Archive for the ‘Willard R. Espy’ Category

Every Writer Needs A Cuzzin Ralph!

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Until his death in 1999, my uncle Willard Espy was the go-to person in our family with regard to Espy and Richardson history.  Willard had spent three-quarters of his life chasing our forebears back through time – in some cases back to the sixteenth century.

No one in Willard’s direct line inherited his passion for genealogy but, fortunately, I have a somewhat distant relative who is not only interested, but has a mathematical mind and a natural instinct for accuracy.  So, as I approach readiness to send my manuscript concerning Willard’s life to the publisher, I thought it might be wise to first run it by Cuzzin Ralph (a self-designated moniker that I love!).

Ralph is my third cousin twice removed so we have to go back several generations to find a common ancestor.  Nevertheless, he is very familiar with our line and with Willard’s work on it.  Though Ralph lives in Virginia, he comes to Washington State several times a year to visit family and we have spent many enjoyable hours talking about genealogical matters.

What’s more, Ralph has a mind like a steel trap.  In 2008 he was out here for the Christmas holidays and I asked if he could spare a few days to work with me on processing Willard’s archive for the Washington State Historical Society.  I was approaching the end of a year-long project and it happened that Ralph’s time here coincided with my organization of Willard’s genealogical research.

In the years since that time, Ralph has often referred (with absolute clarity of memory) to what he saw and read during his short access to the files.  I, on the other hand, am consistently fuzzy with regard to names, dates, and relationships, though I have spent years working with the same information.  So, a month or so ago, when I became satisfied that my memoir/biography of Willard was nearing first-draft stage, I asked Ralph if he would be willing to read it, particularly with regard to accuracy of family information.

His commentary – two-plus, single-spaced typewritten pages organized according to chapter and page – is extraordinary!  One example concerns my own parents’ marriage date which I had mistakenly said was December 31, 1932.  Ralph’s comment:  Dale and Bill married Dec 30, 1932 in South Bend.  This is straight from the marriage certificate online at the Washington Sec of State Archives.

I’m never quite clear what Ralph did for a living before he retired.  I think he was a civilian contractor for the navy doing something that involved mathematics and engineering.  Whatever his life’s work was, it must have caused him to hone his research skills and develop his natural proclivity for accuracy to a fine degree.  I could not have chosen a better reader/editor for this early draft.

How lucky I am!  Every writer should be blessed with a Cuzzin Ralph!

“I told you so!”

Monday, November 19th, 2012

I can hear my mother’s admonishing voice saying, “When you speak, speak the truth but don’t always speak.”  I’m quite sure that she would consider any thoughts following the words “I told you so” right up there with what should remain unsaid.  But… I always was a ‘handful’ when it came to following good advice.  And, having long since passed the three-quarters of a century mark, I’m tired of ‘sucking it up’ and ‘moving on’ and all those other well-meaning but totally inane bits of advice.

On this morning following our second and last (certainly for me) performance of “Shoalwater Shenanigans,” I feel compelled to say that the venue at Fort Columbia, as I predicted way last  Spring, was a huge mistake for this show.  My argument was that the show “belonged” in Oysterville because 1) it is based on the words of Willard Espy, Oysterville’s most famous native son;  2) the subject matter was centered on pioneers mostly buried at the Oysterville Cemetery;  and 3) the performance was designed for the Oysterville Church.

My voice was overruled by the Director and the PAPA people who have a vested interest in the theater at Fort Columbia.  The main argument seemed to be that it would give an opportunity for people (hoards, it seemed) from the south end of the peninsula to attend.  Hmmm.  At the three performances at the 120-seat Oysterville Church we played to capacity audiences.

Sunday’s performance at the 75-seat Fort Columbia had 35 audience members by one count, 25 by another.  Of those I knew in the audience, at least four had come from the north end of the peninsula because they’d been otherwise occupied on Saturday and couldn’t attend in Oysterville. Another five or six were ‘worker bees’ who were at both shows, anyway.  Several were relatives of the cast members and had also been at both performances.  One woman was a friend of mine from Astoria.  That didn’t leave a very big “hoard” from the south end of the peninsula.

Granted, the weather was nasty and the parking at the Fort is not only a considerable distance from the theater, but is up quite a steep hill – not user friendly for actors or audience.  Fortunately, because of Nyel’s bad leg and cane, we were allowed to park fairly nearby in the handicapped space, but even so…

Still, I don’t think I would have complained (out loud and in print, I mean) if it hadn’t been for my personal blue light fiasco.  Actors were asked to be in their places, costumed and made up, two hours before curtain time so that the lighting man and the director could give us our lighting cues.  (I have to say here that in the 100 plus performances of other shows I’ve done in several dozen venues from the Seattle Folk Festival to Cannon Beach’s Coaster Theater, this last minute lighting direction was a first.)

For one of my bits – the one where the Reverend and Mrs. Crouch approach center stage together in the second act – I was to ‘find’ the blue light.  A piece of masking tape was placed on the floor to assist me.  Okay.  However, when the time came – after intermission and a set change—a table covered my tape and, in order to “find” my light, I would have had to stand on the table.

Nyel told me later that I delivered my Sarah Crouch speech in the dark.  “Well, there was a little blue light on your right shoulder, but otherwise you were probably invisible.”  Oh well… at least I can’t be faulted for seeking the limelight – or in this case any light at all.

I went home with a sour taste in my mouth for which I am very sorry.  As I put my copy of Willard’s “Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay” back on the shelf, I wondered how long it would be before I was tempted to re-read any of it.  A long time I fear…  I also wondered (briefly) if anyone would have the grace to say (publicly and in print) “you were right.”

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!