For the Record

March 16th, 2017

Hiway 26

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

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

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

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

Wachsmuth Barn

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

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

By Geometric Proportions!

March 15th, 2017

Nyel, Cousin Diane, Sydney, Gayle

Yesterday we drove into Portland and back just to have lunch.  It’s not a trek I recommend for a blustery, stormy day but I wouldn’t have stayed home for the world.  It was a red-letter occasion for sure.  We met living proof that Nyel is not an orphan!

This was not one of those “meet your biological mother” events like many of my friends have had.  And it wasn’t as a result of discovering people with the same genetic markers.  But it was, indeed, a serendipity spinoff from the high tech internet world we flail around in even in isolated Oysterville.

Nyel’s Mother and Diane’s Mother, c. 1940s

First let me say that by the time Nyel and I met he was forty and had already outlived both parents.  He was an only child and though he had four cousins – two on each side of his family – he had not seen or heard from or of them since his early teens.  “For all intents and purposes, I’m an orphan,” he told me and that seemed to be the way he liked it.

Over the years, I’ve often marveled at how my orphan husband has embraced my family – first my parents and my uncles and aunts, then my cousins (first, second, third, and beyond,).  To his further credit, he has taken on the stewardship of my grandparents’ house and takes pride in Oysterville, the village co-founded by my great-grandfather.  Adoption works both ways and Nyel has adopted more family than he could have imagined thirty-five years ago when we met.

Fast forward to last fall when I received an email from a woman named Diane.  She lives in Arizona and ran across one of my blogs online. “I have a cousin Nyel Stevens who was born in 1943. I haven’t seen him since high school…”   OMG!  I was so excited!  But, Nyel dragged his feet in getting back to her.  Fortunately, she is a patient woman and last week, out of the blue, we got a phone call.  Diane and her daughter would be in Portland for a few hours on Tuesday. Could we meet for lunch?

Nyel’s Uncle Grove and his Mom, Muriel c.1940

When they realized that Oysterville was much farther away than they imagined, we suggested meeting at our favorite lunch place, Papa Hayden’s on NW 23rd.  “I’ll make the reservations,” I heard Nyel say.  “Is it just the two of you?”  As it turned out, it was Diane and her husband Gayle, their daughter and son-in-law and five grandchildren!

At their suggestion, we sat at separate tables – us old ducks at one and the young folks across the restaurant a bit.  I don’t know about the others, but it was non-stop talking at our table!  Almost sixty years of catching up for Diane and Nyel,  common backgrounds for Gayle (a retired school principal) and me, introduction by photos to their other nine children and their many grandchildren and now great grandchildren!  (There were sixty of them at their Thanksgiving gathering for ‘immediate family’ last year!)  And so many memories and stories triggered by old snapshots Diane had brought along!

We parted with promises to visit them in Mesa with a reciprocal visit on their part to Oysterville.  I hope those things happen.  It’s pretty special to go from ‘orphan’ status to ‘cousin of the multitudes’ in one fell swoop!  Once again, hooray for my Oysterville Daybook and the World Wide Web!

Two Down, Forty-six to Go

March 14th, 2017

San Rafael High School Bulldog

As I watched the news last night I wished vaguely that I had taken Mr. Dressier’s physics class in high school.  I’m sure there is some principal or other that applies to the persistence of the talking heads in thinking that our country’s leadership is going to turn some corner in the hallowed halls of the White House and come smack up against their senses.  No matter how consistent the tweetings and twitterings from the seat of government, there seems to be this hope-springs-eternal mentality among the mainstream media.  Frankly, I’m sick of it.

So what is that principal, anyway?  Inertia?  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary for Kids (my particular physics speed), inertia is “a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in unchanging motion unless acted on by some external force.”   When speaking of inertia and human activity, synonyms include “idleness, laziness, shiftlessness, sloth.”

Well… I hardly think the PBS news team can be said to suffer from any of those negative descriptors.  In fact, I admire their industry very much.  It’s the reluctance on their part (and on all of our parts) to stay stuck in the rut of what we are used to.  For some reason we are all still agog that ‘things’ are different from ever before and that there are so many breaks from historical precedence.

Clearly, the folks in the Other Washington who are calling the shots (or trying too) are not troubled by inertia.  So, the rest of us, including the news media probably need to look at the Laws of Chaos and the Laws of Order.  I know even less about those “Universal Laws” than I do about Physics.  I wonder if Mr. Dressier could have helped?

Order and Chaos

It’s disheartening when watching the news sets me off on one of these pointless rambles.  I think I’ll give it all a rest for another little while – until things get back into some sort of alignment and the mainstream news stops lamenting and breast-beating and being amazed at the same-old same-old.

Content in the knowledge that…

March 13th, 2017

Annie Medora Taylor Richardson – My Great Grandmother Wearing Mantilla

“I know it’s here somewhere…”  I think for those of us who have a genetic proclivity for saving almost everything that comes into the house, those are the words we utter most frequently as we age – right up there with “I can’t find my keys…” and “I just saw them…”

Now that I am working on a seemingly endless project to inventory everything of significance in this house, I am making discoveries about items I squirreled away decades ago for safekeeping and ‘knew’ (though never tested that assuredness) that they were safely tucked away.  Yesterday I had one of those fabulous encounters – right on the (yuckily dusty) top shelf of my very own closet:  Two well sealed boxes with the following labels:

This box contains clothing that belonged to Helen Medora Richardson Espy (1878-1954) and Harry Albert Espy (1876- 1958).

  1. 1 black, hand embroidered scarf – wedding gift from Helen to Harry, November 24, 1897.

    Rachael Taylor’s Mantilla

  2. 1 black lace mantilla – belonged to Annie Medora Taylor Richardson (1856-1902), Helen’s mother
  3. 1 white knit, pearl studded fascinator (This may also have belonged to Helen’s mother.)
  4. 1 full-length black lace undergarment
  5. 1 pair white satin slippers – perhaps Helen’s wedding slippers – in black embroidered slipper bag

This box contains clothing that belonged to Helen Richardson Espy (1878-1954).

  1. Linen handkerchief edged in hand-made lace
  2. 1 pair of linen bloomers, lace trimmed
  3. 1 corset
  4. 1 shift, lace trimmed
  5. 1 satin bodice with bow at front of neck and back of waist
  6. 1 silk tucked-front bodice – this was the top to Helen’s wedding (1897) dress; made of Japanese silk which was gift from the Royal Family of Japan, as was the silk fabric for most of her trousseau.

Treasure Boxes

My task today is to unwrap each item, photograph it, prepare an identifying label, and paste photos and labels into a scrapbook – one of five, so far, documenting this houseful of ‘stuff’’ for posterity.  Another frequently asked question these days – “Why?  Why am I doing this?”  So far, there is no good answer.

The Gathering Place

March 12th, 2017

A Party of Jays at T&C’s

When I was growing up, there was always a place in the neighborhood that was like a kid magnet.  There was the Heckes House (or the beach in front) in Oysterville or the Reading House in Alameda or the Dangerfield’s in San Rafael. But never our house.  I always attributed that to the fact that there were siblings (and often their cousins) in those other places.  The homes I lived in were more adult-centered.

As an only child, I didn’t give the ‘gathering elsewhere’ phenomena much thought.  It was just the way it was.  And when Charlie was little it was the same in our neighborhood in Castro Valley – except for the occasional convergence on our swimming pool on hot summer days, there were more possibilities for fun where families were larger.

Mom and Bambi Heading for T&C’s

I don’t think about that ‘gathering’ aspect of our lives nowadays.  We are mostly too occupied with other things to spend hours and days just hanging out with friends.  Hip-hopping over to the neighbors to find out if they can come out and play evaporated, as Corinthians suggests, when “I put away childish things.”

But, lately, I’ve noticed that there is another type of magnetic gathering place here in Oysterville.  It’s where our furry four-legged friends converge.  Not all at once, but fairly consistently throughout the year.  The deer and the bear, the raccoons and various other critters (even our chickens!) seem to gravitate to Tucker and Carol’s place.  I know that they come through here, too.  We see the chomped leaves of our camellias and the scat on the lawn but the furry folk don’t often hang out and pose for pictures here.  Not like at the Wachsmuth place around the corner.

Yesterday’s Seed Thief at T&C’s

For instance, for the last few days Nyel has been doing wild bird seed duty while Carol and Tucker have been gone.  He goes over about at first light (a detour after his chicken duties) to open the smokehouse door and the plastic tub of birdseed and scatter a cup or so in the yard.  Yesterday, he had been beaten to the punch by a saucy little squirrel who had managed to pry that plastic lid up and probably thought he had died and gone to heaven.  He didn’t scamper off immediately, either.  He took time to pose for several pictures first – if a bit belligerently,

I’m sure the magnetism has a logical explanation but I think it’s a subtle one.  Kids and animals instinctively know the most welcoming places.  It’s no doubt a measure of my curmudgeonliness (is that a word?) that I’m sorta glad it’s Tucker and Carol’s place, not ours.

Can T&C come out to play?


Speaking of land and luck and the ‘p’ word…

March 11th, 2017

Croquet and Picnic, 2012

At our Friday Gathering last night, our upcoming 30th anniversary was mentioned.  Actually, it’s not for another six months but, given our slowed pace of mind and body these days, it’s probably time to start thinking about it.  We’ve talked vaguely about having a huge potluck picnic and just inviting all our friends – maybe announce it in the paper like people used to do in the old days.

“I’d be careful about the ‘potluck’ part of the announcement,” one of our wiseacre guests said.  “With marijuana legal these days, it’s hard to know what might be in that pasta salad Mable’s so famous for.”  We all laughed.  But… he might have a point.

We have attended (and hosted) a fair number of potluck meals over the last few decades and we’ve never been too concerned about the offerings.  But, we have noticed a recent trend toward labeling the ingredients.  It’s not unusual to see a recipe card attached to an inviting looking dish or even a slip of paper that says “gluten free” or “peanut butter frosting” in deference to people’s allergies and food restrictions.

All-time Best Selling Cookbook

So… what is the protocol, pot-wise?  Is it an unwritten rule these days that the Alice B. Toklas brownies be specifically labeled?  Or are we entering a phase where all our offerings should list the ingredients?  Probably not a bad idea.

As for the term potluck, who would have thought that its connotation could change so completely?  But, actually, the ‘traditional’ meaning we have come to understand – “a gathering where each guest contributes a dish of food, often homemade, to be shared” – is not the original meaning, anyway.

According to etymologists, the word pot-luck appears in the 16th century work of English writer Thomas Nashe and was used to mean “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest – the luck of the pot.” The sense “communal meal, where guests bring their own food,” originated in the 1930s during the Depression and was influenced by the word “potlatch.”  Who knew?   So now will its meaning segue again?

Picnic at the Tokeland Hotel

Which makes me think once more about Tokeland, the town across the bay named for Chief Toke of Chinook and Chehalis lineage.  Wouldn’t you think that someone from there would have been first in line to get a cannabis franchise when the law went into effect?  I mean… really!  Someone was missing the best (and easiest) marketing ploy ever.  And imagine what that would have done for potlucks in Tokeland.  The mind boggles.

About Time to Spring Ahead

March 10th, 2017

Isn’t it always the way?  Just as you’re seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel –well, actually, at the beginning of your day if you get up early – it’s time to mess with your clocks again.  It’s true that we are early birds.  We get up before our chickens, at least in the winter.  And right now, in mid-March, the sky is just beginning to lighten at five in the morning.

We sit and sip our coffee and watch our garden take shape as the day arrives.  It’s always a time of promise – a time of renewed energy.  We plan our day more enthusiastically than in mid-December or mid-January.  Our conversations begin to touch upon new projects and plans that will take us beyond our huddle by the fire.  Spring is almost here!  And then, with the flip of a calendar page and a backward turn of the clock dial… we are back in the darkness before dawn.  Damn!

Only Hawaii and Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation which is on federal lands) stay on standard time year-round.  Other states have petitioned Congress to stay consistent – either on or off DST. Reasons vary.  Most have to do with energy conservation but here in Washington, bills to end DST filed by Rep. Elizabeth Scott (R, Monroe) in House and Senate cite that the semiannual time switches are not only inconvenient but lead to health problems and accidents due to lost sleep.

Who knew?  She says that the bill to drop daylight saving time would reduce heart attacks, car wrecks and work accidents found to increase with the sleep-schedule disruptions. But, wouldn’t you know… a different Senate Bill would petition the federal government for year-round DST. As far as I know, neither the pro nor con bills have made much headway.

I’ve mentioned the debate to our girls in the coop but they are remaining neutral on the entire controversy.  Their days follow the sun – or on cloudy days, the light – and they don’t need a clock (or even a rooster) to tell them when to wake up or go to roost.  Smart.  We could take a lesson from them, no doubt.

Meanwhile, once we set our clocks forward at midnight day after tomorrow, we will need to wait until April 10 for our morning glimmer to come back to us as we are drinking that first cup of coffee.  Of course, it will be light later each day but, for a morning person such as myself, it’s simply wrong.  Another case of messing needlessly with Mother Nature.  We just can’t seem to leave her alone, can we?

Living Vicariously

March 9th, 2017

In This Week’s Observer

I’m so glad my friend Ruth Chamberlin is writing a column in the Observer!  And I’m even happier that it is about her amazing family.  I love love LOVE reading whatever Ruth writes and I have an almost visceral reaction (in the best of all possible ways) to learning more about her remarkable life with husband Burt and their eight (count ‘em EIGHT) adopted children – an international, multiracial group of kids, now ‘grown and gone’ (or as ‘gone’ as any of our children ever are.)

I can’t remember when I first met Ruth.  Probably ten years or so ago.  Diane Buttrell introduced us over coffee and blintzes at the Full Circle Café and I was soon reading her book, The Dancing Finn – a book of fiction, Ruth claims, but clearly drawn from her own rich experiences.  A few years later came the sequel, Laughter Left Over. I was already in love with her family if ‘in love’ is the right choice of words to describe your feelings for a remarkable group of young people you have never met.

The Dancing Finn

Summer before last, Ruth and Burt’s eldest child, Jordan, came to Ocean Park to visit.  He brought his young and very pregnant wife, Innocensia, for whom Ruth had a baby shower.  (I idly wondered if anyone had given Ruth a shower when Jordan was expected.  Or, for that matter, for any of the children.)  And, was it last summer, they all came visiting here in Oysterville with baby Errol just on the verge of walking?

Laughter Left Over

Ruth and I still meet for coffee.  We talk about our lives – our difficulties finding time to write, how our families are doing, our struggles with the aches and pains of aging (though Ruth is at least a decade younger… I think.)  But I still don’t feel like I know much about the hows, whys, and wherefores of her young life with eight incredibly diverse youngsters.

Next time we talk, I hope I remember to ask if she’s going to continue writing about their lives in her column.  I hope so.  And I hope her monthly articles are the beginning of another book – this time non-fiction.  It’s not a stranger-than-fiction story but it’s definitely a more wondrous-than-imaginable one!  Thanks, Ruth, for sharing a bit of your enormous, loving heart with all of us.

Searching for Origins

March 8th, 2017

Captain Richard and Rachael Medora (Pryor) Taylor, my great-great grandparents

It seems to me that hunting down our roots has become a national pastime.  Not a day goes by but what I don’t have a conversation with someone who has recently spit in a vial or swabbed their inner cheek and is now waiting for news about their origins.  Me too.  Nyel’s Christmas gift to all of us (Marta, Charlie, himself, and me) was one of those Ancestry DNA kits. We should all hear any day now.

Of the four of us, I am probably the least curious about the results of my own test.  Thanks to family members on both sides, genealogical data has been accumulating for many generations – in some cases going back to the fourteenth century!  On my mother’s side, it was her brother, Willard, who spent more than sixty years in the avid pursuit of our roots.  And that was in the low-tech days of visiting county seats and city halls and searching through dusty military archives up close and personal.

Willard Espy, circa 1940

In my most-likely-never-to-be-published biography of Willard, I call the chapter I’ve devoted to his genealogical endeavors, “Chasing the Begats.”  It begins like this:

That Willard had read the Bible three times by the time he was eight without once skipping so much as a word – especially not in Genesis – was an oft told family story.  When asked about his diligence in his study of that particular book, he explained that the begats were the foundation of all that came afterwards.  He never changed his mind on that score, but on the matter of which begats were included and which were not, he had this to say:

“The Bible is very clear about when and how the Lord created Adam, but I cannot find anything about the creation of Espys.  We tend to explain away the omission as a bad translation.”

Besides looking for family roots, Willard was interested in word origins.  Of his dozen and a half published books, all but two or three had to do with word derivations, meanings, and usage.  Had he been born a generation later, he would have reveled in the possibilities of searching the World Wide Web.  Maybe.

“Almanac of Words at Play” ©1980

I have to admit that there is something about getting instant answers that’s just a wee bit disappointing.  Like this morning when I looked up “must have gone down my Sunday throat” – an expression used in my childhood when someone choked while eating. Sure enough, there was the etymology right on a site called “World Wide Words:  Investigating the English Language Across the Globe.”  Damn!

Though I probably knew better in my heart of hearts, I liked to think that it was an expression used only in our family – especially since I’ve never heard anyone else use it.  On the other hand, I’ve always been told that none of us ever has an original thought.  It’s probably a DNA thing…

Nothing to talk about? Surely you jest!

March 7th, 2017

Spring Bouquet

In 1912 when she was thirteen years old, my Aunt Medora wrote from Olympia to her mother in Oysterville:  I think when people complain of the weather they just have nothing to say and want to say something…  Usually, I tend to agree with that sentiment but, this year has turned into an exception.  Even my son Charlie, in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles, spoke at length about their unusual weather and asked what it was like here.  An almost unheard of exchange between us!

The same day someone (maybe from Long Beach or Seaview) wrote on FaceBook at 8:30 in the morning that, since dawn, it had rained, hailed, sleeted, snowed and there had been thunder, lightning, a big black cloud and a bit of blue sky!  Yep!  That’s the way the days have been going here at the beach.  Despite Medora’s excellent observation and my own inclination to focus on something of more substance, the weather this year is definitely demanding our attention and commentary.

Snow Falling on Rhodies

Yesterday I answered our doorbell t to accept delivery of a belated birthday present – a cheerful bouquet of spring flowers that had been put on hold while we were in Portland last week.  Behind the messenger and the flowers, the snow was coming down in large, fluffy flakes.  .If spring is marked by contrasts, this was the visual proof.

As long as I am snug inside, I don’t mind the weather kaleidoscope out my windows.  But going out in it – even bundled to the max – is not my idea of fun.  And speaking of looking outside and having fun – last night after dark we could see that neighbors Carol and Tucker were having a bonfire in their backyard firepit!  Seriously??!!  I couldn’t tell if they were sitting around it roasting marshmallows or not, but somehow that wouldn’t have surprised me.  We’re in Oysterville, after all, where all things are possible!  No.  Make that probable.