Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Another Generation at Our House

Monday, October 1st, 2018

Nurse Stump

As I worked my way toward the southwest corner of the fence yesterday – still trimming back those pesky roses – I bumped up against the old spruce stump, still fairly solid but showing its age with its new role in life.  It has gradually become a full-fledged nurse log with sword fern and bracken, foxglove and moss and lots of there greenery growing proudly among its cracks and crevices.

At the top, over on the south side is a still spindly young spruce tree.  The next generation!  It is probably three feet tall, making it six feet high in all when you factor in the height of that big stump.  It shares the space on the stump’s table-like surface with a big galvanized tub of geraniums.  The little sapling appears to be happy there, as well it should.  It has a proud heritage of which I reminded it as I worked my way along.

The mother tree once grew in the woods nearby and was carefully selected by my grandfather and uncles to serve as a live Christmas tree.  It must have been in 1916 or 1917 – Edwin and Willard remembered that they were about eight and six, respectively.  “We tromped around for a long time to find just the right tree,” my Uncle Ed said.  “It had to be no less than ten feet tall and no more than eleven to fit in the bay window in the parlor.”

Ready for a Sunday Drive, 1939 (Spruce Tree at Left)

After the holidays were over and the clean-up almost complete, the boys and Papa once more went on the search.  This time, it was just in the yard.  They were looking for the perfect place to replant the tree so that they would always remember that Christmas… and all the others, as well.  And they always did.

They chose the southwest corner, adjacent to the lane and across from the church.  “For years the tree didn’t change much,” Willard often recounted.  “Then, it must have finally found a deep-water source and up it shot.”  It became something of a landmark in that part of Oysterville.  In fact, when we finally had to have it removed, there was an angry letter to the paper accusing us of taking down an “old growth” tree and saying that the birds would no longer have reason to come to Oysterville – no place to nest and sit.

Spruce Sapling

But, the tree had a good deal of rot beginning and we had feared for the church or for our dining room or for passing pedestrians and cars should it go over in a big storm.  We watched as the logger from Naselle took it down, section by section and I felt a deep ache with every part that fell.  It was like losing a family member.  It helped a little that the very last round – fully five feet across – was taken and polished and made into an immense coffee table.  It sits in the central room at the Portland Audubon Society – a room surrounded by windows so that the birds can say “hello” as they fly past.

I told the little sapling all of this as I worked yesterday.  I think all of us should know something about our forebears.  Don’t you?

Or is that an oxymoron?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Reference Books

One of my go-to places when researching local history is the two-volume set of books, History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington that sit on one corner of our library mantle.  They were published by the Northwest History Company of Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and, together, weigh 19 pounds.  Not that you can learn about the past by the pound, mind you, but they are certainly impressive, beginning with their size!  They belonged to my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.

One of the reasons for my frequent visitations to these tomes is their abundance of illustrations.  Beautiful lithographs, mostly of people but, also, of notable places, can be found every few pages.  Unfortunately, they are not indexed nor is the artist credited.  Looking for the likeness of a specific person requires a page-by-page search – a time-consuming operation which I usually undertake as a last resort.

Fabric Swatch

During a recent perusal for information about an early resident of Washington Territory, I ran across a swatch of fabric tucked between the pages of Volume II.  A scarlet and white checked pattern, perhaps from a woman’s dress or skirt. My first thought was of my great-grandmother Julia’s wedding dress.  Her wedding photograph, of course, is in black and white but, for whatever reason, I’ve always thought that the color was red.

Somehow, it made sense to me that she might have saved a bit of the fabric.  They were married in 1870 and, in the thrifty was of our pioneer forebears, it is likely that she saved any left-over fabric or even remade her wedding dress for her own use or for one of the children.  I know for a fact (well… as factual as family lore can be) that after nineteen-year-old Julia had said “yes” to Mr. Espy’s marriage proposal, she finished out her teaching contract at the Oysterville School and went home to Salem “to sew up the family” for her impending wedding.  That was her responsibility as the eldest of Delos Jefferson’s eight children.  (Her mother, Matilda, “remained unbalanced” after the loss of two young daughters to diphtheria within two days of one another.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

Julia’s wedding photograph shows her in a checked dress – probably made for the occasion but, possibly, simply her best dress which was the still customary attire for many brides in those days.  (Dressing brides in a special gown of white did not become de rigueur until sometime after the Civil War here in America; in the American West practicality overrode fashion for some years after that.)

But, when I checked the fabric against the photograph, I realized that the pattern was much smaller and more delicate than young Julia’s wedding dress.  And, then, in one of those déjà vu moments, I remembered that I had “discovered” this fabric swatch once before and replaced it for someone else to find someday.  In all, I prefer to think of this “re-discovery” as a sort of oxymoron rather than a failing of my aging mind.  Or… is it possible to really discover the same thing twice?

On this day…

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Dale Espy Little – September 22, 1934

My parents were married on September 22, 1934.  When they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on this date in 1982, no one really took note of the discrepancy in the number of years.  Not until the big dinner celebration for family and close friends at the Ark Restaurant that night.  It was then, in a toast to my mom, that dad told the story

During the fall of 1932 – the midst of the Great Depression – my mother, Dale Espy, was here in Oysterville getting her wedding trousseau together while she waited for her fiancé Bill Little to complete his final year at the University of Redlands in California.  Mom had graduated from there the previous June but Dad, although he was two years older, had worked for a few years before beginning college… hence the delay in their marriage.

Dad was from Boston.  What’s more (my mother always teasingly said), he was a “Mama’s boy. ” So, the plan was that they would be married in Boston by my great-grandfather, William Woods, a Methodist minister.  (As an aside: “Big Bumpa” as I called him, had Christened his daughter — my grandmother “Nana”, had married my grandmother and grandfather, and had Christened my father.)  My Grandmother Little saw no reason for the tradition to be discontinued – never mind the Depression or the 3,000 miles distance between Boston and Oysterville, or that a bride might want to be married with her own family in attendance.

“Big Bumpa”
William Woods, 1844-1939

During the Christmas break in 1932, my dad came up to Oysterville to spend the time with Dale and his soon-to-be in-laws.  It turned out to be the holiday from hell.  My mother’s sister, Sue, was scheduled to come from Portland for Christmas with her young family but called on December 23rd that she was too ill to make the trip.  Pneumonia.  That news seemed like the last straw for Papa, my mother’s father, who was extremely ill himself from asthma. His mind began to seriously unravel.

My grandmother insisted that all of them pile in their old Model A and drive to Portland to be with Sue.  My dad drove.  They first took Papa to be admitted to a sanitorium, then went to Sue’s apartment where she gave my grandmother final instructions about her sons ages 4 and 8.  Sue died on December 27th.   My grandmother, at her wits’ end, was concerned for Dale (the youngest of her four living children) and asked Bill if he would please marry Dale so that she (my grandmother) would at least know that Dale’s future was assured.

So, Mom and Dad drove to Chehalis, the seat of Lewis County (they didn’t want the announcement of their marriage in the Pacific County papers) and were married at the courthouse on December 30, 1932.  For their wedding supper, they had only enough money for two glasses of milk.  The oyster crackers on the table were free.

Four Generations at Sydney’s Christening, 1936

Dad returned to Redlands, graduated in June, went back to Boston, worked for a year until he was finally was making enough money to send for Mom.  They were married by Big Bumpa in my Little grandparents’ living room on September 22, 1934. Of the witnesses at the wedding, only Mom’s brother Willard knew about the first marriage and he kept the secret for fifty years.

“So, we combined the dates for this celebration –  50 years after our first marriage and the September 22nd date from our second one,” dad said that evening at the Ark.  Everyone was delighted with the story – except my father’s brother, Jack.  I don’t think he ever forgave dad for keeping that secret from their mother (and from him!) for all those years!

The History Among Us

Friday, August 24th, 2018

On My Bookshelf

Sometimes I worry about what our young people are learning.  Or, more to the point, what they are not learning. I don’t like to think about all those man-in-the-street interviews I’ve seen on various TV programs where John Doe can’t answer questions like “Who was the first President of the United States.”  Or millennials who are not sure whether John Kennedy was a rock star or a scientist.  Really!  When did they stop teaching history?

But, come to think of it, I didn’t learn much history in school.  I wasn’t good at all those names and dates and battles and treaties.  BORING.  But I did love the stories of long ago that were told around the fire on stormy evenings here in Oysterville.   The stories of Mary Esty, one of our forebears, who was hung during the witch trials in Salem.  Or the story of my great-grandfather being apprenticed to a tailor back in Pennsylvania when he was fifteen and who eventually made his way west by driving the ox team for a man named Whitlock.

In Ireland

Gradually, an idea of my own family’s history began to clarify.  Even more gradually I began to put those people I “knew” into a greater context and of American history, in general, and the part that my very own forebears played in it made more sense.  Never mind those history texts.  But it wasn’t until I did some travelling – back east to visit my father’s relatives and later to Ireland to see where his family lived and where I still have relatives – not until then did I really begin to appreciate the past.  The distances, the circumstances, the courage, the hardships all began to make sense.  Historical sense.

So, earlier this week when I asked my FaceBook friends a couple of informal survey questions about their ancestry, I was pleased to get so many answers (several hundred in the first twenty-four hours).  I don’t know that all the folks who responded could answer those man-in-the-street history questions, but curiosity about one’s own ancestry seems like a first step.  And if it’s true that only by understanding our history can we avoid repeating past mistakes, perhaps there is a chance for us after all!

The Proof is in the Pudding

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Willie Bays

Besides the enjoyment of having ‘honorary grandchildren’ visit every summer, their being here is a chance for me to stay in touch (at least a little bit) with the current world of parenting.  I’ve been out of the elementary classroom for sixteen years now and so my knowledge of kids and parents is more-or-less from afar.  Having the Bays family here is a rare opportunity, albeit of limited duration, to see how things have changed – both since I was teaching and the far greater ‘since’ when Marta and Charlie were still under my roof.

Owen Bays

I think that I raised my own children in much the same manner as I was brought up.  I look back on my ‘parenting’ (a word I don’t remember as part of the lexicon) as a rather passive position.  Kids simply grew up.  The adults of the household were responsible for feeding, clothing, and looking out for matters of health and safety.  The ‘terrible twos’ and ‘those teenaged years’ were times to pay close attention and there was a lot of

Marta LaRue

sympathetic sighing on the part of other parents.  Otherwise… not many worries.

We didn’t really worry about their education; that was the teacher’s job.  If we didn’t think the teacher was quite up to snuff, we might try to supplement a bit at home or (rarely) arrange for a parent/teacher/kid conference.  Otherwise, there was a separation between home and school – even though both the adults in our home were teachers.

Nor did we concern ourselves much about socialization.  That just “happened.”  In our case, we purposely moved into a neighborhood that had a diverse population and then we let the natural course of playing with “the kids next door” take care of itself.  Neither Marta nor Charlie were particularly interested in joining things.  Charlie tried cub scouts and found it too boring for words.  Marta joined a dancing class but found that she would rather be with her school or neighborhood friends.

Charlie Howell

And, our answer to “media concerns” was that we didn’t get a television until about the time that teachers began requiring kids to watch certain shows for homework.  I think that was when Charlie was in fourth or fifth grade and, by then, both he and Marta had plenty of other interests besides being glued to the tube.  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a life-stunting decision on our part.  After all, Charlie’s career was as a writer for Saturday Morning television cartoons – an award-winning career at that.  And Marta was a musician and performer – a doer rather than a watcher.

Every visit with the Bays brothers and their folks is an eye-opener.  I really wish that I had been as involved and as aware as a parent.  On the other hand… Marta and Charlie turned out just great.  And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!

Here comes the Bays Family!

Friday, July 6th, 2018

January 2018 Calencar Collage

We’ve considered the Bays Boys our honorary grandkids since before they were born.  They’ve come to Oysterville and stayed with us every summer —  and sometimes during other seasons —  since before they were born.  Last Christmas, I think the sobriquet (I’m not sure that word applies, but you know what I mean) became official when they sent us a calendar full of family photos.  It is on our refrigerator and we have the pleasure of ‘seeing’ them every day.

July 2018 Calendar Collage

We began the year with the photographs devoted to the family – every one of them, except Owen, wearing a hat.  This month is all about Owen at the beach.  In September we’ll spend the month with Willie.  Other months it might be their backyard chickens or the family in Ireland or on an outing nearer home in Olympia. The calendar has been a wonderful connection (albeit one-way and a year late) with them all.  But it won’t prepare us for seeing them in person… especially the boys.  Randal says they’ve been working out all year and they are both “buff.”

September 2018 Calendar Collage

We do keep up spasmodically by telephone.  Usually, it’s Randall who calls to find out how we are and what we are up to.  Then, we get his take on the various activities of his two teenaged sons and, sometimes, a taste of the angst that accompanies family life in the fast lane these days. He keeps us apprised of the uncertainties of Susan’s work as a researcher/biologist (She’s Dr. Susan Waters) for the State.  And we get caught up on Randall’s musical travels and teaching.  (BTW, his anual Irish Music Camp – Cascadia Irish Music Week – begins August 5th at Evergreen College.)

We haven’t had an in-person visit for… has it been a year?!?  We can’t wait!  They’ll be here sometime this afternoon.  And, of course, they’ll be playing at Vespers on Sunday!  I hope they have a full house!

The Anticipation Factor

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Dale Espy – 1916

I’ve been wondering… is anticipation the opposite of memory?  When you begin to lose one, does the other disappear too?

I thought I’d check the internet to see if there might be a study or two on that relationship.  OMG!  Try dozens!  With fancy titles, too.  “Synchronization of map-based neurons with memory and synaptic delay.”  Or “The effect of anticipation and the specificity of sex differences for amygdala and hippocampus function in emotional memory.”  Got that?

Okay.  So, it seems clear that I didn’t make up that connection between memory and anticipation.  Once again, I am reminded that Mark Twain was probably right when he said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.”  I am also reminded of the experts’ proclivity for parsing and analyzing and examining every possible phenomenon to the nth degree (a mathematical term dating back to 1752, in case you wondered.)

I first noticed the connection between anticipation and memory with my mother.  In her late eighties and until her death at almost 98, she suffered increasingly from dementia.  One very stormy evening we picked her up from the nursing home in Long Beach to bring her home to Oysterville for dinner.  As always, she was delighted to see us and let herself be bundled up in rainhat and waterproof coat.

Dale Espy Little at 95

But in the few steps between the doorway and the car, as the rain pelted her from all sides, she became terrified.  She began to cry uncontrollably and we were hard pressed to get her into the car and out of the weather.  Never mind any reassuring promises and urgings on our part.  She simply could not understand that the situation would change for the better once she got into the car.  Every moment of ‘now’ was forever.  As soon as she was situated in the passenger seat, her tears stopped and she became interested in the process of getting her seat belt fastened.  Just like that!  No wailing.  No tears.  No memory of her distress.

It was a visceral realization to me that without a past, there is no future.  And when our own present becomes interminable, it behooves us to surround ourselves with sunshine and chocolates and with people we love. If we can only remember to plan ahead…

Super Moon! Wolf Moon! Charlie’s Moon!

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Wolf Moon

Last night we took turns talking to Charlie the old-fashioned way – by telephone, one at a time.  I think that we have skype possibilities but that didn’t occur to us.  We just wanted to tell him “Happy New Year” and so we called.  It was Marta who enthused to him that “his” moon was gorgeous over the bay, “Yes.  Your moon!  Charlie Howell.  Wolf Moon. Get it?” she said.

I don’t know what his response was, but her remark opened up an entire line of thought that had never occurred to me.  That Charlie is a night person I have known for more than half a century.  But never before have I associated his last name with the howl of a wolf, nor made a connection between Charlie and the moon.  Not even with this Super Moon which is also called a Wolf Moon.

WWII Beach Patrol

Almost simultaneously, I thought about my grandfather who once had a run-in with the World War II Night Patrol as they clip-clopped on horseback through Oysterville one moonlight night.  Papa was on the roof replacing some shingles and the young Coast Guardsmen ordered him down.  “Don’t you know there’s a blackout, sir?”  one asked.  I don’t know whether Papa came down or not but I do know that he replied, “Don’t you know that God put that moon up there, son?”  It was an oft repeated story by family and neighbors.

Much to my grandmother’s everlasting irritation, my grandfather was a night person of the first order.  Despite her calls down to the room they called the nursery, “Come to bed, Harry!” he seldom complied until the sky was already growing light in the east.  He’d arrive, fully dressed and wide awake, in the dining room for breakfast about the time the rest of us were about to have lunch.  As a child, I never thought that was peculiar.  It was just Papa.

Early Morning Moon Through Our Window

I can’t imagine why I have never thought that my own son’s upside-down sleeping habits might be genetic.  Or was it some subliminal understanding that passed between them the one time they met and Papa, in his eighty-third year, cradled his seven-month old great-grandson with such delight and affection?

Wolf Moon.  Charlie Howell.  Night person like Papa.  Working by moonlight.  Just sayin’…

Helen, Mary, Marta, and Me

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Marta with Mary’s Letters

One hundred thirty years ago, in 1887, Helen Richardson and Mary Wallace lived three houses apart in East Oakland, California.  They were nine years old and were best friends. Ten years later Mary would marry a musician named Hamlin and would move to Santa Barbara; not too many years after that Helen moved to Oysterville as Mrs. Harry Espy.  They were bridesmaids at one another’s weddings, remained friends throughout their lives, and visited one another whenever circumstances permitted. When I was a little girl, my grandmother Helen sometimes told me of their childhood tea parties and of the pet monkey given to Mary by her uncle.

From Mary to Helen, 1887

I can’t remember if we talked about the paper dolls that they created or of the letters they sent back and forth when one of them was sick – letters dutifully delivered by Mary’s father “Postman Wallace.”  A number of years ago, I had the paper dolls framed – a triptych of ball gowns and capes, tea dresses and nightgowns, skirts and bodices, sister-brother outfits, and matching mother-daughter costumes.  They were drawn in exquisite detail using pencil on the backs of notepaper, wallpaper, wrapping paper, advertisements, business cards and whatever else came to hand.

Children at Play by Mary Wallace, 1887

Still tucked away with a few remaining paper dolls is a little envelope chock-full of the “letters” between Helen and Mary.  Some contain plans for paper doll activities:  Paper dolls marrage [sic] at Addie Blood’s home.  By Helen. Some refer to books they are reading – Little Women, Little Men, Robinson Crusoe.  Most contain plans for their next get-togethers, often scheduled for later that very day.

Triptych of Paper Dolls

Yesterday after breakfast, I ‘introduced’ those little girls of long ago to Marta.  We spent an hour or so, poring over the old-fashioned handwriting and marveling at the detail of Mary’s drawings.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the ‘other side’ of the correspondence – the letters that Helen sent to her friend.  Were they, too, illustrated with such intricate detail?  We can only surmise and be grateful that Helen saved as much as she did – especially for us.  Or so I like to think!

The Sad. The Glad. The Unexpected.

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

2017 Christmas Portrait by Tucker

Yesterday was December 26th – Let Down Day.   Like the day after most big events, it was a little bit of a bummer.  The surprises were over.  Charlie said his goodbyes and headed homeward and I know I’ll be holding my breath til he calls that he is back and safe.  There was still a lot of cleaning up to do and we felt a little half-hearted as well as a little frantic about getting it done.  All a part of Let Down Day.

Marta’s Plan

On the other hand, Nyel was still feeling well and one of the girls presented him with a gorgeous brown egg – the fourth in the last ten or twelve days!  Marta is staying for another week and, as always, is up for whatever presents itself.  She has plans to go clamming for littlenecks on the bay, to take up our neighbor’s offer of a sauna, and to spend more time looking at family keepsakes.  Her positive energy is contagious and I try not to think of the next big Let Down Day next week when she bids us adieu.

Party! Party! Party!

Late in the afternoon, we opened our front door to visitors bearing armloads of gifts!  Michael, Lynn, and Regina came laden with cookies and banana bread, and home-made manicotti!  They stayed just long enough for us to catch up with the past year and for Nyel and I to realize that, so far, this newish friendship has been pretty much one-way!  In fact, this last year we’ve experienced that feeling a lot.  We are truly blessed, but still and yet… how to reciprocate to so many for so much?

As is often the way, our thoughts are focused on a party.   A Valentines Party all about hearts – as in ‘from the bottom of ours.’