Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

In The Dark and All A-Tangle

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Garden All A-Tangle

It’s not just my usual lament about the warp-speed at which time travels these days.  At least, I’m pretty sure not.  It’s my usual lament on steroids!

Already we are waking up in the dark.  I have only begun all my planned summer garden projects.  We’ve not yet made a single potato salad.  We haven’t eaten out in the garden even once.  And we’ve had fewer get-togethers and visits with the usual summer travelers who ‘just stop by’ or at least ‘give a holler’ when they are in the area.

Nope, it doesn’t seem like summer should be winding down already.  Not at all.

Remants from 2016 Garden

It’s not only the weather that’s to blame, but it certainly even that has been different from most summers.  Usually July and August hold out many opportunities for al fresco everything.  This year, not so much.  Or at least, not so much when we’ve been home.  Unfortunately, good weather doesn’t count for much when we are spending time in the hospital – an occurrence that has been all too frequent this particular summer.

So… what to do about it?  I can’t decide whether to knock myself out for the remaining days of the season, no matter the weather, and try to shape things up around here or… maybe to decide just to give this summer a miss.  Chalk it up to ‘shit happens’ and get on with things as best we can.

Barbara Espy Williams Geisler at The Great Wall 

I think I am at that point in life where the examples of my forebears come into play.  I think of my mother’s cousin Barbara who went on a long-planned trip to China with her daughters even though she had been recently diagnosed with brain cancer…  I think of my grandmother who coped with my grandfather’s increasing dementia, even though she, herself, was blind and suffering from heart problems.  I think of my Great Uncle Cecil who lived alone well into old age and managed a house and garden larger than ours.

I don’t remember any of them lamenting what they could not do.  Oh.  Except once my dad noticed Uncle Cecil sitting on the edge of his porch – his push mower nearby.  When dad asked him if everything was okay, Uncle Cecil did complain… just a tad.  “I’ve never had to stop and rest while I was mowing before,” he said with disgust.  He was 90 at the time!

Wow!  Short summer be damned!  I’m on it!

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Dale Espy Little, 1999 — “Mom at 88”

My mother gave up driving when she was about a year younger than I.  She cut up her driver’s license and sold her car and became a big believer in Dial-a-Ride.  She also took advantage of every “do-you-need-anything-at-Jack’s” offer made to her by friends and neighbors and wasn’t at all hesitant to ask a stranger (most likely a tourist visiting the church) for a ride (most likely to the post office.)  I worried and admired in equal parts.

Mom’s leap into ‘Dependence on the Kindness of Strangers’ was occasioned by a fender bender that she had in Ocean Park.  No one was hurt and no one was ticketed but she felt it was a wake-up call to quit driving.  I have been thinking about that a lot since our own mega-mishap last week.  In fact, one of the first things Nyel said was, “Maybe it’s time I stop driving…”  Yikes!

We actually considered that possibility – weighed the pros and cons of living far off the beaten track where just getting groceries entails a 15-mile round-trip by car.  We decided that between the two of us and with a spiffy new mega-safe vehicle, we could probably manage for a while longer.  But totaling our little Prius definitely gave us pause.  And it made me think of my indomitable mother and how gutsy she was and so soon (within a year) after my dad had died and she was living on her own for the first time in all of her 80 years!

Helen Richardson Espy, 1947 – “Granny at 69”

I also thought about my two grandmothers, neither of whom ever learned to drive.  Granted, cars didn’t “come in” until they were middle-aged.  I doubt if it even occurred to either of them to learn to drive.  They had managed their households (one in Oysterville, one in Boston) and raised their families without ‘machines’ and just riding in one as a passenger was a big step.

My Oysterville grandmother did have a buggy – a used one sent to her in 1914 by her father who lived in Berkeley.  The day it arrived, she wrote to her daughter, Medora:

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…

Mary Woods Little, c 1955 – “Nana at 75”

There are not pictures or other references to that conveyance.  I don’t know who hitched it up for her, where she went in it, or how long she had it.  I doubt very much if she went grocery shopping in it.  After all, in those days there were vegetables and fruits in the garden or ‘put up for winter’ in the pantry, there were kids at home to run to the Sam Andrews’ store just up the street for dry goods and, in the summer, Theophilus Goulter came house-to-house, once a week, with his meat wagon.

I’m unclear about my Bostonian grandmother.  She and my grandfather lived in the West Roxbury neighborhood.  Perhaps there were shops nearby or perhaps my grandfather took her into town once a week.  Whatever arrangements she made, she carried on independently in her own home, even after she was widowed.  Though I was well into my twenties by the time she died, I was too young and too far away to pay close attention to the details.  Isn’t that always the way?

A Tea and Posy Day

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

My Grandmother’s Teapot

It’s not every day that our doorbell rings twice, each time with a lovely surprise.  But yesterday it did!  First came Pat Fagerland and, although she was ‘expected’ and we had planned to have tea, she immediately began pulling surprises out of her commodious bag of tricks.  First came a carton of half and half, next a package of cookies, followed by a tea infuser, a package of Earl Gray tea – everything we needed for a tea party except the hot water and the cups and saucers!  It was like Mary Poppins had come calling!

Willard, Edwin, Dale – 1916

We had a lovely “catch-up” afternoon and even with a bit of ‘family history’ thrown in.  Although I’m sure we had used the little blue teapot before, I hadn’t told Pat its story so yesterday I did.  The teapot was a birthday gift to my grandmother from my mother back in 1917.

Mom was five (and a half!) years old.  She had been saving her money to buy her Mama a present and asked her father’s permission to ride Danny to Trondsen and Petersen’s store in Nahcotta to make a special purchase all on her own.  Family friend Dean Nelson worked there and helped her choose the beautiful little blue teapot.  It cost the full amount she had saved – twenty-five cents!  Dean wrapped it carefully with brown paper and tied it securely around little Date’s waist – (Papa wouldn’t let the children use saddles; “too dangerous” he said) and she trotted home with her precious package.  It’s been in use in this house ever since.

While Pat was here, the doorbell rang once more.  “Flower delivery!  Happy Mother’s Day!”  The florists had outdone themselves once again!  A gorgeous bouquet and never mind that they had forgotten to note who it was from on the card.  I was pretty sure it was Charlie, though I did call to double-check!  So many people do so many nice things for me these days – like bring a tea party in a bag! – that I just had to make certain that those gorgeous posies were from my son!

It was a grand Friday – one full of reminders of the many blessings of friendship and family!  And this morning – a little sunshine to bask in!  It doesn’t get much better.

The Tip of the Little Iceberg

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Mary Woods Little, My “Nana”

Your great-great-great-great grandfather Woodworth came from England (what part not known) fought with General Wolf at Quebec (in what capacity not known).  He retired from the army and settled in Nova Scotia where his son William was born and married.  His wife died leaving him with five sons, most of whom settled in Nova Scotia.  He then married a young widow with one daughter and came to New Brunswick where they had seven children.  Your great great grandfather was the second child of the second marriage.

Thus, began a letter from my Grandmother Little to my father, William Woodworth Little.  (So, when applied to me, add another great.)  She commented that it was a rainy day in Boston – their first since May – and the letter was dated October 8th.  No year.  But it was probably in the 1950s since she mentions my grandfather (Dad’s asleep) and he died in 1960.

“The Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West

Apparently, my grandmother wasn’t much on dates or names.  Her genealogical information falls more within the ‘oral history’ category – fascinating stories but not enough concrete data to help fill in the family tree without a lot of research.  I do remember – not from my history books but from our trip to Quebec last fall – that General Wolfe died from wounds received in the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.  I wonder if my five-times-great-grandfather was on that battlefield with him.  Maybe I was walking in his very footsteps and didn’t know it!

A Well-Read Copy

Your great-great-great-great grandfather Palmer came from Newbury Port Mass, when U.S. was a British possession.  There were three brothers Palmer.  They were Loyalists, and fled to Canada from New York Harbor, as refugees, fleeing from the Rebels.  They settled St. John New Brunswick (read Kenneth Roberts’ “Oliver Wiswell.”)  A stone may still be seen (1949) in St. John’s old cemetery with the name Palmer on it.  One of the Palmer brothers married Mary Branch who came from Kennebec, Maine. The had 13 children and your great-great grandmother was the 12th child.        There are some books published containing accounts of the early settlers of New Brunswick and among the names of the prominent men is that of Joseph Palmer.

Yikes!  Too much information.  Or not enough.  Maybe I’ll just settle for reading some of Kenneth Roberts’ novels.  He was a favorite of my father’s (now I know why) when I was just beginning to learn to decipher the “Dick and Jane” books.

“With Morning Gusto!”

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Early Morning Memory

Sometimes, when you least expect it, someone claps and cheers for you.  It’s the best kind of medicine of all, laughter notwithstanding.  This very morning I woke up to a wonderfully long letter from my friend Ruth that was overflowing with all sorts of bolstering thoughts.  She wrote it in response to a recent email of my own – that my days seemed to be one long string of frittering and non-accomplishment.  You know, one of those whiny, woe-is-me thoughts that you are later ashamed of.

Ruth’s Sequel

Ruth has a way with words.  Plus she has the biggest heart I know.  It’s a fabulous combination as those who take the Chinook Observer know.  For the last half year or so, “By Ruth Chamberlin” appears monthly over her column on the Editorial and Opinion page.  Its focus is on her family – one of the most unusual you may ever come across in real life!

Ruth has written two novels based – as much as novels can be – on her family.  Her columns, though, aren’t fiction.  They might come under the heading ‘more fabulous than fiction’ and are full of the adventures, accomplishments, joys and angst that she and husband Burt and their many adopted, ethnically diverse children have experienced.  And I’d like to add to that sentence (but it’s already too long) ‘while the rest of us were just leading our rather ordinary or at least somewhat normal lives.’

A Posy from Ruth

Of course, Ruth would never see it that way.  That’s the thing about Ruth.  She sees the unusual and the special and the terrific everywhere she looks.  And when her gaze is fastened upon you and she writes you about it, your own heart is uplifted beyond measure.  “Good Morning, Sydney.  It’s 4 a.m. and I’m thinking of you…” she begins.  Imagine!  I didn’t need to read any further to feel all puffed up!

Ruth, you are a wonder!  If only we could all follow your example, our cranky old world would surely be a better place.  I’m so glad that my corner of it includes you!

A Touch of Homesickness

Sunday, April 30th, 2017


I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t move back for all the tea in China, but sometimes I do miss my old stomping grounds in California – the Bay Area.  Not the city per se (and for those who don’t know, “the city” refers to San Francisco) but the entire area – the weather, the golden hills, the oaks and redwoods, the ambient energy, and all the weird and wonderful surprises that seem to be around every corner.

Marta, my gorgeous and talented step-daughter still lives there.  For her “retirement job” she has created a pet-sitting service which sometimes (like now) involves a stint of house-sitting as well.  For a while she has been in Sausalito – one of the quirkiest and most gorgeous places in Marin County.  Today she posted this on FaceBook:

Performance Art in Sausalito – Photo by Marta LaRue

On my walk in Sausalito this morning w.doggy clients, I came across an anachronistic scene of a woman in 19th century dress selecting the perfect spot for an upcoming performance piece “Sewing Native Flowers,” where she will sit while people embroider on her dress & hat! Happening Sunday in Sausalito next to the Barge! Adventures in Wonderland!

It’s happening today!  I wish I could transport myself there for just a half-hour or so to stand and gawk and admire anyone who would sit quietly while people plied sharp needles to her clothing.  I do hope Marta gets a few pictures of the end result.  And I hope that my quilter friend Sue Grennan and her block-of-the-month group are picking up on this.  It’s taking the fiber arts and native plants to a whole new level…

I have fond memories of Sundays in Sausalito.  It’s where I first saw a young couple we later learned were called “Sonny and Cher.”  She was having a little flower or butterfly painted on her cheek as I recall, and he was standing by, watchfully, along with a small crowd who seemed to be ‘in the know.’  It wasn’t for a year or two that their television show appeared.

Sausalito – Photo by Marta LaRue

Sausalito was also where we used to go for lunch occasionally – to Juanita’s Gallery which was in the old and derelict ferryboat Charles Van Damme. The place would never pass any kind of code these days and probably didn’t then.  Juanita, whose language was beyond colorful, presided over the funky dining area, often with her rooster on her arm and periodically announcing that she “always wanted to carry a cock” around with her.

One of the last times I was in Sausalito was not too long after I had left the Bay Area. I had coffee with Stewart Brand, a friend from the ‘olden days’ before his Whole Earth Catalog and before I dreamed I’d ever be living anywhere but California. We did a lot of reminiscing and catching up and talking about ‘following your heart.’  I think I was trying to come to grips with having left a part of mine behind when I moved to Oysterville.

I have to say that seeing Marta’s FaceBook post this morning put me in mind of all those things and more.  Nostalgia or homesickness?  Presumably, they are different.  I wonder…

A Frazzle Dazzle One Step!

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Dale at 16, Oysterville, 1927

The use of colorful language runs in our family.  Not the colorful sort that seems to rage rampant in print and behind those bleeps on television.  I mean expressive without being offensive.  My grandfather Espy, for instance was pretty famous for never swearing but for getting his point across, nevertheless.

“Dad burn it!” I’d hear him say.  Or maybe “Dad gum it!”  and I knew he was more than a little frustrated about something.  Sometimes it was “Son of a sea cook!” or “Consarn it!” or perhaps “Ding Bust it!”  But the ultimate in epithets from Papa was “Devil!” and, lest you think those are all pretty tame, you had to be there.  As those of us who knew him well remember, those words came bursting from his mouth like thunderbolts!  Not often, but certainly memorable.

Mona at 7 or 8 — Oysterville, 1911

My mother’s colorful speech was a bit different from her father’s.  She wasn’t substituting the acceptable for the unacceptable.  Far from it.  She was simply being her usual, inimitable self.  “She just wore me to a frazzle-dazzle one step” she often said after being cornered by a particularly irksome neighbor.  Or, she was known to refer to women of questionable moral character as “woo woo girls” and when I’d asked one too many ‘why’ questions, “Why’s a hen” was the only answer she’d give me.  Or when she was wanting me to make up my own mind:  “You’re the doctor; I’m only the nurse.”

Charlie at Three – Claremont Day Nursery, 1959

Too, there were many stories about my Aunt Mona’s childhood expressions – words that became part of the family lexicon.  “I piddly stimbled!” was what we all said after almost falling down.  It must have been young Mona’s way of saying, “I practically stumbled.”  The best Mona-ism, though, is what I say to this day when I’m refusing seconds after a big dinner: “My shimmy shirt and pants are full” – Mona’s little girl understanding of the colloquialism, ‘my sufficiency is sophonsified.’

My son, Charlie, was also inventive word-wise.  He worried that the water in the bathtub might overfloat, and once commented on his well-endowed grandmother as being volumptuous.  My all-time favorite, though, was his three-year-old answer to “What do you call it when two people sing the same song at the same time?”  “A coincidence,” came his prompt reply!  Spot on, say I!

Down the Rabbit Hole

Monday, April 17th, 2017

I told myself that it was Easter Sunday.  I didn’t have to get anything ‘done.’  And, besides, we were going to out in mid-afternoon.  No time to really make headway on any other projects or even to get started in the garden.  So, I gave myself permission to fool around with my ancestry-dot-com family tree.  Seven hours later I was scrambling to get ready to leave the house for our dinner date.

So far, though, I don’t consider it time wasted.  I’m learning a lot about my father’s family that hadn’t been a glimmer before now.  I knew nothing at all about that branch of my tree except that the first Little in our line, my great-grandfather Henry Little, came from Inneskellin, Ireland.  Yesterday I learned that he was a baker and arrived in the U.S. with his wife, Margaret, in 1865 – the year they had been married. They subsequently had six children;  my grandfather William Oliver Baketel Little was the youngest.

William Oliver Baketel Little

What is astounding to me is that I not only didn’t know any of those great aunts and great uncles, I hadn’t even heard about any of them.  In comparison, I knew every single one of my great aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family, as well as their children, their grand-children, and now their great-grandchildren.  What a difference in family dynamics!

Unless, of course, all of those ‘greats’ on my father’s side died without issue. Doesn’t seem likely, but, in order to find out, I’ll need to spend more time down that rabbit hole!  Yikes!

A Pointless, Time-Consuming Indulgence?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

The Espy-Espey Genealogy Book – Volume 3 ©1987

As my son Charlie said when he got his DNA results from, “Okay. So I’m sort of disappointed…”  Me too, a little.  There weren’t any surprises.  Not in my ethnicity – 77% Great Britain; 19% Europe West; and in the ‘Low Confidence Regions’ – Ireland 2% and Finland/Northwest Russian 2%.  But our DNA search was a Christmas gift to all of us and I feel compelled to be as appreciative as possible, so…

Yesterday I began filling in the template for the family tree that is provided.  For the first six or seven generations back, there are few questions thanks to the work done by my Grandmother Little (“Nana”) on my father’s side and my Uncle Willard Espy (“Wede”) on my distaff side.  Plus there are reference books… lots of books.  There is nothing much that tempts me to pay the monthly fee to get more information.  Not on my family and not yet.

Filling in the Blanks

What interests me most, of course, are the stories connected to the names and both Nana and Wede provided plenty of those.  Take Alexander Hamilton, for instance.  He is my five times great-grandfather on the Espy side, born in 1725, probably in Ayrshire Scotland and was ‘a millwright and a mechanical genius’ according to one account.  He came to America in 1741, was a “battoe man” in the French and Indian Wars and settled his family in Pennsylvania.

According to Wede, “there is no proof of relationship between our Alexander Hamilton and the Alexander, thirty years younger, who was George Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury.  But I am bemused by the extraordinary coincidence of names in the two families.  Alexander Hamilton of Grange, grandfather of the Secretary of the Treasury had nine sons, including John Robert, Alexander, James (the great AH’s father), George, ad William (twice).  Our Alexander had eight sons, also including John, Robert, Alexander, James, George, and William.”

Sarah Hall Rand (1822-1865) & Horace Richardson (1814-1876), My Great-Greats

There is a place on the Ancestry Family Tree template to input stuff like that – to say nothing of pictures which I also have – but, I ask myself, is it worth the time and effort?  The only ‘plus’ so far to this entire, time-consuming job of transferring information from family notations to Ancestry’s Family Tree is that it can be compiled in one orderly, easily visualized form.  And what would I gain by spending a monthly amount to hook into other information?  I might be close to overload already.

Cuzzin Ralph can probably answer those questions for me.  So far, though, I don’t think I can justify the expense.  I’m pretty sure that I have access to more information about my forebears than I can make use of.  But, have to admit… it’s tempting… and the jury is still out.

So far… better than good!

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

Marta’s Package

Even though I’d had a bit of warning, the package that arrived in the mail yesterday took me by surprise.  A belated birthday present from step-daughter Marta!  The ‘warning’ part had been a phone call from her while she was shopping at some sort of ‘everything’ store near her home in Marin County.  She asked me about the kinds of hats I like and favorite colors in socks and preferences in snacks.

Marta’s Wrapping Paper

“Not berets or ball caps,” I said.  “They point right to my sticky-outie ears.”  And we laughed.  “Yes, striped socks are great,” I said.  “And blue denim color, not navy, is best.”  We laughed some more.  “Snacks?  Salty, not sweet,” we said in unison.  More laughter.  She told me upfront she was on a quest for my belated birthday but, apparently, what stuck in my mind was the fun of talking to her while she shopped.  So, when the package arrived I was clueless – until I saw the return address.

In typical Marta fashion, the wrapping paper was hand-decorated, the card designed and fashioned by Marta and there were signs and messages throughout.  I smiled – even laughed out loud – as I opened each item. Two pair of socks, a jar of my favorite freeze-dried decaf coffee, and a package of Tex-Mex nibblies.  I could hear the echo of Marta’s giggle with each rustle of tissue paper.

“I hope these fill the bill… a little munchie, a little drinkie, a little fashion wear!” the card said.

Marta’s Card

I thought back to my birthday on February 28th.  Nyel was in the hospital for five days and I was right there with him.  When he worried about how I was spending my 81st, I told him I’d make up for it by finding a way to celebrate all year long.  So far, so good.  When we got home in March, my friend Maggie gave me a special birthday luncheon and the guests even brought presents!  And then a bit later in the month, our friends Petra and Michael took us to a belated birthday lunch in Astoria!  I felt blessed.

And now it’s April and… make that so far, so much better than good!