Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Great Aunt Verona

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Mossy Marker

As I scrubbed the moss from her gravestone, I idly wondered if everyone had a ‘Great Aunt Verona’ – a forebear shrouded in mystery, beloved yet not much talked about.  She was the eighth and youngest of R.H. and Julia Espy’s children, and although my mother and her brothers and sisters remembered her, no one spoke about her much.

She was born in 1889 here in Oysterville, as far as I know an unremarkable birth.  She was named Ida Laura Verona and, although her mother referred to her in letters to the older children as “Laura,” the rest of the family always called her Verona.  Only the name ‘Verona Espy’ appears on the tombstone that was placed over her grave in 1923 – perhaps because her mother was no longer living and couldn’t have her say. I don’t really know.

Aunt Verona – c. 1900

The references to her in that early correspondence indicate that she was a spirited little girl, perhaps slow to talk or to pronounce words correctly.  One of the family stories concerns three-year-old Verona and her older sisters meeting their mother at the train in Nahcotta.   Julia had been in Portland for a few weeks and Verona apparently was quite upset that she came home in a new “set.”  A year or so later, Julia wrote to the older children, “Ida says to tell you that she can now say “dess” instead of “set.”

When Julia died (at 49 of a cerebral hemorrhage) in 1901, Verona moved to Portland with her twenty-three-year-old sister Susie.  From that time on she lived with one of her sisters or with other relatives and grew progressively worse from a disease which was subsequently described as “similar to multiple sclerosis.”  In later years, she lived with a companion/nurse and, as far as I can tell from contemporary correspondence, was doted on by family and friends.  I want to make some Butter Scotch for Verona, as she is so fond of homemade candy and does not get any, my grandmother wrote in 1908.  And another time, Remember to send Verona a card.

At The Oysterville Cemetery

There was more moss on Verona’s stone than on any of the others.  The logical reason is that her grave is the most northerly in the Espy lot and is often shaded by the stand of spruce trees nearby.  But, as I peeled back the soft, encroaching layers to reveal the lettering on the old grave marker, I couldn’t help but think that it was wrapping Verona’s memory in a protective layer – much as the family safeguarded and nurtured her when she was living.  I had mixed feelings about leaving the gravestone bright and shiny…

Poets I Know and Love

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Casey’s Corner in The Bar

Hanging over the sink in the little hidey-hole that serves as our bar are two framed poems – “what will I say to her at 90” and “60 turns nyel.”  The first was written for my mother on the occasion of her 89th birthday and the second, many years later, for Nyel’s 60th.  The poet was our friend Casey Killingsworth, Oysterville’s ‘Singing Postmaster.’

Casey and his wife, Cynthia, live up the Columbia Gorge now and we don’t see them very often, but yesterday I noticed those poems and wrote them a note, in part to twit Casey a bit that there wasn’t a poem for me.  He wrote write back – not a poem, but with the news that he had applied for a Master’s Program at Oxford! Okay, you guessed it: I wasn’t selected. But I did make the final short list, so at least I feel ambiguous instead of dejected.

 Oxford’s loss, I say. I dug out Casey’s slim volume of poetry, a handbook for water, published by Cranberry Press in 1996.  I turned to “the end of april as we know it” and read the first few lines:

there was a time not too long ago,
maybe even last year
when i could go on a jog with bill and feel
like when i picked my left foot up and
when i brought it down
the world would be there to catch it

 Yes.  Oxford’s loss.

Cate Gable

And yesterday I spent the lunch hour with Cate Gable who, last year completed her MFA in Poetry at Pacific Lutheran University.  Later this week she goes to Olympia for the launch of an anthology, Washington 129, compiled by Tod Marshall, our state’s Poet Laureate.  One of Cate’s poems is included!

We talked about her recent (as in last week!) trip to Berkeley where she delivered a paper on Alice B. Toklas based on a chapbook she did some years back after extensive research at the University of California’s Bancroft Library.  While there she hobnobbed with the editor of “Poetry Flash,” (was asked to become its Northwest Correspondent) and other literary moguls.  Did I say that she prepared a fabulous lunch for us?  No Alice B. Toklas brownies, though…

Robert Michael Pyle

And Bob Pyle does Bob Pyle have a new book of poetry out?  How did I miss that?  Why didn’t we have a book gathering à la our House Concerts for him like we did for his first book of poetry?  I think I’m losing my grip.  Or maybe it’s just one of those wishful thinking rumors.  Nevertheless, I’m clapping and cheering for all of my poet friends’ milestones and accomplishments!  I am in awe.  And probably in love, as well!  Such awesome people!

Propping, Patching, Painting

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Mahatma Gandhi

You’ve probably heard the old joke about aging.  (Pay attention to the punctuation.)  “When you are 40, it’s Patch.  Patch.  Patch.  When you are 60, it’s Patch, Patch, Patch, Patch.  When you reach the venerable age of 80, it’s PatchPatchPatchPatchPatch.”  Well, it’s as true for houses in this neck of the woods as it is for people – maybe more so.

Of course, I don’t really have a straight-across comparison between our house and any living person.  The house was built in 1869, the same year that Mahatma Gandhi and Henri Matisse were born.  Gandhi lived until 1948 – 79 years; Matisse until 1954 – 85 years.  Not too shabby for either of them, but certainly not the age of our house.

Henri Matisse

Or, for a closer comparison, I could look at the building materials in addition to the age. Granted, redwood lumber (brought north on an oyster schooner) versus flesh and blood is definitely an apples and oranges sort of deal.  But, it is telling that some living redwood trees are 2,000 years old and more.  That’s definitely ‘flesh’ of a different sort and the statistics bode well for our house – to a point.

I’ve been reflecting on all of this because it’s looking like a new coat of paint is in order.  I’m not sure when we painted last (and by “we” I do not mean us, personally.)  It’s been at least ten years, maybe closer to twice that.  We had one side painted a year in the interest of our budget and I’m sure that will be the way of it this time, too.  It’s a big project.

Tom Crellin/H.A. Espy House, 1964

Plus, there’s always the scary possibility that the painter will run across a rotten board or some other dire contingency.  In her dotage, my mother worried that the little marble fireplace in the erstwhile parlor was sinking into oblivion.  More than once she had the Mack brothers or Bob Bredfield crawl under the house to reassure her.  And… speaking of fireplaces, what about that fern growing out of our east chimney?

As I say – PatchPatchPatchPatchPatch!

Oysterville’s Provenance

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

prov·e·nance – a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.

Holway House, 1949

I’ve been thinking about the changes in our little village’s demographics, not only in the forty years I’ve lived here full-time, but going back forty before that to my childhood and forty before that to my grandfather’s childhood and even back before that.  I know that ‘provenance’ is not the correct term when applied to an entire village, but in my mind, the history of property ownership in Oysterville is a provenance of sorts.  Especially since I think of Oysterville as being ‘a work of art’ albeit on a large scale.

Thanks to the research done by those who nominated Oysterville for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places back in the 1970s, we have a pretty clear understanding of who built the buildings that remain from the early days and who has owned them since.  As far as I know, there is only one 19th century structure – the R.H. Espy House (1872) – that has remained in the same family since its construction.  In addition, of course, there are homes have been built more recently that are still occupied by their ‘original’ families, but even those are diminishing.

John Crellin House, 1870

There was a point a year or so ago that it felt like the entire village was for sale.  Obviously a gross exaggeration, but three residences out of our little total of 23 seemed like a lot.  Since then, one house has been taken off the market and surprise! surprise! one never listed has sold quietly and without fanfare.

In the art world, according to the website LOFTY, “experts are interested in the provenance of an item for several reasons, the most important of which is that well-documented provenance helps confirm that an item is authentic. Undocumented gaps of time in an object’s history could indicate that the item may be a forgery with a fabricated history.”


Clearly, there is no easy correlation from artwork to residential structures – at least not as far as the provenance is concerned.  But… if there were an Antiques Road Show for early settlements, what would the ‘experts’ say about Oysterville?  Would the ‘provenance’ of the structures count for anything at all?  Probably not, but it’s always interesting to know who used the plumbing before you or even when the first plumbing came indoors.

For the Record

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Hiway 26

We slogged and slid over Hiway 26 again yesterday for the second day in a row, but this time with another hospital stay for Nyel in the offing.  No long lost relatives or lunch at Papa Haydn’s this time.  Just a couple of procedures and hopefully home on Friday.

The world was wet and gray just as it was yesterday.  “I think we’re actually driving through a cloud,” Nyel said as we approached the summit.  “How can you tell?  It looks like the same-old, same-old,” was my somewhat uncharitable reply.

According the statistics on Mike’s Long Beach Weather, we have had rain every single day this month.  Furthermore, so far this year, we have had 56 days with rain and there have been no consecutive days without rain.  That’s wet!

On the other hand, all those rainy days are conducive to inside projects of all kinds and, if my sainted Uncle Willard is to be believed, our rain is especially helpful to historians!  In a book he began (but alas never finished) about his childhood, he wrote:

Wachsmuth Barn

The past was everywhere – in the houses and sheds that tipped further each winter, until a gale blew them down; in the Wachsmuth barn, which had been the county jail, and ours, which had been the county courthouse; in the wreckage of 50 vessels on the ocean beach, disappearing gradually under the sands and then emerging years later as the currents shifted to scour the sand away; in the overrun cranberry bogs in the marshes and the deserted launches and bateaux among the driftwood in the tidelands; in the bones of long-dead whales that made our porch chairs; in one-legged Indian Pete.  The past raged against us with every sou’wester, and drenched us with every rain; and since sou’westers and rain were the order of the day at Oysterville, we were pretty well permeated.  The past would have been hard to escape even if we wanted to.  But we didn’t; we loved it.  It shaped and sheltered us.  It wasn’t until we had to emerge from the past and become part of the present that my troubles began.

Aha!  I wonder how my fellow Community Historians would react to those ideas.  Perhaps that wily Willard was onto something.

Heading for Memory Lane

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Bette and Sid Snyder

It’s not that we have a single complaint about Nyel’s hospital stay here in Portland, but we are both looking forward to his discharge today – the earlier the better.  Then we will beat feet for home, a good night’s sleep in our own bed and then… a Saturday walk on Memory Lane.

Our first steps on Saturday’s journey will be at Bette Snyder’s service – a time for reflection and giving thanks for forty years of laughter and kindness that always surrounded our visits with her.  She and Sid were great supporters of Oysterville and were long-time friends of the Espy family.  I will miss her elegance, her wit, and her positive outlook on life.

In the afternoon we will join the assemblage at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum’s annual meeting where Keith Cox will lead speak about his current project – ”Preserving the Past: the Ilwaco Tribune Photo Project.”  We got to know Keith through his work on the video documentary series about oyster farming in Willapa Bay. He interviewed me during the filming and since then we have shared historic photos and other information of mutual interest.

Sydney and Keith

But, mostly, we think of Keith as “one of our community friends” – the grandson of Don and Marge Cox and of the late Martha and Dick Murfin. As a teacher, his mom was a colleague; his Uncle Rick was Chair of the OBSD Board when I was teaching in Ocean Park; I served on the Friends of Fort Columbia Board with his Grandpa Dick; his great-grandfather, Frank Turner was a friend of my grandfather’s.  It seems to me there have always been Turners and Murfins and Coxes in my life.

At one time. I also thought there would always be an Ilwaco Tribune in my life, too.  Along with the Chinook Observer it was a part of life on the Peninsula from my earliest memory.  They were each weeklies and came on different days – I don’t remember which for which right now.  I just know that when my grandfather was living, everything stopped on ‘paper day’ and it was read – often aloud to whoever might be listening – cover to cover.

Keith Cox

We joined in the general mourning when the Tribune presses finally stopped running back in the early 1980s.  Little did we imagine that Keith (just a kid, then) would step up years later to preserve the history that his great-grandfather’s newspaper had captured beginning more than a century ago.

All things being equal, we will be there to learn how Keith is putting his considerable digital skills and archival knowledge to the best use imaginable – at least from a local historian’s viewpoint.  We’ll be the ones front and center, clapping and cheering for his vision and energy and enthusiasm and hoping he’ll tell us how we can help.  We hope to see many community historians, actual and wannabes, right there, too.  Two o’clock tomorrow, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Lake Street, Ilwaco!

To the Right of Attila-the-Hun

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

1320 Versailles Avenue – ‘Home’ 1941-1947

The phone rang about ten o’clock yesterday morning.  A deep, pleasant voice said, “Is this Sydney Little of Versailles Avenue in Alameda?  This is Bob Reading.”

“Oh! My! God!” (Did I say that out loud?) “Robert?  Robert Reading?”  I’m so glad I had reached out to a nice-looking guy named “Bob Reading” on FaceBook a year or so ago — even if it did take him so long to read his messages!

The next hour sped by as this man I’ve never met – he was a little boy when last we played together in the 1940s – talked down memory lane.  I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun!

It was his sister, Jackie, who was my best friend in the neighborhood.  And Joyce who was a couple of years older but I remember them all in one breath – “Jackie-and-Joyce” because we did most things as a threesome.  Robert (“Can I call you Robert?  I can’t think of you as ‘Bob’,” I said) who was MUCH younger is clear in my mind, too.

Home-made crate Scooter

He’s the one who broke his leg trying to climb their pointy wrought iron fence.  And he’s the one who fell out of our sunroom window into my dad’s cactus garden (“I think one of my sisters pushed me,” he laughed.)  As it turns out, he’s only a year and a half younger than I.  But, when you are seven or eight and you are a girl and he is a boy and a younger brother of your friends at that… as I said, MUCH younger.

We talked about our families.  Jackie died a few years back.  Joyce, at almost 84, is doing well and “feisty as ever.”  They both married which sort of surprised me because when we moved away in 1947 they were both planning to become nuns.  The Reading kids went to St. Joseph’s not to Edison School like I did. They taught me how to say a rosary and I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I was allowed to help them clean the house on the Saturdays before “Father” came to dinner!

We talked about homemade crate scooters, getting ice from the iceman’s delivery truck, and about the neighbors we remembered – scary, old Mrs. Musso with her goiter and the young woman who lived in the little house behind the Readings – the one who was always pregnant and who taught me how to iron.  And about my dog, Zipper.  (“Zipper was your dog?  I didn’t know that!  I thought he was the neighborhood dog!”)  And we laughed.

Robert — a bit older than in my memory

We laughed a lot throughout the entire conversation.  And we caught up a little with our current lives.  He told me about his two daughters and his only granddaughter.  And that he had married a girl he’d known since his grammar school days, and that he’d served in the Navy and then had been a cop in Contra Costa County.  I told him about my life over the last seventy-or-so years and we promised to stay in touch.

“We probably shouldn’t talk politics, though,” he said.  “I don’t think we’d agree.  I’m probably to the right of Attila-the-Hun.  But Joyce is a different story.  She’s somewhere to the left of Jesus Christ!”  And we laughed some more.  As I hung up the phone I thought that maybe we should talk a little politics sometime.  Robert Reading from Versailles Avenue just might be able to help me understand… or vice-versa.

Better than a Balloon Bouquet, You Betcha!

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Those smarty-pants balloons beboppin’ down the hall have nothing on me.  Not even their puffed-up, know-it-all, helium filled heads can make me turn mine.  Not today!

Late yesterday afternoon Nyel’s heart, under close inspection by Dr. God, revealed that it is in better shape than any of us had imagined.  The complicated cocktail combo that he has been ingesting under relentless supervision by a bevy of concerned nurses and technicians has done the trick!  The leaky valve that was a worry has diminished and is now “insignificant.”  Heart walls: thickened but not as much as previously believed.  Arteries: in okay shape for now.  All in all:  No surgery needed.  Cardio rehabilitation along with judicious use of sophisticated medications should do the trick!

So who’s the one floating several inches above these polished hospital floors?  Who’s the one with a swagger in her stride and an ear-to-ear smile?  And who’s going to be dancing the Prius all the way back to Oysterville?  It’s me, of course! Meanwhile, Nyel exhibits his usual masterful cool. That’s all right – I’m giddy enough for the two of us!

Thank you everyone for your encouragement and caring messages! And let’s hear it for modern medicine, health insurance, and twenty-first century facilities and techniques! We feel blessed.

Failure… a four letter word?

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

In Nyel’s Hospital Room

The hand-over was happening: day-nurse-to-night-nurse.  Lots of information being communicated but the words “chronic kidney disease” are what grabbed our attention.  “I have chronic kidney disease?” Nyel asked.  “Well… yes.  Your creatin levels have been off for some time.”

It’s amazing what the use of a word or two can do. We knew about the creatin.  We’ve participated in the efforts to correct that problem.  What we didn’t know was the ‘chronic disease’ part.  How did we miss that?

Nyel and His Heart Healthy Lunch

Even worse were the words on the educational literature handed to Nyel by another nurse:  Caring for Your Heart:  Living Well with Heart Failure.  FAILURE?? That was another term no doctor had used before.  Yet, his cardiologists and surgeons and primary caregivers had provided Nyel with all the same instructions and advice that the booklet held.  It was just the word “failure” they hadn’t used.  It’s a word that grabs your attention – maybe just as much as some of the other F words we avoid at all costs.

Would we have been more cautious, paid more attention, called 911 a day or two earlier had those words been used?  Probably.   Do the doctors purposely avoid using words like ‘chronic’ and ‘failure’ or do we purposely avoid hearing them?  Are we being obtuse or in denial or what?

Medical Dictionaries

These are some of the discussions we have while we wait for levels to go up or down, for yet another EKG, for the results of the latest lab tests, for the doctors to say “go home.”  Words.  We bandy them about so carelessly sometimes and carefully closet them away at others.  We weigh the meanings of “tolerate” and “acceptable” and “acute” and we try to listen and remember.

Words have power – we know that.  Some even have the power to make us feel powerless. When all the words are said and done, we just do the best we can.

Rockin’ Away in Rockaway Beach!

Sunday, September 4th, 2016
At Rockaway Beach, Oregon

At Rockaway Beach, Oregon

We weren’t sure that driving south along the Oregon Coast would turn out to be a good time – not on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend.   But, I had agreed to do a book-signing at the International Police Museum (who knew?) at Rockaway Beach and there was nothing for it but to head on out.

Surprisingly, the traffic was light.  Someone had suggested that we take a detour to bypass Seaside but we didn’t find it necessary.  Not that there weren’t people out and about.  Every viewpoint pull-out and every beachside parking area was close to full, even at eleven in the morning.  But drivers were polite and everyone was relaxed and seemed to be having a good time.  And to make it pretty near perfect, the sun came out to chase away the early morning rain.

Sydney and the IPM Staff

Sydney and the IPM Staff

The museum is located on the main drag, right next to the Police Station at the north end of town.  It was bright and cheerful with inviting exhibits and even a scavenger hunt for kids – how many bears could they find among the displays, perhaps on uniform logos or…  Find them all and get a special International Police Museum pen!

An Attentive Audience

An Attentive Audience

There was coffee and a “Welcome Sydney” cake and, when we arrived, the volunteer staff were rearranging display cases and setting up folding chairs in anticipation of my book-talk.  Then we all waited.  Ed Wortman, former Rockaway police chief and the enthusiastic founder/director of the museum, was a bit anxious.  It was their first ‘event’ of this kind so it was a grand experiment.

But… not to worry.  People came.  They all but filled the chairs.  They listened attentively and they bought books and asked me to personalize and sign them.  In fact, when all was said and done, the museum was left with but one unpurchased Jailhouse book on their shelves.  Yay!

Signing "Jailhouse Stories"

Signing “Jailhouse Stories”

Nyel and I thoroughly enjoyed the people we met and couldn’t have been treated more grandly.  (I think we each had two pieces of cake!!)  Who knew that Jailhouse Stories from Early Pacific County would take us on such a pleasant adventure?  And… we were home by six, even with a stop at Freddie’s to buy a few items for the pasta salad we’re taking to the Williams Family Annual Picnic today.  It’s Labor Day Sunday!  Woot! Woot!