and non-stop enjoyment of EVERYthing, but I also saw Beeg in so many of Anwyn’s expressions and gestures.  Yet, ironically, Anwyn (whose name is a combination of Anna and Brongwyn) is the only one of Beeg’s seven grandchildren who was born after Beeg’s untimely death in 2015.

Or maybe the resemblance isn’t ironic at all.

On reflection…

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

The Original St. Vincent’s, 1909

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

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

Aunt Veron Espy c. 1900

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

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

Albert Espy (Aug 1900 – Jan 1905)

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

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

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

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

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

Ed’s Hat

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Scott with Ed’s hat (Photo by Tucker)

At the beginning of the second set at Sunday’s House Concert, a battered old fedora made its appearance atop pianist Scott Cossu’s head.  It was perfect!  So perfect, in fact, that Tucker (and I assume everyone else) thought it was Scott’s own hat.  And, in fact, many of his online photos show him wearing a similar “cover” ala the long tradition of  jazz musicians.

But I knew better.  I’ve known that very hat for more than fifty years.  For most of that time, it has hung on our hat rack (where Scott spied and snagged it) waiting for its owner, Edwin Espy.  My Uncle Ed was the elder of my mother’s two brothers, just two years older than Willard and three years older than Mom.  He was the athletic one, the hard worker and Papa’s ‘right hand man’ and it was Ed who famously said of his little brother Willard (whose nose was always in a book):  “He’ll grow up to be a preacher; he’s so lazy.)

Photographer Tucker’s Empty Chair

In fact, it was Edwin who grew up to get his doctorate in theology and who ultimately became General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.  “The Protestant Pope,” he was called.  He visited Oysterville at least once a year until his death in 1993 at age 84.  And, for as long as I can remember, he left that old fedora on the hat rack so it would be here when he needed it.  He was a man who always wore a hat and, presumably, at home in NYC he had several of them.  Here he had just the old and well-loved one and, in case it was stormy, Papa’s old sou’wester.

Ed Espy sans hat, 1975

Of course, no one (including Scott) knew the story of Ed’s Hat when he donned it Sunday night.  Only Nyel and I knew and we both (it turned out) silently mused about the differences in the two men – the pianist and the church man – and how the hat suited them both perfectly!  I think Ed would have been delighted that Scott felt at home enough here in the house to borrow his hat.  And the fedora, itself, looked absolutely beatific – in perfect harmony with its new experience!

House of Chairs

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Wicker Chair

When the things that surround you have ‘always’ been there, you don’t really give them much thought.  Maybe that’s not the case with the artwork, but certainly it’s true of the furniture.  Especially if ‘always’ is really and truly always – like since you were born.  That’s the way it has been for me in this house.

And then, one day, a friend said to me: “I  think of your place as a house of chairs. You have so many and they all seem to have a story.”  I thought about that and had to concede that she had a point.  We truly do have a ‘chair collection’ here.

Probably the oldest ones are the wicker chairs – part of the furniture that my grandmother brought to the house in 1902.  The family moved here from California (where wicker was totally appropriate) and, since their stay was only to be for a few years until Grandpa Espy died, why not bring the most easily transported of their household goods?   They brought a living room “suite” most of which is in the North Bedroom upstairs and whether or not wicker is suitable in the northwest, I always think of those graceful pieces as a breath of fresh air.

The Billy Chair

Then there is the ‘Billy Chair’ in the library, identifiable by the medallions on its ears which was a trademark, according to my mom, of the Billy Brothers.  I always thought “whoever they were” when she said their name but have learned recently that they were furniture makers in Ilwaco – probably in the late nineteenth century.  (So maybe the wicker chairs aren’t the oldest in the house, after all.)

Another piece from about the same period is the lovely oak chair with the caned seat – “The Parson’s Chair” we call it.  It was given to mom by Dorothy Yeatman in the early 1970s.  Dorothy had lived in here when she was a little girl in the days that the house was still the parsonage for the Baptist Church across the street.  Her father, Reverend Yeatman, served as pastor from 1898 to 1901, and Dorothy remembered him always sitting in that particular chair when he wrote his sermons.  She said the chair belonged here in the house where it was most used.

Reverend Yeatman’s Chair

The two captain’s chairs I associate with my grandfather.  In the ’40s and ’50s when I remember him, he often sat in one of them at his desk – reading the paper or working on his correspondence, a cup of lukewarm coffee close at hand.  We have two of them and used to use them for extra seating on Friday nights but Tucker is leery about their stability… He’s probably right.  A couple of the stretchers are missing or no longer fit properly… another “project” on Nyel’s long list.

And those are just a few, so I guess my friend was right in her characterization of the house.  I think I’ll just sit back in one of these chairs for a while and imagine the people they have supported and the conversations they’ve witnessed over the years – a nice rainy day activity, don’t you think?