Archive for the ‘Espy Family’ Category

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?

Listening in Our Stairwell

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

I wonder how many times I’ve said, “If only these walls could talk.”  And yet… they do.  Not the walls, perhaps, but the likenesses of the many people who have lived within them over the years.  Or, in some cases, people who have visited or who have made a difference in our lives.  Sometimes they murmur, sometimes they call out, occasionally they scold or congratulate.

It’s in our stairwell that I hear their voices most clearly.  It’s where so many of our family pictures have been hung – “The Portrait Gallery” David Campiche once called it.  He had Laurie photograph me standing on the stairs with the pictures in the background for an article he did about me in Coast Weekend once. (Actually, it was mostly about my redoubtable Uncle Willard – perhaps that’s who David heard talking that day of the interview…)

The Portrait Gallery (or “Wall of Ancestors” or “Display of the Dead” as some have called it) was begun by my parents when they lived in the house.  So much wall space!  So many photographs!  It seemed a natural.  But they went up in a rather helter-skelter fashion, so when Nyel and I entered the picture (so to speak) and my OCD proclivity kicked in, we reorganized them.

The Oldest H.A. Espy Children – Medora and Albert, 1904

Now, at the bottom of the stairwell are my grandparents (since they were the first family members to live in the house) and proceeding upwards are their children, oldest (Medora) to youngest (Dale, my mother).  Spouses and progeny are included along the way and at the top is me and then in the upstairs hallway, Charlie.  I’ve never done a careful count, but I think there are between 75 and 100 in all.  They vary from formal studio portraits to candids.  Frames are varied, sizes disparate, and probably all need attention by a feather duster.

The Youngest of the H.A. Espy Children — Dale in a P-38 – at Lockheed on a PR Tour for General Engineering Shipyards, 1944

The scary part, as I am wont to tell people, is that I ‘know’ almost all of them – even those who died long before I was born.  I not only know who they are and how they are related, I know their stories and the skeletons in their (maybe our) closets.  Not only do they talk to me, I talk to them, as well.  I miss those I knew and lament the ones I didn’t know and wish for more chances to visit in person with those who are still among us but far away.

Whether going up and down the stairs or simply standing at either end, it’s an area to linger, to reminisce, and to be thankful that our walls (and their denizens) do, indeed, talk!

The Louisville Sluggers in the North Room

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Edwin, Dale, Willard – 1917

As long as I can remember, the three baseball bats have lived in the North Room of this house.  For those in the know (mostly family members) the “North Room” refers to the upstairs bedroom on the north side of the house.  There is also a downstairs bedroom on the north side, but it is referred to as “The Parlor” in deference its original purpose.  But, I digress.

The bats are known (also among family members) to have belonged to “the boys” who, it almost goes without saying were my uncles Edwin and Willard.  They are the only “boys” to have grown up in this house and when they “put away childish things,” they didn’t put them very far.  Those bats, for instance, got put in the back of the bedroom closet and there they stayed for sixty or seventy years.

Corner of the North Room

When Nyel and I moved in and redecorated a bit, all of the children’s things ended up in the North Bedroom.  My doll cabinet, Charlie’s little Mexican chairs, my grandmother’s triptych of framed paper dolls, and a corner case full of children’s books are all part of the décor.  It seemed only right that the bats should come out of the closet and be displayed (discreetly and casually) in the corner.  They have been there, untouched except for occasional dusting, for the last twenty years.  I hardly ever give them a passing thought.

So… a few weeks ago when Tucker brought three of his own bats over for his habitual Friday Night Show and Tell, and then proceeded to tell us all about them, I began to wonder about ours.  Tucker’s information was based on the logo stamped on each bat plus what he had learned from the online Keyman Collectibles site concerning Hillerich & Bradsby Co. Louisville Slugger site. I nipped (probably more like galumphed my way) upstairs and returned with our three bats to see if they were anything of note.

Apparently, two of them – the taped ones – are pretty decent bats.  Both are Louisville Sluggers. The ‘best’ one is stamped “Louisville Slugger 125… ” and its manufacturing period is listed as 1916 to 1933.  Edwin and Willard were born in 1908 and 1910, respectively, so the dates would fit perfectly.   Tucker, who is a collector and knows these things, thinks that bat might have sold for ‘around ten cents’ in 1918 or 1919 and might fetch as much as $60 now.

Louisville Slugger 125 Logo

To me, of course, they are beyond price.  Their value lies in knowing who played with them and in picturing the excitement when the boys got them… Were they Christmas presents?  Were they ordered from the Johnson & Henry Store in Nahcotta?  Did each boy ‘own’ one or were they shared?  And what about the third, not-quite-so-good bat?  Was it left here by a friend?  Or did it belong to my mother who, apparently, was quite a tomboy in her youth?

Unlike Tucker, my genetic makeup lends itself exclusively to keeping rather than to also collecting.  Value seldom enters my thought processes like it might to Tucker.  But I sure am glad he’s my neighbor!  I learn a lot from him — even about 1920s vintage baseball bats!

The Elephant on Willapa Bay

Friday, July 13th, 2018

            Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
            They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.
            “Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
            “Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
            “Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
            “It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
            “It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
            “It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
            They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”
            “Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.
 From the Equus website: https://wildequus.org/2014/05/07/sufi-story-blind-men-elephant/

 

Yesterday my cousin David came visiting.  We talked about family – about our grandfathers (who were brothers) and about our great-grandfather who settled here before there was Oysterville.  We talked about the neighbors who were here during our childhood and about the people and events who shaped our perceptions of this little village.  We talked about changing times, and transitions and civility.

What we didn’t talk about: elephants.

Another Oysterville Meeting

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Special School Board Meeting, 1912

It is a long-standing joke in Oysterville that many of our most productive “meetings” happen in the street.  Often, these gatherings occur while we are on our way to or from the Post Office.  A neighbor’s car slows and stops next to you as you stroll down Territory Road or, perhaps, two cars stop – one coming, one going – so that drivers can have a chat through open windows. Lots of big decisions are made that way –like when to convene for a picnic or whether a whiffle golf game will begin sooner rather than later.

If a vehicle is involved in the “meeting” chances are that traffic clots up a bit.  Locals know to “just go around,” perhaps pausing for a moment (if there’s room for three cars abreast) to join the conversation.  Visitors are amazingly patient, sometimes even joining into the discussion.  I often think that those encounters are one of the few remaining vestiges of true village life.

Espy Plot, Memorial Day at the Oysterville Cemetery

Yesterday, as we were getting ready to go up to the cemetery with our flowers, a huge RV with Montana license plates pulled over in front of the house and the passenger rolled down her window and spoke to Nyel.  I was soon summoned and the driver introduced himself to me:  “Hi.  I’m Isaac Clark’s great-great-grandson,” he said.  Wow!  “And I’m Robert Espy’s great-granddaughter,” I responded.  Imagine!  All these years later, Espy and Clark’s descendants meeting in the town the two friends had founded back in 1854!

We chatted.  A few cars waited patiently to get by.  Ben didn’t know that Isaac Clark had married a second time and that he had half-cousins right here on the Peninsula!  A few more cars joined the queue.  Hurriedly, I got their email address.  “We’ll be in touch,” we said.  And the traffic moved on, everyone waving and smiling as if they knew that the generations had converged right before their very eyes.  It was just “that” kind of day in Oysterville – sunny, breezy, friendly feeling.  The best kind of day for a street meeting.

I.A. Clark’s Tombstone, Oysterville Cemetery

As Nyel and I distributed our flowers around the Espy tombstones, I took a moment to tell old R.H. about our encounter and mentioned it, also, to Isaac as we passed by.  I hope they were pleased that two more of their descendants have made contact!  We certainly are.

Memorial Weekend, 2018: Saturday Report

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Driving south on Pacific Hiway from Oysterville yesterday was a tad hazardous.  Every side street, or so it seemed, was marked by arrows and signs to garage sales, many of them obliterated by cars waiting to enter the traffic mainstream.  There wasn’t much waiting for a break – cars darted in and out, willy-nilly.  Definitely a day for defensive driving.

We reached Long Beach and the Pickled Fish without incident, though.  We were meeting Kay Buesing, her daughter Kim and son-in-law Bob for lunch – a long-time-no-see situation all the way around!  It was comfort food for all of us – pizza and cassoulets and mac ‘n cheese.  But, in reality, who noticed?  We were having so much fun catching up that the time flew by and the food just seemed to disappear!

It wasn’t a bit crowded – a ‘first’ for our visits there.  The rest of the world was apparently otherwise occupied, still hard at it in the quest for the perfect garage-sale item.  We covered all ‘the usual’ topics – what we’ve been doing, what our kids are doing, the changes on the Peninsula and in our world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And there was lots of catching up on the status of things.  Things like the Kite Museum that we really don’t keep up with now that Founder Kay has retired.  They still have no Director, apparently, and Patty Rolfe (bless her!) who was hired to run the gift shop, is holding down the fort.   But that has meant that new exhibits and programs and important kite contacts are on hold – or at least that’s what I surmised.  Kay was reluctant to talk about it.  I know the feeling…

Later in the afternoon, just as I was thinking about a nap before dinner, Cousin Abby came down from the Red House.  “I heard you might need a hug,” she said.  “Always!” was my response.  Her visit was the perfect ending to a day highlighted by friendship and fun!  When we take flowers up to the cemetery later today, I’ll have lots to share with the old folks…  I know they’ll be interested.

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…