Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

My Uncle Ed

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy, c. 1975

Among the many people in my life whom I never fully appreciated was my mother’s older brother, Ed.  For one thing, we lived on opposite sides of the country, so we didn’t see him very often.  For another, he had the rather imposing name, Robert Hamilton Edwin Espy and after receiving his doctorate from Columbia University was known to those beyond the family as Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy.  I was always impressed by that.  Not that we ever called him anything but “Ed”… but even so…

For another thing, from 1963 to 1973 he was the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and, as such, was known as the “Protestant Pope.”  That was the culminating job in a lifetime devoted to the ecumenical movement – a lifetime spent traveling the world meeting with religious leaders of every denomination and working with youth groups everywhere.  That was not just impressive to me, but somewhat overwhelming to consider.

From the time I was born in 1936 until his retirement in 1973, he brought me a souvenir doll and a souvenir spoon from each country he visited. Most of the spoons, alas! were stolen in a house break-in years ago. I still have the dolls – most with heads and hands made of bisque and with cloth bodies and hand-made clothing.  (Does it go without saying that they were pre-plastic?)  Because he had no children and I was his oldest niece, I always felt that I received special treatment – which I loved, but it was a bit intimidating.  Even as a little tyke, I was not comfortable crawling up into his lap like I might with my Uncle Willard.

Willard, Edwin, Dale in 1916

My mother, Willard, and Edwin were the youngest of seven children and, because they were within three years of each other, were referred to as “the babies.”  Throughout their lives, they shared a closeness that I was always a tad bit envious of – particularly (probably) because I had no brothers and sisters, myself, and realized from an early age that such a bond would forever be foreign to me.

But, it is in the area of history and memories that I feel I most missed out with Edwin.  I just ran across these notes that he wrote for a never completed book of Willard’s: 

Ed Espy Horse Seining on the Columbia, 1924

 …In the spring months I had to get up at 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. to dig razor clams at the ocean beach on the early morning tides – the best time for this in the twenty-four hours.  This was not a picnic.  It would be in March or April or May, when it always was cold and usually raining.  The combination of salt water, cold, gritty sand and sometimes a miscue with the special clam shovel was not designed for people finicky with their manicures.  When I got home from clamming later in the morning – barely in time for a change of clothes, a quick second breakfast and a dash to catch the school bus – after my mother had done her best to treat my hands – there was not much capacity for study on the ride to school.  But it was a good opportunity to catch a nap!

Just that single paragraph evokes so many questions!!  And thoughts about our changing times…

Not only had he been to Oysterville, but…

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

In Seattle Yesterday – Definitely Fake Sky

It was about three o’clock yesterday when the doctor came in to talk to us before Nyel’s ‘procedure’.  We were back at the University of Washington Medical Center, this time for a long-planned implant of a cardio mems into Nyel’s heart.

“It’s essentially an antenna,” said the doctor.  “It has no battery, no moving parts, nothing to go wrong.  It will stay with you forever.”  In conjunction with the pillow-like device (in its own rolling suitcase) that Nyel will rest against each morning, the CardioMems device will send information back to his doctor in Seattle concerning the pressures in his heart.  It’s a way to keep track of his congestive heart failure without those frequent trips to the hospital – a management-by-long-distance-method.  Or so we all hope.

The doctor had a sample one to device to us and explained how it would be inserted into an artery in Nyel’s heart.  They would go in through the right side of his neck and the device would be placed in an artery on the back of the left side of his heart.  The process would take about 45 minutes.  No anesthetic required; just a bit of numbing at the insertion site.  Wow!

CardioMEMS Sensor


“Will I be able to drive afterwards?” Nyel asked.  “Sure,” said the doctor.  “Where do you live?”

Usually, we respond “the Long Beach Peninsula.”  We’ve found that people from the big city are more likely to have heard of the general area – not necessarily our little corner of it.  But for some reason I said “Oysterville” and Dr. Wood’s eyes lit up.  “Have you been there?” I chanced.  “Actually, yes,” he said “a friend of mine has a house there.”  And I thought to myself, “Probably not.  Probably out in Surfside.”

Dr. Gregory Wood

Imagine my surprise when he said his friend was named Lexie.  “Lexie Hook Bemis?”  I asked.  “Yes,” he said.  “Brock and I were colleagues.”  We chatted then about my Red House Cousins, their wedding at Timberline Lodge (which we found we had all attended back in 2007), and how the Bemis family had moved to Sun Valley a few years back. And how things weren’t the same anymore.

It was one of those small world moments to the max.  There’s nothing like a shared memory to make you feel bonded – unless it might be having someone look (literally) right into your heart!  Wow!  What a world we live in!

One Century Plus Four Years Ago Today

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Every now and then, like today, I feel the need to find out what was going on right here in this very house a century or so ago.  Fortunately, I have the letters written by my grandmother to her first born, Medora.  Those letters, plus their counterparts from Medora to Mama were the basis for my 2007 book, Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years.

From the time that Medora entered Portland Academy as a sophomore in 1913 until her sudden death in January 1916, she and her mother corresponded two or three times a week.  The letters provide a wonderful glimpse of life in our little corner of the world when we were so remote that it was necessary, if you could manage it, to send your children to boarding school in the far-away city; there was no road from Oysterville to Ilwaco High School and the train from Nahcotta did not run at times convenient to school children.

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

(Note the ‘Dear Little Sister’ greeting – an affectionate term my grandmother often used when writing to Medora, the eldest of her seven children.  In many ways, their bond seemed far beyond the usual mother-daughter relationship.  My grandmother, although a loving and devoted mother to her remaining children, never quite recovered from Medora’s untimely death.)

Tuesday, 3:30  January 27, 1914

Dear Little Sister,

It has been impossible to write because I have one of my weepy, blurry colds — only worse than usual.  This A.M. have my face all done up in flannel – am a beauty.  Have neuralgia due to having partially dislocated my jaw last night –I bit a cough drop.  It was hard and slipped, wrenching my face.  I will attempt a letter tho you may find it muddle-headed.

Horse-Drawn Phaeton Toy

I guess too much vanity gave me my cold.  The buggy came from grandpa when I was in a hot kitchen baking.  I was so delighted with the “looks” of it that I ran out into the cold and rain to see closer.  It is the nicest looking buggy on the Peninsula – just what I wanted – a low, high-backed seat phaeton – rubber tired, roll back top.  Eva told me it was dilapidated but there is nothing wrong except a piece out of one tire.  It is not so shining new looking as the big buggy but it looks like the city and home to me…

Willard … has been having three days of slight fever and croup.  He is not in bed but looks wilted.  Dale has one of her wracking bronchial coughs and so has Mona.  In fact, every member of the household barks until we sound like a kennel.

Mrs. Wirt made an awful scene in church Sunday night.  We had a fine speaker from Los Angeles.  Beth grew fussy and Mrs. W. took her into the vestibule.  There was a great commotion and pretty soon in came Mrs. Wirt “right out in meeting” with, “Papa, papa I can’t make that child come home.  She won’t budge.  You will have to come take her.”  The minister stopped preaching and Mr. Wirt went in back for a lantern and handed it to Mrs. W. — then calmly took his seat.  This was not enough.  Mrs. W. spied Wesley who was peacefully sleeping and she trots over, stands him up, shakes him, yells at him — he acting all the time like Sue does when we try to get her awake.  She finally managed to haul him out and the three of them thundered out…

There certainly is a lot of dignity about our church.  The minister attended S.S. in the morning and, as usual, they sang without an organ.  An hour later at church, he sat down and played, himself, and if Mrs. Bowman did not blurt out, “Well why in the world didn’t you say you could play at Sunday School?”  He must have thought it a disorderly crowd.  We are to have a resident Baptist minister come next month.  Poor man!…

The Espy Family Seat and Other Stuff

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Sometimes I feel that Oysterville must qualify as the Espy Family Seat – the place Espys come when they are on the search for family information.  Or maybe, as my sainted Uncle Willard claimed, all roads lead to Oysterville when it comes to Espys.  I’m not sure the reason, but one way or another, we get to meet a lot of fabulous Espy relatives.

Yesterday, it was Debi Snyder, a fifth cousin twice removed (is that what we decided?) who is on a road trip from Provo, Utah with her husband Ron.  Our common ancestors are Thomas Espy and Anna Hamilton – Debi through their son William and me through their son Robert.  That much is well-documented, apparently, so there is no question of our cousinship.

Fifth Cousins Twice Removed

The big question among the genealogists seems to be about Anna Hamilton Espy’s parentage and that was part of the reason that Debi looked me up – hoping for a family Bible or other documentation (Sorry! Not here!) that would firmly establish Anna’s parentage.  That her father was Alexander Hamilton (not the famous one) seems to be true.  It also appears that for some years in the 1750s, after Anna’s mother died and while Alexander was off fighting Indians, young Anna lived with his parents, presumably her grandparents.  Anna rejoined Alexander (presumably her father) in 1760 when he remarried a woman named Amanda and began his second family of .

As far as my newly-discovered cousin and I are concerned, Anna’s parentage is neither here nor there.  But, Debi’s sister is apparently interested in qualifying for the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Being descended from Alexander Hamilton (not the famous one) seems to qualify you and until recently that’s been a fully legitimate reference.  But now, apparently, the DAR is questioning Anna’s paternity and until it’s all resolved… no acceptance by the DAR.

DAR Constitution Hall

I’m afraid I hold a “so what?” view of that entire DAR thing and my new-found cousin seems to agree, though she is pursuing the documentation quest out of sisterly loyalty.  My father’s mother was a passionate and active member in the DAR and, when I was a teenager, was eager for me to join.  I had absolutely no interest then or now. In my mind, the DAR is forever tainted by their treatment of opera singer Marian Anderson back in 1939 when they denied her the opportunity to perform in DAR Constitution Hall because of her race.

Actually, that fact has shaped many of my decisions through life.  I chose Stanford because it didn’t then have sororities; I have never joined AAUW and in several (though not all) other instances I’ve tried to avoid ‘exclusive’ groups which set their members apart from the rest of the world.  But that’s another story…  Yesterday I was proud as punch to be a member of an even more singular group – the Espys – and to welcome yet another cousin to the seat of the Oysterville branch of the family!

Margaritas at the Red House

Monday, May 29th, 2017

The Red House at Easter

As we drove by the Red House on our flower delivery to the cemetery, we noted that the cousins were hard at work.  Two were on the porch roof painting the west wall and we had no doubt that others were hard at it elsewhere on the property. Five cars parked in the lane next to the house sported license plates from Idaho, Oregon and Washington.  Work Weekend at the Red House.

It happens once or twice a year – maybe oftener.  R.H. Espy descendants (through the Cecil Espy line) gather at the old house to patch, paint, prop and otherwise keep the 1872 structure in good enough shape for year ‘round visiting and vacation fun.  The worker bees included R.H.’s great, two-times-great, and three-times great grandchildren – the oldest in their seventies, the youngest barely two years old.

The Youngest Descendant

On our way home, we stopped by.  I was hoping for a photo or two to ‘document’ the Memorial Weekend activities at the Red House but already the ladders and paint cans were being stowed and Anna was in the dining room squeezing about a gazillion limes for Margaritas.  As they say, timing is everything.  Photo ops forgotten.  Let the cocktail hour begin!

We stayed long enough to exchange family news, village gossip, county stupidities.  I wondered idly what our venerable ancestors, R.H. and Julia Espy, might be thinking if they were watching from on high.  Pretty pleased and proud, I imagine.  As the eldest R.H. descendant at the gathering (and perhaps the eldest, period), I know I was!  Proud as punch!  Or, in this case, Margaritas!

“…and never a damn Yankee!”

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Helen Medora Richardson – 1896

To me, my grandmother, Helen Medora Richardson Espy, has always symbolized the women of her generation.  Her parents had lived through the Civil War and, in many ways, she was a product of that turbulent time, as much as if she had lived through it herself.

Helen was born in Mexico City on May 28, 1878.  Her mother, Annie Medora Taylor, had grown up there after fleeing the war-torn South with her own parents and brothers. Young Annie had a fiery disposition and was fond of saying she would ”never marry a short man, a blond man or a damn Yankee!” And, of course, she married a man who was all three – Daniel Sidney Richardson, Secretary of the American Legation in Mexico City.

Dan had been born in Massachusetts and had moved to California at age four.  He could not have been more opposite Annie in temperament or sensibilities, but love is love and it was ‘at first sight’ for them both.  I imagine they had intended to live the better part of their lives in Mexico City as members of the American diplomatic circle, but on the death of Dan’s father in California they had to return there to take care of his sisters.  My grandmother was then a year and a half old and, so the story goes, was carried on a litter from Mexico City to Guadalajara where the family boarded a sailing ship for San Francisco.

Helen Richardson – November 24, 1897

Helen was raised according to her mother’s Southern sensibilities.  She was taught to arrange flowers, set an elegant table, cook fancy desserts and instruct the hired help.  She played the mandolin, wrote poetry, read copiously, and enjoyed attending musicales and theatrical performances in the sophisticated City by the Golden Gate.  When she met California College student Harry Espy of Oysterville, Washington, and they fell hopelessly in love, it never occurred to either of them that their lives would take them away from the genteel life Helen had always known.

In 1901, four years after their marriage, Harry’s mother died and Helen and their two eldest children accompanied Harry ‘home’ to Oysterville to assist his aging father.  The move, they thought,  would be for only a short time.  “We’ll be going home soon,” she assured the youngsters.  “Home to Oakland.”   Meanwhile, they were as close to the ends of the earth as young Helen could imagine — no gas lamp-lit streets, no running water, no trolley cars or convenient shops and markets.  And no hired help to be had.

But for the next fifty-three years, Helen cooked and cleaned, tended animals and gardened, and ‘made do’ mostly without help except, perhaps, for a few weeks after each baby was born.  She raised seven children, assisted Harry with his work on the dairy farm and with his duties as a State Senator (one term) and Justice of the Peace (forty years).  She managed things when Harry was bedridden for several years after a farm accident and survived on mostly cabbage and canned beef during the Great Depression.  The only poem I know that she wrote after leaving California was on the occasion of her 17-year-old-daughter Medora’s death.

Helen and Harry Espy’s 50th Anniversary – November 24, 1947

Though Oysterville was a far cry from the life she was expecting, I don’t think she ever complained.  She adored her husband always, and she never wavered in the belief that ‘home’ was by his side no matter what.  With regard to Oysterville – as she aged, she sometimes likened herself to Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon” who grew to love his prison cell and even to prefer it to the outside world.  Somehow it’s fitting that her birthday coincides with Memorial Day Weekend.  We’ll be taking flowers to her today — up to the Oysterville Cemetery where she rests by Harry’s side forever more.

Great Aunt Verona

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Mossy Marker

As I scrubbed the moss from her gravestone, I idly wondered if everyone had a ‘Great Aunt Verona’ – a forebear shrouded in mystery, beloved yet not much talked about.  She was the eighth and youngest of R.H. and Julia Espy’s children, and although my mother and her brothers and sisters remembered her, no one spoke about her much.

She was born in 1889 here in Oysterville, as far as I know an unremarkable birth.  She was named Ida Laura Verona and, although her mother referred to her in letters to the older children as “Laura,” the rest of the family always called her Verona.  Only the name ‘Verona Espy’ appears on the tombstone that was placed over her grave in 1923 – perhaps because her mother was no longer living and couldn’t have her say. I don’t really know.

Aunt Verona – c. 1900

The references to her in that early correspondence indicate that she was a spirited little girl, perhaps slow to talk or to pronounce words correctly.  One of the family stories concerns three-year-old Verona and her older sisters meeting their mother at the train in Nahcotta.   Julia had been in Portland for a few weeks and Verona apparently was quite upset that she came home in a new “set.”  A year or so later, Julia wrote to the older children, “Ida says to tell you that she can now say “dess” instead of “set.”

When Julia died (at 49 of a cerebral hemorrhage) in 1901, Verona moved to Portland with her twenty-three-year-old sister Susie.  From that time on she lived with one of her sisters or with other relatives and grew progressively worse from a disease which was subsequently described as “similar to multiple sclerosis.”  In later years, she lived with a companion/nurse and, as far as I can tell from contemporary correspondence, was doted on by family and friends.  I want to make some Butter Scotch for Verona, as she is so fond of homemade candy and does not get any, my grandmother wrote in 1908.  And another time, Remember to send Verona a card.

At The Oysterville Cemetery

There was more moss on Verona’s stone than on any of the others.  The logical reason is that her grave is the most northerly in the Espy lot and is often shaded by the stand of spruce trees nearby.  But, as I peeled back the soft, encroaching layers to reveal the lettering on the old grave marker, I couldn’t help but think that it was wrapping Verona’s memory in a protective layer – much as the family safeguarded and nurtured her when she was living.  I had mixed feelings about leaving the gravestone bright and shiny…

Searching for Origins

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Captain Richard and Rachael Medora (Pryor) Taylor, my great-great grandparents

It seems to me that hunting down our roots has become a national pastime.  Not a day goes by but what I don’t have a conversation with someone who has recently spit in a vial or swabbed their inner cheek and is now waiting for news about their origins.  Me too.  Nyel’s Christmas gift to all of us (Marta, Charlie, himself, and me) was one of those Ancestry DNA kits. We should all hear any day now.

Of the four of us, I am probably the least curious about the results of my own test.  Thanks to family members on both sides, genealogical data has been accumulating for many generations – in some cases going back to the fourteenth century!  On my mother’s side, it was her brother, Willard, who spent more than sixty years in the avid pursuit of our roots.  And that was in the low-tech days of visiting county seats and city halls and searching through dusty military archives up close and personal.

Willard Espy, circa 1940

In my most-likely-never-to-be-published biography of Willard, I call the chapter I’ve devoted to his genealogical endeavors, “Chasing the Begats.”  It begins like this:

That Willard had read the Bible three times by the time he was eight without once skipping so much as a word – especially not in Genesis – was an oft told family story.  When asked about his diligence in his study of that particular book, he explained that the begats were the foundation of all that came afterwards.  He never changed his mind on that score, but on the matter of which begats were included and which were not, he had this to say:

“The Bible is very clear about when and how the Lord created Adam, but I cannot find anything about the creation of Espys.  We tend to explain away the omission as a bad translation.”

Besides looking for family roots, Willard was interested in word origins.  Of his dozen and a half published books, all but two or three had to do with word derivations, meanings, and usage.  Had he been born a generation later, he would have reveled in the possibilities of searching the World Wide Web.  Maybe.

“Almanac of Words at Play” ©1980

I have to admit that there is something about getting instant answers that’s just a wee bit disappointing.  Like this morning when I looked up “must have gone down my Sunday throat” – an expression used in my childhood when someone choked while eating. Sure enough, there was the etymology right on a site called “World Wide Words:  Investigating the English Language Across the Globe.”  Damn!

Though I probably knew better in my heart of hearts, I liked to think that it was an expression used only in our family – especially since I’ve never heard anyone else use it.  On the other hand, I’ve always been told that none of us ever has an original thought.  It’s probably a DNA thing…

Cuzzins Calling

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Cheryl and Virg, January 2016

The phone rang just as we had settled in to watch our usual evening TV programs – PBS News Hour, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.  (We’re old.  What can I say?)

“Hello.  Is this Maud’s Whore House?” came the familiar voice.

Virg of the outrageous mouth!  Virg who says what he thinks in language that might make a trucker’s hair curl. Fun-loving, exuberant Virg of the big heart, big laugh, and generous spirit. Virg (soft ‘g’) Kocher (hard ‘ch’), husband of Cuzzin (third, twice removed) Cheryl — beautiful, patient, ever-the-lady-Cheryl who never ever registers surprise at anything Virg says or does .

Virg at Lake Chelan

We met them through Cheryl’s brother, Cuzzin Ralph – who had made contact with us about the time of the Oysterville Sesquicentennial in 2004.  “My sister and her husband have a place out in Surfside,” he said.  “You should meet them!”  Finally, we did and we all wondered what had taken so long.

Their place in Surfside was almost directly west of us as the crows and seagulls fly.  They spent the winters here and the summers at their home on Lake Chelan.  From October through April they were regulars at our Friday Night gatherings.  We attended all of their performances (Virg, clarinet; Cheryl, flute) at the North Coast Symphonic Band across the river.  They came to dinner here; we went to dinner there. We shared the same political views and we had similar career backgrounds – they had both been teachers in the Gig Harbor area.  Music teachers, of course!

Virg-the-Chef, 2014

When Cheryl’s dad (in his 90s) needed to move from his place in Lacey to an assisted living facility, Cheryl and Virg moved up there to be nearby.  They made a few minor changes to his house, sold their place in Surfside and settled in to a life divided between Lacey and Chelan.  At first they came here during clamming seasons but, in recent years, have been going to a closer beach – Ocean Shores, maybe.

Gradually, we have found that see one another less and less – maybe once or twice a year.  We miss them a lot!  So, when I heard that familiar voice last night, it was with delight that I answered, “Yep!  Maude speaking!”  They are coming for a visit early next week!  And, as they so often do, they are bringing dinner!  Woot!  Woot!

A Conversation across the Generations

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy

On Monday morning when the phone rang, I was ready.  It was a conference call coming in from ‘somewhere near Issaquah’ which sounded pretty exotic in the first place.  The call had been set up by the tutor who was helping eighth grader, Bella, with a special project and I had agreed to a long distance interview – about my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy.

Bella had lots of questions – What kind of man was he?  Did I know any family stories about him?  Was the family still in the oyster business?  Did I live in his house?  How had Oysterville changed since R.H.’s day?

I shared a few stories – how he had resigned shortly after being elected sheriff because the County expected him to buy his own badge.  And that though the R. H. stood for Robert Hamilton, he didn’t go by ‘Robert’ or ‘Bob’ but by ‘Hamilton.’  And that his mother had apprenticed him to a tailor when he was ten.  That, at 19, he signed a promissory note for $50 so he could leave his indenture a year early and that he paid it back ten years later, walking from Oysterville to Pennsylvania and back here again.


I had some questions of my own, too.  Most importantly, how did Bella happen upon information about R.H. Espy in the first place?  “He’s mentioned in my Washington State History book,” was the answer.  Who knew?  And, how did she discover me?  She ran across my website, put two and two together and decided to make the contact. Wow!

Bella had two more questions for me:  “How does it feel to be a celebrity?”  “Do you consider yourself a pioneer like your great grandfather was?”  I don’t know that my answers (“I’m not.” and “Not at all.”) and my total delight at both questions were satisfactory.  But we ended our conversation with the possibility that Bella and her tutor will visit Oysterville in the spring.  I hope that happens.  When I think about it, Bella could be my great-granddaughter!  And how great is that!