Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

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.”

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…

One Century Plus Four Years Ago Today

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Every now and then, like today, I feel the need to find out what was going on right here in this very house a century or so ago.  Fortunately, I have the letters written by my grandmother to her first born, Medora.  Those letters, plus their counterparts from Medora to Mama were the basis for my 2007 book, Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years.

From the time that Medora entered Portland Academy as a sophomore in 1913 until her sudden death in January 1916, she and her mother corresponded two or three times a week.  The letters provide a wonderful glimpse of life in our little corner of the world when we were so remote that it was necessary, if you could manage it, to send your children to boarding school in the far-away city; there was no road from Oysterville to Ilwaco High School and the train from Nahcotta did not run at times convenient to school children.

The Espy Children in 1913 – Dale, 2; Willard, 3; Edwin, 5; Mona 9; Sue, 10; Medora, 14.

(Note the ‘Dear Little Sister’ greeting – an affectionate term my grandmother often used when writing to Medora, the eldest of her seven children.  In many ways, their bond seemed far beyond the usual mother-daughter relationship.  My grandmother, although a loving and devoted mother to her remaining children, never quite recovered from Medora’s untimely death.)

Tuesday, 3:30  January 27, 1914

Dear Little Sister,

It has been impossible to write because I have one of my weepy, blurry colds — only worse than usual.  This A.M. have my face all done up in flannel – am a beauty.  Have neuralgia due to having partially dislocated my jaw last night –I bit a cough drop.  It was hard and slipped, wrenching my face.  I will attempt a letter tho you may find it muddle-headed.

Horse-Drawn Phaeton Toy

I guess too much vanity gave me my cold.  The buggy came from grandpa when I was in a hot kitchen baking.  I was so delighted with the “looks” of it that I ran out into the cold and rain to see closer.  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…

Willard … has been having three days of slight fever and croup.  He is not in bed but looks wilted.  Dale has one of her wracking bronchial coughs and so has Mona.  In fact, every member of the household barks until we sound like a kennel.

Mrs. Wirt made an awful scene in church Sunday night.  We had a fine speaker from Los Angeles.  Beth grew fussy and Mrs. W. took her into the vestibule.  There was a great commotion and pretty soon in came Mrs. Wirt “right out in meeting” with, “Papa, papa I can’t make that child come home.  She won’t budge.  You will have to come take her.”  The minister stopped preaching and Mr. Wirt went in back for a lantern and handed it to Mrs. W. — then calmly took his seat.  This was not enough.  Mrs. W. spied Wesley who was peacefully sleeping and she trots over, stands him up, shakes him, yells at him — he acting all the time like Sue does when we try to get her awake.  She finally managed to haul him out and the three of them thundered out…

There certainly is a lot of dignity about our church.  The minister attended S.S. in the morning and, as usual, they sang without an organ.  An hour later at church, he sat down and played, himself, and if Mrs. Bowman did not blurt out, “Well why in the world didn’t you say you could play at Sunday School?”  He must have thought it a disorderly crowd.  We are to have a resident Baptist minister come next month.  Poor man!…

Next Door, North

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Heckes House with Annex (r.) circa 1930

When I was a little girl and continuing into my mid-adulthood, the house next door to the north of ours was the Heckes House, called that because the Heckes family lived there.  Now it’s called the John Crellin House because he was the one who built it – not personally but, as the owner of the property, he had it built back in 1867.  It’s only since Oysterville became a National Historic District (1976) that the homes have been known by the names of their original owners.

The old map of Oysterville shows that, in the early days, the Stevens Hotel was once just north of our house — between our place and the Heckes House.  My mother remembered it as very run down and the place where “the old bachelors lived.”  In the late 1920s, when the building was beyond saving, the Heckes family used some of the old lumber to build an “annex” to the Heckes Inn.  The annex morphed into a garage and, finally, in its turn, had to be torn down a few years back.

Papa in his Victory Garden, c. 1947

For most of my mother’s childhood and for all my growing-up years, my grandparents owned all of the property between Clay and Division Streets and on out into the bay.  After the Stevens Hotel was dismantled, much of the area north of our house became Papa’s vegetable garden.  It was large enough that he used a horse and plow to get it ready for planting each spring.

Beyond the garden … nothing, really.  Grass (meadow, not lawn) that my grandfather kept under control with a scythe.  By the 1970s, it was just another empty space in this little tumble-down village.  And then, we were placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the gentrification began.

Hampson House, 1987

In the mid-eighties, my folks sold the north half of our property to John and Joan Hampson.  Their house was completed in 1987, the year Nyel and I were married.  It has been a matter of “discussion” ever since.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  There isn’t much middle ground.  Few people think it “fits in” with the general architecture and feeling of Oysterville.  My mom always tried to defend it on the basis of the north and south ‘wings’ — one a workshop, the other a garage – attached to the main house by covered walkways.  “Those were typical of early Oysterville homes; look at Uncle Cecil’s house,” she would say.

Proposed Changes to Hampson House

The house has recently been sold again and we have been notified that there will be a hearing on January 29th concerning the new owners’ proposed changes to the exterior and their application for a building permit.  All things being equal, Nyel and I will attend in the hopes that we will get a clearer idea of the planned changes.  From the elevation drawings posted online, I’m having a hard time seeing whether the new façade will be a better “fit” with Oysterville   But then I never was very good at the ‘spatial perception and imagination’ parts of aptitude tests.  I hope that there are some architects familiar with Oysterville structures who will attend the hearing and weigh in.  Until then, I’m trying to keep an open mind.

The Trouble with Time Machines

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

A Candlelit Friday Night – 2016

The power went out about 4:40 yesterday afternoon, twenty minutes before our first Friday Nighters would be arriving.  We gave it a few minutes and then lit lanterns and candles and fire to stave off the darkness and chill.

“What’s going on?” asked our first guests.  “Are we having a ‘Back to the 1890s’ evening?”  Great idea, but “no” and we learned that it was apparently just Oysterville – PUD working on the line just south of town.

There was a period of time, years ago that we used only candlelight on the first Friday of each month.  Neither Nyel nor I can remember what happened to that plan.  Probably the dark season morphed into long days of sunlight and we lost sight of the idea (so to speak.)

Under threat?

When the lights came back on after about an hour, we were tempted to turn them all out and continue our candlelight evening.  But we didn’t.  The discussion had, by that point, turned serious and there seemed to be the need for the ‘cold light of day’ or at least the bright lights of the twenty-first century.  Under cover of darkness, the talk had turned to politics – perhaps a first in twenty years of our Friday Night Gatherings.

We talked about our two-party political system, what has happened to the concept of States’ Rights, the difficulties of law enforcement (traffic laws, burn bans, fireworks) on a local level and… on it went.  There were folks talking from both sides of all the issues – civilized discourse, you might say, but I’m not sure we got anywhere.  Still, it was an interesting evening – sort of out-of-the-darkness-and-into-the-light. Literally.

Coming soon?

This morning I woke up thinking about Jeff Sessions and Marijuana and Prohibition and Elliott Ness and ICE and the Feds in general.  Imagine!  Way off here on the Left Coast in little old Pacific County!  If we go back to Candlelight Fridays, it’s likely to be more like the 1920s than the 1890s.  Not my idea of a fun trip in a Time Machine.  No sirree!  But, I don’t think there are any guarantees about power failures – in Oysterville or in the Other Washington. Yikes!

Bittersweet Memories on New Year’s Day

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Medora, 1916

(Saturday, January 1 1916) The first day of the New Year – May 1916 accomplish more than 1915 did in building my character!  Though I feel far better satisfied with the past year than the one before, and thus may the years continue, each one more perfect than the last until I find everlasting peace.  A complication of affairs is keeping me at home this next week from school and in those extra seven days I want to help my dear family as much as possible.  There is so much to do in a household of eight which my little frail mother can not manage. 

I was twelve when I came across Medora’s diary.  It was 1947 — my seventh-grade year — and my mother and I were living here in Oysterville with my grandparents.  I had been ill and, for reasons long forgotten, I was ensconced in the north upstairs bedroom, rather than in my own small room overlooking the church.

1912 – The Espy Children (Dale, Willard, Edwin, Mona, Suzita, Medora)

In fit of boredom, I rummaged through the drawer in the old library table at the foot of the bed.  It held a treasure trove of ‘bits and pieces’ – Papa’s magnifying glass, my grandmother’s long unused buttonhook, and way back in the corner, Medora’s last diary.  I read the few entries with a mixture of awe and dismay.

Medora, my mother’s oldest sister, had died suddenly a few days after her seventeenth birthday.  That much I knew.  And that my middle name was in her honor.  But this diary from long ago was the first real kinship I had felt with her.  That she was only a few years older than I when she wrote the entries made the connection all the stronger.

I was full of questions and, although my mother was more than willing to share what she knew of Medora, her own memories were hazy.  “I thought of her as a fairy princess,” my mother told me.  “I had just turned four when she died…”

Medora’s Locket

My grandmother was more forthcoming.  She showed me some of Medora’s keepsakes – her locket (which I was given on my sixteenth birthday) and the yearbooks from Portland Academy where she was a student.  But, though it had been many years since Medora’s death, even I, a callow twelve-year-old, understood not to ask too many questions.

On Monday, January 3, 1916, Medora wrote her final diary entry: My seventeenth birthday.  Why I am really becoming a young lady!  I shall live this year cheerfully without any sentimental attachment awaiting my prince, and preparing for him.  If in all the long years he never comes, I have lots to do for others.

Two weeks later, Medora died in her sleep.  A cerebral hemorrhage the doctors said. The family who knew her never completely recovered and, for those of us who came after, there is always a bittersweet ache associated with her name and with the first days of each new year.

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!