Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

A Summer of Connections

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Mike’s Book

At every turn this summer, I seem to come across someone wanting information about something.  Usually the questions have to do with Oysterville and someone who once lived here.  Or, about the cemetery and someone who died here.  But, there are other questions, too, and I am amazed at how many times I can provide answers.  I think it’s called “getting old.”

The other thing that has happened this particular summer is that the questioners are from places far away.  In that respect, Rosemary Peeler gets the prize so far.  She came clear to Oysterville from Australia looking for more information about her Briscoe roots.  Some years ago, Rosemary  had run across one of my Oysterville Daybook entries about Judge John Briscoe who lived and worked in Oysterville in the 1850s, ’60s, and ’70s.  We’ve communicated periodically since and, of course, I put her in touch with Mike Lemeshko early on.  I think he was still researching and writing The Cantankerous Farmer vs. the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company, which has become the definitive chronicle about that crusty old pioneer.  The three of us spent a pleasant few hours at my dining room table looking at documents and pooling our knowledge.  Great fun!

Then, a few days ago, I received a phone call from Peggy Gordon in Canada who was looking for a copy of Anne Nixon’s family chronicle The Heckes Kemmer Caulfield Family History.  I’m not at all sure how Ms. Gordon got my name (or the name of Anne’s book, for that matter) but she was hoping I could connect her with an available copy.  I contacted my lifelong friend Anne (who is now living in California) who contacted her cousin Judy Stamp (who is here on the Peninsula) and who had all the remaining copies of the book.  Alas! there are no more, so Peggy is considering a six-hour drive from Canada to take a look at the book at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum or at Timberland Library.

Sydney’s Camp Chronicles

And, this past weekend, Susie and Gordie Andrews introduced me to Penny Parks from New Jersey (I think) who has done some work for the fabulous “Find a Grave” site – a primary destination point for almost every budding genealogist, but one that can sometimes be fraught with problems.  She is interested in completing and correcting some work that has been done on our Oysterville Cemetery and I was delighted to be able to help, even minimally, in her endeavor.  Come to find out, Penny was here at the beach because of the annual gathering of old campers at Sherwood which is celebrating it’s 100th year anniversary this summer.  I was a camper there in its earliest incarnation as Camp Willapa – not quite 100 years ago!  And that’s another connection…

The Bridge on the Bay

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Regatta Invitation 2018

In Oysterville, the sailors among us are gearing up. Friends and relatives from as far away as Germany are arriving. There is more activity down at the bay than there has been since this time last year.  It’s Regatta Weekend!

At the center of all the activity is Tucker Wachsmuth who is Chief Organizer of this who-knows-how-many years annual event. And of course, his family is in the thick of it, too – Carol who is hostess to the multitudes; daughter Lena who oversees the Awards Dinner afterwards; son Clark who numbers among the competitors; and Cousin Chris Freshley who re-instituted the Oysterville Regatta twenty years ago (more or less) and then did then hand-off to Tucker a few years later.

Oysterville Regatta 2017 – Photo by Mark Petersen

Over the years, the regatta has developed many of the tell-tale signs of an “event.”  There are invitations, a time-keeper’s committee boat, an official rescue boat, tee shirts, trophies, music – even a yearly regatta song!  At the thick of it is Tucker – Artistic Director, Singer/songwriter, and all-year-long Boat Keeper.  The boats – all 14-foot laser class sailboats – are mostly based in Oysterville, several of them in Tucker’s boathouse.

The Regatta, of course, has generational ties to Oysterville.  The event was originally begun in the ’70s – the 1870s that is – by the oystermen in Shoalwater Bay.  They had organized the Oysterville Yacht Club and after the races the club gave a Regatta Ball, “ever to be remembered as the crowing social event of the season,” according to Wallace Stewart who was known as one of the best sailors on the bay.  Their sailboats, of course were their oyster sloops – their everyday work boats.  They were 30 feet long, ten feet wide, had centerboards and were known as “plungers” perhaps for the way they looked in choppy waters. Tucker’s great-grandfather, Meinert Wachsmuth sailed in at least one regatta in the 1890s.

Annual Regatta c. 1870s

When the sails are racing across the bay, it doesn’t take much imagination at all to think of the present-day regattas as a bridge across time – from the 1870s to 2018.  I’m sure the sailors must feel that connection even more closely than do the onlookers – especially Tucker and his family.  It’s surely genetic as well as generational!

Gore & Roar’s Ever-Expanding Picnic Group

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Yesterday was Gordon’s birthday.  He would have been 92.  Never mind that he never made it to Birthday Number 88.  He’s no doubt ‘been’ at every single Gordon Memorial Picnic his friends have had since.  And he’s probably loving it that the group is continuing to expand, even as it diminishes, year after year.

I don’t know if Gordon and Roy (read:Gore and Roar) did the picnic-at-the-drop-of-a-hat thing when they lived in Seattle, but I do know that they began the tradition here just as soon as they arrived back in the early seventies.  By the time I arrived on the scene in 1978, there was already a well-defined “Picnic Group” with procedures and protocols all its own.

There was no particular leader. “Instigator” might have been a more correct term. The phenomenon went something like this:  By mid-afternoon the day would have stabilized to something on the plus side of no rain.  Someone (very often Gordon) would start calling members of the group and say that there would be a picnic at five o’clock (or four or six or maybe even noon) at a certain location (often a local park or their own back yard or the beach in front of someone’s house).

Food assignments were loosely made with the instigator often offering to barbecue burgers or hotdogs and everyone else pulling together salads or chips or cookies. We each brought our own picnic basket with utensils, plates, cups and whatever we wanted to drink.  For Gordon that usually meant martinis. For the rest of us it could be cokes or seven-up or beer or wine or maybe a flask of something or other.

The group included Gordon and Roy, Gordon’s cousin Jeannie, Patty and Noel Thomas, Kaye and Charlie Mulvey, Jim and Kay Buesing, Betty Newell, Marjorie Horner, Chuck and Dorothy Huggins, and any “visiting firemen” (which I was at first and as was Nyel a few years later).  Jim always flew a kite or two and he and Charlie never failed to have a couple of jokes to tell.

If it was an “occasion” like someone’s birthday, there were presents from the Funny Drawer or whatever  you might call your equivalent dumping ground for white elephants and impossible gifts from your mother-in-law.  The biggest thing about the picnics was that there was absolutely no agenda except to enjoy one another’s company.

As our numbers dwindled, we began to invite new people to join us – Gordon’s book club members and some of our Friday Nighters.  Though the frequency of our get-togethers diminished, Gordon remained the pivotal member right up until he left us in 2014. It seemed appropriate to continue with at least one picnic a year – on his birthday.  Yesterday he would have been 92.  And, although he would have been over the moon to see his long-time neighbor 103-year-old Betty Paxton in our midst, he might have been just a tad envious that she is now well into the three digits.  On the other hand, the martini-decorated-cake that Betty and daughter Jan brought would probably have made all the difference!

“Fun with Flags”

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

American Jack Flag

If you are familiar with “The Big Bang Theory” sitcom, you probably remember the episodes in which Sheldon and girlfriend Amy were creating a video series called “Fun with Flags.”  It was actually somewhat informative in a zany kind of way and I couldn’t help thinking of those programs when Tucker did his show-and-tell at our Friday night gathering.

Tucker is a collector.   An eclectic collector, I should say.  For some time (several years, probably), he has been bringing something-or-other to tell us about on Friday nights.  Usually he tells a little about how he acquired the particular item and then something about the item, itself.  We could almost call it our “Friday Night Educational Moment.”  Last Friday he brought a jack flag.

Grand Old Union Flag

Some of us knew what a jack flag is – it’s the part of the American flag with the stars.  Not all of us knew what it was used for except that maybe it had nautical implications and that the British flag is called the “union jack”.  Tucker said that he didn’t know all the ins and outs, but he did explain that the jack of the U.S.A. is a maritime flag, flown on the jackstaff on the bow of American vessels that are moored or anchored; the ensign (the entire national flag) is flown on the stern (rear) of the ship.  Once under way,  however, the ensign is flown from the main mast; its purpose is on the vessel is to indicate citizenry.

I did a little more digging and found that, according to legend, it was the “grand Old Union Flag” that was first raised at Cambridge where George Washington took command of the Continental Army.  Althought not  officially sanctioned by the Continental Congress, it was flown for some time during the Revolutionary War.  According to tradition, it was Betsy Ross, under the direction of Washington, who made our first sanctioned flag and it was she who suggested the five-point star because it was easier to make.  The Smithsonian Institution points out that there is no hard evidence that can connect Betsy Ross to the creation of the first flag.

The “Betsy Ross Flag”

I’m surprised that Sheldon and Amy of “The Big Bang Theory” didn’t talk about more of our American flags.  There have been many of them – especially during the early days of our country.  Too bad they couldn’t have been here Friday night.  I’m sure they’d have been inspired to renew their “Fun with Flags” episodes!

Beyond Déjà vu

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Hayward: our last sleepover on this whirlwind six-day California odyssey before we turn northward toward home.  It’s hard for me to believe that I lived and worked here for sixteen years.  After a forty-year absence, the streetscape is almost entirely unrecognizable.  The names are familiar but… there isn’t even a glimmer of déjà vu!

New freeways careen toward cloverleafs and off-ramps that have obliterated…what?  I can’t really remember.  Another of those out-of-sight-out-of-mind things. Unhappily, it’s the same scenario with many of the people of my formative work years – colleagues in the Hayward Unified School District and friends in my Castro Valley neighborhood.  The names are familiar but I can no longer conjure up the faces or the circumstances we shared.

We met an old friend for dinner – a friend we’ve seen now and then in the intervening years.  Dayton has lived here continuously, working for the California Teachers Association until he retired just a year or so ago.  We spent a leisurely two-plus-hours over a delicious Italian meal (in a restaurant new to me) catching up and reminiscing.  Although “reminiscing” might not be the operable word. Mostly, I asked and he reminded…

“Boy, that name is familiar!” I said about someone he mentioned.

“Don’t you remember?  You had to go to her house on some sort of Association business and she answered the door without a stitch on?”  You’d think that would have stuck in my mind… but, no.  “You and Kathy used to go into gales of laughter on that one.”  And I laughed again… although I have no memory of that experience at all.

And we talked a bit about Kathy, his wife and my good friend for all of my Hayward years.  She died a decade or so ago of cancer.  The headlines said, “Teacher, labor leader Kathleen Crummey dies.”   I miss her mightily.  Especially here in unfamiliar Hayward.

Degrees of Separation? None!

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Sandy and Nyel

As we gathered around the big kitchen table, I realized that this was a family reunion of sorts.  Every one of the eight of us were related in some way by blood or marriage – three generations of strong and disparate personalities assembled for what we all fervently hoped would not be the last time.

When Sandy wrote that the Stanford Hospital had send her home with pain pills and no hope, Nyel and I planned our trip and packed our bags.  Sandy and I go back a long way.  We were college roommates.  We married brothers.  Our children are first cousins.  She and I are, in some ways, as different as night and day.  But sixty-two years of shared memories and family connections make any disparities blur beyond recollection.

The Music Studio

Son Charlie drove up from L.A. and we all had dinner in Aptos at Sandy’s daughter Karen’s lovely large home.  Her sons Rory (24) and Elijah (20) were there as was Mark, Rory’s dad.  And, of course, Charlie, Nyel and me.  The men all gathered around Charlie and talked music, film, acting, comedy, and even “Pinky and the Brain”.  It was so interesting to watch and listen to my son in the role of “old man of the industry” telling of his early days in “the business” and how things had changed… or not.  And to listen to the adulation of his fans —  never mind that they are related.

We went outside and steep stairs to Rory’s studio(s) – a sound studio full of instruments and possibilities and, in another room (but somehow electronically connected) his recording studio that he has been building for some time.  “OH! WOW!” Charlie said as we entered the room!  And, for me, anyway, that said it all.  It was Rory’s turn to shine as he explained the intricacies of equipment and played a few demo recordings – some of his own compositions with himself playing five or six instruments.  And then, “Grandma playing her alto sax with some of her musician friends.”

Rory’s Retreat

I hadn’t heard Sandy play since we spent part of a summer on Bainbridge Island with her family – probably sixty years ago.  I was overwhelmed.  And overcome when Rory said, “I’ve only done four recordings of her.  I hope she can get some of her strength back so we can do more.  She can’t play now…”  His voice and his eyes said what we all were feeling.

To say “I’m so glad we came” seems the understatement of a lifetime.

Old Photographs and Easter Memories

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Easter Sunday, April 17, 1938

Easter is the one holiday I can’t get very worked up about.  In my memory it’s a blur of egg hunts and getting dressed up and having a big dinner with the relatives.  And posing for photographs.  Always the obligatory photographs!  I guess, though, if that hadn’t been part of the Easter ritual, I wouldn’t have any memories of Easters past at all.  Certainly, I don’t remember going to Sunday School or church on Easter, although I think sometimes we did.

Easter Sunday, 1940, Portland OR

The first picture I have was taken in 1938.  Eighty years ago tomorrow!  I’m clutching a stuffed bunny and, although the photograph is in black and white, I have the vague sense that my “outfit” (hat and matching coat) was powder blue.  My mom, also in what appears to be a matching hat and coat ensemble, leans slightly to the right, reaching a protective hand toward my shoulder.  We were still living in Boston then and our surroundings are unfamiliar to me – perhaps near my paternal grandparents’ home at 12 Pierpont Road in West Roxbury.

Easter 1943

Two years later we were in Portland and one of the obligatory photographs includes my grandmother – the only photo I’m aware of with the three of us (Mom, Granny and me) together.  I treasure it for that!  Plus, I love my little bonnet and… was I actually wearing gloves?  One of the few times for that particular article of clothing.  For some reason, I dislike gloves and mittens…

                     Uncle Will. Photographer

Then, there’s a whole series of photos taken by my Great Uncle Will.  They were taken in the forties and fifties at every family gathering at his and Aunt Minette’s house in San Francisco.  Uncle Will was my Oysterville grandfather’s next youngest brother.  He was Water Commissioner (I think) in San Francisco and they had a lovely home in St. Francis Woods in San Francisco.  They were the designated Family Patriarch and Matriarch during those decades and relatives in the area gathered at their place on holidays – especially anyone who happened to be at Treasure Island or Alameda Naval Air Station during the war.

‘Quad’ All Dressed Up, Easter 1960



I have one Easter picture from when Charlie was little – taken around 1960, I think.  He’s all dressed up in his first sports coat and tie – visual evidence that we were still giving a sartorial nod to Easter.  And there must have been an egg hunt, too.  Maybe we even went to church… Lacking photographic evidence… it’s hard to say.  Maybe Charlie remembers.

California Calling!

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018


Doncha just love those unexpected phone calls or FaceBook messages?  The ones that come from friends that you’ve actually been thinking about but haven’t talked to in ages?  I received two of those yesterday – one was actually a FaceBook message from a friend I haven’t seen for forty-five years – maybe more!  And the other was from a friend who hooks up with me periodically – usually when one of us is working on a project involving old photographs of the Peninsula.

Allegra, 2014

I think of both of these ‘callers’ as California-based, but it’s probably not true in the case of Allegra.  She was a Kindergartener in my K-3 class in the mid-seventies – a never-to-be-forgotten, big-as-a-minute philosopher and wise woman, even at age five.  Over the years I’ve wondered periodically what happened to her and last week ‘found’ her on FaceBook.  Yesterday she answered my ‘Friend’ request and we are beginning to get reacquainted!  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

From what I can tell in her Facebook photos, she is still petite, dark-eyed, dark-haired, and beautiful.  Her smile turned out to be just as I imagined.  (As I recall, when we were last together, her two upper front teeth were missing… but I might be mis-remembering.)  She seems to live in the Northeast, perhaps near the other Washington, so my stuck-in-the-70s thoughts of her in California were one of those frozen in time things.  No matter!  I look forward to catching up.  From the look of things, she turned out perfectly!

Keith Cox

That connection was in the morning.  Last evening it was actually a phone call and it did come from California.  Keith, the Willapa Bay oyster industry’s filmmaker extraordinaire!  Haven’t heard from him in a year or more so we had some catching up to do, too.  It turned out that he was offering copies of any historic cranberry photos he might have – in case I need them for my current book project!  Say what?  How did he know? Turns out he’d had a conversation with Melinda (of Cranberry Museum fame) and then checked out my recent blog.

Sydney and Keith, 2017

Keith may live a thousand miles away but, somehow, he remains connected with Pacific County in unexpected ways!  Cranberry photographs??  Of course, Keith would have some!  I felt a bit chagrinned, in fact, that I hadn’t thought of him first.  Or at least second.

We commiserated about the status of publishing in the twenty-first century.  He talked to me about a couple of books he is beginning to put together in his mind – but probably not going with a conventional publication method.  Whatever Keith does and however he does it, it will be spectacular!

I have to say that yesterday was a struggle writing-wise – just one of those days.  But I definitely have a who-cares and this-too-shall-pass attitude about that part.  Hearing from my “California Connections” made all the difference!

When older is better – a lesson re-learned!

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Electricity came to Oysterville in 1936 – the year I was born.  In Seattle it was 1910, the year before my mother was born.  And in Portland, 1888 – two full generations before FDR’s rural electrification program made it here to the outlying areas.

I’m not sure whether my grandparents and great-grandparents complained about that delay in getting up-to-date.  Probably not.  I doubt that they cared much about the amenities that might be possible were they able to plug in – except maybe the possibility of giving up the outhouse in favor of indoor plumbing.  That was the first improvement in most houses.  Once an electric pump could be installed and water could be pumped directly indoors… tah dah!  Flush toilets!

Those of us who live in the outlying areas take some pride in being able to manage power outages without much ado.  Granted, many people now have their own back-up generators but I tend to think that those folks are mostly ‘newcomers’ from the urban areas.  Probably a kind of reverse snobbishness on my part.

Actually, though, power outages are few and far between these days.  Just frequent enough to remind us of what life was like for our forebears. Not that we outliers don’t still have our crosses to bear.  Nowadays, it’s high speed internet access and reliable cell phone service that we can’t depend upon.  Until recently, I think I’ve shared the somewhat skeptical do-we-really-need-that attitude my grandparents probably had about Edison’s new-fangled invention.  Land lines and dial-up and other fledgling conveniences have been do-able.

But, suddenly Nyel’s medical needs have bumped smackdab into the twenty-first century.  He now has two devices – a pacemaker and a CardioMEMS unit – that depend upon satellite transmissions to the doctors in the big city.  They don’t work.  Not that we don’t have cell phone coverage here in the Oysterville outback.  It’s just not good enough.

Fortunately, the CardioMEMS machine could be re-calibrated this morning (by the patient, himself!) to transmit its findings through our landline.  (And thank goodness we re-grouped a few years ago and got that landline back after thinking we could save money by going completely cellular!)  As for the transmitter for the pacemaker – we need to see if we can’t turn this one in on an older model.

Like I’ve been saying for years… older is really better in oh-so-many ways!

The Urge To Help

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

The Alice

When I read that Bob Duke and some of his drone buddies were trying to find the Alice, I had an almost overwhelming desire to help.  Not by sending my drone up over the beach.  (I don’t have a drone.)  No, my urge was one I have rather frequently – to go back in time and spend a day with one or two of my forebears.  In this case, it was my Aunt Medora who came to mind.  She was just ten years old when she wrote:

                        Friday, January 15, 1909 at half past eight
Dearest Mama,
            There was a ship come in last night at three o’clock.  The crew consists of 27 men.  They can’t speak English.  Bradford, Dorothy and I went to see the ship.
            The ship is about a mile from Ocean Park.  There was quite a number going from town.       We didn’t have any school after (12) twelve o’clock because we wanted to go see the ship.
                                                                        Your loving daughter, Medora Espy

If only I could spend that afternoon with Medora and the group “from town” in their walk down the beach to the Alice.  I wonder if such an excursion would help locate the remains of the ship in the here and now. Even if Medora’s report of “about a mile from Ocean Park” was accurate, how far out beyond the tideline would we have to look?  How much accretion has there been at that part of the beach since the jetties went in?  Probably the Army Corps guys have facts and figures about that.  Or maybe Kathleen Sayce who has been working on sand and dune related projects for years.

By Bob Duke

As I understand it, the hope is for the drones to locate the outline of the wrecked ship, or at least the outline of her cement cargo, from on high.  When the graceful French sailing ship Alice blew onto the beach on that early morning 109 years ago, her cargo of 2,200 tons of cement was immediately catalyzed into hard packets by the salt water.  Plans for her salvage were not even considered.

The ship had left London six months previously with about two-thirds of a full load of pulverized cement in barrels.  She was bound for the Columbia River but when she came in sight of her destination, the tugboat necessary to a safe entry of the river could not approach because of the heavy winds.  For six days it was “in and off and hove to” according to Able-Bodied Seaman DeReugemond.

When the ship finally blew into shore, it was the howling of young Willie Taylor’s dog, Solano, that raised the alarm. Ironically, the dog, itself, had been a shipwreck-victim two years earlier when the Solano, a four-masted schooner ran aground four miles to the north.  And, hence, the dog’s name.

Crew of the Alice at the Taylor Hotel, 1909

The dog’s master quickly spread the word and the North Beach Life Saving Crew hitched the horses, placed the surfboat on the beach cart, and took off for the scene of the wreck.  Reaching the ship was difficult; soft sand and adverse weather made the horses balky.  Fortunately, all hands reached shore safely using their own lifeboat.

One of the cherished memories of the late Beulah Slingerland Wickberg (1893–1995), at the time a teenager, was of playing the piano at the Taylor Hotel for the Alice’s French sailors to accompany their singing.  “After all,” she would recall, “music is a universal language.”