Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sheltering Within A Fog Bubble

Friday, September 18th, 2020

I’m no longer sure if the visual boundaries of our world are marked by fog or smog or smoke.  It doesn’t smell smokey, but it doesn’t lift, either, like fog normally does.  It just hangs and limits our vision to a small diameter of a few hundred yards.

On top of the almost 200 days of sheltering, these visual constraints put me in mind of the old Star Trek episodes, each of which included the stardate.  I’m thinking I should label each of my Oysterville Daybook entries with a Covid Date.  This one would be “From The Oysterville Daybook, CovidDate 190.”  It would be a sort of verbal insurance:  even if the day (and, therefore, the blog) seemed repetitive, there would be a change in digits.

No wonder prisoners often tally the days on their cell walls.  Sameness robs us of memory and of hope.  And, tucked in there somewhere are desire and imagination and ambition.  When those disappear, woe be unto us.

I choose to think that Annie was right:  “The sun will come out tomorrow…”


Through Thick And Thin With Chickens

Sunday, September 13th, 2020

Not So Long Ago

It can’t be said too clearly or too often — you never can tell with chickens.  Take this smokey 209 air quality index number that we are enduring in Oysterville, for instance.  There have been few complaints from our girls.  In fact, that may be the only sign that they are under stress.  They are definitely more subdued than normal.

But, there is no wheezing or other sign of breathing difficulties.  Nor have they laid any eggs for a few days, despite the fact that our “EGG! EGG! EGG!” lessons have continued despite the air quality.  But since this lack-of-laying syndrome is not new, I hardly can credit it to smoke stress.

Not So Long Ago

I read that one precautionary measure to take might be to close them up in the coop and install an air filtering system.  Yeah!  Right!  Or take them inside the house where the air quality is better.  Yeah!  Right!

First of all, we don’t have an air filtering system ourselves.  We’re certainly not going to install one (and the electricity that probably is required) in the chicken coop.  Our 150-year-old house with all its leaky windows and drafty doors  probably hasn’t much better air quality than their coop.  Which probably isn’t much better than the outside.  And, as Farmer Nyel so often reminds me, “THEY’RE CHICKENS!”

Farmer Nyel In Sunnier Times

We are not overly concerned.  They are all young-ish and, as far as we can tell, normally healthy.  So, in those ways they should be better off than we are.  They seem to be eating their poultry food and drinking their water at their usual (or better) rate of consumption.  And I can’t tell if they are extra quiet because I won’t let them out of jail or what.  Perhaps we’ll know more when the air clears.

Late Breaking News:  Air Quality has been upgraded to “Moderate” with an AQI of 74!  Really???  Seems the same as yesterday but maybe things are looking up (so to speak).  Maybe we’ll get an egg or two today…


“… a heap of news…”

Monday, August 31st, 2020

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School 1962

As the start of school gets closer, my thoughts turn increasingly to my own school days, to the years I taught, and to the school experiences of my own children.  This morning I took a few minutes to look back even further — to 1908 and an exchange of letters between my mother’s oldest sibling and my grandmother.

Medora was eight and was at home in Oysterville with Papa and with her two younger sisters while Mama was in Portland waiting for the birth of their next child (who would turn out to be Edwin.)  Although Mrs. Matthews of Ocean Park was staying at the house to oversee things, it was Medora who get Mama informed of the day-to-day doings in the Espy family.  Often, her closing remark was: That’s a heap of news, isn’t it?

Medora, c. 1906

Thursday, Nov 12th 1908
My dear Mama:
          The teacher has made it a rule that if two children are out of their seats at once, there name will go on the board and we will have to stay in.  It doesn’t matter if we go to our class, then she doesn’t put our name on the board then, but if we go up and ask her something when she is busy with a class, then our name is put on the board.  I was trying not to have my name on the board but sure as I live it was there.          I’m going to send a little poem that I have to learn, don’t you think its pretty.

Harvest Song
Summer is gone, autumn is here
This is the harvest for all the year.
Corn in the crib, oats in the bin,
Wheat is all threshed, barley drawn in.
Carrots in cellars, beets by there side.
Full is the hayloft, what fun to hide!
Apples are barreled, nuts laid to dry,
Frost on the garden, winter is nigh.

Father in Heaven, thank Thee for all,
Winter and springtime, summer and fall.
All Thine own gifts to Thee we bring
Help us to praise Thee, our Heavenly King.

With love from all,
Medora Espy

A few days later Medora wrote that her name had not been on the board “since Tuesday” and sent a copy of her grades:

Compare both months’ work.  You saw last months but I ask you to compare them for me please
                                                   Last Month      This Month
Deportment                                           80                 80
Arithmetic                                             82                 80
Reading                                                 92                 92
Geography                                            88                90
Spelling                                                  94                 95
Writing                                                  92                 94
Lang                                                        92                94
Scholarship                                           89+               90
Days Attendance                                  20                 14
Days Absent                                          0                  0
Times Tardy                                         0                  1

Mama soon wrote back:

Helen Richardson Espy, c. 1908

Dear Medora:
          I was glad to get the standing of your report card the other day, and hope you will continue to raise in scholarship each month.  Then too I was happy to know your name is staying off the board.  We can not always understand our lessons, and it takes hard work to get them perfectly, but there is one thing every little girl can do and that is behave like a lady and not add to the trials of her teacher.  Mama wants her little daughter to lead as the best example in behaviour like she stands for the highest in her lessons.

I can’t help but wonder if the students, parents, and teachers of today, in our strange and constrained circumstances, will have anything close to the relationships disclosed in these precisous old letters.  I fervently hope so.

Déjà vu During the Pandemic?

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

Even The Propoganda Posters Are Similar

I doubt if I’m the only old person during this pandemic who is having occasional flashbacks to the days of World War II.  During the early forties, there were many similarities to the sheltering that we are experiencing nowadays.  Scarcities of some foods and basic supplies come to mind, certainly,  but thankfully not to the extent of rationing.  Not so far.

The focus on home gardens and growing our own produce is another similarity.  We don’t call them Victory Gardens these days as we did during “the war,” though.  (And do you notice how many of my generation still talk as though World War II was the ONLY war despite so many since then?)  These days, perhaps we are putting our efforts into our gardens because of long months of “sheltering.”  It seems a positive thing to do even if not absolutely necessary.

Victory Gardens – A Patriotic Duty

Home and family being the focus of our lives is another similarity — but for different reasons.  During the war scarcity of goods meant that “shopping” was done for necessities only.  Plus we were just coming out of the Depression and “extra” anything wasn’t a part of the picture.  We had not yet “invented” shopping malls or fast food restaurants or other ways to flaunt our excesses.  I remember that going out to the soda fountain at Woolworth’s for a hot fudge sundae was a Big Deal.

Another difference is that most parents were working “for the war effort” and many of us had relatives in the service.  My father was General Manager of the catalog order division for Montgomery Wards and was considered an essential worker (though I don’t recall that terminology — just that he had a draft deferment) and my mom went to work as a pipe-fitter’s helper for General Engineering shipyards.  Like almost everyone we knew, our lives changed drastically after December 7, 1941.

Different Reasons – Same Need

I remember that right after the war both my mother and father became manufacturer’s representatives — my mother for a potter named Vadna and my father for brass items from India.  They had so many orders, my dad truly thought “our ship was coming in.”  Unfortunately,  the manufacturers could not keep up with the demand and orders couldn’t be filled.   “The shops had been empty or closed for years,” my dad later reflected.  “Buyers were hungry for everything.”  Our ship never made it over the horizon.

The biggest difference I notice between then and now, though, is in attitude.  During the war, at least from my child’s perspective, most people willingly sacrificed for the “war effort.”  We were full of patriotism and helpfulness and wanted to please Uncle Sam.  Now?  Sadly, not so much…  In fact, does Uncle Sam still exist?  I haven’t heard about him for years.

When Helen Thompson came to town…

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

Helen (Thonpson) Heckes, 1927

Young Helen Thompson arrived in Oysterville at the beginning of the school year in 1926.  Oysterville School, District #1 was to be her first teaching assignment.  Mrs. Dewit Stoner, clerk of  the Oysterville School Board, had met her at the train in Nahcotta and had helped her get settled at the little house a few blocks away from the one-room schoolhouse.

“It was the Captain Stream House,” Helen told me more than half a century later.  “It should have been perfect, but I was from Olympia — a city girl — and I had never lived alone before.  And never in the country where it was so dark at night and you could hear the coyotes howling!”

She stuck it out for a few weeks but. finally gathered her courage and went to see Mrs. Stoner.  “I think you’ll have to find someone else…” she began.  Mrs. Stoner (probably thinking about the difficulties in obtaining a teacher in out-of-the-way Oysterville) said, “give me a day or two and let me see what I can work out.”

Helen Thompson with Students, 1926

And so it was that Helen went to the Heckes Boarding House to live.  It was a busy, bustling place in the summers but in the winter was occupied just by Mr. and Mrs. Heckes and their big, handsome, and oh-so-shy son, Glen.  He was immediately smitten.

As time went by, Mr. Heckes decided to play matchmaker.  From the wooded near the barn across the street he gave a low wolf whistle just as Helen was on her way to the school one early morning — and just as Glen was leaving the house to go split wood for the schoolhouse stove.  One thing led to another and, eventually, Helen gave up teaching to marry Glen.  She’s the only person I know who was given a shivaree by the community.

Helen was not completely through with teaching however. In 1950 when her own children were teens, Helen returned to school, herself.  Prompted by the birth of a relative with special needs, Helen took classes to qualify as a special education teacher.  She developed a vocational-style curriculum — one of the earliest in Washington — at Ocean Park School, where she taught for many years.

The Heckes Place, 1920s

For those of you who often pause as you drive by the John Crellin House in Oysterville, it’s Helen’s bottle collection in the windows that you are admiring.  Until a house was built between the Heckes Place and our house in 1987, Helen was our family’s “next door neighbor.”  I still miss her and often think of her on those dark nights when the coyotes howl.

First I was teary… then speechless!

Friday, August 28th, 2020

Tied With A Bow!

When the doorbell rang yesterday in mid-afternoon, I couldn’t imagine who it could be.  By the time I arrived to answer… not a soul.  But there was a large Harry and David box on the bench next to the door and it was addressed to me!

“Thank you for being there and all you have done since Day 1!  ORF!! Everyone.”  OMG!  Really?  And being the sophisticated woman of the world that I know myself to be, I began to weep…

Snacks To Die For

As of this month, I have resigned completely from my role as “Church Lady.”  Two (or maybe three) years ago, I lucked out when Carol Wachsmuth agreed to take on the Music Vespers scheduling job that I had done since the early nineties when my mother could no longer manage it.  Then, wonder of wonders, Vicki Carter agreed to take on the job of church scheduling — for weddings, funerals, concerts… whatever… and, yesterday, I turned over the scheduling information to her.  That job I’d taken on in the 1980s when the woman who was doing it moved away.  Hard to believe I’ve been talking to brides for almost 40 years!

Nine Individually Wrapped Pears

I am so delighted that, in both cases, friends in whom I have the utmost faith have taken on those big responsibilities. I had given no thought to any further closure.  Certainly, I never expected a gift!  And such a gorgeous one, too!   A big metal box-like tray with handles, totally surrounded by cold packs, and tied with big white ribbon, contained the following:

9 individually wrapped pears
1 4-ounce package sharp white cheddar
1 box 3-seed crackers
1 10-ounce jar pepper and onion relish
12 rasperry gallette cookies
13 chocolate cherries
6 assocrted chocolate truffles
1 bag of six mint chocolates
1 bag Moose Munch milk chocolate premium popcorn

I am overwhelmed.  I called ORF president Paul but had to leave a message.  I wrote a lame thank you letter to the ORF trustees.  I don’t really know how to say thank you for a gift for doing a job that gave me so many positive experiences and introduced me to so many wonderful people over the years.  And… whoops!  Here come the tears again…

Home Schooling Chickens

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Some time ago, I read that an organization called “Chicken Heaven on Earth” has determined that chickens can learn their names.  “And quicker than you think” says their website.   They suggest that you say a chicken’s name several times a day as you talk to it and soon said chicken will recognize its own name and come when you say it.  I’m pretty sure that’s true.  Little Red Hen and Slutvana definitely respond when spoken to by name.  Ida Mae and Clara, not so much — mostly because I still have trouble telling them apart.

So, in desperation over the egg-laying strike, I’ve decided to extend this learning possibilty to the word “egg.” And not only that, I’m teaching (or trying to) not only by constant repetition but also by the reward and punishment method.  If I find an egg in the nest box, I make a great big fuss, give all the girls a treat, and let them out of jail.  “Jail” is being in the coop-and-run all day without being allowed to free-range in the garden.  (I think they are also learning what “jail” means…)

For two days in a row, now, we’ve been rewarded with eggs!  Only one per day, but it’s a start.  There have been weeks and weeks this summer that there was ‘nary-a-one.  Also, we had the problem of the hole-pecker — one egg laid, always in the middle nest box,  but always with a hole pecked in it, making it useless.  I read that putting a wooden egg in the nest box can deter (or even cure) the egg-pecking habit and, so far, so good.  Fortunately, that holey egg was always in the same nest box, so putting the wooden egg there was an easy decision.

At first Nyel gave me a hard time.  “Just a frustrated teacher!” he teased when I was holding up the wooden egg and saying “egg!” “egg!” “egg!” with great enthusiasm.  Now that we’ve found two eggs (real ones) in two days, his teasing has stopped.  Neither of us is sure this isn’t a coincidence, but it’s sure worth a few minutes a day  of sounding/looking like an idiot.  Because, of course, you never can tell with chickens!

Hooray for Timberland Library!

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

I am SO glad the library is open once more.  Finally, we are beginning to receive books that we’ve had on order since before its closure in March.  Right off the bat we were notified that Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley had come in.  I took no time in going to collect it and found the new pick-up system slick as a whistle.

As for the book — the jury is out, but I’m only seven chapters in.  It came highly recommended by the same friend who sent me Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens — a book that went racing to the top of my all-time favorites.  Right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and 84 Charing Cross Road .  For starters.

So far, though, Sweetness at the Bottom… is a little dark for my tastes.  It centers on an eleven-year-old girl who, so far, I don’t find very believable or engaging but perhaps she will grow on me.  She certainly has been a hit with other readers; this is the first in the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series which now numbers ten, or possibly eleven, volumes.  As I say, my personal jury is out.

With the library closed these last months,  I’ve bought a few books, though I’ve tried not to.  One thing this house doesn’t need is more books!  And, I find that once I have a book, it is really difficult to let it go — even when giving it to a good friend.  On the plus side of that reluctance, however,  I’ve revisited some old friends lately.  I highly recommend the Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series by Sharan Newman.  Like the Brother Cadfael Chronicles by Edith Pargeter, the LeVendeur stories take place in the 12th century, but in France rather than in England.  If you delve in, do read them in order…

A Time to Reflect and A Time to Vote

Friday, July 17th, 2020

R. H. Espy, 1870

Both Oysterville and the Espy Family have had a complicated relationship with Pacific County since the beginning.  Well… almost the beginning.  Pacific County was formed on February 3rd/4th 1851 with Pacific City as the county seat.  My great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy, arrived here in what would soon become Oysterville on April 12, 1854.

By then the county seat was “in flux” — Pacific City had been closed down so Chenookville (about where the bridge begins now) was designated to serve as county seat but, apparently, travelling there was too difficult and they could seldom get a quorum.  County business, such as it was, languished.   So, the commissioners met a few times at Holman’s Schoolhouse in what is now Ilwaco.

Oysterville was just a year old when the county seat moved here in May 1855, and here it stayed for the next 38 years.  Early on, November 4, 1862 to be exact, Espy was appointed sheriff.  He stuck it out for a year and nine months and then resigned because the county commissioners refused to supply him with a sheriff’s badge.  They told him to buy his own.  For Espy, that was a line over which he would not cross.  Good for him, I say!  Cheeky commissioners.

I don’t know what other problems they had with their sheriffs in those days, but between 1860 and 1871, there were 10 sheriffs, three of whom resigned and one who was murdered while on county business.  Stability was a big problem in early Pacific County.

A Sign Marks The Site

Fast forward to the early 21st century.  Nyel and I, at the urging of one of our neighbors, were interested in having Pacific County take advantage of a federal program which provides residents of historic homes with a tax break.  Several other counties in Washington participate in that program and we were hopeful that our county might do so, as well.  Little did we realize that the commissioners not only had no interest in the Oysterville National Historic District — the only designation of its kind in the county — they had no interest in historic structures.  Period.

We attended the county commissioner’s meeting when they were to make their decision in the matter.  We listened in absolute amazement as the (then) director of the Department of Community Development said, “We have nothing against historic buildings.  In fact we oversee their construction every day.  You just have to wait fifty years.”  His testimony was duly noted by the county commissioners.  Our proposal: denied.  Did the commissioner who represented Oysterville speak out for us?  Nope.

Fast forward once again to the matter of the Oysterville Design Review Committee which the county commissioners decided to abolish in favor of a Hearing Examiner a few years back.  It wasn’t only R.H. Espy’s descendants who spoke out at the SRO hearing in Oysterville.  Were any of us listened to?  Not that you’d notice.  As the years passed and the guidelines for the Historic District were bypassed, ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood by the hearing examiner, my cousin David finally asked him at one of the hearings, “Have you ever been to Oysterville?”  Guess what the answer was?

Dan Driscoll

So, after reflecting on all the above (and a good deal more), this Espy descendant heartily endorses our neighbor Dan Driscoll for County Commissioner.  I think he has our interests at heart but, more importantly, I think he’ll listen to all viewpoints on the issues at hand, try to make the best decisions, and try to inform and educate his fellow commissioners. It’s the year to vote for change.  Change for the better!  Beginning right here at home!


Sun’s out! So’s Farmer Nyel!

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020


What a gorgeous day yesterday was… or so they tell me.  I was nose-to-grindstone doing my due diligence with regard to my new ghost book, but Farmer Nyel was out the door as soon as breakfast was over.  And out he stayed all day.

I saw him early on, tidying up after one of the worker-bees — putting things away where only he knew where they belonged.  Later. I caught a glimpse of him through the kitchen window just before lunch — pruning the roses as he stood on his good leg.  I wondered briefly what would happen if he lost his balance.  Would he fall back into the wheelchair?  Or would he crash onto the cement or into the roses?  I soon decided to think about something else…

The hardest part of living with a guy — any guy, whether he is wheelchair-bound or not —   is not hovering.  It’s the same unbidden instinct every mom has as she watches her kid do some daredevil stunt that she is terrified about, but… where to draw the line?  And when it’s your husband of a gazillion years and you begin to wonder how many opportunities for enjoyment are left… BACK OFF I say to myself.

He spent some time with the chickens, as well.  I happened to be passing the bedroom window and saw Little Red Hen running hell-bent-for-election across the lawn.  I followed her trajectory and there was Nyel, sitting in the sun, oblivious.  When she arrived, of course, he greeted her and  got some treats out of his handy-dandy ditty bag.  Quick as a wink, LRH flew up to his lap and  the two of them had yet another bonding experience.

Farmer Nyel and LRH

In about a nano-second, here came Slutvana.  She knew there were treats.  And I have no doubt that she knew she’d have to fly up to Farmer Nyel’s lap to get them.  She chose not to do that.  Instead, she wandered around and around the wheelchair, trying to look nonchalant, but actually getting all the meal worms that LRH was spilling in her enthusiasm to eat, literally, from the  hand that was feeding her.

It was a good day.  I got a lot done.  Nyel got a lot done.  At least two of the chickens got a lot done.  Not bad, eh?