Reading Between The Lines

February 18th, 2021

I’ve never thought about the possibility that I am a literal thinker.  In fact, I take a bit of pride in being able to connect the dots.  To read between the lines, so to speak.  But sometimes, as in the case of When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man, the dots are just too far apart.  Or the lines are too close together.

The book, by Nick Dybek, was suggested to me by my friend Aaron Rabin.  So I should have known.  Aaron, like my former brother-in-law, the late Jim Howell,  often thinks and talks on a plane that I only fully understand when we are face-to-face.  It’s as if we float along a wave length that doesn’t need literal translation.  But the wave length disappears when we part company.

Jim, now well known for his minimalist artworks,  once hired me to write some biographical material about him and his newly developing understanding of art.  I took copious notes in our many interviews and we communicated perfectly — or so we both believed. But once I got to writing, I found my notes undecipherable.  I simply could not put into words (or even thoughts) what we had discussed so thoroughly only the day before.  I had to tell him I couldn’t follow through.

Aaron Rabin

With Aaron, it’s more a matter of the books he likes and recommends.  Actually, the first was one I told him about — To Know What Dream by Millie Sherwood, my friend Ann “Memi” Anderson’s mother.  Aaron went to great lengths to borrow the last known extant copy from Memi, herself.  Aaron loved the book — even had it rebound for her in gratitude. I appreciate the book because of Millie and Memi — but I never could “get” it.

And now: When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man.  “…it’s a fantastic PNW novel – and I couldn’t help thinking of you!” Aaron wrote.  So I borrowed the book from the library.  I’m reading it now.  I love the descriptions, the imagery.  But… so far we are not as one.  It makes me wonder…  literally.

Well, maybe not 1,000 words…

February 17th, 2021

Princess of Garlic, 1983

This photograph from 1983 came in our mail yesterday with an accompanying note from Cristl Mack:  “I came across this fun memory while going through Trudel’s photos.  Thought you might enjoy it — we sure did!”

Wow!  Talk about “a trip back in time.”  There I was, “Princess of Garlic” (or something to that effect) helping set up the Garlic Festival in the parking lot of the Ark Restaurant.  It must have been Year #2 and, for the second time, I was playing my role opposite Lawrence Lessard, the “Garlic King” (maybe).  I also remember that none of us quite knew what we were doing or what to expect.

It was still a brand new by-the-seat-of-your-pants celebration that only Nanci and Jimella could have dreamed up.  I have no idea what I was doing at the moment Trudel’s camera caught me but it seems to have involved a gigantic roll of paper towels!

That night there would be a huge banquet in the Ark for all the participants — no doubt with music by Spud and Crabbo.  I’m sure none of us imagined that almost 40 years in the future the Ark would be gone but the Garlic Festival would carry on — for many years at Sheldon Field across from Ocean Park School.  There is an online announcement that  (fingers crossed) the 39th Annual is planned for September 18th-19th, 2021, and will be held at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta.  Fingers crossed, indeed!

A Recurring Theme In This Sheltering Time

February 16th, 2021

Barb Getting Us Ready for Our Grand Affair, 2019

As I’ve visited with people during these months of sheltering — by phone or zoom or text or email — the conversation often turns to frustrated comments like, “I can’t seem to get anything done”  or “I’m just not motivated” or “I think I’m suffering from ennui.”

I try to put my finger on why that’s such a common theme.  I guess it’s the not knowing.  The not being able to make definite plans.  The feeling that we are wasting precious time but don’t know how to remedy the situation.  But, when I think about it, that’s what the story eventually becomes for all of us if we live long enough.  By the time we get to our mid-eighties (if we are so fortunate) all of those uncertainties are what life is all about.  And to compound matters, we often have health issues that put a whole new level of difficulty into the mix.

Summer for Barbara is all about Sailing

And yet… there are things that I, for one, would like to “accomplish” before they’re beyond my abilities.  Like clean up my files — all the file cabinets full of research materials and all the online files that are redundant, incomplete, waiting to be trashed or put someplace for posterity.  So it was, when Nyel asked me what I want for my birthday, my immediate response was, “A personal assistant.  For about three weeks.”  Knowing that such a possibility is slim to none.

Barb and John’s Dog

“You need Barbara!” was his immediate response.  And he was right on the money.  Barbara Canney was hired by Willard in 1979 to catalogue the Espy Family papers.  It was to be her thesis project for her degree at The Evergreen State College. But it extended way beyond that.  She lived here on the Peninsula for three years (or was it five?), she became my closest friend, and we ended up turning over 70 bankers boxes of files to the Washington State Historical Society.  Barbara knows more about the Espy Family and their history than almost anyone else, including the family members, themselves.  YES!  She would be perfect!!!

Unfortunately, Barbara now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and aged dog, is sheltering like the rest of us, and is yet too young to qualify for early vaccinations.  Nyel contacted her anyway.  This morning she called me and we talked possibilities — maybe in the Fall after sailing season is over and she puts her boat up and, also it depends on the dog…  Meanwhile, I’m excited about the possibility and even a bit motivated to start the  project myself.   A bit.

and under the heading “Boys Will Be Boys”…

February 15th, 2021

Oysterville Cannon Fire, 2006

I’ve written a fair amount about the present-day cannon in Oysterville, purchased by The Honorary Oysterville Militia (THOM) in preparation for Oysterville’s sesquicentennial in 2004.  “General Nyel” made all of the arrangements in order to replace the cannon that was used here in pioneer times — a cannon which blew up under unfortunate circumstances.

I have just run across one of Frank Turner’s “From Auld Lang Syne” columns written back in the 1950s for the Ilwaco Tribune.  (Perhaps Mr. Turner’s great-grandson, Keith Cox, can weigh in with the exact date.)  The column fills in some of the information about that first cannon that had heretofore been missing:

Early ‘Oyster Boys’ Abe Wing and Jimmy Johnson

There was little in the way of entertainment for the young people and bachelor oystermen, aside from church and school, and the young men, waiting between tides for their work on the oyster beds were accustomed to displays of strength and skill for a certain amount of recreation.  There was a pile of pig iron, and one stunt was to lift it by the teeth.  Shooting with the white man’s gun, and with the Indian’s stout yew wood bows, was practiced in competition.  But top competition in weight lifting was practiced on a 400 pound cannon, or cannonade, that had been unloaded from shipboard on the high tide bank of the bay.  It took a he-man to lift the three-inch cannon as some claimed they did.  However, although the remains of the cannon are still said to be here and there in Oysterville, there is now no way to check on the prowess of the young pioneers.

The fact is, the thing blew up.  It happened, according to the best recollection of the late Mrs. J.A. Morehead, on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1878 — perhaps a year or so earlier.  The young men waiting on the tide, including Captain Peter Jordan and Johnnie Clark, loaded her up good, ramming home a big charge of powder, followed by a heavy round rock from the pile of discarded ballast on the beach.  They touched her off.  There was a mighty roar.  One chunk fell through the roof of the Chris Johnson home 500 feet away and others in sundry places about the village.  But the worst was one that slapped Peter Jordan on the side of the head.

Ballast Rock Doorstop at Our House

It was nip and tuck with Jordan in the days that followed, whether he would live or die.  Possibly the skill of  Mrs. Stevens, as a nurse, and the prayers of her daughter, Laura Belle, pulled him through.  On a July day in 1881 Captain Jordan married Laura Belle, but he carried the scars of the cannon all through life.

A modern-day postcript to Mr. Turner’s Story:  Some years back, Pete Heckes found a part of that cannon and mounted it on his pickup — or so he once told me.

Cinderella, Roomba Princess

February 14th, 2021

Cinderella is definitely a New Age Princess.  Her Fairy Godmother communicates with her through a cyberspace connection and and acts as intermediary between us simple folk and our Roomba housemate.  All directions must come from the Mother Ship where the FG sits at the controls.

As an example, if we would like the Princess to vacuum the living room, we have only to tap a few keys on computer or cell phone.  Within seconds we hear a pleasant five-tone melody from Cinderella’s launch pad and off she goes on a living room cleaning spree.  The process is flawless…  IF we have internet service.

Cinderella in the Living Room

But this is Oysterville.  We have frequent “interruptions” in our cyberspace connection.  As in all afternoon and evening yesterday.  Ordinarily, I would just think of it as a day off for Cinderella.  But yesterday it flat out pissed me off!   So, I removed Cinderella from her launch pad, carried her to and set her in said living room, and pressed her “Clean” button. Voilà!  Off she went.  And went. And went.

First she cleaned the living room.  Next she went into the dining room, then the kitchen.  When her battery ran low, she returned to her launch pad — all by herself and with no direction.  Wow!  An hour or so later our internet servic must have come on just long enough for the FG to tell Cinderella about the orders to clean the living room — an order I had not thought to remove from my cell phone.  So, off the princess went again, this time to clean the living room only.  Again.

Our living room carpet has never looked so good!  And right in time for Valentine’s Day!

Flurries with a chance of feathers…

February 13th, 2021

Dressed For Chill

“Snow flurries” said the news.  Sounds intriguing and sorta hopeful.  Romantic almost.

But the chickens and I are here to tell you that there was nothing intriguing, hopeful, or romantic about yesterday’s weather.  As every realistic chicken and farmer’s wife knows, nothing flurries without wind.  And the wind was fierce.  I dawdled before going out with their breakfast but, even so, it had only warmed up to 32º.  The wind was coming in from the bay at 15 mph which doesn’t seem much until you’re out in it.  Chill factor 21º.

The girls were off their roosts and milling around inside the coop.  I’ve not seen them behave like that before.  I hung up their food — enough so I wouldn’t have to go out again until this morning — but then (of course!) I saw that their water was frozen.  Duh!

The Girls’ Front Yard

Back to the house,  fill the teakettle and bring it to a boil, back to the lower forty and with some cracked corn treats this time.  I unfroze the water and tossed the treats nearby, calling them through my muffler.  They took turns sticking their heads out the door, but wouldn’t sally forth.

Right now I have the teakettle on again.  It’s not quite as cold today and the snow has disappeared.  Mostly.  I hope there aren’t any frozen chickens down there.  Or dehydrated ones, either.  But… you never can tell with chickens.  Especially during the flurrying time.

Take a break! Put your feet up!

February 12th, 2021

Made By My Mom, 1936

We have three footstools in our house.  They’ve all been here throughout my lifetime and longer.  Sad to say, I take them pretty much for granted.  One is in my office — more-or-less decorative only — and was made by my mother in 1936.  It is of woven sisal with wooden legs.  Mom made it as a “therapy” project during a nine-month hospitalization following my birth.  We seldom use it, but I think I love it best.

Leather Footstool with Oddments

Two footstools live in our East Room.  The large leather one has become the “repository” for keepsake oddments —  a 1943 Life with a picture of a woman steel worker on the cover;  a 1973 LP by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, “For The Last Time;” a booklet called “The Practical Meal Planner for Women Engaged in War Work” by Louise Espey, Home Economist, Bonneville Power Administration.  I think we kept that Meal Planner because of the author’s name — no relation, but my uncle Willard Espy’s wife was also Louise.

The leather footstool, itself, isn’t very attractive.  We had it recovered 20 or 30 years ago — I think by Mr. Mead in Astoria.  Previously its leather covering was in four pie-shaped pieces which were sewn together but it was falling apart.  It had seen lots of use — I can remember that my Aunt Mona (who was tiny; not even five feet tall) used to draw it up near the fire and sit on it when we gathered in the evening.  She said that when she was a child all the siblings vied over whose turn it was to sit on the leather footstool and when they were little, two of them could share it.  I wish Mr. Mead had replicated the pie-shaped pieces… It had a lot more character that way.

Footstool With Needlepoint Top

The other footstool in the East Room is tucked into the corner near the fireplace.  It has a needlepoint top and is the prettiest of the three.   I wish I knew who made it.  It’s also the smallest — too small for sitting except maybe for a very young child.  It’s the only one that I feel extends a personal invitation for me to “sit a while and put your feet up.”  Good idea on this blustery winter day!

Mr/Ms Cool and the Peanut Gallery

February 11th, 2021

“Oysters and Oysterville” screenshot – Sydney and Dobby

There is a lot to be said for blissful ignorance.  While Dobby and I sat quietly waiting yesterday, aware only of “technical difficulties” at the beginning of our video presentation, videographer Aaron Webster was scurrying and Madeline Moore’s thumbs were flying on her cell phone.  Little did we know that the live stream was having severe audio problems and our “audience” was giving blow-by-blow feedback to Madeline.  To us our two “directors” appeared busy but unflappable — definitely cool and working diligently to get things back on track.

We’d had a little forewarning, though.  We arrived about 1:30 — a half hour early.  Aaron had been setting up on the deck at Sea Farms since noon but was having difficulties getting a live feed.  Shortly after Madeline got there, Aaron took off for the schoolhouse to see if things might be better there.  No luck.  Then suddenly we were “on.”  And after a few minutes we weren’t.  Aaron was scurrying.  Madeline was texting and reassuring viewers that it would soon be fine.  Dobby and I were mostly oblivious — sitting quietly, bundled up like two Pillsbury Doughboys against the cold.  Our view from the deck of Oysterville Sea Farms is the best one in all of Oysterville!  We couldn’t have chosen a better place to be cooling (literally!) our jets.

“Oysters and Oysterville” – filmed on the deck of Oysterville Sea Farms

Finally, mics were readjusted, Aaron resumed his place at the computer controls, Madeline continued texting and Dobby and I were given the high sign to continue where we had left off.  (Tricky, given our aged memories but… we struggled forth.)  Afterwards, Madeline was full of enthusiasm and reassurance.  Aaron was mostly silent, probably feeling responsible for whatever glitches had happened but, given the ongoing difficulties with ANY technology working in Oysterville, he had done admirably.

Before leaving home, I had set up my computer for Nyel so he could watch our endeavor.  The first words out of his mouth when I returned were, “Well THAT was a complete disaster!”  Not heartening, to say the least.  Apparently, he gave up on us early in the technological crisis.  So, he and I ended up watching together just before dinner.  Not a disaster, at all — though, I wanted to leap in and edit out some of my ums and uhs, fix my right earring which, at one point seemed to be tucked up under my hat, and a few other self-centered things.

My take-away:  I don’t think there will be a second career opportunity for me on television.  Come to think of it though, I did have a weekly talk-show for a couple of years on the first-ever Hayward Cable station in the late sixties or early seventies…   WOW!   It was called “Teacher Talk.”  Who’duh thunk it?



Patch-Patch-Patch Some More

February 10th, 2021

Repaired and Awaiting a Summer Replacement

Yesterday, the back door of the chicken coop came off in my hand.  Not the whole door — just the trim piece on which the handle is situated.  Even so, it was startling.  It definitely wasn’t one of those I-don’t-know-my-own-strength things.  It was a question of old age (the door’s, not mine), years of weathering, rust, and rot.  It left an inviting gap for chicken-hunting critters to get into the coop.  I was proud of the the girls, though; they didn’t seem at all worried.

Luckily, it was early morning so chances of marauding visitors were slim.   I lugged the trim piece up to the kitchen to show Farmer Nyel and he thought he could probably fix it.  I didn’t ask how.  “Just lean it up against the workbench in the garage,” he said.  I tried not to think about him in his wheelchair using power tools like drills and saws while standing on the cement flooring balanced on one leg.  YIKES!

Inside View From The Back Door

As it turned out, I was so busy trying to jam an hour or more of information into a half-hour time slot for today’s video presentation, that I didn’t have much worry-about-Nyel-time.  By late afternoon, he had the door rebuilt and hung in place.  I was still timing myself and trying to decide which of the “crucial” information about Oysterville to leave out. In the old “misery loves company” mode, I called Dobby to see how he was coming along.  We commiserated with one another but the only advice he had was, “Wear your long underwear!”

At least I can trundle off to today’s live-stream video taping secure in the knowledge that Farmer Nyel and the chickens are safe — Nyel inside and warm and the chickens with a repaired door to keep out those pesky raccoons and possums.  Yay!  There will be plenty of time to worry about a total coop re-build before summer arrives!

Dobby & Me, Streaming Live Tomorrow!

February 9th, 2021

Look for “Oysters and Oysterville” on Wednesday, February 10, at 2:00

All things being equal, Dobby Wiegardt and I will be “streaming live” (as they say) on Facebook tomorrow.  The cameras roll at two o’clock — rain (from the Oysterville Schoolhouse) or shine (from the deck of Oysterville Sea Farms.)  Cape D Interpreters Aaron Webster and Stephen Wood will be doing the videography and Madeline Moore will make the introductory remarks on behalf of the Columbia Heritage Museum.  Our topic is “Oysters and Oysterville.”

Dobby, of course, will be talking about the history of oysters here on Shoalwater (now Willapa) Bay.  His family has been in oystering here since his grandfather, Heinrich Wiegardt arrived in the mid-1870s and Dobby, himself, has been in the family business all of his long life.  He probably knows more about the oysters of Willapa Bay than anyone else around.  I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

Dobby with his grandfather’s hats, April 2019.

My area of “expertise” (presumably) is Oysterville.  My family roots go back a generation earlier than Dobby’s — to 1852 when my great-grandfather, Robert Hamilton Espy, arrived in newly created Pacific County, then still a part of Oregon Territory. He co-founded Oysterville in 1954 and the Espys have had a presence here ever since.  I love the stories about the early days — especially the stories told around our library fireplace by my grandfather and his sister, my great Aunt Dora.

They talked about the “characters” they remembered from their childhood in the 1870s — those they called “the saints and the sinners.”  Papa talked mostly about the saints and Aunt Dora, the sinners.  I have to admit, I remember her stories best!  I hope I remember to tell some of them tomorrow.

Masked Sydney, October 2020

We won’t have much time — “30 to 45 minutes” we were told.  Dobby and I agreed that we’d better take a few notes along with us — to keep ourselves on track.  There’s something that happens when you get to our venerable age that plays havoc with your memory.   I’m pretty sure that I’ll need more notes than Dobby — even though he is more venerable by five whole years!

I hope you get a chance to see us!  If you miss tomorrow’s 2:00 live performance, I believe it will be available on YouTube later.