Archive for the ‘Willard R. Espy’ Category

Places, Everyone!

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

This is one of those days I wish I could clone myself.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot quite visualize what the audience is seeing when I am on stage and it’s me they’re looking at.  Of course, in the case of this weekend and our two performances of “Shoalwater Shenanigans,” my fondest desire is that they don’t see me at all.

When it’s my turn to be front and center, I hope I the audience sees instead, Alvira Stevens, Sarah Crouch, and Mona Espy.  Those are the three characters that I am interpreting – mostly through their words rather than through any serious transformation of myself.  Actually, they are Willard Espy’s words from his book Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay.

The show, as first conceived by Sandy Nielson, was to be a reader’s theater presentation.  Actors would have scripts in hand and would suggest the personality of each character by voice inflections and perhaps with a simple costume piece or two – a hat, a shawl, an apron.  It would be presented at the Oysterville Church and, given the limited stage facilities, the action was designed accordingly.  Low-key, you might say.  That was more than a year ago and, as we all know, stuff happens..,

Gradually, the show has  morphed into something else.  Soon after the cast was selected, it was decided that we would learn the lines and leave our scripts behind.  As time went by,, entrances became more complicated, costumes more elaborate, and when the Fort Columbia venue was added this year, lights came into play.  Too, there are a few changes in the cast which also makes for a new feel to the show.

Anyone who has been involved with live theater knows, of course, that every performance of a show is different.  Even the audience (probably especially the audience)  and their reactions change what happens on stage.  So, it is with some trepidation that Alvira, Sarah, Mona and I are looking forward to our performances today and tomorrow.  I have little doubt that the other characters and their actors feel the same way.

Center Stage in Oysterville and Beyond

Monday, October 8th, 2012

On Saturday the cast of “Shoalwater Shenanigans” gathered over at the church to begin rehearsing for our November performances. It was our first get-together and run-through of the show in almost a year. Some of us were letter-perfect in our lines; some of us not so much! I was somewhere in between. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give myself a seven.

Our director, Sandy Nielson, was unflappable and encouraging as always. Sandy is all about ensemble. She takes (no, actually solicits) suggestions from each of us and asks the entire group to weigh in on the big decisions like where our performances will be. Last year we did a matinee and an evening performance at the Oysterville Church. This year looks to be different.

There are definite pros and cons to doing both shows in Oysterville. I felt strongly that since Shenanigans is based on Willard Espy’s book, Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (Whispered Up from the Graves of the Pioneers) which was, in turn, inspired by Willard’s fondness for the Oysterville Cemetery, that the Oysterville Church was the natural venue. Plus, the ambiance of the church at night by candlelight gives an ambiance that is wonderful under any circumstances, but was perfection for “Shoalwater Shenanigans.”

A few others felt as I do but those on the ‘con’ side won out. They were concerned that Oysterville is so far for audiences to travel, that having no rest room facilities in Oysterville is a problem, and that lighting the stage area in the church for an evening performance is an issue. (The fact that there is a sani-can behind the church and that we managed the lighting last year were not of sufficient weight to sway the group.)

Perhaps the over-riding reason for the Fort Columbia venue was that PAPA (Peninsula Association of Performing Artists) has been our stalwart and generous sponsor from the beginning. They now have a contractual agreement with Fort Columbia for the use of their theater and would very much like to present “Shoalwater Shenanigans” there.

So, it looks like we’ll be doing two matinees – one in Oysterville on Saturday, November 17th and one at Fort Columbia on Sunday, November 18th. That, of course, will necessitate a rehearsal at Fort Columbia which, as I understand it, will have some staging and blocking problems to work out.

I have every confidence that our director and cast will be up to any and all challenges. Now, if I can only get to a 10 on these lines…


An Oysterville Moment

Monday, July 9th, 2012

One of the popular features of our summer Music Vespers programs here each summer Sunday is the five minute welcome toward the beginning that has come to be called the ‘Oysterville Moment.’  It was begun by my mother when she and dad started the first vespers series back in 1978 and, at first, it was just a time to introduce the minister and other participants.

Gradually, the introduction seguéd into an opportunity to share a fact or two about the historic church, or the community, or an amusing story from the past.  When I stepped into my mother’s shoes – by rights it should have been into one of her trademark hats! – I continued the tradition.  I am now intent on involving other Oystervillians and yesterday it was Tucker Wachsmuth’s turn.

He talked about golf – golf then and golf now. Currently, the golf rage in Oysterville (at least among Tucker’s family and friends) is Whiffle Golf, sometimes called “Oysterville Golf.”  It’s a game that Tucker invented years ago and involves hand-fashioned clubs (which he had for show-and-tell)  and, of course, a whiffle ball.

The historic part of Tucker’s golf talk involved the story of my Uncle Willard and “The Only Golf Links on the North Beach Peninsula,” or so Willard’s 1922 sign claimed.  At that time Willard was eleven and he involved all the boys in Oysterville in his new-found passion.  They fashioned their golf balls from tin cans, hammering them into some semblance of proper shape and size, and they whittled their clubs from alder branches that had just the right shape at the crotch.

Tucker missed his calling!  He’d have made a great teacher.  Not only did he have samples of the Whiffle Golf equipment, but he had actually brought a facsimile of Willard’s old golf ball, hammered to size (“not so easy”) from a tin can.  And, for those who might be interested, he offered to teach them the rudiments of Whiffle Golf at the conclusion of vespers.

I don’t know if anyone took him up on that offer.  If so, they experienced a for-sure, in-real-time Oysterville Moment!

Live long and…

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Louise Espy, my uncle Willard’s wife, outlived him by twelve years.  She died last November in New York not far from where she had been born and had lived for most of her ninety-two years,   Her children, Johnny and Penny, kept us informed about her memorial service  which was held at the prestigious Century Association and Penny, a teacher, said that in the summer she would bring Louise’s ashes to Oysterville for burial in the family plot.

And now it’s almost summer.  Plans are being made for early August and, as it looks now, there will be a simple graveside service followed by a reception here at the house.  Since Penny was not really involved with the Oysterville side of Louise’s life, I’ve offered to make all of the necessary arrangements.

I woke up thinking about who will come and how to let them know.  When my father died at age 82, he was still a vital member of the community.  Friends and colleagues and relatives crowded the Oysterville Church and overflowed out into the churchyard to listen to the service over the PA system.

By the time my mother died seventeen years later at the venerable age of ninety-seven, she had been out of the limelight for a number of years and had outlived most of her friends.  The church was not quite full even though, in comparison to dad, she had been the ‘people person’ and the ‘social butterfly.’

The problem is compounded a bit with Louise.  Although she and Willard spent months at a time over a twenty year period in their Red Cottage in Oysterville, they weren’t full-timers.  And, although Louise continued to visit Oysterville as long as she was able after Willard’s death, her circle of friends had diminished considerably by her last visit in 2008.

So… how to properly honor Louise and provide a warm reception for Penny?  I know some of the folks who might like to come and I will contact them directly.  But for the others whose lives Louise touched over the years, I shall rely on the age-old standard way of announcing an event – the newspaper.  And, of course, by  our ever-reliable “Peninsula Telegraph,” word-of-mouth.

To paraphrase my shirttail cousin, Father Tom Williams: “It’s the least we can do; it’s the most we can do; it’s all we can do.”

and speaking of P.G. Wodehouse…

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
H. A. Espy

       I just love P.G. Wodehouse.  In times of stress or when I want to be completely distracted from serious thinking, I turn to him.  He’s funny – often outrageous – his characters are impossible and his plots outlandish.  Plus, he often makes me think – usually about nonsensical things, but that’s a welcome change for a deep thinker such as myself.
     My favorites, of course, are any of his books about Jeeves or Bertie Wooster or Blandings Castle.  Right now I’m reading Lord Emsworth and Others and find, as usual words to ponder.  Take, for instance, some of his remarks concerning moustaches:
     Where, I’ve often asked myself, are the great sweeping moustaches of our boyhood,..  questions one of the characters.  The answer:…in the remoter rural districts you will still find these curious growths flourishing.
     Well, I can’t speak for current times in rural England, but here in our own “remoter rural district” I know of one or two remarkable mustaches.  Immediately, Lance Wright comes to mind.  Although I haven’t seen him since a Rodeo Breakfast almost a year ago, at that time his mustache was fabulous.  And, at the high school, there is Michael Cline whose facial décor is truly a most luxuriant “mustachio.”  Wodehouse would have been proud.
     When I was a child, mustaches and other facial hair among adult males were not popular.  None of the fathers of my friends had beards or mustaches, nor did my own dad until he was well into his seventies.  I’m not sure why he changed his grooming habits of a lifetime but, when he did we all thought his trim beard made him look very distinguished.
     My uncle Willard, too, was clean-shaven during my childhood but had a luxuriant mustache in later life.  One of his fans (if you can call an outspoken critic “a fan”) wrote him a downright nasty letter accusing him of harboring vermin and germs and all manner of grotesque items in his mustache.  She even went so far as to say that she wouldn’t read any of his books until she saw evidence that he had shaved!
     The other night on Jeopardy, the answer and question involved a certain type of beard.  I knew what it was immediately – a Van Dyke!  My grandfather, H. A. Espy, had a Van Dyke and it was the subject of many family stories – mostly about how everyone in the family was kept waiting for something-or-other to begin “while Papa trimmed his whisters.”
     When he was in his eighties and “it was time,” his four (still living) children made the difficult decision to place Papa in a nursing home.  The nearest facility was in Vancouver and after getting him settled, they stayed overnight in town so they could visit him again before returning to Oysterville.
     In the morning they were horrified to find that he had been shaved.  Never in all their lives (and they were in their 50s and 60s) had they seen Papa without his Van Dyke.  They immediately checked him out of ‘the home,’ brought him back to Oysterville, arranged for in-home care, and felt a whole lot better when his Van Dyke grew back.
     As for Wodehouse, himself – he was clean-shaven for most of his ninety-four years except for a short time in mid-life when he did sport a rather small mustache.  Perhaps it was the model for the one he complains about in the story I’m reading:  He’ll have to let it grow or shave it off… He can’t go on sitting on the fence like this.  Either a man has a mustache or he has not.  There can be no middle course. 

Shameless Self-Promotion!

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
Medora and Me

     Back in February, I posed the idea of doing a book talk modeled on our House Concerts.  The proposal came from my knee-jerk reaction to receiving the news that my Dear Medora book had earned less than $10.00 in royalties for the year.  Obviously, I need to generate some interest and get a resurgence of sales out there in the world.  It’s not something that small publishing houses do these days — WSU Press isn’t coming to come to the rescue!
     So, in the spirit of “raise the flag and see who salutes,” I blogged about the possibility of doing a Mother’s Day “event” here.  After all, Medora grew up in this house and the book is based upon letters between her and her mother (my grandmother).  Here, surrounded by the things she grew up with, I could read from the book and tell some of the ‘back stories.’  What better way to honor mothers?  And maybe regenerate interest.
     And, thought I, while I’m at it I could talk about the book I’m currently working on.  It’s about Medora’s younger brother, Willard Espy.  He, too, grew up in this house.  Plus, he spent a great deal of time in Oysterville over his 89-year-lifetime.  There are undoubtedly folks who still remember him and would enjoy hearing me read excerpts from this fledging book about him.
      Much to my gratification, I received quite a bit of encouragement for the idea.  People wrote and said, “Do it!  I’ll be there!”  Plans were laid.  And when I still hesitated, a very successful author friend said, “Don’t give it a second thought, Sydney.  This is what authors have to do these days.  The publishing/book marketing world is now in a totally new dimension.”
     So, shameless self-promotion began.  But, it may well turn out to be one of those “best laid plans” kinds of things.  Invitations have gone out and RSVPs are coming in – mostly negative. When push comes to shove, many of the very people who were so encouraging now have other obligations…
     Another author friend (who can’t come) loved the idea and asked to be considered as one of the presenters at this “new series.”  Wow!  A series!  Now that’s a thought that hadn’t occurred to me.  I’m still stuck on getting enough bodies gathered for this Mother’s Day presentation…  Wooing people into this new book-selling dimension is more difficult than it appears.   

Feeling Snappish in Oysterville

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

1947 Label

     My yesterday wasn’t very different from most other days thus far in 2012.  In fact, on the face of it, it should have been great.  The calendar showed it as all white space – my favorite kind of day.  I could work at the computer without interruption for a full six or eight or even ten hours.  And I did.
     But by the time Nyel returned from his day of subbing at the high school, I was feeling annoyed, let-down, and just plain ornery.  We spent our half-hour of ‘quality time’ with the baby chicks, and I was snappish at them.  I was unpleasant about what we were having for dinner.  I found myself being irritated by a couple of e-mail messages.  And the more I chafed, the worse I felt.
     A good night’s sleep took care of it – thank goodness!  I’m usually a pretty even-tempered sort of person.  Well, maybe not even-tempered exactly, but certainly not prone to glowering dark moods.  I can only conclude that I was suffering from “Writer’s Let Down” if there is such a thing.
     Yesterday I all but finished the first draft of “Espy’s Own: Willard of Oysterville” (working title).  But the last paragraph of the last chapter would NOT allow itself be written.  After awhile I let it go and reviewed the book from start to finish, asking myself questions like “Does it hang together?” and “Are there big gaps?” and “Have I repeated myself here and there?”  And, of course the biggees – “Is it any good?” and “Who will care?”
     Intermittently, I returned to the last chapter and that final paragraph. I know what I want to convey and I know the tone I want to take.  But I still couldn’t find the words.  Maybe today…
     Meanwhile, I’m printing out the draft – all 250 pages.  During the next few weeks I will enlist Nyel’s help.  He’ll read; I’ll listen – a chapter each day.  For me, that’s the best way I can answer those hard questions and begin to clarify how to proceed with draft two.
     Sometimes I wonder how other writers manage.  Are there points in their writing process that make them snappish?  Probably. 

Chasing Down The Facts

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
Cartooning by Correspondence

     Yesterday Nyel and I made a quick trip to Tacoma and back to visit the Washington State Historical Society Research Center.  It is the repository for the Espy Family Archives and I was on an information quest.  My mission had to do with the book I’m writing about my uncle Willard Espy.
     In the summer of 2008, I was hired to process Willard’s “papers” which were housed in several dozen boxes at the Research Center along with 100+ boxes of other Espy documents. It is a huge archive, originally transported to Tacoma from Oysterville beginning in 1999 by Nyel and me.   Most of the archive still awaits funding so that it can be processed – only the Medora Espy portion had been processed and cataloged.  And, then, in 2008 the Historical Society got a grant to process Willard’s Papers.  I applied for and got the job!
     I spent a year working on the Willard Archive.  My job began with a jumble of “stuff” that Willard had saved during his long lifetime – drafts of manuscripts, published and unpublished; personal and business correspondence; fan mail; published interviews from his clipping service, and on and on.  When I completed my job, all the material was neatly filed in archival inserts and folders, arranged in archival boxes and catalogued in a Finding Aid which is now available online.
     It was during the year that I worked with the material that I finally decided that “someday” I would write about Willard.  To that end, I made notes and kept copies of pertinent information, hoping that when the time came, I’d have what I needed.  And, as it has turned out, I find that I did a pretty good job anticipating what would be useful.
     However, now that I am closing in on the completion of ‘Draft Number One,’ there are a few little missing details – silly things, really, but they nagged at me.  Like, what was the name of the company from whom eleven-year-old Willard took a correspondence cartooning course?  And how much did it cost?  And what magazine did his “Family Man” series run in?
     I had a dozen or so similar questions and the maddening part was that I knew exactly where the answers were – right down to the box and file number.  After all, I was the one who had organized the material and, wonder of wonders, I could remember seeing exactly what I needed!  But four years ago, of course, I didn’t realize it.
     So, it was off to Tacoma with my list of questions, my notebook, and my handy-dandy digital camera.  Seeing the boxes of files again was like taking up with old friends after a long absence.  And I not only found what I was looking for, but was reminded of a few other details that will be helpful.  All-in-all, a productive day!

Considering the Future: A Cautionary Tale

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Willard and Grandchild, 1982

      The advice that is often given to authors is to make sure that the rights to their “intellectual properties” is clearly and separately spelled out in their wills.  I imagine that similar advice is given to artists and other people who do creative work that ends up being copyrighted.  I wonder how many people actually follow that advice.
      A case in point concerns my Uncle Willard.  Now and again I get inquiries from people wanting to know who holds his copyrights now that he is dead.  The queries are from people who want to quote from his books or other published works and, most recently, from a filmmaker who is interested in film rights.
      I know that Willard held the copyrights on all of his books when he was living.  I don’t know about the other rights.  Usually contracts with publishers specify a number of different “companion rights.”  In a contract I signed last week with Arcadia Press, the wording included “the right to use, produce or reproduce, distribute, perform, display, transmit or broadcast” as well as “electronic storage, retrieval, and digital media rights.”
      I seriously doubt if any of Willard’s contracts included that latter provision, at least not for the books published before his death in 1999.  Perhaps the contracts for more recent publications of his work – mostly works reprinted with the permission of his widow, Louise – included those modern concepts.
      Apparently Willard did not specify the intellectual property rights separately from his other belongings and Louise inherited them.  About the time that Louise began to show the effects of increasing dementia, Polly Friedlander asked her to sign over Willard’s copyrights to the Espy Foundation.  At that time, Louise told Polly that she thought Willard’s daughters held the rights.  They thought Louise did.  As far as I know, the issue was not resolved.
      Now, the Espy Foundation is defunct.  Polly, herself, is suffering from dementia and is no longer able to speak.  And no one knows who has the rights.  Maybe Louise’s children?  They don’t think so.  It is a hornet’s nest and will no doubt take attorneys and serious money to straighten it all out.  Willard, I’m sure, would be appalled.
      I can only say that I am SO glad I thought to get written permissions concerning use of Willard’s work well before everyone died or went ga-ga.  Now, I hope I take heed and use this saga as a warning to  make necessary provisions in my own will…

The End of the Line?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Espy Family Reunion 2009

       During his life time, my uncle Willard took on the role of family genealogist.  He spent sixty-plus years tracing our roots and writing up all the information he had discovered.  As early as 1954, two fat three-ring binders documenting our forebears were given to each of his siblings and to each of his first cousins.  He made corrections and additions to those binders up until the year of his death in 1999.
       In the 1980s, he became interested in those of us who were the next in line.  On the occasion of his brother Edwin’s 80th birthday – celebrated in conjunction with their cousin Alice’s 80th and my father’s 89th – we had an Espy Family Reunion here in Oysterville.      Willard’s gift to the octogenarians (and the rest of us) was a hefty red three-ring binder titled “Robert Hamilton and Julia Ann (Jefferson) Espy and their 91 descendants as of May 14, 1989.”  In its preface, he wrote:
       Seventy of Robert’s and Julia’s 91 descendants are living; 21 are dead.  The latter group includes the couple’s eight children, 11 of their 18 grandchildren, and two of their 22 great-grandchildren.  There have been no deaths among the 33 great-great-grandchildren or the nine great-great-great-grandchildren.
       There is a shortage of male Espys to carry on the name.  Of the seven extant, three – R.H. Edwin, Willard Richardson, and John Carroll – are in their 70s or 80s and cannot be relied on to sire additional progeny.  In the fourth generation, Ian at 54, and John Steven at 50, are still potential progenitors, but at this point I wouldn’t give odds. John Steven says he has already paid his dues, having had one son.  As for Ian, he was reared under his stepfather’s name, Anderson.  It is unclear whether his child, Andrew, will eventually be known as Espy or Anderson, or even Reed, which is the name of his mother.
     So, of all Robert Hamilton’s 70 living descendants, only John Steven’s son Christopher seems a better than even bet to extend the Espy name into future generations.  I wish him a long and fruitful marriage and an abundance of male children.
     As it has turned out, Willard’s son Ian has taken the Espy name.  Willard’s grandson Andrew uses the Espy name, as well, as do his three daughters.  Chris Espy has not yet married.  So, even though more than twenty years have passed since Willard expressed his concern, there still is no clear answer to whether or not our particular Espy line will continue.
     Nor is it clear whether there will be someone among the relatives who will continue searching for forebears and recording the descendants.  After Willard’s death, Otto Finley, surviving husband of Cousin Julia Christianson, took on the duty for as long as he was able.  Since that time, there have been a number of deaths and an even greater number of births among us.  But just as there is a dearth of male Espys, thus far no genealogist has been forthcoming.