Archive for the ‘Willard R. Espy’ Category

Due Diligence with Capital D’s

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Cover Design by Mark Nero

The 12″x 12″x 5½” box arrived by priority mail day before yesterday.  It was heavy — $21.90 worth of heavy — and mailed from Seattle by Marilyn Nero.  Perhaps you remember her?  She and her husband Mark Nero ran the Cranberry Press which had an Oysterville address but was physically located in the 1990s in Ocean Park — in the  area where Anita’s Coastal Cafe has been in recent years.

The Cranberry Press was an elegant operation.  They did small, specialty press runs and my uncle Willard had them publish his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (illustrated by Nancy Lloyd) in 1998, the year before he died.  The book design and typography were by Mark, himself.  His expertise in those areas are part of what made Cranberry Press special.

Original Cover Design on Printmaking Stone

Sometime in the early 2000’s, Mark and Marilyn moved — to Arizona, I think.   Some years later, Mark wrote and asked if Nyel and I would like to purchase (at wholesale) the remaining copies of the book.  Even though we no longer had the Bookvendor, we did buy the copies.  Several years after that Mark sent a package of still more of the books– this time no charge.  He said he was going out of business.

Last February (2020), I received another message concerning Skulduggery — this time from Marilyn Nero.  She said that Mark had passed away several years previously and she was closing up the studio.  Did I want “a collection of paperwork and original correspondence regarding the publication in 1998 of Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery?”  She said she’d send it when the weather warmed up and that she was moving to Seattle…

Detail from Original Skulduggery Cover Art

I am so grateful for Marilyn’s diligence in returning these materials to me.  Willard’s original, typewritten manuscript, corrections and commentary on correspondece from both Louise and Willard, plus the cover design on lithographic limestone (I think) were included in the package.  Plus a few more copies of  the book.

I will be taking them up to the Washington Historical Society Research Center to be added to Willard’s section of the Espy Family Archive.  Maybe when the weather warms up a bit…

about teeth and siblings…

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

“Do you still have all your own teeth?”

Dale Espy Little, “Mom,” and Her Million Dollar Smile, 1928

After a prolonged absence, it was the first question my mother and her brother Willard asked one another when they’d get together — especially as they aged.  Willard died in 1999 at the venerable age of 88 and, as far as I know, his answer was still “yes.”  Ditto for mom who was eleven months his junior.  She lived until 2009 and, but for a fall in 2007 which knocked out a front tooth, she still could have answered “yes,” as well.

Willard “Uncle Wede” Espy, 1981

I thought about the two of them and their teeth questions the other night when I bit down on a lemon drop and broke a molar.  It had been filled probably 60+ years ago, so I really can’t complain.  It has lasted through a lot of chewing even though compromised all those years ago.  It is also one of the teeth that the clasps of my lower partial cling to — more stress no doubt.

And it’s not the first tooth I’ve lost — starting with nine front ones in that 1961 auto accident when I broke my mouth on a steering wheel.  Although I lament the teeth, an even greater lament is that I never had a brother or sister who would have cared.  But I’m so glad Mom and Willard did.  And who’duv thunk that teeth would become a point of pride between siblings as they entered their dotage?

Sheltering or Hunkering?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

Oysterville by Willard Espy

In an ordinary year, a hundred inches of rain fall on grandpa’s village; we have mutated until we breathe with comfort air that is half water, or water that is half air.  I suspect that if the Peninsula were to sink beneath our feet, a mishap that in some downpours seems imminent, we could live submerged without serious inconvenience.  So wrote my venerable uncle Willard Espy in his introduction to Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Those words were written nearly fifty years ago, and I’m not so sure we still get that much rainfall in a “normal” year.  But… this year is hardly normal in other respects and, for the last few days, the rain has come down steadily.  We have taken to hunkering rather than sheltering.  There’s probably a fine line there, but to me, hunkering implies hiding out and sheltering is more about staying safe.

A Good Place for Hunkering and Sheltering

Besides the sound of rain on the roof and water swooshing down the drainpipes, we hear only the wind.  Periodically it rattles the roller door on the west side of the house and causes the rain to splat sideways against the windows.  The world — at least the part we see from our place– has lost its color; everything is curtained in gray.

I believe that this is the what grieving looks like — my feelings in 3D.  Sheltering against the pandemic and hunkering out of harm’s way — “the most we can do, the least we can do, all we can do” to quote Father Tom Williams.  Oysterville during this extraordinary year seems just the right place to be.

 

 

 

They come in a boring cardboard box…

Sunday, December 6th, 2020

Nyel’s Box of “Darks”

Anyone who knows Nyel very well knows that he loves chocolate — the darker the better.  Me… not so much.  Especially not the darkest kind.  However, there is a special place in my heart for Dilettante Chocolates (especially the Not Dark ones) from Seattle because they were significant when Nyel was courting me.  But that’s another story.

Recently, I ran across some of the articles my Uncle Willard wrote in the 1940s for his “Family Man” column in Good Housekeepting Magazine.  The name of this particular piece was “On my likes and dislikes in chocolate candy” and it could have been written about Nyel and me!  Here is how it begins:   

Almost “A Plain Brown Wrapper”

This is a highly personal plea to anyone who may ever take a notion to present our household with a box of chocolate candy.
First, a clarification: the card on the box may read “to Hilda,” but it is Hilda’s husband who will do the eating.  Hilda is not particularly fond of chocolates, and I am.  This fondness is partly responsible for our marriage.  When we were courting, I used to bring her boxes of choice candy, which I always ate; the arrangement was ideal, killing two birds with one stone; I would never have dreamed of buying such fine candy for myself.  One night I bit into a particularly toothsome caramel, and before the taste had faded from my tongue I found myself engaged.

One other paragraph in his column also could have been written by Nyel (If Nyel were a writer.  Which he is not.)
Alas, one man’s sweet is another man’s poison.  Mixed chocolates plucked from a drugstore counter contain much of heaven, but much also of hell.  I have never learned to decipher the insignia which mean to the initiated that this piece is flavored with peppermint and mint, while that one is a compound of ragweed.  So I go fumbling doggedly through each box, still confident despite inumerable disillusionments that every square chocolate is a chew and every round one a vanilla drop…

Sydney’s Box of “Lights”

Nyel has solved that particular problem by just ordering “Dark Ephemere” — the darkest of the dark chocolate truffles from Dilettante Chocolates by Dana Taylor Davenport, Chocolatier.  Each toothsome bite is guaranteed to be dark chocolate through and through!  Too bad he and Willard never had the chocolate conversation!  I wonder if my sainted uncle even knew about these morsels of perfection?  They’ve been around since 1898, so maybe…

 

 

 

My Uncle Wede, Raconteur and Word Man

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Willard Espy:  Author, Wordsmith, Raconteur

In same ways, my uncle Willard Espy had a checkered career — as in a number of disparate jobs.  But all of them, one way or another, had to do with writing.  Now he is remembered mostly for his books on wordplay, or if you live around this neck of the woods, for his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  But it was his hob-nobbing with the rich and famous that always interested me most.

In the 1940s, Wede was the Public Relations manager for the Reader’s Digest.  Part of his work in that capacity was to write the back cover for each monthly issue.  Actually, he was a ghost-writer (in lay-terminology) and, as such, he set up interviews with prominent personalities who then “wrote” endorsements for the magazine.

This morning I ran across some of Willard’s notes — apparently impressions from some of those interviews and also from a later radio show called “Personalities in Print.”  The format was fifteen minute (daily?) interviews, also with well-known people who had, for one reason or another, a book or article currently in print.  How I wish I could ask him a little more about each.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke of Windsor (and the Duchess) — her remarkable capacity to seem to focus her whole attention on what was being said to her.
Albert Einstein — his patched sweater, his lack of sox, the halo of hair behind his head, his aura of utter saintliness, his sailing ability (well — not too hot.)
Winston Churchill— watched him consume a bottle of brandy before delivering a stirring address to the joint Houses of Congress.
Richard Nixon — his disquisitions on luck, with examples from his own life; his stopping all other work in the Vice Presidential office to locate Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson’s son was injured in an accident.
H.L. Mencken (before my Digest days), sitting in his backyard and consuming bottle after bottle of beer.

Lillian Gish, Silent Film Star

Lord Halifax in a receiving line, somehow causing even his most distinguished guests to look like red-faced butchers as he shook their hands.
Jim Gavin’s crash course in French when he was made Ambassador to Paris — all the French he knew before was what was required to haggle with the madams in the towns his division captured over the rates she would charge his boys.
Lillian Gish and the seagull.
Trying to persuade Betty Friedan to serve me breakfast in bed.
And dozens, scores, more — some from my old radio program, others from Readers Digest.

That last sentence makes me think he was compiling the list for his editor with an eye toward another book.  I wish it had happened; it would have been a fun read.

 

 

Cousins Come Calling!

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

Cousins

Yesterday was a Red Letter Day at our house.  The Schreiber Cousins came calling!  Seeing them seated around our table (with all its leaves pressed into service!) made my heart sing!  I could almost hear our Espy forebears humming along from on high.

Pater familias of the group, Alex Schreiber, is my first cousin Mona’s oldest son, making him my first-cousin-once-removed.  My Uncle Willard was his grandfather.  Alex is ten years younger than my son Charlie and is an Associate Professor of Biology at Saint Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Max, Micah, Ben

With him were sons Max (25) and fiance Micah, Sam (23), Jack (18), Ben (16), and daughter Maddie (12),  my first-cousins-twice removed.  Willard would be their great-grandfather but they only know him by reputation.  It was Maddie’s first trip to Oysterville but the boys and their dad have been here many times.  They have a “real time” history here you might say.

When I was still teaching, probably in 2001, Alex brought Max and Sam visiting and actually did a lesson on frogs in my 1st/2nd/3rd grade classroom.  He had assured me that he had developed the material with Sam’s preschool class in mind and that it would be perfectly age appropriate.  It was fabulous!  The two little boys came to my classroom with him and acted as his “teaching assistants.”  I was totally impressed.

Alex, Jack, Sam

For the Sesquicentennial in 2004,  all four boys came dressed in Davy Crocket outfits, complete with coonskin hats. Somewhere I have a picture of them with their mom (also in period costume) in front of the house here.  Since then, Max and Sam have visited more than the others, perhaps, but all have special memories of the house and of Willard’s (once) red cottage.

Max and Sam are now living in the Seattle area and working in the IT field.  Jack, too, is headed in that direction but his pathway is with the army.  Ben is interested in the same aspects of technology as Jack, “but not the army part” he said.  The conversation (which was diverse) included thoughts about Edward Snowden’s recent book which I am currently reading in preparation for a March Book Talk in Portland. It was great to get their perspective on a whole host of things I can barely grasp.

Willard Espy (1910-1999)

Micah, Max’s girlfriend of eight years, was wearing the gorgeous ring that Max designed for her and gave her on the occasion of their recent engagement.  I put in a bid for the Oysterville Church as a wedding venue and they are taking my suggestion “under advisement.”  I almost think Willard, himself, would appear if that happened!

 

The Scribbling Aunts

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Mona, “the eldest daughter” on the left

My cousin Mona sent me some of her (as yet unpublished) children’s stories to read.  They arrived by email this morning and I am sorely tempted to drop everything and get to it but my own writing calls so I’ll probably leave Mona’s treasures for evening “dessert.”

Mona is my uncle Willard Espy’s daughter.  His “eldest daughter” she likes to say, pointing out that she arrived six minutes earlier than her twin, the late Freddie Espy Plimpton.  I wonder if Willard ever read any of Mona’s writing and, if so, what he said.  I’m sure he was encouraging.  He always was.  But getting helpful criticism from him?  Never!  At least not in my experience.

On the other hand, it was Willard who gave some of his great-aunts the sobriquet, “The Scribbling Aunts.”  I always took his reference to infer that they weren’t particularly good writers but when I read his descriptions of them in Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa’s Village, I decided that what I took to be a pejorative description was probably just Willard being Willard.

The “scribblers” were my great-grandfather Richardson’s sisters Mat Richardson White and Shae Richardson Stein and their cousin Mary Bamford.  Of them Willard said: it was the women who set the cultural and intellectual tone of the Richardson household. By today’s standards, women in the 1880s and 1890s were chattels.  If so, somebody forgot to tell grandpa’s sisters and his cousin…

A Bit after Mary Bamford’s Time

Mary Bamford, he wrote, wound up with the curious title of Poet Laureate of Oakland…  Of Mat he said:  After a disastrous first marriage, she had to write frantically for newspapers and magazines to keep herself and her children fed, clothed, and roofed… And of Aunt Shae: …the most inveterate scribbler of all…  Her outlets included Golden Days, The Portland Transcript, The San Francisco Examiner, The Interior, The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder and The Youth’s Companion then known as The Companion.

So, if Willard referred to his sainted older relatives as “scribblers,” I wonder how he might have referred to us younger ones who do a bit of writing, especially his eldest daughter Mona. After reading all of his comments on those illustrious women forebears, “scribbler” might actually be considered complimentary in the extreme.  I’ll have to ask Mona if she has any thoughts on the subject… after reading my dessert!

Appreciating Willard Some More!

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Willard’s “Bound” Copies

I may not have thought so at the time, but one of the enduring gifts that my uncle Willard Espy gave me was a sense of stewardship of “the family papers.”  That’s what we all called those boxes and boxes (about 100 of them eventually) of documents, letters, junk mail etc. that were stored in the “woodshed” as Willard called it.  He had been working with those papers since the 1930s.  They were the basis for his family genealogical work and ultimately for his 1977 book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.

Truth to tell, by the late 1970s, those papers were stored in the woodshed, as well as in the attic, the barn across the street and in the house just south of town that had served as home to my grandfather’s ranch foreman.  When my folks retired to the H.A. Espy home in Oysterville (where my mother and Willard and the rest of their siblings had grown up), they gathered all of those papers into one place for “safekeeping.”

One of Willard’s Labels

Shortly after I moved here full-time in 1978, Willard hired a student from Evergreen College to sort and catalogue them.  He asked me if I would help her out and for a year and a half Barbara Hedges (now Canney) and I forged a forever-friendship and learned more than we could ever have imagined about the Espy family, the pioneer days in Oysterville and the Peninsula, the trek across the Oregon Trail, the Civil War, the voyage around Cape Horn and on and on.

When we were “finished” the material was contained in twelve four-drawer, ‘fireproof,’ file cabinets in the storage area between our house and garage.  Willard still called it the “woodshed” as it was in the general area that had, indeed, been the woodshed of his childhood.  My folks called that area “the workroom” because my dad continued working there for a few years after they moved here, manufacturing plastic gift items.   Nyel and I now call it the “back forty” and it serves as a catch-all place for everything we have no room for elsewhere – the picnic items, card tables, chairs, Christmas ornaments – you name it.

A few years before he died, Willard made arrangements to gift all of those family papers to the Washington State Historical Society.  They would be transferred up to Tacoma to the Washington State Historical Research facility “at my discretion.”  That happened in the early 2000s, although we continue to find and deliver bits and pieces.

A New Project Begins

Meanwhile… I still have at my fingertips the typewritten (on a manual typewriter, no less!) copies of hundreds of letters that Willard transcribed back in the 1930s.  He felt the originals should stay here, undisturbed, but he wanted them in New York where he was living for reference.  So, each time he was here in Oysterville, he made copies – a laborious task in those days before copy machines and electric typewriters and the computers, printers and scanners we take for granted now.

And, once again, Willard has me involved!  I am transferring all those letters – from my great-grandparents and beyond – into archival sleeves and accessible binders.  The old spring-closed albums they have been in are beginning to deteriorate and… thanks again, Willard, for another “project” but, mostly, thanks for the hours and hours and hours you spent transcribing for posterity!  I hope I gave you enough hugs when you were still with us!

Going Gray in Oysterville

Friday, August 25th, 2017

The Red House

It’s been seventy years since my Uncle Willard Espy began painting the town red.  Well… maybe not the whole town of Oysterville, but certainly two of the most significant buildings in this little village.  It was 1947, the year of his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  The celebration was to take place around Thanksgiving and, even that summer, preparations were under way.

At that time, Willard owned his grandfather’s house up the street a block or so from where he and his six siblings had grown up.  He and his (then) wife, Hilda Cole Espy, had purchased the house from the R.H. Espy Estate shortly after World War II.  Or maybe during the war – I don’t really remember.

1947 Golden Wedding Dinner

What I do remember is that for several summers in a row (including 1947) their four daughters – my ‘much younger’ cousins were here, as was I.  Willard, wo was then Public Relations Director for the Reader’s Digest in New York.  He took his vacation weeks here and, that year, he painted the R.H. Espy House red.

I was eleven that year and I don’t specifically remember the painting project.  My oldest cousin, Mona – never mind that she was a twin; she took great pride in being the eldest daughter, even if only by a few minutes – was six and she does remember.  Sort of.  She remembers her father laughing and laughing after painting the horns of the bull out in the pasture – red!  We both think that Willard had taken a break from painting the house to have a little fun with the neighbor’s bull and, in our minds, that dates the year that the house color changed from yellow (we think) to the red it is today.

The Little Red Cottage, 1977 – 2017

For the next thirty years, people referred to the R. H. Espy house as the “Red House” because it was the only one of that color in town.  Then, in the mid-seventies, Willard and his (then) wife Louise purchased the little cottage that had once served as the first courthouse in Oysterville.  It, too, was soon painted red and we began to refer to the two structures as “The Big Red House” and “The Little Red Cottage” to distinguish which we were talking about.

Yesterday, as we drove into town after being gone for eight days, there were indications are that we will not need to differentiate between red buildings from this point forward.  We noticed that the erstwhile “Little Red Cottage” now has a gray façade – perhaps the first step in the newest owners’ renovation scheme.  For now, the rest of the house remains red – a two-toned look that is distinctive in itself.

The Little Gray Cottage, 2017

Whether in his parents’ home, his grandfathers’ home or the erstwhile first courthouse, Willard spent much of his life here in Oysterville.  He, himself, grew gray over his long lifetime and I think he would be amused to think that his beloved Red Cottage had now entered its own gray stage.  Like Willard, himself, it’s looking quite dignified and distinguished in gray!

Convoluted Connections

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Willard and Dale, 1914

I’ve been thinking of Willard lately.  Willard Richardson Espy, my mother’s “twin” – well, they were 11 months apart but for all of his 89 years, Willard would write mom on her November 13th birthday and remind her that they were now identical in age until December 10th when he would become a year older than she.

Willard was not only my uncle, but was also my Godfather.  When I once challenged him about having fulfilled his duties in that regard, he archly asked, “Are you not a moral, upstanding woman of good character?’  When I answered in the affirmative, he said firmly, “Then I have done my job.”  I never questioned him on the matter again, though I did occasionally wonder how he thought he had accomplished that triumph of my development, especially considering that we lived on opposite sides of the continent for all of my formative years.

Willard and Sydney – 1938 in Oysterville

As I approached middle age, though, and Willard edged closer to his golden years, we had opportunities to spend more time together.  I had moved to Oysterville and Willard was spending about half of each year in his little red cottage here.  He had always been my role model with regard to his career.  I, too, had visions of working for a newspaper and of spending my life writing and hobnobbing with the literati and the sophisticates of the world. And, once we began spending more time together, he also became my mentor, encouraging me to complete my book about his oldest sister, Medora, and offering to write the foreword, though he would not live to see its publication.

Red Cottage 1984

So, fast forward to my here and now at Emanuel Hospital, eighteen and a half years after Willard’s death.  I think of him almost daily here – not for reasons you might think.  I think of his all-consuming interest in words – in their derivations, their meanings their misinterpretations, in the way they look and all the weird and wonderful things about language – ours and others.  He was called “The Wordsmith” and, though those of us who are aficionados of Oysterville, love his book, Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village, out in the greater world he is known far better for his fifteen books on words.

Willard, 1981

Yesterday, the discussion between patient, cardiologist and surgeon concerned a blood clot that has formed in the left ventricle appendage.  That’s a new situation and before surgery to correct his mitral valve can take place, they are trying to dissolve that clot.  It isn’t yet “organized” we were told.  Which means, it seems, that the blood has gathered and has coagulated to a gelatinous-like consistency but has not yet clotted – not fully organized.  That’s a good thing, apparently.  Willard would have been so intrigued…