Joined at the Hip

January 8th, 2019

Miki and Me

Last night I went to a meeting at Ocean Park School with my friend Miki.  I felt like I had stepped back in time about 30 years.  Sort of.  Of course, the school has been remodeled since then, the educational staff is for the most part unknown to me, and the community members who attended probably were students, themselves, 30 years ago.

But, aside from those small details, there was a lot of déjà vu to the evening.  Miki and I attended dozens of such meetings back in the early ’90s.  The reasons might have been a little bit different, but they were still billed as a desire by the school district to get community input.  Last night it was “reconfiguration” that was under consideration.  In the early 1990s it was a multi-graded first, second, third grade school that was being considered – also a reconfiguration of sorts.

That time, it began when, on a routine school visitation, School Board President Admiral Jack Williams came into my first-second-third grade classroom (the only one at Ocean Park in those days) and was amazed to find that he couldn’t tell who were the ‘youngers’ and who were the ‘elders’.  He couldn’t distinguish their ages at all – not by size, not by the work they were doing, not by their behavior.  He asked if he could come again.  And again.  Admiral Jack was smitten.

Multigrade Classroom – 1992

“Why can’t all the primary classrooms be like this?” he asked.  We talked.  Then Miki and I talked.  Then we spoke to the superintendent, only to find that Admiral Jack had put in a word or two way ahead of us.  The game was on!  We met with teachers, first, to see if there were enough like-minded folks – teachers who understood that every child learns differently and at his or her own rate of speed and that mixing up ages in the classroom works in all sorts of magical ways.

Meetings and meetings and meetings later, the multi-graded school was created.  It lasted about as long as the turnover to the next superintendent – a stick-up-your-butt traditionalist who wanted every six-year-old “where s/he belonged – in first grade.  Period.”  I (probably viewed as a trouble-maker) was transferred to another school.  Miki, ever the diplomat, stayed on at Ocean Park – and still she is there with a “blended 1-2” class, doing what she believes in as she readies herself for retirement… maybe.

Meeting at Ocean Park School, Jan. 7, 2019

And now… the reconfiguration being considered is more along the lines of the whole district — perhaps K-2 at Long Beach, 3-4 at Ocean Park, 5-7 at Hilltop and 8-12 at the High School.  However, most of the people sitting near us were in favor of keeping ‘neighborhood schools’ much as they are now with K-5 at both Ocean Park and Long Beach.  The sticking point seems to be that they’d be one classroom short at Ocean Park School. And a portable would cost money.  And arranging for one class to be “off-campus” (perhaps at the library) would be a safety concern.  And never mind that the numbers will change with time…

Am I glad I went?  You bet!  It was the best visit Miki and I’d had for years!

House of Chairs

January 7th, 2019

Wicker Chair

When the things that surround you have ‘always’ been there, you don’t really give them much thought.  Maybe that’s not the case with the artwork, but certainly it’s true of the furniture.  Especially if ‘always’ is really and truly always – like since you were born.  That’s the way it has been for me in this house.

And then, one day, a friend said to me: “I  think of your place as a house of chairs. You have so many and they all seem to have a story.”  I thought about that and had to concede that she had a point.  We truly do have a ‘chair collection’ here.

Probably the oldest ones are the wicker chairs – part of the furniture that my grandmother brought to the house in 1902.  The family moved here from California (where wicker was totally appropriate) and, since their stay was only to be for a few years until Grandpa Espy died, why not bring the most easily transported of their household goods?   They brought a living room “suite” most of which is in the North Bedroom upstairs and whether or not wicker is suitable in the northwest, I always think of those graceful pieces as a breath of fresh air.

The Billy Chair

Then there is the ‘Billy Chair’ in the library, identifiable by the medallions on its ears which was a trademark, according to my mom, of the Billy Brothers.  I always thought “whoever they were” when she said their name but have learned recently that they were furniture makers in Ilwaco – probably in the late nineteenth century.  (So maybe the wicker chairs aren’t the oldest in the house, after all.)

Another piece from about the same period is the lovely oak chair with the caned seat – “The Parson’s Chair” we call it.  It was given to mom by Dorothy Yeatman in the early 1970s.  Dorothy had lived in here when she was a little girl in the days that the house was still the parsonage for the Baptist Church across the street.  Her father, Reverend Yeatman, served as pastor from 1898 to 1901, and Dorothy remembered him always sitting in that particular chair when he wrote his sermons.  She said the chair belonged here in the house where it was most used.

Reverend Yeatman’s Chair

The two captain’s chairs I associate with my grandfather.  In the ’40s and ’50s when I remember him, he often sat in one of them at his desk – reading the paper or working on his correspondence, a cup of lukewarm coffee close at hand.  We have two of them and used to use them for extra seating on Friday nights but Tucker is leery about their stability… He’s probably right.  A couple of the stretchers are missing or no longer fit properly… another “project” on Nyel’s long list.

And those are just a few, so I guess my friend was right in her characterization of the house.  I think I’ll just sit back in one of these chairs for a while and imagine the people they have supported and the conversations they’ve witnessed over the years – a nice rainy day activity, don’t you think?

The Age of Slippage

January 6th, 2019

1969 – Sydney and Paul (before slippage)

More and more frequently there are pauses in conversations with friends that are punctuated by their irritated comment, “Right now the name escapes me…”

“Welcome to my world!” say I.  In our house we call it the “age of slippage.”  We stick our tongues out at each other for corroboration that there is something right on the tip of it.  We blurt things out hours later when it’s no longer appropriate but… you have to capture the thought when you can.  And, we often say things like, “I told you about that just this morning.”  But, did we?  You couldn’t prove it by me say I.

More frequently than we’d like to remember (even if we could) we head from one end of the house to the other but by the time we get there we can’t remember the why of it.  Sometimes, the easiest path to total recall is to go back to the beginning.  Fine for me.  Harder for Nyel as long as he’s in this wheelchair.

Nyel and Sydney, Summer 2018 (Mid- Slippage?)

And there’s that whole piece of “losing” things.  Mostly, it’s a simple case of misplacing or of not putting something back where it “belongs.”  Usually, we find whatever it is…  eventually.  However, we never have found Nyel’s car keys.  It’s been almost a year now since they disappeared.  But as son Charlie says, “It’s not losing the keys that matters.  It’s when you find them and you don’t know what they’re for that you have a problem.”  I hope they’ll turn up before we enter that stage in our slippage.

On the plus side, though, my memory usually works pretty well in past tense. I remember the names of my childhood friends (Jackie, Joyce, and Robert)  and the name I gave my bike (Faster) and the name of my dog (Zipper) and the name of our 150-year-old desert tortoise (Nebuchadnezzar.)  Closer to recent times – like in Charlie’s childhood – I sometimes need a little memory jog.

“Happy 96th!” Sydney and Mom, 2007 (Learning from the Queen of Slippage!)

Like with all those cats we had. I remembered the one who gave birth to four kittens without a pause as she walked down the hallway.  That was Sadie.  But Charlie had to remind me that the quintessential mother cat, who nursed 13 kittens one spring without comment, was named Zorba.  And right around the same time, we had a cat named Hecate.

And speaking of slippage – I thought I started out with a point to this blog.  It sort of escapes me now…

But where did they keep their skeletons?

January 5th, 2019

Wardrobe

The Victorian Age is named after Queen Victoria and covers the period of time that she reigned – 1837 to 1901.  Our house was built in 1869, smack dab in the middle of that period and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is a Victorian – right down to the closets.  Or lack thereof.

In the twenty-first century, we not only take closets for granted, they are one of the things that potential home buyers check out.  “Enough closet space” seems to be right up there with running water and ample electrical outlets.  Our house would never pass the closet test, even though several have been added in recent generations.

Originally, and even as recently as my son Charlie’s childhood, this 11-room house had only two closets.  Four upstairs bedrooms but only two closets.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t wardrobe and cupboard space.  But there weren’t closets for hanging clothes – not the sort of closets we think of today.  Presumably, Victorians simply did not have very much clothing and what they had could be folded and kept in a chest or free-standing cabinet.  Built-in closets were generally used for other sorts of storage and, in earlier times, extras and nonessentials weren’t part of the equation.

Original Closet

The closet in our upstairs North Bedroom, the only original closet now remaining, measures 16 inches deep and 79 inches wide.  It is fitted with two 15-inch clothes rods and several clothes hooks, all of which I imagine were later additions.  For my entire life it has been the repository for my two uncles’ golf clubs in one corner and their baseball bats in another.  It is adequate for the needs of guests but I’m not sure if it would do for a continuous occupant.

The only other closet original to the house was transformed by my folks into a commodious linen closet at the east end of the upstairs hallway.  It had been the only closet in the “master bedroom” – long and narrow with hooks along the sides, I think.  In the process of converting it, they found a number of “treasures” way in the back.  Among them was my Uncle Albert’s fire engine, presumably tucked there in 1904, the year he died at age 5.

Albert’s Fire Engine – circa 1905

The south end of the master bedroom was made into a huge closet to accommodate my mother’s clothes.  (Not only was she a fashion maven, she never threw anything away and was known   for incorporating clothes from her youth into the outfits of her golden years.) It is now mostly empty – just a few costumes from Nyel and my days in community theater.  Other closets in the house include a small room upstairs that was once a cistern and a “new” 1970s addition to the old parlor now the downstairs bedroom.  Downstairs linens are kept in the wardrobe which once held excess seasonal clothing according to information gleaned from Medora’s diaries.

Linen Closet

So, there you have it.  There was no water closet – the outhouse sufficed.  Presumably there were few if any skeletons in the meager spaces provided and no one ever “came out” of any of these closets – at least not that we know of.  Of course, information and feelings about such things were not hanging out for everyone to know about – not like these days when even storage facilities and cyberspace don’t provide security enough for our worldly goods, let alone our personal information.  Maybe the Victorians were actually ahead of the curve, as they say.

Size sensitive? You bet!

January 4th, 2019

When your last name is “Little” (as my maiden name is), you grow up somewhat sensitive to the size of things.  You get used to people saying, “Oh!  You ARE little, aren’t you?” when you are introduced.  And you learn to take advantage of the possibilities should you run for an office as I did in high school.  The slogan “Good Things Come in Little Packages” won several elections for me.

Not until the 1970s or ’80s, long after I had turned in that surname for another, did I begin to feel that I really was little – at least in stature.  Suddenly, or so it seemed, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” (which described me perfectly) was no longer de rigueur.  I began to notice that even some of my third graders were almost as tall as I!  OMG!  How did that happen?

RCMQ, Nyel, Me

It was the Rose City Mixed Quartet who first introduced me to Randy Newman’s song “Short People” – in a house concert right here in my very own living room.  They apologized profusely for including it in their set list but said the opportunity was too good to pass up.  I actually like the song and have been known to request it since then, but it does make me wonder why there aren’t similar songs about tall people.  But as my six-foot-two husband might say, “Why would there be?” – the implication being that big is better, no doubt.

Certainly bigger-is-better seems to be the theme in other aspects of our lives.  Take “McMansions” and Megamalls.  Or Giant Sequoias.  Or global corporations.  Or the Cullinan diamond.  Bigger gets lots of attention.  But that wasn’t the way it was a few generations back.  My grandmother (who was just five feet tall) wore a size four shoe and, at the time she and my grandfather were married, he could span her waist with his hands. She was considered “a beauty” and I don’t believe anyone ever described her as “short.”

Our Kitchen

But the size-related thing that I remember most about my grandmother is that she wanted a small kitchen.  In 1915 when the house was being partially remodeled after a chimney fire, my grandmother wrote in a note to my grandfather:  “Make the dining room as large as you can, even if you need to make the kitchen smaller.  I don’t need a big kitchen.”  Fortunately, neither do we, even though it now includes a refrigerator/freezer, a dishwasher, a microwave and many other conveniences unknown to my grandmother.  Her kitchen had a woodstove, a pie safe, and a sink and drainboard.  I remember it fondly and wouldn’t enlarge it, now that it’s ours, for anything.

I wish I could blame Spellcheck!

January 3rd, 2019

In the Jan 2, 2019 Observer

It does not bode well that my very first column of the year in the Observer’s January 2nd edition has a glaring error in it.  What’s more, it’s an error that involves the history of Oysterville and the name of a family I know well.  In fact, some of that family are related, albeit by marriage.  I am distraught but there are no do-overs when it comes to newspapers – only errata announcements and corrections after the fact.  Once it’s out there, it’s a done deal.

If you read the local paper carefully, you may know of what I speak.  I am sorely tempted not to be specific and not to give any more hints.   I wonder if readership of my column would go up and comments on my blog (this one) would increase.  In fact, consider this a test!  I’ll not say more about this particular faux pas – at least not right now.

From the Internet

I do, however, wish to speak about this entire Spellcheck Era in which we find ourselves.  It is one of those blessing-and-curse situations, as I’m sure anyone who uses a computer knows.  It’s right up there with Siri on your car or phone GPS and Alexa on your living room table.  Rely on it with caution and, also, with a fairly good notion of the answer to your question before you even ask.  Otherwise, annoying things happen.

The auto-correct functions on smartphones are the worst. In 2014 there was a great article on Slate, an online magazine, called “Is It Time to Kill Autocorrect?”  It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek but oh-so-true articles and, among other things says:     A quick perusal of Twitter on a few recent weekday afternoons showed that someone tweets “stupid autocorrect” or “fucking autocorrect” approximately once every 65 seconds. And seemingly everyone has a story about bizarre or problematic “corrections”—“arguments” becoming “argue menus,” “hiney” taking the place of “honey,” and so on. The iPhone transforms “Steve Buscemi” into “Steve bus emu,” And autocorrect loves changing sentences to include “ducking.” It’s the ducking worst!

From the Internet

But back to my own transgressions in the Spelling Department.  I really can’t blame Spellcheck because, truth to tell, I don’t always remember to use it, besides which some things don’t show up at all.  And doncha just hate it when you display the error of your ways to the entire cosmos in one swell foop?   Welcome to my world.  And, I’m sorry, Dorothy – you know I know better!

Listening in Our Stairwell

January 2nd, 2019

I wonder how many times I’ve said, “If only these walls could talk.”  And yet… they do.  Not the walls, perhaps, but the likenesses of the many people who have lived within them over the years.  Or, in some cases, people who have visited or who have made a difference in our lives.  Sometimes they murmur, sometimes they call out, occasionally they scold or congratulate.

It’s in our stairwell that I hear their voices most clearly.  It’s where so many of our family pictures have been hung – “The Portrait Gallery” David Campiche once called it.  He had Laurie photograph me standing on the stairs with the pictures in the background for an article he did about me in Coast Weekend once. (Actually, it was mostly about my redoubtable Uncle Willard – perhaps that’s who David heard talking that day of the interview…)

The Portrait Gallery (or “Wall of Ancestors” or “Display of the Dead” as some have called it) was begun by my parents when they lived in the house.  So much wall space!  So many photographs!  It seemed a natural.  But they went up in a rather helter-skelter fashion, so when Nyel and I entered the picture (so to speak) and my OCD proclivity kicked in, we reorganized them.

The Oldest H.A. Espy Children – Medora and Albert, 1904

Now, at the bottom of the stairwell are my grandparents (since they were the first family members to live in the house) and proceeding upwards are their children, oldest (Medora) to youngest (Dale, my mother).  Spouses and progeny are included along the way and at the top is me and then in the upstairs hallway, Charlie.  I’ve never done a careful count, but I think there are between 75 and 100 in all.  They vary from formal studio portraits to candids.  Frames are varied, sizes disparate, and probably all need attention by a feather duster.

The Youngest of the H.A. Espy Children — Dale in a P-38 – at Lockheed on a PR Tour for General Engineering Shipyards, 1944

The scary part, as I am wont to tell people, is that I ‘know’ almost all of them – even those who died long before I was born.  I not only know who they are and how they are related, I know their stories and the skeletons in their (maybe our) closets.  Not only do they talk to me, I talk to them, as well.  I miss those I knew and lament the ones I didn’t know and wish for more chances to visit in person with those who are still among us but far away.

Whether going up and down the stairs or simply standing at either end, it’s an area to linger, to reminisce, and to be thankful that our walls (and their denizens) do, indeed, talk!

Upstairs in Our House

January 1st, 2019

Killer Stairs

I love the upstairs in our house.  But, for the last few years, I don’t love the killer stairs I must climb to get there.  I think the biggest reason for my lack of ascension (just to the upper story, not to heaven) is arthritically related.  That and the fact that my Aunt (by marriage) Cleo fell down these very stairs when she was twenty years younger than I – due to a breaking hip Dr. Campiche said.  That thought is frightening, even though Cleo survived.

But when I do go up – to get guest rooms ready for visitors, mostly – I do love it.  There are four bedrooms up there, all very different from one another, and over my 80+ years, each has been “mine” at one time or another.  No matter how much time passes, I still feel the age and circumstances of my occupancy of that particular room.

In the Little Room

The Little Room on the northwest side is the first one I remember.  It was my room from the time of my first visit here to my Granny and Papa’s in 1938.  My clearest memory of it was of waking up crying and my grandmother coming in and making everything all right.  I think I had wet the bed – a circumstance that had not happened to me, apparently, for some time, and I was frightened and disoriented until Granny came to the rescue.  Interestingly, I don’t remember the trauma as much as I remember my grandmother’s warm embrace and soothing murmurs.

Next door to the south is the Pink Room.  It was mine throughout my teenage years whenever I was in Oysterville.  The summer before my sophomore year in high school my best friend Joanne and I came up from California to work at Dorothy Elliott’s Camp Willapa.  We spent our ‘time off’ here in Oysterville and shared that room.  As I remember, we took full advantage (maybe only once) of the fact that we could get out by climbing down the roof and onto the top of our boyfriends’ Model A.  Neither Joanne nor I could ever remember how we got back into the house.  Not a good room for teenagers!

View from the East Bedrooms

The room always called the “North Room” is on the east side of the house and has a view to the north and a balcony to the east – a balcony from which there is a fabulous view of the bay.  It’s the biggest bedroom and, these days I think of it as my son Charlie’s room, but it is also the first choice for guests.  It’s the bedroom that I was ‘assigned’ by my Aunt Mona when I first came to Oysterville with a husband but my main memory of it is that it was in the desk of that room that I first found my aunt Medora’s diary.  I was 12, and as I look back on that discovery, I believe it was the beginning of my interest in family history and in the history of this area, in general.

Florence Sewing Machine – Patented 1850

Finally, there is the “Master Bedroom” with its magnificent east-facing view.  It belonged, in turn, to my grandparents, to my parents, and then to Nyel and me.  (When the stairs got too much for  each generation, we each in our turn moved to the downstairs bedroom which was originally the parlor.)  Now that Master Bedroom it is furnished with twin beds on the theory that when we have a full house, there are people who might share a room, if not a bed.

Except for those twin beds, all of the rooms upstairs still contain their original furniture, right down to old-fashioned springs and mattresses on two of the beds.  No one ever complains, nor do they mention any inconvenience about the tiny bathroom which is central to all the bedrooms and has been somewhat modernized with each generation.  And, distinctive to the connecting hallway are the transoms above each bedroom door – the 1869 answer to nighttime air circulation, I suppose.  The only other memorable feature of the upstairs is that, according to some, our resident ghost hangs out there.  Keep those transoms closed, I say!  More might be circulating than air.

Mona and Me — Lisa, not Espy

December 31st, 2018

I really want to talk about New Years Resolutions or Why I’m Switching to Role Models, but first I think I should explain the title of this blog.  The Mona part that is.

I have a cousin named Mona.  She is the eldest (by six minutes if I remember correctly) of my uncle Willard’s daughters.  She and her twin sister Freddy grew up in New York with their two younger (not twin) sisters and they were all endlessly fascinating to me (the much older – by five years – only child, California cousin.)  But my non-resolution this year does not have to do with Mona-My-Cousin.  It’s about the other one – sort of.

First of all, I gave up resolutions long ago.  They don’t work and, besides, by the end of the first month I could never remember what they were.  So, I went to a “Letter of the Year” and aspired to all of the positive possibilities that said letter might represent.  Take 2010, for instance.  My choice was P – for projects, perseverance, publication, posterity, and positive.  I’m not sure what P represented on the balance side of the scales – maybe passive, petty, perfunctory, prosaic.

Mona (l) and Freddy (r)

That system, also, has not worked out to my satisfaction and, as I was thinking about the whole “renewal” aspect of things, FaceBook sent me yet another quiz.  I am a sucker for all those quizzes – you know, those what-city-should-you-actually-live in or how-well-do-you-know-the-famous-battles-of-Britain type quizzes.    Sadly, they are becoming fewer and further between now that the social media platforms are under scrutiny for selling your private information to advertisers – or something like that.

Over the years I’ve been told that I’m most like Lady Mary from the “Downton Abbey” series, Scooter from “The Muppet Show,” and Amy from “The Big Bang Theory.”  I’m even comparable to Yoda of “Star Wars” and, of all the characters Johnny Depp has played, I most closely resemble Willie Wonka!  So, the other day when I ran across a quiz that answered the burning question, “Which piece of art best describes you?” I said to myself, “Self,  what better role model could there be than someone (or something?) having to do with art?”

Yoda

“However this turns out,” I said, “I wIill turn it into my Role Model of the Year.”  No more pesky resolutions.  No more alphabet letters that I can’t rightly remember for even six months.  Nope.  I’m going for the major characteristics of a well-known piece of art.  As I whipped through the questions (actually choices, more than questions) I couldn’t imagine what the end result would be.  “Mona Lisa” came the answer.  Really?  The Giaconda best describes me??    Deflated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.

Your mysterious and introspective soul can only be Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Even though you are as calm as an infinity pool on the outside, you harbor a lot of deep thought within yourself. Your friends often wonder what you are thinking about when they see you lost in thought, but they always leave you to figure it out for yourself.

Sydney-the-Inscrutable

Say what?  Mona L. and I couldn’t be more opposite.  Or maybe that’s the point – maybe I need to be more mysterious and try for a “deep thought” or two.  Wouldn’t hurt to give it a whirl, I guess.  And her outfit isn’t all that bad.  I do draw the line at that greenish complexion though….

It all begins at home…

December 30th, 2018

Water Bottles

“What are all those bottles lined up on the floor of your laundry room?” was the question.

“And well you might ask,” said I.  “They are the bane of my existence.  Or one of them.” And I went on to explain that they began as liter-size tonic water bottles at Jack’s Country Store.  Nyel, who is into recycling right down to the pill bottles and bubble wrap, drinks a lot of tonic.  But, as with most of the other “stuff” of our lives, he first recycles those containers right here at home.  (This might be a good place to add that other banes, if that word can be plural, are the tubs of recycled plastic, glass and aluminum and, even more banish, the huge compost bin out in the garden.  Just sayin’…)

Go where???

For years and years those bottles were washed out and filled with clean Oysterville water.  We stored them on our “pantry” shelves – shelving from CostCo that takes up a short wall in that same laundry room and upon which we put the overflow food supplies.  Except, gradually, as the number of water née tonic bottles increased, the back-up food supplies diminished.  Oh well, it was all in a good cause. As “right thinking citizens,” we were preparing for the eventuality of a tsunami disaster.

However, as we considered the maximum twenty-minute time period that every authority and expert says we “might” have should we feel an earthquake or (miraculously) hear the warning siren, we began to re-think.  Obviously, it would take us the full-time allotment to get the (now) water bottles into our car, never mind survival food and other gear.  Not that we don’t have a get-away pack always in the trunk but lately the talk is to be prepared for several months, not several days.  So… bottom line is I think we’ve given up.

Compost Bin

Luckily though, those bottles of water are just the perfect size for the Substitute Chicken Farmer (that would be me) to lug down to the coop each morning along with a can of scratch and a bucket of food.  One-by-one, the bottles have been emptied into the chicken trough – a far easier proposition than dragging 50 feet of hose down there every other day or so.  And, it’s not like I don’t refill those bottles periodically with good old Oysterville tap water.

Unfortunately, lately, the Oysterville Water Works has been having some quality problems.  The water is safe enough, or so we are assured, but it has a yellow-ish cast to it – sometimes more toward the amber than the pee-colored.  It actually is not too noticeable except when those “new” bottles of water are sitting cheek-by-jowl with the ones from last year.  (Oh.  Did I mention that Nyel used to mark every re-filled bottle with a date?  I think it was part of a replace-and-refresh plan in the beginning… but you know about all those best-laid plans.)

Recycling Tubs

Anyway, now we have bottles full of old, clear water and bottles full of new yellow-tinted water.  It’s the latter that I’ve been taking to the chickens of a morning.  I don’t think they mind.  But… it’s always hard to tell with chickens.