Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

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?

From a Loser’s Perspective

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

From Another Point of View

We’ve all given lip service (perhaps a bit smugly) to the truism that winners write the history.  I’ve never given that particular platitude much beyond a cursory thought until very recently.  I’m reading Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell – a total eye-opener regarding our American Revolution!  Narrated in the first person by the title character, Yale undergraduate Oliver, it is the story of the little-known and profoundly misunderstood loyalist cause.  It is the story of some of my ancestors – fictionalized to be sure, but fully believable.

The book was recommended to my father by his Bostonian mother back in the 1940s.  She urged him to read it for a better understanding of our forebears – the McGees and the Woodworths and probably others – who, I always heard, “went” to Canada in 1776 or thereabouts.  It’s a long book (836 pages) and I am only about a third of the way into it, but already I fully understand that “went” was not the operable verb.  More like “driven out.”  They were loyalists – not completely satisfied with things under British rule, but committed to making changes through orderly means and the rule of law.  Not through violence.  The patriots thought differently.

Samuel Adams, Patriot or Rabble-rouser?

I don’t know about my particular loyalist ancestors but Oliver Wiswell describes what happened to others like them.  They were the unwitting victims set upon by mobs of “patriots” (or “rabble” as they were known).  Loyalist homes were ransacked, pillaged, and burned; ‘suspicious  characters,’ perhaps the owner of a printing press, were tarred and feathered.  Community leaders and their erstwhile friends, were sent packing – on foot, in the dark of night, never mind the sick or the old or infirm.  Out! Out!  Out at gunpoint.

The men I grew up to revere – Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other heroes of our Revolutionary War – take on a wholly different (and downright sinister) character.  And yet… I had ancestors on the Patriot side of things, as well.  Undoubtedly, there were family schisms.  Brothers against brothers.  Cousins against cousins.  Fathers and sons in pitched battle.  It’s a look at our beginnings that I’ve seldom considered.  I think the book should be a must for those who are concerned about the current state of things here in America.

British General William Howe, Brilliant or Inept

Though written in that detailed style of the early-to-mid-twentieth century which makes it a little slow-going, many of the attitudes and situations seem all too relevant today.  Where are we headed in this land where our leaders scoff at ethics and change the rules to allow themselves to prosper to the detriment of our planet?  How many racist killings, ICE raids and other travesties are we to endure?  And how will these chaotic times be interpreted 250 years hence?  Oliver Wiswell is slow going in places but worth the effort.  Let me know if you read it… I’d love to get your take on this fictional account of our history as seen through the eyes of the losing side.

Ode to A Petrified Clam

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

The Perfect Little Black Bag

The presentation made to Nyel and me by Double ‘J’ and the Boys at Sunday’s concert was unprecedented in oh! so many ways.  First of all, I don’t think any other musicians have ever done such a thing.  Thanking us, yes.  Profusely thanking us, yes.  But a gift?  The bar has definitely been raised!

And what a gift it was!  Actually, two gifts in three parts.  First: a black carryall emblazoned with the logo from The Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering – an event I’ve actually hankered to attend!  The bag is the perfect size for me – not too huge, with straps that fit over my shoulder and allow the bag to tuck right under my arm rather than hanging and banging at knee level.  (I’m sorta short.)  Plus, it has a large outside pocket, a net thingy maybe for a water bottle if I ever thought to carry one, and a metal ring for hanging stuff off of.  Plus, the top zips closed for security purposes.  I’ve claimed the bag part of the presentation for myself.

Petrified Clam, Texas Size

But wait!  Before I’d had a chance to fully register all of the above, Judy (with magician-like precision) extracted parts two and three of this never-ending gift – the front and back sides of a petrified clam!  Now, that’s something you don’t see every day!  Not unless you spend your winters in the wilds of Texas as Judy and Charlie do.  Apparently, they run across petrified items every once in a while.  “But finding matching halves is unusual!” Judy said.

I don’t know what that clam weighed when it was alive, back when Texas was under water and no one was around to brag about the size of things in the Lone Star State.  But now that minerals have replaced all the once living clam cells, the petrified version weighs fourteen ounces.  Almost a pound!  Perfect paper weights for Nyel’s desk!  If I knew how to write an ode (in keeping with the poetry piece of this gift), I would definitely commemorate this hefty clam.  Something like –

Petrified Clam Halves – 14 ounces worth!

Oh, huge and silent mollusk of so long ago,
Your sea birth unremarked by ancient mariners!
Overlooked by cowpokes, but not by yodeling Judy
Or by Charlie of the sharp snappy snake boots.
Welcome to our bayside home!  Can you smell the sea again?

Better yet… maybe Judy will write one of her inimitable songs!  I mean, how many songwriters have tackled a petrified clam?

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…

How can we help?

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Espy Lot

My thoughts are a bit of a jumble this morning.  Our early coffee conversation concerned our plan to go up to the cemetery this morning to clean up the Espy Lot – general tidying, picking up any recent blow-down, and cleaning off the accumulated moss and dirt on the gravestones there.  We talked about the tools we need and I checked our list against several online sites concerning care and preservation of old tombstones.  We began to gather our cleaning implements – spray bottles of clear water, natural-bristle brushes, non-metal scrapers and spatulas.

With my second cup of coffee, I checked out emails and FaceBook messages as I thought about my morning blog… But the day came to a screeching halt when I read our friend Erin Glenn’s entry written “14 hours ago.”  I reprint it here in its entirety:

Liberty and Justice for All ….

The propaganda on the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website is appalling and their efforts to silence people from speaking out against these crimes against humanity is unbelievable. It is a disgrace to be an American right now and to live in this country, with such a horrible, horrible person governing our beautiful Nation. Another friend taken from our community today…

The person’s house was staked out, he was stalked and followed and then arrested. This is what ICE does when they do not have a warrant, when there is no official reason to arrest an immigrant. This person is in no way shape or form a threat to national security and is the father of four American children.

Internet Image

Suddenly, cleaning up our monuments to the dead seems like a rather useless endeavor.  The problems at our little cemetery pale in comparison to the terrifying troubles threatening friends and neighbors in our community.  How can we help?  Is there information to be found on the internet? What tools can we gather?  And where do we go?

My thoughts are a-jumble and all I can think to do is to contact Erin and other folks who might know better than I how to proceed.  What did my grandparents do back in 1942 when their friends and business associates, Ira and Jeff Murakami, who owned Eagle Rock Cannery, were interned (“relocated”) under FDR’s Executive Order 9066?  Clear back in 1935, my grandmother had written to her son Willard who was in New York:           

Jeff and Ira Murakam c. 1930s

As to the Japanese problem, most stand with the whites tho justice points clearly in the opposite direction…       We of course are in an uncomfortable situation.  No sentiment has broken directly upon us as yet but doubtless there is a lot of rumbling about our having leased to Eagle Rock…  The paper stated that Pa was going to try the case soon coming to court, but this thank goodness is not true.  He was asked by the Japanese to take their case (they have their own lawyers) but he excused himself on the ground of being “prejudiced.”

I hate it that history repeats itself.  I hate I that I feel helpless.  I hate it that this is happening

Not by the fern on our chimney chim chim!

Monday, May 15th, 2017

1939 — Three Chimneys (and one rain barrel)

There used to be three but now there are only two chimneys at our house.  When you consider that we have five fireplaces, three in good working order, two chimneys do not seem to be an overabundance.  But, when it comes to repairing them, we might as well be talking restoration of the Sistine Chapel – no one is leaping up and down to do the work.

Long ago – probably fifty years now – the third chimney in the house was removed.  It had served two lovely little marble, coal-burning fireplaces – one in the ‘parlor’ and one in the bedroom above — but, as far as I know, they had not been used since my grandparents bought the house in 1902.  So, in the sixties, that chimney went away and the two remaining (and still used) chimneys were given a coat of stabilizing plaster which was painted green to match the house’s gingerbread.

Fern on Chimney

Two years ago, we noticed that a fern was beginning to grow out of the back side of the lower chimney!  Presumably, the plaster had cracked enough to give a foothold (or in this case, a spore hold) to a bracken-type fern and, also presumably, the situation would worsen if left to its own devices.  We contacted our friendly mason and were placed on his list.  And there we remain despite our occasional calls of inquiry.

Until recently, the fern has thrived.  Yesterday, though, I looked up there and there is nothing remaining but a blackened blob – or so it appears from my ground level vantage point.  I assume whatever nutrients were to be gained from that tenuous foothold in the cracked plaster have been depleted.  Our patience with that wait-list is depleted as well.  Where is Dick VanDyke when we need him?

Sootbuster at Work, 2015

I hasten to say, however, that we have a fabulous chimney sweep who keeps us soot-free and safe from chimney fires on a yearly basis.  But, like  VanDyke’s character Bert in Disney’s “Mary Poppins” film, our sootbuster specializes in the interior not the exterior of chimneys.   So, it’s back to a modern-day Michelangelo or someone who does plasterwork as well as painting in high places.  So far, our queries have resulted in “not by the fern on your chimney chim chim” sorts of responses.  Has our poor old house outlived the workmen who can (or are willing to) do the job?   We hope not!

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.

How many times in one lifetime?

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Hanford Tunnel Collapse – May 9, 2017

I had never heard of “down-winders” until my friend and neighbor Carol Nordquist was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago.  It was her younger sister, ‘Aunt Becky,’ who said, “Oh yes.  We grew up in Walla Walla.  Our family are all down-winders and cancer is what we die of.”

These thoughts came flashing to mind yesterday afternoon when I happened to see a FaceBook message from Joanne Rideout:  RICHLAND, WA (KPTV) – An emergency has been declared at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington after a portion of a tunnel that contained rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

Crude Oil Pipelines in the U.S.A.

No matter how much reassurance we’ve been given about safety precautions since the site opened in 1943 – no, wait!  It was a secret until well after the war.  Part of the Manhattan Project, you know.  It was during the Cold War (1947-1991) that site expanded to its current size of 586 square miles – roughly equal to half the area of Rhode Island – and sometime during that period that we were told “no worries.”

Hanford is currently the largest and most contaminated nuclear site in the United States, and despite the fact that it is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup, it has continued to leak radioactive waste into the soil and groundwater. As if all of that isn’t horrifying enough, Hanford offers a number of tours for members of the public, elected officials and their staffs, tribal officials, stakeholders, and others.  Plus, it’s on the Register of National Historic Places.  Just like Oysterville.  Go figure.

Safe?

What’s most incredible to me is that new and terrible corporate proposals continue to be promoted as “safe.”  Furthermore, we are told that the benefits far outweigh any possible negative consequences.  About the Dakota pipeline the developers told us it “wouldn’t just be an economic boon, it would also significantly decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil…”  About the proposed LNG terminal in Warrenton, just across the river, we were told…  “the West Coast needs foreign LNG to avert economic crisis, and this ‘clean’ fuel will serve as a ‘bridge’ to a renewable energy future.”

So far, our Astoria/Warrenton neighbors are holding firm and seem to be prevailing.  But how many more environmental safety battles will be lost in our lifetime?  How many Hanfords does it take?  How many down-winders?  And how many salutes to history and facility tours to assuage horrified consciousness? OMG!

“Old Cripple Johnson”

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Oysterville Fun c. 1900

Yesterday as I watched Nyel stumping along with his cane, I had a momentary flashback to a discussion by my mother and her brothers.  It must have been sixty or more years ago – one of those long summer evenings, as I recall – and we were gathered in the library reminiscing.  Well, they were reminiscing; I was listening.

The subject had turned to some of ‘the characters of Oysterville’ who they remembered from childhood.  “Old Cripple Johnson” was one.  He must have been about their grandfather R.H. Espy’s age because they spoke of them in the same breath.  His given name was George and he was the eldest son of Captain James Johnson and his Lower Chinook Indian wife, Comtia Koholwish (called Jane.)

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

According to the “North Oregon” 1850 census (taken by U.S. marshal Joseph L. Meek, the famous Mountain Man) George was then six years old – which actually made him some twenty years youngerr than Grandpa Espy, but when you’re a kid the difference between seventy and ninety is probably minimal.  In any case, George grew up on Baker Bay in the vicinity of what would later become Ilwaco.  It was during his childhood that he sustained the injury that would make him memorable to the folks of Oysterville several generations hence.

Young George and his brother and the neighbor kids used to amuse themselves by riding empty whisky barrels down the steep slope near their home in the area now referred to as ‘Yellow Bluff.”  On one of his trips downhill, a stave broke through, pinning his leg inside.  The broken bones were never properly set, and the leg was afterwards shorter.  Hence his nickname, “Cripple Johnson.”

Dorothy Trondsen (Williams) c. 1930

Years later, George operated a boat-building shop in Oysterville.  He and his wife lived on the second floor and his bad leg was again broken when he fell from the high porch to the beach below.  Young Tommy Stratton was chosen to ride to Ilwaco for Dr. George W. Easterbrook who came and skillfully set the leg, also fashioning a stirrup-type crutch that enabled Johnson to walk without limping.  However, the sobriquet “Old Cripple” continued to be attached to his name, perhaps to distinguish him from several other George Johnsons who lived in the area.

I remember thinking during that long-ago discussion of the characters of Oysterville if, in our turn, my friends and I would be talking about our elders in the same vein someday.  Little could I have imagined, way back then, that my own husband and I might also, one day, fall into the ‘character’ category!

A Touch of Homesickness

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Marta-the-Tree-Hugger

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…