Archive for the ‘Up Close and Personal’ Category

No Icing Needed!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Well… it’s all over but the shouting and we didn’t make the cut.  Not that we expected to, exactly.  Back in February, the Observer and I submitted my “Stories from the Heart” series for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize under the “Local News” category.  We didn’t really think there was a chance.  Not even a remote one.

On the other hand, we were proud of the series.  We knew that it had captured the attention of the ‘world beyond’ – the Seattle Times, the New York Times Magazine. Even the BBC!  Big stuff for our little corner of the world.  And that, after all, was the original intent – to cast some light into the shadows here on the Peninsula.  To raise awareness.  To prompt some discussion and, perhaps, some change.

Stories from the Heart

So… we spent a few hours filling out the application form.  We agreed not to talk about it.  It would make a nice surprise if, indeed, we won.  And otherwise… not much use in saying anything.  Not even to the people that had been urging us to go for it.  After all, winning would only be icing on the cake.

Ours was one of 2,400 submissions.  There were only 21 winners – one for each category.  I’m not sure how winners were informed.  The rest of us find out by default – if our names didn’t show up on any of the lists or in any of the news articles that came out yesterday then we didn’t win and we hadn’t been finalists.   I found was told in an email from Matt – subject line “It was worth a shot.”  Indeed!   We didn’t need the icing.

Lots of Love and Benign Neglect

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018


Nyel’s truck, called simply ‘Truck,’ has been with us for just about as long as “us” has been a part of our lexicon.  It’s a 1991 Ford and once upon a time it was new and shiny black.  Now, never having had the benefit of a garage or other protected-from-the-elements-space, it has faded to a dull gray color – mostly.  There are spots of the ‘r’ word which, when mentioned, Nyel vehemently denies.  Or has until now.

Yesterday, he reluctantly admitted that rust might, indeed, be the problem with the front bumper.  It’s in imminent danger of falling off – a situation that I only learned circuitously.  For several days now Nyel has been haunting the junk stores – one of his all-time favorite activities – and come to find out, he was looking for jack stands.  Whatever they are.  Needed, he said to lift Truck up so he can get to the place where he can make the repair.

Listing Bumper

But, he could only locate one jack stand.  So, this morning he informed me he has a new plan.  He’ll use the car jack he has, take the front wheels off Truck, one at a time, slide himself underneath and get to the heart of the matter that way.  “No problem.”

I, of course, was horrified.  A guy who needs a cane to stay upright when he walks and who can’t get up if he happens to be down… a guy with no strength in his arthritic hands… a guy…  Yep.  It’s definitely a guy thing and I had to pull out the bitchy wife card.  It took a little arguing but I think Truck is going to limp into George’s this morning and get in line for the necessary repairs.


I hope that ‘necessary’ is all they do.  Once we had to take Truck somewhere for something (you can tell how little attention I pay to that poor old vehicle) and someone had the audacity to clean the lichen and moss away from the window wells.  I think that set ‘evolution’ back a number of years – no telling what kind of habitat would have been established by now had they left that furry gray-green growth alone!  We were horrified.  After all, benign neglect is one thing but it doesn’t have anything to do with unconditional love.  Not when we’re talking Truck.

Muddling Through

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Sick Sydney

This whole role reversal thing ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.  I’m a lousy patient.  Nyel apparently failed Nursing 101.  The last ten days have been hell all the way around.

For me it’s been fever, coughing, chills, coughing, sweating, coughing, shaking, coughing, twenty-four-seven.  No appetite.  Not thirsty.  Tired, tired, tired but only able to sleep in snatches.  Cough myself awake.  The diagnosis was bronchitis.  It surely is something worse. Bronchitis sounds so ordinary.  This is not ordinary.  This is the pits.

Watchful Nyel

Nyel comes to the doorway periodically.  He stares at me.  Then he goes away.  I know he feels he should DO something but he hasn’t a clue.  Could you get me some water I ask.    Could I have some juice I whine.  I’d like to try some hot tea.  He’s accommodating.  I’m cranky.  Why do I have to ask I say. I can’t read your mind he says.  Maybe you could take my temperature I say.  Not with the cat thermometer for god’s sake I say.  Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow.

I don’t.  But by some good fortune, Nyel is still in the doorway.  Or sitting nearby in a chair.  He hasn’t filed the divorce papers yet.  Even though he must be sick of hearing this wretched cough.  But still I’m a bitch.  You’d think after spending 100 days in the hospital last year, you’d have a clue, I say.  He looks so sorry.  I feel terrible.  In all ways.

Comfort Food

Today is Day Eleven.   But who is counting.  I think I’m feeling a little better.  I’ve eaten dinner two nights in a row, now.  Lamb chops, baked potato, peas.  Last night made-from-scratch mac-and-cheese and spinach for a veggie.  Nyel is the best cook in the world.  I slept pretty well last night.  Nyel hasn’t moved out yet.  God is good.  We might make it after all.

The Day I Entered My 83rd Year!

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Birthday Girl – Photo by Tucker Wachsmuth

Yesterday was my 82nd birthday!  That’s hard enough for me to believe but when I consider that the day marked the first of year 83 on this watery old planet, I find it quite mind-boggling.  Happily, I don’t think about those numbers very much; there are so many more interesting things to occupy my mind.

Like, trying to remember what chapters 13 and 14 in James G. Swan’s The Northwest Coast or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory were all about.  Not that I hadn’t just read them – like two days previously – but the details were a little foggy.  I was trying my best to recall them as I entered the Heritage Museum for the Community Historian class.  It’s my job to lead the ‘homework’ discussion first thing every Wednesday morning and I take my responsibilities seriously…

Birthday Cards!

So, imagine my surprise when Betsy Millard came into the room a few minutes before the starting time carrying a darling little cake with candles lit and the class began to sing “Happy Birthday!”  To me!  Needless to say, thoughts of Swan and his 1854 adventures went right out of my head!  And… there were a gazillion teeny tiny cupcakes that we could share, allowing me to bring that cake home to Nyel-of-the-Sweet-Tooth.  It was a grand start to a fun day.

The mail was full of birthday cards and, at last look, I had 152 greeting on FaceBook.  Wow!  Later in the afternoon, a ‘spring bouquet’ arrived from Charlie and an email from Marta saying a present was on its way.  I felt well and truly loved for sure!  It was really hard for me to remember that I had a couple of deadlines looming and writing projects to concentrate on.  But I got enough accomplished that I didn’t even hesitate when Nyel asked me if I’d like to go out to dinner!

Birthday Bouquet from Charlie

We headed for the Pickled Fish where I paid absolutely no attention to “healthy.”  Well, the Bloody Mary did come topped with what appeared to be a complete salad, and the Dirty, Dirty Fries had generous dollops of cheese on them (protein, right?) and the tomato soup was probably healthy, though it boggles my mind that something so delicious could also be at all nutritious.

Then… home for birthday cake and an episode of Jeopardy.  For once, we didn’t watch the news and that might have been the best birthday gift of all!

Meeting Myself Coming and Going

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Shoalwater Storytellers Poster, 1981

For someone interested in local history (that would be me), one of the strangest research experiences is to run into information about oneself (me again.)  It’s happened to me twice in the last few years – both times in totally unexpected ways and both times having to do with the Shoalwater Storytellers.

For those who weren’t around in the 1980s, just a tad of background information.  In the very early 80s, Lawrence Lessard (then the director of the Peninsula Players) and I established a small story-telling performance group.  There were six of us – Patty and Noel Thomas, Bob and Senta Cook, Lawrence and myself.  We did readers theater productions of local history.  “The Stage to Oysterville,” “The Hanging of Lum You,” “The Ghost of Mrs. Crouch” were among our repertoire

Cranberry Festival Brochre 1982

By the mid-eighties, everyone else dropped out, I shanghaied Nyel, and he and I continued the presentations.  Three or four years ago we turned over sets, scripts, and costume pieces to David Immel and Kitt Fleming.  Hooray!  We had retired from yet another fun but time-consuming responsibility!  Done!  It had been a good 30+ year run and we have moved on.

But then… I was doing some research at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum for a Sou’wester article on place names and I ran across a photograph taken in front of one of the Charter Offices at the Port of Ilwaco.  And there we were – Lawrence and I – costumed and caught in mid stride.  I think we were portraying “The Burning of the Bruce” – the story about the Bruce Boys’ arrival in Shoalwater Bay in 1852.  Great Stuff!  But… archived with historic information about the Port?  Wow!

1982 Cranberry Festival Brochure, inside

Yesterday, it happened again.  This time, I’m beginning a new book for the Cranberry Growers Association.  Although I wrote one of my ABCs books, C is for Cranberries” on the same subject years ago, any connection there might have been between Washington’s cranberry industry and Shoalwater Storytellers never occurred to me.  But, as I was going through a scrapbook provided by one of the growers, there we were again!  Right there in dead center of a 1982 brochure about the Cranberry Fair was a listing for the Shoalwater Storytellers!

Wow!  I’ve never made any bones about my age, but finding myself listed in the archives is beginning to make me feel like a bit of a relic!  In a good way.

Feeling Blessed Midst Valentine Bouquets

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Camellias from John and Steve

The rooms in our house are overflowing with flowers – roses, tulips, camellias, roses, cyclamen, a spring bouquet, more roses!  Every single room!  They were Valentine gifts from friends and from my beloved, as well.  I feel surrounded by cheerfulness and good wishes and promises of springtime and happiness.

I can’t help thinking that should I shuffle off this mortal coil without anyone noticing, it would be all right.  A rather morbid thought, to be sure, but it’s one I learned from my sainted mother.  More than once I heard her say at a funeral or memorial service, “All these flowers – wasted!  Bring me flowers while I’m living!”  And we did.  Yellow roses were her favorite.

Tulip Garden from Jon and Pat

I’m glad to say that flowers have arrived in abundance during my own lifetime and I have enjoyed every blossom… “as god intended” my friend Te would say. Nyel has spoiled me on many an occasion with long-stemmed red roses and I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of friends who arrive with elaborate bouquets on all sorts of occasions – as well as on non-occasions and just-because.

There have been tomes written about the meaning of flowers – Daisies: innocence and hope; Roses: love and desire; Yellow Tulips: cheerful thoughts.  Even the sorts of arrangements have meaning, from nosegays to bridal bouquets.  Speaking of nosegays, did you know that during the Victorian era a small one,  a “tussie mussie,”  might include chamomile flowers, which a woman might send to a romantic interest to tell him “Patience” whereas goldenrod represented indecision.  And I was interested to learn that the oldest evidence of formal arranging of bouquets in vases comes from ancient Egypt, and depictions of flower arrangements date to the Old Kingdom (~2500 BCE).

Roses from Kitt and Doug

In this stress-filled world of today, I’m so glad that the tradition of flower-giving continues unabated! Walking through a house filled with flowers goes a long way toward re-balancing my thoughts and putting my own corner of the world in perspective.  You just can’t be surrounded by flowers and not feel blessed!

That Old Retirement Dream

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Second Grade, Southgate School 1962

Contrary to what you might think, my “retirement dream” isn’t about what my retirement will look like.  Been there.  Done that.  For the past seventeen years.

No.  My retirement dream is the actual, recurring dream I have periodically when I’m asleep — now that I am retired.  Not a nightmare, but definitely an anxiety dream.  It always involves me being hired to teach in a classroom in which the regular teacher (for undisclosed reasons) has not shown up.  It’s always a first or second grade with the kids at their desks waiting expectantly for the day to begin.  There are usually no supplies available, no roll book, no clue as to the expected curriculum and, last night, no coffee in the Teacher’s Room.

The dream is very close to the scenario I faced in 1961 when I reported for my first teaching job.  It was about this time of year and I had been contacted on a Saturday morning by the superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District.  A second-grade position was open if I could report to work Monday morning.

Second Grade Puppet Show, Southgate School 1962

He met me at the school that very afternoon.  We visited the classroom which had been stripped bare.  Not a bulletin board decorated.  Not a roll book or a class list.  Nothing to indicate what reading groups there might be or what the kids were studying in Social Studies or Health or… anything.  To compound matters, three stern looking PTA mothers were at the door on Monday morning and sat in the back of the room all day to “observe.”  It was a real-life nightmare.  It wasn’t until the following school year that I learned that my predecessor had had a nervous breakdown due in large part to the Three Furies who apparently had been watching her like a hawk all year.

I arrived at school early on my second day, told (yes, snippy second-day teacher that I was) the principal that I did not want those women or any other visitors in my room during class time.  He argued with me but complied… sort of.  I had to put up with him being in there every day, apparently so he could report to them. I’m happy to say that he was not at the school the following year.  But I was.

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School 1962

In my dream last night, I was passing out paper to each student and instructing them to write their name on one side and draw a self-portrait on the other.  (I’m not sure where I was going with that.)  At one table, a boy said to his neighbor, “That’s not your name!” and looked at me hopefully, like maybe his ‘friend’ would get in trouble.  “You can use any name you want,” I said, “as long as you spell it correctly!”

I don’t know where I was going with that, either!  But, it has possibilities.  I wonder if some kids would behave better or learn more easily if they had a different name.  Do our names set some parameters and expectations?  Who knows.  I can’t even figure out what I’m anxious about if, indeed, that’s what prompted the dream.  Maybe I was just looking forward to my morning coffee.

Coming Up: Chinese New Year!

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Chinese New Year Begins February 16th

We are just finishing up the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac.  Presumably, this was a good year for me (born in the Year of the Rat), dotted with occasional annoyances.  For Nyel (born in the Year of the Goat) health was supposed to be “the trickiest area of all” in 2017.  Well, they got that right.  But the fine print (or maybe the smallest stars?) said “you have to be focused and careful to avoid small accidents: your muscles, cruciate and bones are under more stress during this year.”  No mention of the heart which, as we all know, was the centerpiece of Nyel’s life in every single way last year.

But then…  I also read that the Rat and the Goat are absolutely incompatible.  In fact, in the Rat’s (me) overall zodiac, the advice is to never ever marry a Goat (Nyel); that’s the one (and only one) you should avoid.  Hmmm. Thirty plus years too late. But, it’s easy to see why we might not get along, at least according to the Chinese zodiac.

Nyel’s Sign in the Chinese Zodiac

Nyel (the Goat) is supposed to be gentle, mild-mannered, shy, stable, sympathetic, amicable, and brimming with a strong sense of kindheartedness and justice.  All of which fits Nyel perfectly.  The Rat, on the other hand, is quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, kind, smart, and lovely (yes, of course, that’s me!) but we lack courage, and good command skills. Rats are not capable as leaders (also true). And, worst of all, Rats do not have broad minds and, though we are kind, we are sometimes impolite to others (probably also true.) And, finally, “People of the Rat zodiac sign usually sleep late, for mice are nocturnal animals.”  Now, that is an absolute falsehood when it comes to me.  So…

On Friday we will be embarking upon the Year of the Dog during which “the 12 Chinese zodiac signs must show tolerance and empathy towards the people they meet to preserve their karmic balance, especially if they wish to avoid unnecessary conflicts.  Sounds good. (Plausible, even.)  Nyel’s predicted compatibility with all that preserving his karma stuff gets six stars out of ten, whereas I am awarded only five.  Sounds like it will be only a so-so year for both of us.  Hmmm.

Sydney’s Sign in the Western Zodiac

In the western zodiac, I am a Pisces and Nyel is a Leo.  About our chances together it is said, “It is incredible how two signs that represent love, can be so wrong for each other.”  So, there you have it.  Whichever zodiac we look at, eastern or western… not so great.  Which just goes to show you why I gave up all that “What’s your sign?” business when I left California forty years ago.  Before I met Nyel.  Thank goodness!

The thing about this aging process…

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

In My Mind’s Eye

You know how every once in a while, you run smackdab into some reality or other than you had never before considered?  Like this getting old thing.  I am in full acceptance of the fact that my mind and body are showing the ravages of time, but it is always amazing to me that my long-time friends are in the same situation.

Take parties, for instance. Traditionally in this house we have a big party once every year or so – usually Christmas.  My folks did.  We do.  By big I mean a hundred or so guests.  We move most of the furniture out to make room for the people.  I think of those parties as “California style” – everyone stands and mingles and moves (read sidles) from the food table in one room to the bar in another room and from group to group of people.  We stand.  We wander.  We talk and laugh and never think about the time.  I love those big parties.

A Friday Night Gathering

When I moved to the Northwest forty years ago, I found that most parties here were different.  They were smaller in terms of people, perhaps more elaborate in terms of food, and people sat (sometimes in a big circle) and visited.  The parties were cozy and welcoming and different from what I was used to.  And I love those sorts of parties, too. In some ways, I hope, we have incorporated that feeling into our Friday Night Gatherings.

But back to those California style parties.  The last one we had was Christmas 2016 and it was the first time I was aware that people needed to sit down.  Yes.  Needed.  Our friends were no longer whippersnappers of thirty or forty springtimes.  They were seventy or eighty with old legs, old backs, and maybe a few pounds (ahem) heavier than they were back in the day.  Some bravely sat on the carpet in front of the fire and, though I didn’t see the getting-up process, they must have managed because they weren’t still here in the morning.

A Stand-Up Group

There are some things that don’t quite compute.  Like the aging of our friends.  And our children!!!  (Now that’s another gobsmacker!  Say WHAT?  Hearing aids now in the younger generation?)  But, really, I’m just as happy having at least one time a year when we are again all in our prime, even if its only in my mind.  The reality check is the next day.  Will I remember where we stashed the chairs?  Or why?

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…