Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

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.

“Grab his tail! Grab the horse’s tail!”

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

The Strathblane

When I ran out of reading material the other day – temporarily, until my book arrives at the library – I decided I would take a look at some the old Sou’westers… but which one?  The first issue was published in 1966 and for years the Pacific County Historical Society published them quarterly.  They are a treasure trove of our County’s history!  I have most of them and, before I knew it, I had started at the beginning and am now working my way through the lot!

I think it will be a slow process – mostly because I feel compelled to share some of my favorites with Nyel or with Tucker and Carol or… maybe (like today) in my blog.  This is an excerpt from an article by Eleanor Barrows Bower, published in Volume 1, Number 4 – the Winter 1966 issue:

            A country doctor unhitched his horse from the buggy and became a hero as the Strathblane disintegrated on the sands near the Ilwaco Beach Lifesaving Service [Klipsan Beach] on November 3, 1891.
            Charles Nelson, Sr. keeping solitary watch in the tower found the lines of communication downed by the storm and dispatched riders to obtain aid for the stricken ship.  From Cape Disappointment, Captain A.T. Harris and his men arrived by the narrow gauge railway but were unable TO SHOOT A LIFELINE ABOARD.  All but one of their lifeboats having been destroyed, the stranded sailors were obliged to jump for their lives, and the surfmen joined hands with local citizens to form a human rescue chain.
            On the Peninsula making his usual hose calls, Dr. T.H. Parks responded to an appeal for help from Nelson.  Astride the horse he had trained to enter the surf, he directed the survivors to grab hold of the harness, or the horse’s tail to be towed to safety.  Of the thirty men aboard, twenty-four were saved, including Jack Payne and First Mate James D. Murray both of whom became prominent Pacific County citizens…

Klipsan Life Saving Station

Years ago, maybe in the early 1970s before I moved permanently to the Peninsula, I saw a poem about this rescue in the New Yorker magazine.  I wish I had saved it.  I’m very curious about who wrote it and how they knew about Dr, Parks and his recue horse.

Thanksgiving 1947 – History Remembered

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

1947 Golden Wedding Thanksgiving

My grandparents were married on November 25th – Thanksgiving Day – 1897.  I was lucky enough to be among the celebrants for their Golden Wedding Anniversary fifty years later, in 1947.  I don’t remember now whether we celebrated on their actual anniversary or on Thanksgiving which, that year, was on November 27th.  Or, in the interest of family members getting to Oysterville for the grand occasion, perhaps it was on the Saturday just before or just after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

Helen Richardson, November 25, 1897Saturday just before or after the holiday.  I don’t remember.

I do know that the time and place of their 1897 wedding had to be changed at the last minute.  They were scheduled to have a large church wedding in Oakland, California where my grandmother had grown up and where the young couple had met at California College a few years beforehand.  But young Helen’s mother became very ill at the last minute, and the church plans were cancelled.  The wedding took place at my great-grandmother’s bedside on Thanksgiving Day.  I’m not sure if that was before or after the originally planned date.

Fifty years later, all of their surviving siblings and spouses plus their four surviving children and spouses, plus many of their grand nieces and nephews, plus most of their seven grandchildren, plus a few close family friends, gathered at the Moby Dick Hotel in Nahcotta.  It was the only venue at the north end of the Peninsula large enough for the celebratory dinner.  I don’t remember much about it except that I was placed next to my grandmother at the table and I felt almost like the guest of honor, myself.

50th Wedding Anniversary Celebrants

I also remember that my cousin Freddy was the only one of Willard’s four little girls to attend.  She sat across from me, next to our grandfather.  Her three sisters were all home with the measles (I think. It might have been mumps or chicken pox.)  As I look at those pictures now, it saddens me to realize that I am the only one still living – even darling Freddie is gone.

The H.A. Espys On Their Fiftieth – 1947

I wouldn’t trade my years and my memories for anything.  I am thankful for all of it.  Even for the realization that this, then, is another of what my mother called, “the secrets of old age.”  If you live long enough, there is no one who left to share your memories.  I guess the flip side is that there’s no one to contradict your version of the events – the revisions of that 1947 Thanksgiving will be left to history.  Just like the corrections that are being made now to the very first Thanksgiving in 1620… but that’s another history lesson altogether.

On the Eve of Thanksgiving 2018

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Family Christmas 2014

On this day before my 83rd Thanksgiving, I’ve been reviewing all the things I’m most thankful for.  Of course, there are the “usual” – family, health, home.  And then, there is one more – memories.  Quick!  Before they fade!

An enduring memory of my mother is her whacky sense of humor.  She loved the songs and poems from her own growing up years in the 19-teens.  I can still here her singing in her enthusiastic off-key warble:  “K-K-K Katy, Beautiful Katy…” as she went about her chores.   Or the nonsense poem about the “durned ol’ rube from the high-grass town” that I have never heard or run across anywhere else.

Family on Easter 1940

And, the vision of my father, thumbing through a well-loved art book, looking at the reproductions of the masters and shaking his head in wonder and appreciation.  Or of his Sunday morning habit (back in the days of radio) of listening to classical music – often the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, I think.  He would pace and listen – his way of relaxing as I later came to understand, though his intensity made me a little anxious at the time.

And, my memory of my grandparents – Granny with her soft lap and smooth skin, always smelling reassuringly of powder and violets.  And Papa with his whiskery kisses and his meticulous measuring of how much I’d grown – marking it on the door and where did that board my dad transferred the marks to go, anyway?

And of my playmates down by the bay when we still had a big sandy beach for building sand castles and digging endless tunnels.  And all those ballast rocks, covered with moss that we could slip and slide over – or turn upside down and the find baby crabs hiding there.  And of skipping down the road, arm-in-arm with a friend singing (at the top of our voices, of course):

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

Oysterville Kids 1947

Yes – I am thankful for so many simple memories.  And, I am hopeful, too, – hopeful that the children of today will have their own simple memories to be thankful for – three-quarters of a century from now!

Lucy Locket should’ve been so lucky!

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Another Three-Egg Morning

Being the wife of a somewhat impaired chicken farmer isn’t easy.  Right now, all coop duties fall to me since Nyel can’t put any weight on his left leg.  Besides the chickens missing him, there are other problems.  Like yesterday morning when I got up and put on my bathrobe…

The problem with coop duty at this time of year is that, no matter the weather, the grass is wet.  That entails boots and, for several years, there has been a boot crisis here at our house – as in my (extremely) old, comfy ones have sprung way too many leaks and I can’t find any in this new-age world that I can easily slip on and off when I’m wearing my usual blue jeans.

So… I’ve taken to doing the food and water run to the coop in boots and bathrobe so I can slip those boots onto (and off of) bare feet and legs.  Easy Peasy! The hem of my robe gets a little damp, but my next morning activity is to shower and get dressed so the bathrobe has essentially twenty-four hours to dry.  Over and out.  The bathrobe had the added advantage of having big, roomy pockets, and therein lies another problem.

A Pair of Pockets, 1700-1725, British Museum

Yesterday, just before dawn’s early light, I slipped into that warm, fleecy bathrobe and felt a rather familiar weight in my front right pocket.  Oh no!  An egg!  It all came back to me.  The morning before there had been four eggs waiting in the nest boxes.  I could carry three in one hand and, since my other hand held the water and food containers, I slipped the fourth egg into my pocket.  Apparently, that was the end of my thought processes about that particular egg.

Which made me think of Lucy and Kitty.  You may remember that “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it, Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it.”  Well, at least these days it’s harder to lose your pocket, egg or no egg.  I read somewhere that, although men’s pockets began to appear in trousers and waistcoats as early as the 1600s, women’s pockets were separate items – more like a modern purse – and in the 17th and 18th centuries were typically attached to a ribbon tied around the waist and worn under the petticoats.

Embroidered Satin Pocket, 1725-1825, Germany

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that dress patterns show pockets being sewn into the seams and not until the two World Wars when women began wearing trousers that pockets became part of everyday fashions for the female gender.  As you might expect, there is a lot of political palaver that goes with pockets and their sexist beginnings.  All I can say is, doing the chicken chores sure is easier these days than it would have been a few hundred years back.  And all because of that bathrobe pocket!

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

A 1945 Classic

It was a small group of Friday Nighters who gathered last evening – just the right number to have an in-depth discussion or two.  Mainly we talked about movies – old ones.  But, we began our stroll down memory lane with last year’s Academy Award winning Best Picture – “The Shape of Water.”  Those of us who saw it were pretty much underwhelmed.

To me it seemed like a poorer version of “The Enchanted Cottage” – 1945 with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young.  That was another “modern day” fairy tale with an impossible happily-ever-after ending.  It was so much better than “The Shape of Water.”  But we all conceded that sometimes you can’t go back again – some of those oldies are better left in our memory banks.

Then we talked about the movies we’ve seen over and over – the ones that do hold up.  “Rear Window” and “The Birds” – actually most of the Alfred Hitchcock movies.  And “Casablanca” and “Gaslight” and “The African Queen” –  anything with Ingrid Bergman or, for that matter, Humphrey Bogart or Katherine Hepburn or Gregory Peck or…

Scene from 1952 “I Love Lucy” episode, “Job Switching”

And there were the musicals – “Oklahoma” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Cabaret” and “Meet Me in Saint Louis” and how about all the Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly movies and which partners did we like them best with.  And, in that genre we agreed that some of the more modern films like the first “Mama Mia” were holding up pretty well, too

From there we segued into early television.  We all felt that most of our once-upon-a-time favorites seem dated now.  Nyel had recently seen an episode of “Wagon Train” that he found pretty lame.  On the other hand, we thought that some of the classic TV comedies – “I Love Lucy” or “The Carol Burnett Show” – anything with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman – still can make us laugh until we cry.  “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” we said.  Over and over.

“Dick Tracy” character, B.O. Plenty introduced in 1957

This morning Nyel and I repeated that same mantra when I mentioned, “I don’t seem to feel my usual sparkle today,” which led us to Sparkle Plenty, Dick Tracy’s daughter-in-law, and her father Bob Oliver “B.O.” Plenty which led us to Pigpen and the other “Peanuts” characters…  and isn’t Prince Valiant still going strong more’s the pity?  And so, our day began.  With, I might add, the full realization that we aren’t quite what we used to be either.  It makes me wonder how our past selves would hold up if we could rewind the film…

Our Friend BobWho

Monday, October 15th, 2018

This weekend we learned that our friend Bob Bredfield had died.  He probably went the way he would have liked – alone in his house. ‘peacefully,’ of ‘natural causes.’  Selfishly, we wish we’d had a chance to say goodbye.

As it is, every day of our lives is brightened by Bob.  He was a carpenter extraordinaire and especially loved working on old houses.  They “spoke” to him right down to their bones and he responded with a loving touch.  Over the years, he worked on the outside of our place – rebuilt the balcony and both the east and south porches.  And he redid our kitchen – took the old one right down to the studs. He rebuilt the curve in our upstairs bathroom wall, building what neighbors thought was a still in his front yard to steam the wood.  He lovingly removed old windows to be rebuilt by Bergerson’s and then reinstalled them – not a single old, wavy glass pane so much as cracked.  And on and on.

Shoalwater Storytellers Poster, 1981

I first met Bob in the early 1980s.  Lawrence Lessard and I had begun a performance group, the Shoalwater Storytellers, composed of Senta and Bob Cook and Noel and Pat Thomas and us.  At that time, Bob Bredfield had one of those Old Timey Photo places in Long Beach – where tourists could go put on gay nineties costumes and have their photos taken with suitable props.  Bob was a good friend of Noel’s and Noel convinced him to bring clothing and camera to my place on the bay and take a picture for our first-ever poster.  Nowadays, a copy of it is framed in my office – another reminder of Bob and of long-ago days.

Over the years, Bob became our go-to guy for the never-ending patchwork and propping of this aging (1869) house.  He was always reliable but worked according to his own drummer, so to speak.  Sometimes, in the middle of a job, we wouldn’t see him for several days.  Often, he’d arrive at noon rather than the agreed-upon nine.  “Is Bob there yet?” I’d call from work and ask.  Nyel’s standard response was “Bob who?”  Which meant, of course, that he had not yet surfaced – at least not in our direction.  And so, gradually, we called him BobWho which he seemed to take in stride.

Bob was a hard drinker.  Whether or not that explained his somewhat erratic schedule, we could but guess.  The only time we ever saw him seriously ‘under the influence’ was at one of our Croquet Galas, probably in the mid-’90s.  He somehow decided that it would be fun to throw croquet balls as hard and fast as he could across our yard.  It was scary.  Croquet balls are kinda hard and there were lots of people here.  Noel took Bob in hand – actually, I think, took him home, diverting possible disaster.

A few weeks later, Bob came calling.  “I think I owe you an apology,” he said.  “Noel tells me…”  I told him my greatest disappointment was that I didn’t think we could invite him to anymore Galas… Promises were made and those promises were kept – through Christmas parties and other gatherings… forever.

And now… who will we call when a piece of gingerbread falls from the eaves?  Who will crawl under the house to see if the foundation is in trouble.  And who will stay under exploring the “stuff” that has found its way there in the last century and a half – native oyster shells, broken crockery, rusted toys…  “Look what I found this time,” he’d call out.

We will miss you,  BobWho.