Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

A Miracle for Mary

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

The recent outbreak of measles in Washington put me in mind of Mary Douglas, the daughter of Jalek, an Indian woman, and her husband John Douglas who was one of the first white settlers in this area.  John, a cooper on a whaling vessel, had been to this area in the early 1840s, liked what he saw, and when he suffered an injury in 1846 – an injury serious enough to put him out of seafaring – he returned here and laid out a donation land claim on land just south of what would become Oysterville a few years later.

The story of Mary and the measles is best told by Lucile McDonald in her book Coast Country:  Douglas built a “studdin’ ” of upright posts, with a cedar shake roof and an attic with a gable-end door and an outside stair.  Is daughter Mary slept up there on a feather bed on the floor.  An attack of measles had left her blind in early childhood.  She had no medical attention until she was fourteen, when Dr. James R. Johnson (in 1854) began to practice across the bay at Bruceport.

Douglas arranged for her to live at the doctor’s house for a short period.  It was a fearsome adventure for Mary, who was dependent upon her mother.  Her clothes were packed for the journey in a tiny trunk adorned with bright nailheads, which her father had brought from San Francisco.  This was the only familiar object the blind girl took with her.  That night she went to bed in the doctor’s house, lonely and disturbed, wondering how she would manage to dress in the morning in a strange place where she could not find her way by touch.

Day dawned and Mary awakened.  A miracle had happened.  She could see again!  During the night the doctor had treated her eyes; likely some very simple thing had been wrong with them… By the time John Douglas died… Mary had become Mrs. Frank Garretson.  Her daughter treasured the little trunk with the bright nail heads, taken on that miraculous voyage across the bay to Bruceport.

And, in the Small World Department:
Frank Garretson was one of “The Bruce Boys” who entertained my great-grandfather, R.H. Espy in 1853 and who R.H. described as ” a clever fellow” which meant he was a good poker player!

Tommy and Irene Nelson’s Cannery, Oysterville

Frank and Mary’s daughter, Irene Garretson, married Tommy Nelson and lived across the street to the south of the Oysterville Church.  When I was a girl, she and Tommy had a small cannery behind the house and, in the late 1940s, canned gourmet quality smoked oysters under the label “Espy’s Own” which was an enterprise of my grandfather Harry Espy’s and my uncle Willard’s.
Both Irene and Tommy are buried in the Oysterville Cemetery (as are Frank and Mary Garretson.)

Also buried there is Dr. James R. Johnson whose daughter married Richard Osborne Goulter, our Oysterville neighbor Bud Goulter’s great-grandfather and making Bud Dr. Johnson’s great-great-grandson!

113 Years Ago Today

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Sacramento Street, San Francisco – April 18, 1906

Dearest Helen and Harry and Girlies,
So much has happened since Wednesday morning that I don’t know where to begin to tell you of it.  Sometimes when we think of it all it seems a hideous dream from which we will waken to find everything as it was a week ago and dear old San Francisco smiling at us from her sand banks and hills but, unfortunately, it is a grim reality and we do not yet know what the end will be.

Thus, begins a letter written by Leila Rider, my grandmother Helen Richardson Espy’s girlhood friend.  “Aunt Leila” (as she was always called by our family) lived in Berkeley and was writing to my grandparents and their daughters Medora (7), Suzita (3), and Mona (2) who were in far off Oysterville.  It’s a long letter – 12 pages – written in Leila’s beautiful longhand script on April 24, six days after the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.  I include just a few excerpts here:

It was 5:13 Wednesday morning when the shock came.  As we frightened sleepers stumbled from our beds, we thought the end had surely come.  To my dying day I can never forget the horror of those few seconds, each of which seemed a minute.  The skies were gray and out of the depths of the earth came the roaring and rumbling that added to the terror of the dazed people.  Then came the starling crack of walls and beams, the falling of chimneys and tumbling brickbrac till it seemed everything would crush in upon us…

S.F. Ferry Building, 1906 Fire

…As we looked toward the City, we saw a great cloud of fire and smoke arising that did not die down till Saturday morning and left San Francisco a skeleton city and more than three hundred thousand people homeless.  Three fourths of the City, including the entire business district is wiped out and only the residence district west of Van Ness and in the vicinity of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio is left…

…In Berkeley, every available building is being used for a hospital or shelter and the University Campus and vacant lots are turned into camping grounds… You never saw such a motley collection of people as constitute the refugees or such a conglomerate mass as their possessions represent.  The articles saved are in some instances pitiful, in some humorous and in still others, provoking.  One man dragged a clothes basket filled with flat irons for blocks.  Another man arrived in Berkeley with a large mirror on his back and an empty bird-cage in his hands.  Such a collection of cats, dogs, monkeys, canaries, parrots etc. was never dreamed of!  The limit was reached, I think, Thursday when one woman arrived with twenty-three angora cats… 

An excerpt from Aunt Leila’s letter, April 12, 1906

We have been so busy working in the hospital shelters that we have hardly had time to consider our own loss, but Saturday night I found myself worn out and decided to rest till Monday morning.  Meanwhile, contagious diseases are breaking out among the refugees and I received my orders to stay at home so I expect I shall have to obey…

Havetos and Gettos

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Sydney in Oysterville, 1939

When I was a young girl, I hadn’t heard of “the power of positive thinking” or of “the cup being half full.”  My life was simply a matter of havetos (as in you have to go to the dentist and get your braces tightened or you have to clean up your room)  and gettos (as in you get to go outside and play until dinnertime or you get to go see the new “Road” picture with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.)

It seems to me that most of the gettos were connected to ifyous.  If you put away your toys you get to listen to “Let’s Pretend” on the radio.  The havetos, of course, were decided upon by forces beyond your control like your parents, or by circumstances like getting sick.  And they were really serious like having to stay in bed or go to the doctor.  But, as I remember, my life was mostly gettos.  Thank goodness!

I didn’t realize until long after I was grown that not all of my playmates had as many gettos as I did.  For me, for instance, school was a getto.  The only haveto I associated with it was having to eat some breakfast before I left the house.  That always left me feeling a bit sick to my stomach and as soon as I went away to college, I gave up eating first thing in the morning.  (Ever since, breakfast is a getto if I can wait a few hours for it.)

I was amazed when I learned that some of my friends looked upon school as a haveto.   They thought of visiting the relatives as a haveto, also.  And, even of going to camp as a haveto!  They were the Eeyores among my friends.  I tried to stick with the Poohs and Piglets.

I remember hearing some older people made dire predictions and ominous statements – “when you grow up, you’ll realize…” or “enjoy being young while you can…”  I knew even then that they were referring to the grim realities and responsibilities of life as an adult when it would be all havetos and very few gettos.  But, I hadn’t heard of “making lemons out of lemonade” back then, either.

I’m happy to report that my life is still more gettos than havetos.  The number of doctor’s appointments are creeping up, of course, and housework and gardening definitely fall into a gray area… So far, though, the gettos are way out in front.  

The Pioneer Connection

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

“So, you come from the beach,” she said.  Not a question exactly.  Susan Watkin, Family Nurse Practitioner, was one of the many workers who came in yesterday, one after another, to check on Nyel’s well being, his needs, his hopes for getting outta here.  I didn’t pay much attention until the words “the beach” registered.

“Of all the people we’ve met here, you are the first to refer to Oysterville as the beach,” I said.  “You’ve been to the Long Beach Peninsula before?”

“Yes,” she said, “My great-great-great grandparents lived there.”

“So did my great-grandparents,” I responded.  “They may have known one another.  My family name is Espy.  Who were your ancestors?”

Richard and Mary Carruthers’ Pacific House, c. 1870

“Oh!” was the response.”My mother is the one who’s into genealogy.  I’ll find out and let you know tomorrow.”

“Great!” I told her.  “I’m not so much into genealogy as I am into the history of the area and the old family stories,  Chances are I’ll know who your ancestors were.”

She didn’t wait until “tomorrow.”  She was back in a trice.  “Carruthers!” she said with a big smile and, I imagine my smile was equally radiant,  “I do know a little about the Carruthers!” I told her.  “When you come in tomorrow, we’ll talk!”

“Letters To Louise” by Carol Carruthers Lambert

I can’t wait!  Does she know that Richard and Mary Carrruthers owned the famous Pacific House in Oysterville?  Or that one of her cousins lives in Warrenton and wrote a book about the Carruthers Family called Love Letters to Louise?  Or that her great-great-grandfather replaced my great-grandfather as County Sheriff in November 1868?  (R.H, Espy resigned after only three months in office because, goes the family story, the county insisted that he pay for his badge of office.  He refused as a matter of principal.  The historic record is silent concerning who paid for Carruthers’ badge.)

I can’t wait to talk to her again today!  No telling what we’ll learn from one another!

Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

1904 Cash Register

Tucker outdid himself last night for his weekly “show and tell” part of our Friday Night Gathering!  In fact, when the time came, he had to go home and bring the mystery object over in his car.  “It was too heavy to carry,” he told us and, as always, acted as though we might not really have time for this weekly highlight.

He brought it in covered in a blanket and set it on the floor. The rest of us were totally mystified until he revealed… an old-fashioned cash brass register that was so shiny bright that there was an involuntary “Ohhh!” from the nine of us onlookers.  What a beauty!

But it wasn’t until he pressed the ‘Total’ button and the cash drawer opened with that never-to-be-forgotten “Ka-ching” sound that our nostalgia really kicked in.  All of us were old enough to remember the days when purchases were made with real money and almost every store had a cash register – but perhaps not as grand as this one.

It was made by the National Cash Register Company (which is still in business after 135 years, though now owned by AT&T.).  According to the label on the bottom of the cash drawer, the register had been manufactured in 1904 for a specific (unnamed)c company who, as part of the terms of purchase, was obligated to buy any supplies such as ink and paper (cash register tape) solely from the National Cash Register Company.  Ditto any repairs to the register.

The highest amount on any key was $1 which made $1.98 the largest sale that could be rung up.  This caused Tucker to believe that perhaps this particular register had been manufactured for a five-and-ten cent store – back in the day when most items at such a shop did, indeed, cost a nickel or a dime.

We all agreed that it was one of the best “show and tell” items ever from Tucker’s collection.  Surely, he’ll never top this one!  (But… we’ve said that before.)

It’s not every day…

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Tooth Soap

The little round package fit right into the palm of my hand.  It had been given to me just as I took my seat before the concert began.  I had no idea what it was.

In the dim light, as unobtrusively as possible, I examined the little parcel.  It seemed to be made of a sort of plastic.  To the touch it was reminiscent of my grandmother’s dresser set made of Bakelite – that precursor to modern plastic, developed back in 1907. I could feel raised letters/numbers(?) on the top and could almost make out what it said.

Ling George V

It wasn’t until the intermission was over that I could take a good look.  It was a little round box, black with a maroon cover.  The lettering, curved to fit around the top and bottom edges said:  TOOTH SOAP – Peppermint Flavor – Enolin (1926) Ltd.  In the middle were the words:  Specially Prepared For The Use Of H.M. NAVAL FORCES.  Inside was a small cake of soap, apparently in its original cellophane wrapper.  It, too, was embossed with letters reading TOOTH “SOAP/ENOLIN/FOR H.M. NAVAL FORCES.

“I saw this in a shop somewhere after one of your House Concerts,” my benefactor said.  “I had been looking at your coffee table with all of the curiosities displayed and I thought this just needed to be among them.”

People gathered around.  We all had questions.  “Who would have been the king then?” we wondered.  Later I found that it was George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, who was, himself, a navy man and who was England’s king from 1910-1936.

The other burning question: “Was this soap with its container original or a reproduction?”  I also looked that up and I’m not totally sure.   A British site claimed it was an “unused warehouse find and was selling it for £8.50 (12 available, 31 sold).”  Another site made the same claims but added that the warehouse was in Malta and the price per pot was £7.50.  Another site, in Spanish, said “GPD 12.99, aproximadamente US $16.79.”  And yet another: “AU $125.00/Approximately Euro 78.88.”

Coffee Table of Curiosities

Still another site added this information:  “These packets of tooth soap were introduced into Royal Navy slops in 1936 as a replacement for tooth powder and in 1944 were sold at 3½ d for paste and case or 2 ½ d for just the refill…  A case of these tooth soap containers and contents seems to have come to light in the last few years and flooded the market, so they are plentiful and cheap and can be picked up for under £5 with little difficulty.”

So, there you have it!  It will be added to the items on display in our coffee table – definitely a curiosity and far more urbane when compared to the broken bits of china and doll parts that we’ve found in the garden over the years.  Elegance (of sorts) among the mundane!  Thanks so much, Mike!

Phew! I’m glad I figured that out!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t “a girlie” sort of girl when I was young.  I didn’t much like playing with dolls.  I didn’t like playing dress up.  It never occurred to me to get into my mother’s cosmetics.

On the other hand, I don’t think I was a tomboy, either, although it is true that the top of my wish list was always an electric train and I had a secret desire for one of those box scooters like my neighbor Robert Reading had.  I don’t think I ever wanted a squirt gun or a bow and arrow or anything sort of projectile that I might aim at anyone else.

I did ride horseback, climb trees, go camping, and get muddy.  Those things definitely weren’t the prerogative of boys.  But I wasn’t much into sports or long hikes or sailing or anything that took much physical effort.  I’d much rather spend an afternoon reading or playing a board game or maybe trying to write a story for the children’s section of the Oakland Tribune.

All these thoughts converged the other morning when I had to actually enter the chicken run AFTER the girls and boys were up and about – yes, including the evil black rooster! Their water was frozen solid and I was coming to their rescue, a fact that I told them over and over as I bravely unlatched their gate and walked into their midst.

At first the evil one just looked at me and my big bottles of water –plastic liter bottles once holding tonic and the perfect size for taking down to the coop to replenish their supply.  But, before I could reach the trough, he became all too interested.  He didn’t flap his wings or aim his spurs at me, but he did come marching right for me at a good clip.

Before I could think, I aimed one of the water bottles at him and squeezed.  A big stream of water got him right in the face.  He stopped all forward progress and just stood there looking confused.  I didn’t wait to see what his next move might be.  In two giant steps I was at the trough pouring in that water and was outta there before he could say “cock-doodle-brrr!”.   After I had re-latched the gate, I took a look.  There he was at the trough with the other six, happily slaking his thirst.

“A squirt gun!” I thought.  “That’s what I need.”  But I really don’t like the idea of aiming any kind of gun at anyone – even that evil rooster.  “And I don’t have to!” was my happy realization.  “A water bottle will do just fine.”

And, just for a minute…

Saturday, January 12th, 2019


Last night Tucker brought the BEST thing for his Friday evening “show and tell.”  He called it a MOBO because that is what is painted on it, but none of us (including Tucker) had a clue what those letters might mean.  And, honestly, I didn’t care because, just for a minute I was four years old and wanted to climb on that little MOBO in worst way!

It was a little horse, suitable for riding by a small child (Me!  Let it be me!) and, where the stirrups might be were footrests that you could push and the horse would move forward!  And turn!  (Giddy up MOBO!)  Tucker said that when he was a boy the Waddles Restaurant in Portland had several of these little horses that kids could ride around in a room set aside for the purpose.  Although this particular MOBO hadn’t come from there – it was something Tucker found in an antique shop years later – it was just like the ones he remembered from his childhood in the ’50s.

Waddles Restaurant, Portland

Wow!  I actually felt a tinge of jealousy – that I had been too old in the ’50s, that I had never heard of the restaurant, and that I had never had the opportunity to ride a MOBO.  Judging from some of the old pictures of me, however, I had lots of opportunities to ride other things.

There I am in a cool car, I think on a merry-go-round at the New York World’s Fair in 1939!  And there is another of me, taken that same year at Christmas in Oysterville, sitting on my first tricycle.  That was a big Christmas for me – a toy stove, a “cry baby” doll as big as I was, and my very first set of wheels.  Bright red, as I recall.  But… no MOBO!

Sydney at 1939 World’s Fair

A few years later, in the summer of 1942, I went to Russian River with Mrs. Nagle who was our housekeeper/baby-sitter during the war while my mom worked at the shipyards.  (She was a pipe fitter’s helper at General Engineering in Alameda.)  I remember the day that my mom and dad came up to take me home and, as a special treat, I got to ride a pony that then posed with me for a picture.

Sydney at Russian River, 1942

In the years that followed, there were lots of ponies and horses in my life – never belonging to me, but available to ride at Camp Willapa or, if I was lucky, in Oysterville when a friend would let me borrow theirs.  But there was never a MOBO.  Lucky Tucker!  And who’da ever thunk a dignified (ahem!) old lady such as myself would have such a nostalgic longing to be four years old again so she could ride a toy pony.  Wow!

By the Heft of It…

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting an unexpected package in the mail, even at Christmastime.  When the postmaster hands me a package all done up in brown wrapping paper, I still get that fluttery feeling in my stomach that I did when I was six years old.  Only then, we were living in Alameda and the postman carried a big sack over his shoulder.  When there was something in it for me, I felt like it was Christmas no matter what the time of year!

Yesterday, there was no mistaking the shape and feel of a book under that plain brown exterior.  The return address said that it was from my friend Memi (pronounce it Me-My) whose name is really Ann but, since I first met her in the late thirties or early forties, she’s always been Memi to me.  Again, I felt six years old!  But why on earth would Memi be sending me a book?  I couldn’t wait to get home and rip off that disguising paper.

With Ann (Memi Sherwood) Anderson — Now

It was a thick blue paperback with a bold white title:  The Way They Were.  “The Whimsical Short Stories of Harry A. Biggs” it said.  “Edited by Lila Biggs Mitchell.”  I know several of the large Biggs family.  Some of them grew up in Oysterville and they are related to Memi… but these particular names weren’t ringing any bells.  The note that Memi had taped to the front helped:

This book was put together by my cousin Lila, daughter of my Uncle Harry Biggs.  It’s a collection of articles he wrote for the South Beach Bulletin plus a few other stories.  Since Harry ad Iva lived in Oysterville, quite a few stories have reference to their time there…

Memi (in front) Then

A quick look in the index revealed so many familiar names…  Bert Andrews, Glen Heckes, Ted Holway, Millie Sherwood, Gary Whitwell.  All from my long-ago six-year-old past.  And the stories!  Oh my!  About clam-digging when licenses weren’t required and there were no seasons.  And about Tin-Lizzies and early day radio.  A hundred-plus stories on 355 pages!  It’s one of those books that’s hard to put down – a new story every other page.  Perfect for a blustery Oysterville day by the fire.  I can’t wait!  (And I don’t really need to – it’s windy and stormy as all get-out here!)  Thanks, Memi, for this wonderful gift!

Pearl Harbor Day

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Infamy:   evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

“December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”  It was the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and I remember listening to the radio as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke those words to Congress when he asked them for a declaration of war.  I was “five-going-on-six” and I remember it all clearly – the barbed wire on the beaches, the Victory gardens, the tinfoil drives, the air-raid wardens and rationing books, Kilroy, Lucky Green going to war, and being allotted only one pair of shoes a year – unless you were a kid.  We got two.

We hadn’t been at war – not with anyone—for five years, which at that point was my entire life.  I had no idea what a Big Deal that really was.  Perhaps no one else did either at the time.  As it turns out, that five-year period from 1935 through 1940 has been the longest time the United States has been at peace in our 232-year history. Both beforehand and afterwards we’ve had several periods as long as three years without being involved in a war, most recently 1976, 1977, and 1978 after the Vietnam War.  But mostly… we live with war.

IF you were born after 1978, you may have memory of two separate years that were not  involved in a major war – 1997 and 2000.  Other than that… not so much.  Since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.

Gun-toting Robotic Combat Robots

Yes, FDR had it right.  We remember Pearl Harbor – at least some of us do.  But how many more days of infamy have we forgotten?  When did we and the rest of the world go numb? Perhaps it was when researchers began using their knowledge of how human emotion develops to try to build robots that can feel.  But are they teaching those bots to remember?  Especially, to remember the important things?  Like Pearl Harbor.